It’s early January as I write this and right now, I honestly feel more like a bona fide reporter than a freelance writer and blogger. In trying to find an update on the situation on Mauna Kea, Hawaii ( Indigenous protesters block construction of the 30 Meter Telescope ( TMT) on their sacred mountain ) , I’m finding that there is such a scarcity of information in the mainstream news, researching the current status is much like , as a colleague of mine used to say, “pulling hen’s teeth”. I expect that there is so much going on in our crazy world right now , a niche story like this could easily fall to the back pages or –to no page at all. The latest information I have comes from the “People’s Dispatch” on December 20th, 2019. In the proverbial nutshell- here it is:)
The protesters are still there and seem as firm and determined as ever. It’s been 5 months now and despite a short lived announcement from the government that law enforcement personnel would be removed, it remains a stand off situation. Shortly after that first announcement, Hawaiian Governor, David Ige, issued an ultimatum to the protesters to clear the way. To this date, as far as I know, they haven’t. Other than a few arrests. there appears to have been no violence and the protesters remain unified. strong and , I have to say, dignified!
“Road Closed Due to Desecration” reads the large sign carried by a group of protesters. As I watched the video that accompanied the article, I recoiled as I read this message. As someone who is committed to the exploration, knowledge and discovery of science, I hardly can equate any of these noble, ( at least in my mind ) goals with desecration! And yet , as a person of faith myself, I want to understand and find that ever elusive compromise –that middle ground that everyone can live on in peace and mutual respect. Surely it exists!
As I continued reading the update, I realized that I had missed a reference in earlier reports. As of this date, and apparently as of a few months ago already , all 13 telescopes on the mountain have been shut down. So as of this writing, all astronomy activity and research has been shut down. However, I have read other reports that contradict that but I think that it is safe to say that the cutting edge science being done by these international observatories has, at the very least, been disrupted.
Getting back to the protesters, I found myself troubled and saddened by their references to ” vanity, oppression, injustice and commercialism” in regards to the construction of the TMT. As I observed in my previous post, one can quickly see that this situation is far more complex than a conflict of science and religion. I am not even going to pretend to understand and fully grasp the history of Hawaiian colonialism I have never been to Hawaii and am not American so I don’t have the larger context of how Hawaii fits into the United States. But, even if I don’t necessarily agree with t he protesters, I can see their commitment , unshakable faith in their cause and their integrity . And to be honest, it’s hard not to admire them. So, as I navigate these waters, I find myself thinking that maybe I don’t have to completely understand their cause, I just have to respect it.
Never let it be said that your smartphone isn’t genuinely smart: Mine can read minds, report on news issues that I am interested in, provide relevant articles on every condition and disease that I am dealing with, imagine I have or am trying to prevent. You know what I mean 🙂
So, just as I was pondering wrapping up this post until next time, what came in on my Google feed but a January 14th article from Nature magazine entitled “How the fight over a Hawaii mega telescope could change astronomy.” Seeing as today is January 15th , this is very current information and provides a balancing insight from the scientific community. Yeay!! Now we are starting to get somewhere. Or are we?
The bad news is that the protesters are still on the mountain and apparently, the TMT community is considering the acceptable but far less desirable location of Spain’s Canary Islands for the big scope if an agreement can’t be reached. But — and here is the good news_-there appears to a glimmer of hope and I am heartened to read of some of the insights that have been expressed by at least some members of the scientific community.
Jessica Dempsey, Deputy Director of the East Asian Observatory on Mauna Kea, is quoted in the article as saying , ” Astronomers really have to do more contemplation about where they are in the world and about the social context and impact of their work.” Ms. Dempsey makes an excellent point and I do hope that astronomers will take heed. But I fear for many of them, looking at the social and human impact of their work will be a brand new concept and for some, an area which they feel is outside the realm of their responsibility. But there is always a larger picture and what is the point of exploration and science , if not to improve the human condition?
On a similar note, an Oceanographer from the University of Hawaii, Rosie Alegado, presents a thought provoking point of view and a interesting proposal when she calls for an immediate halt to the TMT project while organizers seek “informed consent ” from the Indigenous community. Ms. Alegado leads a group of Native Hawaiian scientists and provides such much needed optimism when she says:
” I feel like Mauna Kea could represent an example of when science got off course – but we course corrected- and came back stronger than ever.”
Amen to that:)
In the meantime, state and local governments have negotiated a “detente” between the TMT officials and the protesters ( know locally as the kia’i ) until the end of February. This is good news and a sign that there is still hope. Representatives of each group will be meeting to talk ( and more importantly–listen!) to each other to see what needs to be done to hammer out an agreement that every one can live with.
As the old saying goes—hope springs eternal. Faith and science and these two groups may yet find that elusive but worth searching for –middle ground. Not to overuse the word- but I sure hope so. It could be a shining example to the rest of the world. Fingers crossed and for those of us who do- a few prayers can’t hurt 🙂
And now that my phone is hot on the job and somehow programmed to give me regular updates— as soon as I now– I will let you know!
Would love to know your thoughts on this . All opinions welcome 🙂
In the meantime, thousands of astronomers