The universe is a beautifully destructive place – filled with massive supernovae and stars 1,200 times larger than our own sun. However, much of the universe is still undiscovered. To solve this problem we have the unimaginatively named Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a multi-national $1.4 billion project designed to provide us with views of the stars and galaxies at the very edge of the observable universe, according to the TMT’s website.
Unfortunately, the location where the TMT is being built, Maunakea, happens to be sacred Hawaiian ground, and protestors are failing to see the larger picture.
Astronomy is pretty rad
In the days before Google Maps and compasses, humans had to rely on the stars to navigate the seas, and Polynesians were incredible at it. Without astronomy, Polynesians would have never sailed one of the world’s largest oceans. Fighting the construction of arguably the greatest astronomical structure of the 21st century thus far is ironic. If anything, we should be embracing it with open arms, as it would truly cement Hawai‘i as a forerunner of astronomical — in every sense of the word — breakthroughs.
Separation of spirituality and state
Religion and beliefs are important in any culture, however these concepts should never impede scientific progress. Maunakea is spiritual ground for the Hawaiian people. However, stopping the construction of the TMT based solely on a religious factor is reminiscent to George W. Bush limiting the resources of stem cell research, which could cure diseases like diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s, based on his “deeply held beliefs,” according to a 2012 Time article.
If the TMT’s construction is stopped for spiritual reasons, we as a nation need to have a much larger dialogue on the division of religion and scientific advancement.
The bigger issue
Though the construction of the TMT is the hot button issue, it’s really just a small part of a larger argument – the continuous struggle of Hawaiian’s fighting for their sovereignty. Preventing the TMT from being built on Hawai‘i’s most sacred ground would be a huge win for Native Hawaiians, who have been trying to take back their lands since the overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani. After a 13-day halt to construction called by Gov. David Ige, it was made clear that the protesters were being taken seriously. However, fighting the construction of something with such significant astronomical value simply to make a stand is uncalled for. If anything, protestors need to set their sights on actual problems affecting Hawai‘i’s economy.
The people behind the TMT are also looking to introduce astronomy to elementary, middle and high school students through its outreach program. Sandra Dawson, the community affairs manager for the TMT, has already started this venture with 13 school programs funded through the TMT’s partners.
Aside from benefitting future astronomers, the TMT is also expected to create 300 construction jobs and up to 140 permanent jobs on the island, according to the TMT’s website, providing a shining light for its dying construction industry. Dean Au, a field representative of the Hawaii Carpenter’s Union referred to the TMT in Hawaii Business Magazine as a “huge project for us,” stating that “Hilo is the poorest town in Hawai‘i. Our economy is in dire need of an uplift.”
Without astronomy research we wouldn’t have GPS, MRI scanning technology, and information about the universe we all live in. It’s cool to be mad at the TMT, but at least consider its positives, particularly the one where it could show us what the beginning of time looked like.