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In Hawaii, protest of planned giant telescope continues

Last month I wrote about opposition to the construction of a large telescope on the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. At that point, the native Hawaiian protesters who see the mountain as a sacred place had been buoyed by support from actors Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Momoa. A month later, the protests are still going on:

“The reason why we do that is to ground ourselves, to remember our sacred purpose for being here, which is to protect the mauna [mountain] from further desecration,” said Marie Alohalani Brown, a religious studies professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Brown is one of thousands of demonstrators — they prefer the term kia’i, or protectors — who have flocked to the camp this summer to block construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, on top of Mauna Kea. Their reasoning is partly environmental: Opponents say the TMT, which would join several existing telescopes atop the mountain, could harm local bird populations and natural aquifers.

Their other reason is unapologetically religious: Native Hawaiians view Mauna Kea as sacred, and that adding yet another telescope amounts to an attack on the divine.

Two protesters were arrested last week and a structure built by the protesters was knocked down and cut into pieces for disposal. There hasn’t been any violence so far, but the stalemate continues with protesters setting up a camp that looks a lot like the one that was set up to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. Today the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that if the telescope is blocked it would represent a significant financial loss to the University of Hawaii:

Vassilis Syrmos, UH vice president for research and innovation, said the loss of the TMT, should it come to that, could mean the loss of billions of dollars in research funding for the university over the next few decades.

The National Science Foundation is expected to decide its funding priorities for the next decade by the end of this year, and UH was expected to be positioned to receive billions for TMT-related astronomy research and instrumentation development, he said.

“If there’s no telescope, that funding goes somewhere else,” Syrmos said.

That’s a pretty significant loss because a small minority of people refuse to recognize the ten-year-long permitting process that took place here. A win for the protesters is a loss for the legal process that all Hawaiians are expected to be part of. Here’s video of the structure that was removed last week:

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