Science is what propels us forward. New innovations, research, and technology lead to breakthroughs responsible for a more healthier fulfilling life, as well as a deeper understanding of the world that exists around it. But when conducting science, do the ends justify the means? Is it ok to use human test subjects unwittingly, or defile sacred places for worship to build new equipment? In Hawaii, protestors have taken to blocking a construction site of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a telescope that supposedly would be able to have a good chance at detecting extraterrestrial life, studying black holes, and even dark matter. The main reason for the protest comes down to the building location of the telescope, which is located on Mauna Kea, a mountain considered sacred in certain Native Hawaiian religions, and is considered desecration. This is not a new development in scientific pursuit; we have seen for hundreds of years the exploitation of people’s homelands and worship sites under colonialism. Is it ok to continue using past knowledge gained under colonialism and reconcile with it?
We would not be where we are today without the science conducted in the most inhuman ways possible. Colonialism was party justified in the sense that experiments being conducted to eradicate disease by using those colonial subjects was actually healing, them practiced in a pro-English view in the case of India (white man’s burden). Although in the case of the TMT no physical person is being harmed or their body used without consent, their culture is seen as an afterthought to the pursuance of the fields of astronomy and physics. Many native Hawaiians see this as a continuation of the colonization practiced by the United States since the invasion of the territory in the 1890s. According to a recent poll in September 2019, only 27 percent of Native Hawaiians were in favor of the TMT being built. We can see this passion in the years of protests against similar telescopes built on the mountain, and this fervor has not died down since. Environmental impact is also another worry, as damage to the natural ecosystem of the state could prove detrimental. Those in favor of building the TMT acknowledge the potential for cultural damage with the building of the telescope, and state they want to make sure the most ethical of guidelines are enacted to ensure no boundary is crossed or line stepped over with regards to Native Hawaiian religion. They have also professed that they will be analyzing the construction through the lens of past colonization efforts so that it does not get repeated again, and the science can be conducted much more ethically. One of these options is to not continue construction until working out a plan with a group of diverse community to properly assess the situation. As stated previously the construction of the TMT would provide numerous substantial benefits to the field of astrology, and regardless of its location, its construction is a major plus for humanity’s understanding of the universe.
- Phys.org, Giant Hawaii telescope to focus on big unknowns of universe, 2019: https://phys.org/news/2019-07-giant-hawaii-telescope-focus-big.html
- The Guardian, A new Hawaiian Renaissance’: how a telescope protest became a movement, 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/16/hawaii-telescope-protest-mauna-kea
- Smithsonian Magazine, Science Still Bears the Fingerprints of Colonialism, 2018: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/science-bears-fingerprints-colonialism-180968709/
- S.Kahanamoku, et al., A Native Hawaiian-led summary of the current impact of constructing the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea, 2019:https://arxiv.org/pdf/2001.00970.pdf