Lā 261: TMT’s Place In History Of Telescope Battles

Honolulu Civil Beat By Patti Epler Dec. 11, 2015

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The legal fight over the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea is not unusual as big telescope projects go.

The Thirty Meter Telescope is not alone in the universe of legal fights brought by environmental or cultural groups trying to stop construction of the scientific facilities in remote areas.

Scientific American has this interesting story about other places in the U.S. where land uses have clashed.

In Arizona, for instance, the San Carlos Apache tribe fought a project to build three telescopes on Mount Graham, a spot the Indians used for religious ceremonies. Environmentalists also had concerned for threatened species of various kinds.

In 2005, also in Arizona, the Tohono O’odham Nation forced the National Science Foundation to go elsewhere when it wanted to put more telescopes on the site of the Kitt Peak National Observatory which was on its reservation.

But there are key differences, according to Leandra Swanner, a science sociologist and historian at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Scientific American author Shannon Hall writes:

  • "The latest fracas, however, bears some telling differences from past controversies, Swanner says. Environmental activists on Mount Graham, for example, included Earth First!—a group known to directly sabotage construction projects and lead violent rallies—whereas the Mauna Kea protest is taking place “in the spirit of ‘aloha,’” or peace, according to its leaders, meaning the activists do not stand against anyone, they simply stand for their mountain. “There is a certain community that is born with that particular kind of isolation in the Pacific that we don’t see in the sprawling desert in the Southwest” where environmental activists will come and go as they please, Swanner says. “So environmentalists on the Mauna Kea side have fallen in with the principles of aloha more squarely then I would say the environmentalists in the Mount Graham case have adopted Apache principles in passive resistance.”