“Please don’t build your telescope on Mauna Kea, Mr. Moore”

Aloha Mr. Moore.

I first wish to acknowledge your great contributions as co-founder of Intel Corporation, trustee of the California Institute of Technology, and philanthropic supporter of science, as well as natural resource protection elsewhere in the world. You have given much to society, and for this, I thank you. I write today, however, regarding your financial backing of an aggressive campaign to build the world’s largest telescope—the Thirty Meter Telescope—atop Mauna Kea.

The summit of Mauna Kea is protected by state and federal laws that support conservation over development because Mauna Kea is home to rare plant and animal species found nowhere else on planet Earth, some on the brink of extinction. Astronomy, including the search for life on other planets, is a noble endeavor, but it loses its nobility if life on Earth is imperiled by those efforts.

Extinction begins the process of unraveling creation; it is forever, and it is unacceptable, especially in this day and age.

Mauna Kea is one of the most sacred places in the archipelago. Islanders use the mountain as a place of spiritual contemplation, healing and recreation. For Native Hawaiians, Mauna Kea is a temple dedicated to Aloha and peace. It is where our supreme being gave birth to all living things great and small. It was the meeting place of Papa (Earth Mother) and Wakea (Sky Father), the progenitors of the Hawaiian people, and is the burial ground of our most revered ancestors.

We use Mauna Kea’s high elevation landscape for ceremonies that contain star and other knowledge essential to modern Hawaiian voyaging. Our ancestors used this knowledge since before the time of Christ and millennia before modern astronomy, to voyage to hundreds of tiny islands spread over ten million square miles of the Pacific. More than ninety-three astronomical sites are available in the world for doing astronomy, but Mauna Kea is the only place on Earth for conducting these ceremonies.

The controversy over the TMT does not end with moral and ethical questions about culture and the environment. There are also legal issues. Caltech and the University of California have repeatedly built telescopes on Mauna Kea without complying with state or federal environmental laws, escalating the decades-long conflict between the astronomers and islanders. In the 1990’s, despite public outcry about building more telescopes, Caltech and UC (and their NASA partner) campaigned to build as many as six more “outrigger” telescopes for the Keck observatory, and the people had to turn to the courts for justice.

My organization was one of the plaintiffs, and the courts found in our favor in both lawsuits. In 2003, a federal judge ordered the Keck project to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, and in 2007 a state judge voided the Keck permit for Mauna Kea because it violated state law.

Sadly, the TMT Project perpetuates this legacy of lawlessness. As just two examples, TMT officials refuse to do a federal EIS, claiming in their state EIS that the project received no federal funds—a trigger for NEPA—despite millions in National Science Foundation funding. They’ve also ignored Hawai‘i limits on the number of telescopes allowed. Repeating the same errors the courts previously found unlawful is outrageous. Is this the legacy you wish to continue, Mr. Moore?

Aloha is not just a catchy phrase, like “it’s all good.” It’s about truth which is meant to heal. Over and over, islanders have peacefully expressed—with aloha—our concerns, yet you and your colleagues continue to push this project without following the law. Community fear and frustration are escalating, and the people now see no choice but to again challenge this lawlessness in court. Mr. Moore, you have a chance to hold the California observatories to a higher standard of Aloha. You can influence the TMT Board of Directors before they meet this month to decide the location of your telescope.

It is time to Aloha Mauna Kea, Mr. Moore.

Kealoha Pisciotta is a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and a former Telescope Systems Specialist for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea. She is President of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, one of the plaintiffs in the 2007 landmark case that stopped the Keck outriggers from being built on Mauna Kea.