Monday, August 07, 2017

Arrests in protest against Solar Telescope in Maui

by Salman Hameed

You are probably familiar with protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea. These protests halted the construction of the telescopes and initiated a review of the permit process. Just last week, a judge recommended the construction of the telescope - though the legal challenges are far from over. Nearby, on Maui, there is another telescope being built. The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) will be world's largest solar telescope and it is located on top of Haleakala - the peak of Maui. The construction on this telescope began in 2012 and First Light is expected in 2019. It also faced protests and legal challenges, but nowhere close to the level Mauna Kea. However, this past week, six people were arrested in protests as they tried to block the equipment convoy to the telescope:
An early-morning attempt by protestors to block the delivery of telescope equipment to Haleakalā resulted in six arrests, including one man who was hospitalized.  
The protest was organized by a group called Kākoʻo Haleakalā, which stands in opposition to the further desecration of sacred space.  

Last week's issue of Science also has a good summary of the controversy regarding DKIST. In fact, one of the central questions is why DKIST has been successful compared to TMT on Mauna Kea. While the article came out before the latest protests, DKIST is far along in its construction and I doubt that the project will even be delayed let alone be stopped altogether. Here is the key bit from the article that talks about the difference contexts of DKIST/Haleakala and TMT/Mauna Kea:
The DKIST’s ability to investigate the solar eruptions that can endanger electric grids and communications may be one reason why it received more public support than the TMT, which is solely a research tool, Hasinger says. But he believes a more important difference between the two projects is simply their scales. At 18 stories, the TMT would be not only the largest telescope on Mauna Kea, it would be the largest humanmade structure on Hawaii Island. The TMT’s footprint—2 hectares including its roads and parking lot—is 10 times the size of the plot used for the DKIST. “It’s just a huge structure,” Hasinger says. “In relative size you could say it’s similar [to the DKIST], but in absolute size it’s much bigger.” Moreover, Mauna Kea is not only higher than Haleakalā, it’s the highest peak in the Pacific—and, consequently, it offers Native Hawaiians a higher-profile platform to air their grievances. 
Mauna Kea also poses a bigger management challenge for the University of Hawaii. The science reserve on the Mauna Kea summit spans nearly 5000 hectares—an area more than 650 times larger than Maui’s compact Science City. “If someone is not happy with the management of Mauna Kea, it falls directly on the university,” Hasinger says. “On Haleakalā we only have the small area of Science City. The rest is managed by the national park.” And although the university owns Science City, its preserve on Mauna Kea is a lease, which means it is subject to state audits. In 1998 and 2005, the auditor released critical reports about IfA’s stewardship of Mauna Kea, providing ammunition to groups opposed to mountain telescopes. (A follow-up audit in 2014 reported improvements in IfA’s management of environmental and cultural resources.) 
The organizations behind the two projects are very different, astronomers note. The DKIST is a national project, funded by the National Science Foundation and owned by NSO. Using federal funds meant that NSO had to follow strict accounting procedures, perform a federal environmental impact assessment, and satisfy U.S. historic preservation rules. By contrast, the TMT, a private consortium supported by institutions in five countries, received no federal funds for construction. That meant it didn’t have to deal with those same regulations. “The opponents were able to sell it as this foreign company coming in and basically using our mountain for their purpose, whereas [the DKIST] at least is a national interest,” Hasinger says.

But often times it comes down to understanding the grievances and acting accordingly:

The DKIST team. 
The groundbreaking ceremonies for the two projects reflected the stark differences in their characters—and also exposed their different vulnerabilities. Kuhn remembers going as a guest to the TMT ceremony in October 2014. He stayed at a fancy Hawaii Island resort, surrounded by scientists and media from around the world, as big-screen TVs ran a live feed of the TMT’s construction site on Mauna Kea. But the celebratory atmosphere faded when Native Hawaiian protesters blocked a convoy of dignitaries heading up the mountain for a blessing and groundbreaking. As protesters shouted and chanted, organizers eventually turned off the live feed. “It was a disaster,” Kuhn says. “I understand why they wanted a great big party—it was a way of saying, ‘Yes, we’re moving forward, partners, come and join us, and bring your checkbooks.’ But I think it had the opposite effect, which was to put up a lightning rod that attracted lightning.” The event “marked real doubt” about the project’s future, he recalls. 
TMT Executive Director Ed Stone, who is also a professor at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, concedes the event didn’t go as planned. “Certainly whatever groundbreaking there was could have been done better than what happened,” he says. 
In contrast, the groundbreaking ceremony for the DKIST, in November 2012, was kept “very private,” with only a handful of people closely involved with the project, Kuhn says. “I think there was an honest sensitivity to those people who felt strongly that it shouldn’t be there,” he says.
Furthermore, the access to Science City on Haleakala is much more controlled than the Science Reserve on Mauna Kea, and there is the presence of the military as well. All of this makes protests and blocking of roads much more difficult. Nevertheless, for a while the protestors were successful, before the equipment got to the telescope.

Lets see what happens next. But I think there will be a lot more activity about TMT on island next door.


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