Mauna Kea is majestic.
Environmentally, it’s one of the most extraordinary places on earth. Located on Hawai’i Island in the middle of the Pacific, with an above sea elevation of 13,800 feet, when measured from its base beneath the ocean it’s more than 33,000 feet high. It is the tallest mountain in the world. It’s also a target for a form of exploitation that threatens the island’s ecosystem and the cultural, spiritual and religious survival of the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians).
“Why The Mountain” will be a 30-minute documentary film that explores why Hawaiians and environmentalists oppose the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), and why the astronomy industry is determined to construct this 18 ½ – story building on Mauna Kea.
Touted as the largest and most powerful telescope in the world, to astronomers, the TMT represents the dawn of a new era. Gordon Moore, founder of INTEL and one of TMT’s major funders, says it will offer “…the potential to transform the study of the universe.”
Environmentalists argue that because the largest fresh water aquifer for Hawai’i Island is on Mauna Kea, the potential for irreversible harm is too high a price to pay. They say to build a football stadium size structure and its accompanying 5,000-gallon container for hazardous chemical waste, is an unnecessary risk. And given the toxic chemicals in use by the 13 telescopes already on the summit, the TMT increases the threat to the watershed and endangered and threatened species’ habitats.
But for Hawaiians, what began as an agreement to allow one telescope on Mauna Kea over 40 years ago has turned into a generational struggle to protect the mountain from endless acts of cultural strip-mining. Traditionally, the Hawaiian people have regarded the summit as sacred. Now it’s also a symbol of cultural erasure and the ongoing assault on Hawaiian spiritual and religious practices, and rights to self-determination.