The peaceful stalemate over the Thirty Meter Telescope

For months, native activists have peacefully blocked the building of a billion-dollar telescope on the island of Hawaii. We went there to find out why.

Jesse Orrall
Jesse Orrall Senior Video Producer
Jesse Orrall (he/him/his) is a Senior Video Producer for CNET. He covers future tech, sustainability and the social impact of technology. He is co-host of CNET's "What The Future" series and Executive Producer of "Experts React." Aside from making videos, he's a certified SCUBA diver with a passion for music, films, history and ecology.
Expertise Future tech, sustainability, social impact of technology Credentials Gold Telly Award, 2X Silver Telly Award
2 min read

Astronomy is, for all intents and purposes, observation in search of truth. When I set out to make a video about the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii, that was my goal: To observe in search of truth.

I put the truths I found into the video you see here. This is the story of the Thirty Meter Telescope, and the protectors peacefully blocking its construction on their most sacred mountain, Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano, and world's tallest mountain when measured from its oceanic base (33,000 feet). For native Hawaiians, it is also the epicenter of their creation story.

I found the backers of the telescope eager to share their vision of what lies ahead. They want to build something they think is for everybody, while bringing much-needed investments to Hawaiian communities and children's education. The telescope also promises to capture images 12 times sharper than those of the Hubble Space telescope, and perhaps answer some of astronomy's most pressing questions. But for a majority of native Hawaiians, the ends do not justify the means.

The actions of the mountain protectors are grounded in Hawaiian history. To them, the telescope is yet another step in the wrong direction for a people who have had their ancestral homelands taken without consent or compensation more than 100 years ago during the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Not to mention having their mother tongue being banned in schools until 1986, and their most sacred spaces desecrated.

The mountain protectors have made their choice to stand in peaceful assembly for what they believe in, while sharing their culture, history and Aloha spirit with anyone curious enough to listen.

Now, the burden of choice lies with the backers of the Thirty Meter Telescope.