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Moving Mountains

Disputed views at Mauna Kea

The complexity of Hawaii’s landscape and culture is evident as many Native Hawaiians gather at the base of Mauna Kea—the largest mountain from the base of the ocean floor—to speak out against the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope at its peak.

For the sciences, the telescope—commonly referred to as TMT—would provide groundbreaking discoveries about space and the night sky.

Its placement on Mauna Kea would provide exceptionally clear images since the mountain’s peak is located 40 percent above Earth’s atmosphere.

Yet, for many Native Hawaiians, Mauna Kea is a sacred site that serves as the bridge from the Earth to the heavens. In the past, only royalty and Hawaiian priests were allowed at the summit. To this day, it remains a place of worship and a home to Hawaiian gods.

While some leaders and organizations have remained disengaged from the TMT struggle, Lt. Gov. Josh Green ’92 wanted to learn more.

Green, who is also an emergency room doctor, traveled to Hawaii Island with food and medical supplies to meet with community members days after the protests began in July. His goal was to show compassion for Native Hawaiians, who call themselves the protectors of Mauna Kea.

“The protectors and kapuna [elders] needed to be heard and protected,” says Green. “I had worked on the Big Island as a doctor for 15 years. For me, I couldn’t not go.”

The protesters welcomed Green with hugs and a tour of their sanctuary at the base of the mountain. The time on the mountain helped him to understand more about Hawaiian culture, says Green.

“The experience is about much more than the telescope,” he says. “It’s about people and their place in the world.”

Green expressed his gratitude to Swarthmore for instilling confidence in him to listen to both sides of an argument. He encouraged other Swatties to continue to engage with issues in their own communities.

“Our education puts us in a unique and powerful position to be able to do that,” he says.