As the protest over the Thirty Meter Telescope rages on, an increasing number of activists are targeting the largest funder of the next- generation telescope, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation of Palo Alto, Calif.
“This could stop today if TMT and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation made the decision to just go to their alternative site in the Canary Islands,” Mauna Kea Hui leader Kealoha Pisciotta said.
Opponents of the telescope have launched a mass letter- writing, phone call and online petition campaign aimed at pressuring the foundation into either moving the site of the $1.4 billion telescope from Hawaii or to divest in the project.
The foundation started by the Intel co-founder and his wife has committed more than $200 million to the design and construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope since 2003.
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Foundation spokeswoman Holly Potter said the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation does not have any direct decision-making authority over the Thirty Meter Telescope and is not a voting member of the TMT International Observatory board of directors, which does.
The foundation’s support is not conditioned on location, she added.
“We recognize the strong feelings both in support and in opposition to this project. We respect every person’s perspective and the right of all to express their points of view. We hope all actions on the mountain, and at our offices, will continue to be respectful and peaceful,” Potter said in an email Monday.
TMT International Observatory spokesman Scott Ishikawa said Mauna Kea remains “our preferred site.”
Moore, who owns an oceanfront house on the Big Island, has also donated hundreds of millions of dollars to Caltech and the University of California, which are nonprofit partners of TMT, along with the astronomy institutions of Canada, China, Japan and India.
The foundation was started in 2000 following a gift of $5 billion with its focus on science, environmental conservation, patient care and the San Francisco Bay Area.
“We want the Foundation to tackle large, important issues at a scale where it can achieve significant and measurable impacts,” a statement of founders’ intent says.
According to the organization’s website, the TMT will be a powerful tool to accelerate scientific understanding of the universe. “It will advance the world’s knowledge across a vast span of time from the first galaxies that formed in the Universe to the planets that orbit nearby stars in our own Milky Way galaxy that might harbor life.”
The foundation has been aware for some time that building the next-generation telescope on Hawaii’s tallest mountain was not going to be easy.
A 2007 report it commissioned to provide an independent evaluation of the risks involved in developing the Thirty Meter Telescope warned of serious head winds, the high probability of litigation and a complicated and lengthy regulatory process — all of which have come to pass.
The report also described a perceived poor history of stewardship of Mauna Kea and a “great mistrust” of the University of Hawaii by Native Hawaiians cultivated over many years — “heavy baggage” that the TMT would have to carry and overcome.
“Should TMT decide to pursue a Mauna Kea site, it will inherit the anger, fear, and great mistrust generated through previous telescope planning and siting failures and an accumulated disbelief that any additional projects, especially a physically imposing one like the TMT, can be done properly,” the report said.
The report added that to succeed at Mauna Kea, “TMT must run a gauntlet … of potential challenges, not all of which are of TMT’s making and some of which could be potential showstoppers if TMT’s schedule and timing do not have great flexibility.”
Earlier this year Pisciotta, one of 60 people interviewed for that report, and a handful of other TMT opponents, traveled to California to meet with Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation officials.
Among other things, the group shared a petition against the project signed by more than 67,000 people, and reminded the foundation about the findings of the 2007 report.
Kealoha said the meeting was cordial but didn’t produce any commitments.
Activists held a news conference targeting the foundation from the mountain Friday, and Wednesday a contingent of Native Hawaiians, including a group known as Hui o Mauna Kea SF Bay Area, will be taking “a non-violent stand” outside the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s California headquarters.
“Gordon Moore single-handedly has the ability to change the course of this project,” protest organizer Britt Yap said in a statement. “His foundation is the largest investor of the telescope project and if he tells TMT officials ‘lets pull out of Hawaii’ or ‘let’s take the telescope to the Canary Islands instead,’ we believe his influence can make this happen.”
Yap said the group hopes to persuade Moore that the desecration of the mountain should not be part of his legacy.
About a week ago a group called Mauna Kea Education and Awareness launched a change.org petition calling on the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the nonprofit TMT partners to immediately halt construction of the TMT. As of Monday night the petition has collected over 152,000 signatures.
“The TMT will cause harm to the mountain and destroy a sacred place for Kanaka Maoli’s spiritual and cultural practices. We oppose any construction made on sacred land without the free, prior and informed consent of Kanaka Maoli,” the petition declares.
Candace Fujikane, University of Hawaii- Manoa English professor and board member with KAHEA, the Hawaii Environmental Alliance, shared her recent letter to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation online.
Native Hawaiians and their allies are determined to protect their mountain, she wrote, and the arrest of elders and the bad press is not a good look for the foundation.
“Aloha is our most powerful weapon, and we are drawing in people daily to stand with us,” Fujikane said. “I write to you from Pu‘uhonua ‘o Pu‘uhuluhulu where we stand 3,000 people strong, prepared to stay here as long as it takes. I have no return ticket to my home island of O‘ahu.
“Which side of history will you stand on? Please choose to be the hero in this dire situation.”