The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is an observatory governed by a corporate, non-profit, and multinational board of directors with partners and stakeholders across the world. This unit examines, first, the international network of collaborators in the TMT project—specifically, the partners and stakeholders—and, second, the growing movement in Hawaiʻi and beyond the islands to demand that TMT collaborators divest from their financial, technological, and scientific investments in the observatory sited to be built at Mauna Kea on Hawaiʻi island.
TMT is a technoscientific innovation of massive proportions, and the collaboration that constitutes it is both enormous in scale and bureaucratically complex. In order to protect Mauna Kea from desecration and destruction at the hands of this monstrous project, it is crucial to understand the TMT collaboration and demand its collaborators divest.
Who are the collaborators? What are their investments? What is divestment and why is the divestment movement critically important?
The original partners of the Thirty Meter Observatory Corporation, established in 2003, organized together to propose the TMT project for construction at the northern plateau of Mauna Kea in Hawaiʻi. Original partners included the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), the University of California (UC), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)—the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) participated at this time in planning discussions. According to the corporation in consultation with researchers and engineers, the mountain in Hawai‘i was the most exceptional one in the world for a Extremely Large Optical Telescope as a ground-based facility that could be used by cosmologists, astronomers, and astrophysicists to uncover the origins of humanity, hunt for habitable planets outside of the solar system, and discover extraterrestrial and alien life, to name just a few of the science opportunities. This was a lofty research agenda that compelled the corporation to propose siting the observatory at Mauna Kea because of its low optical turbulence and excellent atmospheric and meteorological conditions. Although the corporation was initially driven by North American institutions in the US and Canada, it expanded quickly to bring aboard the National Optical Astronomy Observatory of Japan, National Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Indian Institute of Astrophysics. In this sense, scientists from settler-states in North America entered into a technoscientific collaboration with those in Asian countries rationalized settlement, colonization, and occupation in Hawaʻi through their unapologetic desires for conquest in outer space.
After transforming in 2014 into the Thirty Meter International Observatory Limited Liability Company (TIO), the estimated cost to develop TMT at Mauna Kea was $1.4 billion. Corporate partners pledged to cover this cost—some with cash over time, whereas others with in-kind contributions like infrastructure and instrumentation. The University of California and Caltech committed $50 million from their institutions to the project and an additional $200 million,
acquired through a grant from the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation, for initial design, infrastructure, and development. The National Research Council of Canada allocated $243.5 million to manufacture the observatory’s enclosure as well as the telescope’s adaptive optics system and some first-light suite instruments. The National Optical Astronomy Observatory of Japan and National Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences largely pledged in-kind contributions, whereas the Indian Institute of Astrophysics committed $200 million to produce approximately 20% of the mirrors for the telescope’s primary segmented mirror. Although these numbers constitute the bulk of the fiscal contributions and pledges in TMT, these financial investments are co-constituted by investments, such as appeals and advocacy, in the project’s cutting-edge technology and the fresh science capable with it. In other words, to desire the observatory, for its technological innovation paired to scientific inquiry, is to necessarily compel economic investment in it. This is the tangled web woven in technoscientific investment in TMT. Therefore, divestment work targets not just the financial, technological, and scientific investment.
The TMT divestment movement is global and championed by Kānaka Maoli and kia‘i (mountain protectors). In this unit, you will learn about TMT divestment work taking place, to this day still, in Hawaiʻi, California, and across Canada. At the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu, the University of California, and the National Research Council of Canada, Kānaka Maoli are showing up to oppose the TIO’s proposed construction of TMT by calling for wholescale divestment in the observatory at Mauna Kea. This means demanding divestment from the technology to occupy Mauna Kea and the science that would extract data from its occupation insofar as it also means demanding financial divestment from the proposed development in Hawai‘i. In the divestment movement, Kanaka Maoli have been clear: no consent, no TMT. Some collaborators have heard this message, but they have still yet to act. While opposition in the form of direct-action demonstrations is critical to protect Mauna Kea, so too is opposition in the form of divestment work. The battle rages on against technoscience in occupied Hawaiian national territory and against settler colonialism and capital on our sacred mountain.
The guiding questions and resources for you to learn about TMT Collaborators and Divestment. The guiding questions provide a framework of inquiry for reading the resources. This unit contains four sections of resources that have been curated for you to learn about the TMT collaboration and divestment movement. These are listed below with various materials such as local and global news articles, blogs, institutional and organizational websites, videos, podcasts, and scholarly research.