Thirty Meter Telescope protests
The Thirty Meter Telescope protests are a series of protests and demonstrations that began on the Island of Hawaii in the United States over the choosing of Mauna Kea for the site location of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Mauna Kea is considered the most sacred mountain of Native Hawaiian religion and culture. Protests began locally within the state of Hawaii on October 7, 2014 but went global within weeks of the April 2, 2015 arrest of 31 people who had blockaded the roadway to keep construction crews off the summit.
|Thirty Meter Telescope protests|
|Part of The Hawaiian sovereignty movement|
Native Hawaiian practitioner, Lanakila Mangauil, "protector" Kahookahi Kanuha and others speaking with Mayor Billy Kenoi against the building of more telescopes on Mauna Kea on October 7, 2014
|Date||October 7, 2014 – present|
Mauna Kea Access Road near Mauna Kea Visitors Center
|Goals||End construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea and ban all further development of the Mauna Kea observatories. Begin decommissioning of existing telescopes.|
The TMT, a ground-based, large segmented mirror reflecting telescope grew from astronomers' prioritization in 2000 of a thirty-meter telescope to be built within the decade. Mauna Kea was announced as TMT's preferred site in 2009. Opposition to the project began shortly after the announcement of Mauna Kea as the chosen site out of 5 proposals. While opposition against the observatories on Mauna Kea has been ongoing since the first telescope this protest may be the most vocal. The project was expected to be completed by 2024, nearly simultaneously with the 39-meter Extremely Large Telescope being built in Chile; however, on December 2, 2015, the Supreme Court of Hawaii invalidated the TMT's building permits. The court ruled that due process was not followed. The TMT corporation then removed all construction equipment and vehicles from Mauna Kea, and re-applied for a new permit, meant to respect the Supreme Court's ruling. This was granted on September 28, 2018. On October 30, 2018, the Court validated the new construction permit.
Polling has consistently showed a majority of Hawaiian voters support the construction of the telescope by a margin of more than 2-to-1, including a majority of registered voters and local business owners on Hawaii island, where Mauna Kea is situated. There is also significant support among native Hawaiians, with polls showing from as little as 39 percent supporting the project in 2016 to as much as 79 percent support in 2019. Notable native Hawaiian supporters include Peter Apo, sitting trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and leading University of Hawaii professor and astronomer the late Dr. Peter Coleman, who, in 2015 noted "Hawaiians are just so tied to astronomy I cannot, in any stretch of the imagination, think that TMT is something that our ancestors wouldn't just jump on and embrace"  In July 2019, 300 protestors gathered in support of the TMT project outside the Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu.
Development of Mauna Kea observatoriesEdit
After studying photos for NASA's Apollo program that contained greater detail than any ground based telescope, Gerard Kuiper began seeking an arid site for infrared studies. While he first began looking in Chile, he also made the decision to perform tests in the Hawaiian Islands. Tests on Maui's Haleakalā were promising but the mountain was too low in the inversion layer and often covered by clouds. On the "Big Island" of Hawaii, Mauna Kea is considered the highest island mountain in the world, measuring roughly 33,000 feet from the base deep under the Pacific Ocean. While the summit is often covered with snow the air itself is extremely dry. Kuiper began looking into the possibility of an observatory on Mauna Kea. After testing, he discovered the low humidity was perfect for infrared signals. He persuaded then-governor John A. Burns, to bulldoze a dirt road to the summit where he built a small telescope on Puʻu Poliʻahu, a cinder cone peak. The peak was the second highest on the mountain with the highest peak being holy ground, so Kuiper avoided it.
Next, Kuiper tried enlisting NASA to fund a larger facility with a large telescope, housing and other needed structures. NASA, in turn decided to make the project open to competition. Professor of physics John Jefferies of the University of Hawaii placed a bid on behalf of the university. Jefferies had gained his reputation through observations at Sacramento Peak Observatory. The proposal was for a two-meter telescope to serve both the needs of NASA and the university. While large telescopes are not ordinarily awarded to universities without well established astronomers, Jefferies and UH were awarded the NASA contract, infuriating Kuiper who felt that "his mountain" had been "stolen" from "him". Kuiper would abandon his site (the very first telescope on Mauna Kea) over the competition and begin work in Arizona on a different NASA project. After considerable testing by Jefferies' team, the best locations were determined to be near the summit at the top of the cinder cones. Testing also determined Mauna Kea to be superb for nighttime viewing due to many factors including the thin air, constant trade winds and being surrounded by sea. Jefferies would build a 2.24 meter telescope with the State of Hawaii agreeing to build a reliable, all weather roadway to the summit. Building began in 1967 and first light seen in 1970.
Although the majority of Hawaii residents support the Thirty Meter Telescope, opposition to the project and other observatories has existed since 1964. In Honolulu, the governor and legislature, enthusiastic about the development, set aside an even larger area for the observatory causing opposition in the city of Hilo. Native kānaka ʻōiwi believed the entire site was sacred and that developing the mountain, even for science, would spoil the area. Environmentalists were concerned about rare native bird populations and other citizens of Hilo were concerned about the sight of the domes from the city. Using town hall meetings, Jefferies was able to overcome opposition by weighing the economic advantage and prestige the island would receive. Over the years, the opposition to the observatories may have become the most visible example of the conflict science has encountered over access and use of environmental and culturally significant sites. Opposition to development grew shortly after expansion of the observatories commenced. Once access was opened up by the roadway to the summit, skiers began using it for recreation and objected when the road was closed as a precaution against vandalism when the telescopes were being built. Hunters voiced concerns as did the Hawaiian Audubon Society who were supported by Governor George Ariyoshi.
The Audubon Society objected to further development on Mauna Kea over concerns to habitat of the endangered palila, an endemic species to only specific parts of this mountain. The bird is the last of the finch billed honeycreepers existing on the island. Over 50% of native bird species had been killed off due to loss of habitat from early western settlers or the introduction of non native species competing for resources. Hunters and sportsmen were concerned that the hunting of feral animals would be affected by the telescope operations. A "Save Mauna Kea" movement was inspired by the proliferation of telescopes with opposition believing development of the mountain to be sacrilegious. Native Hawaiian non-profit groups such as Kahea, whose goals are the protection of cultural heritage and the environment, oppose development on Mauna Kea as a sacred space to the Hawaiian religion. Today, Mauna Kea hosts the world's largest location for telescope observations in infrared and submillimeter astronomy. The land itself is protected by the US Historical Preservation Act due to its significance to Hawaiian culture but still allowed development.
Outrigger and Thirty Meter Telescope proposalsEdit
Further development of the Mauna Kea observatories is still opposed by environmental groups and some Native Hawaiians. A 2006 proposal for the Outrigger Telescopes to become extensions of the Keck Observatory was canceled after a judges determination that a full environmental impact statement must be prepared before any further development of the site. The "outrigger" would have linked the Keck I and Keck II telescopes. Environmental groups and Native Hawaiian activist were a lot stronger at this time than in the past but NASA went ahead with the proposal for lack of an alternate site. The group Mauna Kea Anaina Hou made several arguments against the development including that Mauna Kea was a sacred mountain to Native Hawaiians where many deities had lived, and that the cinder cone being proposed as the site was holy in Hawaiian tradition as a burial site for a demi-god. The group raised several other concerns such as environmental over native insects, the question of Ceded lands and an audit report, critical of the mountain's management.
The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is a proposed extremely large, segmented mirror telescope, planned for the summit of Mauna Kea. It is now the focal point of further development of the observatory site, with a current ongoing legal battle in the Hawaii court system. The proposal continues to spawn a great deal of controversy over the use of the site for science.
The TMT project is a response to recommendation in 2000 from the US National Academy of Sciences that a thirty-meter telescope be a top priority, and that it be built within the decade. Urgency in construction is due to the competitive nature of science with the European-Extremely Large Telescope also under construction. The two projects are also complementary, in that the EELT would only view the Southern Celestial Hemisphere, while Mauna Kea offers the best views of the Northern Celestial Hemisphere. However, Mauna Kea's summit is considered the most sacred of all the mountains in Hawaii to many Native Hawaiian people. Native Hawaiian activists such as Kealoha Pisciotta, a former employee of the Mauna Kea Observatories, have raised concerns over the perceived desecration of Mauna Kea posed by TMT construction and presence. Pisciotta, a former telescope systems specialist technician at James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, is one of several people suing to stop the construction and is also director of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou..
As of April, 2015, two separate legal appeals were still pending.
The 1998 study Mauna Kea Science Reserve and Hale Pohaku Complex Development Plan Update stated that "... nearly all the interviewees and all others who participated in the consultation process (Appendices B and C) called for a moratorium on any further development on the summit of Mauna Kea". Many native Hawaiians and environmentalists are opposed to any further telescopes.
The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources conditionally approved the Mauna Kea site for the TMT in February 2011. While the approval has been challenged, the Board officially approved the site following a hearing on April 12, 2013.
Indigenous peoples rightsEdit
The issue of native peoples, their religious freedom and rights in regards to authority for large science-based projects has become a major issue to contend with. Mt. Graham had an issue with the sanctity of the mountain raised by activists. Observatories have succeeded in being built, but only after protracted and expensive litigation and effort.
Blockade and protestsEdit
Roadway blockade and ground breaking interruptionEdit
On October 7, 2014 the groundbreaking for the telescope was being live streamed via webcam. The proceedings were interrupted when the official caravan encountered several dozen demonstrators picketing and chanting in the middle of the roadway. A planned ceremony at the base of the mountain was scheduled by the group, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, in opposition of the telescope and in a press release dated that day, the organization Sacred Mauna Kea stated: "Native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians will gather for a peaceful protest against the Astronomy industry and the State of Hawaii’s ground-breaking ceremony for a thirty-meter telescope (TMT) on the summit of Mauna Kea." Several members traveled up the mountain and were stopped by police, where they laid down in the road and blocked the caravan. The nonviolent protest did not stop or block any people but when the ceremony for the ground breaking began, protesters interrupted the blessing, stopping the proceedings as well as the groundbreaking. That same day in California, protesters demonstrated outside the headquarters of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto, CA.
Second Mauna Kea blockade and arrests, 2015Edit
Beginning in late March 2015 demonstrators halted construction crews near the visitors center, again by blocking access of the road to the summit of the mountain. Heavy equipment had already been placed near the site. Daniel Meisenzahl, a spokesman for the University of Hawaii, stated that the 5 tractors trailers of equipment that were moved up the mountain the day before had alerted protesters that began organizing the demonstrations. Kamahana Kealoha of the group Sacred Mauna Kea stated that over 100 demonstrators had traveled up to the summit to camp overnight, to be joined by more protesters in the early morning to blockade crews. On April 2, 2015, 300 protesters were gathered near the visitor's center where 12 people were arrested. 11 more protesters were arrested at the summit. Protesters, ranging in age from 27 to 75 years of age were handcuffed and led away by local police. Among the major concerns of the protest groups is whether the land appraisals were done accurately and that Native Hawaiians were not consulted. When the trucks were finally allowed to pass, protesters followed the procession up the summit. A project spokesman said that work had begun after arrests were made and the road cleared.
Among the arrests was professional surfer and former candidate for mayor of Kauai, Dustin Barca. A number of celebrity activists of Native Hawaiian descent, both local and national, began campaigning over social media, including Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa who urged Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) to join the protests with him on top of Mauna Kea. Construction was halted for one week at the request of Hawaii state governor David Ige on April 7, 2015 after the protest on Mauna Kea continued and demonstrations began to appear over the state. Project Manager, Gary Sanders stated that TMT agreed to the one-week stop for continued dialogue. Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou viewed the development as positive but said opposition to the project would continue. Pisciotta also stated that the protests would continue to be within a Kapu Aloha; "moving in Aloha with steadfast determination".
Governor Ige announced that the project was being temporarily postponed until at least April 20, 2015. In response to the growing protests the TMT Corporation's division of Hawaii Community Affairs launched an internet microsite, updating content regularly. The company also took to social media to respond to the opposition's growing momentum by hiring public relations firms to assist as the company's voice in the islands. TMT sublease payments on hold following order for a contested case hearing.
National and international demonstrationsEdit
The protests sparked statewide, national as well as international attention to Hawaiian culture, Mauna Kea and the 45-year history of 13 other telescopes on the mountain.
At the University of Hawaii Manoa, hundreds of students lined the streets for blocks and, one by one, they passed the stones from the student taro patch of the university's Center on Hawaiian Studies down the human chain to the lawn in front of the office university president, David Lassner, where the stones were used to build an ahu (the altar of a heiau) as a message to the university.
The construction of the TMT was scheduled to restart on July 15, 2019. On 13 July, protestors started to gather on the base of the access road to Mauna Kea. On 15 July, protestors blocked the access road to the mountain preventing the planned construction from commencing. On July 16, thirteen astronomical facilities on the mountain stopped activities and evacuated their personnel. On July 17, 33 protestors were arrested, all of whom were kūpuna, or elders, as the blockage of the access road continued. The days actions were described in a court declaration filed in connection to a Mauna Kea access case by Hawaii County Police, which claims that there was a "significant risk" that certain protesters would "respond with violence" if officers forcefully separated protesters blocking the road. A Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, legal observer there that day claims that the report over embellished the belief that there was a threat.
More than 1,000 people marched in Waikiki and gathered in Kapiolani Park on July 21, 2019 in protest of the project. The protest continued into August 2019 at the entrance of the Mauna Kea access road, in front of Pu'u Huluhulu on Hawaii Route 200. It was announced on August 9, that astronomers at other Mauna Kea observatories would return to work after halting for many weeks in response to the gathering protesters and activists. However, a former systems specialist for one of the facilities claimed it was wrong to blame the demonstrators stating; "They chose to close down for fear of protesters who are unarmed and nonviolent."
On December 2, 2015, the Supreme Court of Hawaii invalidated the TMT's building permits, ruling that due process was not followed when the Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the permit before the contested case hearing. The TMT company chairman stated: "T.M.T. will follow the process set forth by the state." On December 16, the TMT corporation began removal of all construction equipment and vehicles from Mauna Kea.
On September 28, 2017, the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the TMT's Conservation District Use Permit. On October 30, 2018, the Supreme Court of Hawaii validated the construction permit.
The protests have caused many to voice their support for either the telescope being built, or for the sacred space of Mauna Kea to be protected from the project. Many of the more public support for either side has caused massive controversy and discussion between science and native culture.
University of California astronomers sent out a mass email urging other astronomers to support the TMT through a petition written by a native Hawaiian science student. It was the email that many drew concern with, many calling the wording of "a horde of native Hawaiians" to describe the protesters to be problamatic and potentially racist.
Hawaii based businesses that support the telescope were named in a boycott that was popularized on social media. Businesses included were KTA Super Stores and HPM Building Supply, and the backlash on the businesses made local residents who support the telescope wary to voice their opinions.
Support for protestersEdit
Scientists have taken to Twitter and other social media platforms to voice their support publicly for the protest using #ScientistsforMaunaKea, in which they highlight their field and why they feel that the TMT is not needed on the mountain. An open letter was also published and signed by nearly 1,000 members of the scientific community that takes no position on the siting of TMT on Maunakea, but denounces "the criminalization of the protectors on Maunakea".
Many celebrities have joined the protest in many forms. Some such as Damian Marley the son of Bob Marley, Jason Mamoa, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jack Johnson, and Ezra Miller have traveled to the location and participated in the protests. While others such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruno Mars, Emilia Clark, Nathalie Emmanuel, Rosario Dawson, Jill Wagner, Jai Courtney, Kelly Slater, and Madison Bumgarner have all used their social media to promote the cause and show solidarity.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Thirty Meter Telescope protests.|
- INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAII: Should the Thirty Meter Telescope Be Built? – roundtable discussion (video, aired on April 30, 2015)