A critical examination of the three main claims made by anti TMT protestors.  Here are brief rebuttals to their sacredness and sovereignty claims and lastly a scientific reason why building anywhere else on Earth is no substitute. There is no basis in law or ethics for this opposition.  It is instead more a fashionable cause, and a bandwagon to jump on.   “Kapu TMT” is their banner.  Have most of them really thought deeply about what that means?  I’m sure that the Natives know but no way the millions who suddenly care about this know.   It means keep out, but it really means much more.     In short, those claims are based on a religion abolished by the Hawaiian Kingdom itself, a kingdom for which no one can say who would be king, and too often, a gross underestimation of the importance of science in our daily lives. 

  1. The sacred restrictions on people traveling to the summit of volcanos like Mauna Kea were abolished by the natives themselves long before annexation. [1, 2].    That and so far, Pele does not seem to mind telescopes at the summit of one of her volcanos.  If one is a true believer in the sacredness of that land one must believe in the gods that make is sacred.   So far they seem to be pleased. *
  2. There is no single current Hawaiian Kingdom government, not even an unrecognized one, with full authority to speak for Native Hawaiians, and grant or deny permission to build anything. (There are 12 groups that pretend to do so see here, and here, and here for a few examples)
  3. The astronomy that can be done at Mauna Kea, and only Mauna Kea, will advance all other science by leaps and bounds. A report which I am sure quotes scientist out of context makes it seem like the Canary Islands would be “almost” as good. When milli arc seconds matter almost is not good enough. If finding a second Earth and seeing it clearly is not important to you, consider that without astronomy you probably would not have the computer you are using right now.

This leaves no real reason for most people who say Kapu TMT to do so other than they want to seem woke and on the fashionable side of the issue.  However, this is more like siding against Galileo and with the church that called the idea of Earth revolving around the Sun heresy.  This is a test for all modern scientist, and lay people, who have decried those past actions for how they would really stand up to the social pressure of uncompromising regimes.

That is the short version

Not So Sacred, The End Of The Kapu System    

In 1819 long before annexation, and with barely any contact from Europeans, the Hawaiian Kingdom abolished the Kapu system [1, 2].  The Kapu system was not just a caste system it forbade certain people going to certain places.  Among them the tops of certain mountains and volcanos.  Mauna Kea was one of them.    Kapu combined with different words can mean different things.  Kapu Aloha is often used there it could be called kind restraint and respect for boundaries.  Kapu TMT would mean “keep out TMT” or applied to a landform “forbidden”.  Much like the Arabic word haram.  As in the Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca. Where non-Muslims are not allowed.

So, while there are undoubtedly locations on the top of Mauna Kea which are of historical and archeological interest and which should be protected, as we now protect Cahokia, it is simply not true that the whole volcano, or even the whole summit is sacred.

You may ask how is this relevant now?  It is a fact that at least some anti TMT activist want to revive the practice of forbidding access to some areas by anyone who is non-Hawaiian and want an end to all astronomy on the summit.   At least a non-muslim can become one and enter the Haram. 


It is telling that the idea of implementing some aspects of the inherently human rights violating Kapu system are mentioned. [3]  As anathema as religious apartheid is to US Americans, even a little bit of racial apartheid goes against everything the US has stood for, since 1965.  


One may argue that no Earthly king, even one who is the supreme authority of the faith, has the power to defy the gods.  I’ll grant that.  Let us consider what the Hawaiian goddess of volcanism has done lately.

If the Hawaiian goddess Pele, whose hair covered large parts of Hawaii just last year as Pahoehoe lava destroyed and created land, is offended by those telescopes, why does she not make Mauna Kea eruptContrary to popular belief it is not a completely extinct volcano and, even scientist say it can erupt again.  As a believer in God The Beneficent, The Merciful I am open to seeing clear proofs and solid evidence that someone else’s god exist and feels a certain way about things.   I do not dismiss it.  A god of volcanism should have no trouble at all with making a volcano erupt from its summit and destroy those who have defiled her sacred abode and those of her family of gods.    That is unless she’s cool with that which is going on up there.


A Kingdom Without a Sovereign Is Not Sovereign.   


As all religions are used by humans for human reasons.  For most of the opponents of TMT the sacredness of the land is not the real issue.  It is instead a matter of power and control of the territory that many of them, with some good reason, feel was taken from them, against international law.

I am not going to debate that.  Instead I will ask a simple question for which I have searched for an answer. Who is the king or queen of Hawaii?   

Right now, there are as many as twelve groups of people claiming to be either the king or queen of Hawaii, some with a blood relation to the old royal house, or leaders of a more democratic successor to the kingdom. (Look here, and here, and here for a few examples).

A kingdom with no king is no kingdom at all.    

Anyone who wants to do business in Hawaii and do right by sovereignty minded natives has no way to gain clear title for any construction of any kind, anywhere in the state.  Clearly people can only comply with the laws that are in force.  Clearly people could only comply with the rights of a Hawaiian government in exile or under occupation if there was one Native Hawaiian government.

TMT complied with the only government extant on the islands.  That government conducted impact statements on the culture and environment TWICE.  TMT won in the courts activist sued in TWICE. 

If activist want the eventual sovereignty of an independent Hawaii respected, they should start by respecting the rulings of a court they themselves sued in.

The US government hasn’t stopped them from gaining the level of recognition of a Indian reservation.  Most of them are against it calling the deal American Indians have on the mainland less than what they could have.   The very sovereignty they are talking about now, they said no to because it is not good enough for them.  The power to make enforceable laws on a reservation that could’ve been huge, and to maybe even have some of those laws apply, at least to natives, in the rest of the state.  That's not good enough for them who can't get it together and form one recgonizeable government...really...just...

For Science Only Mauna Kea will do.

In spite of what this article from CBS, and repeated by others said, Mauna Kea being “just barely” better than La Palma means that certain things will not be possible. 

If the infrared we need to see can’t make it through the atmosphere to the altitude of the summit on La Palma then we won’t see it at all.    This is for the exact same reason we have the greenhouse effect.  The atmosphere is opaque to infrared light.  It absorbs infrared light.  What emits a lot of infrared?  Exoplanets.  We could miss out on a second Earth without TMT on top of Mauna Kea. 

They then give the reason why this might “not matter” as being the JWST would be in space and be “just as good”.  (See Picard Facepalm gif above)

JWST has a primary mirror 6.5 m in diameter.  TMT has a primary mirror 30 m in diameter.  The angular resolution for 850 nm light of JWST will be about 0.03 arc seconds (one arc second is a 60’th of a 60’th of a degree).   TMT will have an angular resolution of about 0.006 arc seconds at 850 nm.  TMT will have 100 times better angular resolution than JWST.  JWST may be a bit more sensitive by not having atmosphere in the way, compared to TMT it would have a blurry view.

If finding a second Earth and seeing it clearly is not important to you, consider that without astronomy you probably would not have the computer you are using right now.

Indeed, without the observations that confirmed Newton’s laws we would not have had the steam age.  Without the observations that confirmed Einstein’s theories we would not have the current age of computers, medicine, and space technologies like GPS we are in now.   All of those things are built on past advancements.  All of which are based on fundamental physics research, which was in turn confirmed as being of real value through astronomy.  The added resolution, at optical wavelengths, and high sensitivities of TMT may be the only way to achieve that next breakthrough.

In short, the Kapu system was abolished by the Kingdom of Hawaii all on its own which lifted the restriction on who gets to go to the summit of the volcanoes.  Pele at least seems to be OK with that.  The Hawaiian Kingdom may still exist in some legal sense but even if it does who is the king/queen and where is their government.  TMT complied with the only extant government.   Last but not least TMT anywhere else just won’t be able to see what it can on top of Mauna Kea.   




S. Levin, "The Overthrow of the Kapu System in Hawaii," The Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 77, pp. 402-430.


D. L. Rhodes and L. W. Greene, "Overview of Hawaiian History," National Park Service, 15 November 2001. [Online]. Available: https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/kona/history5a.htm. [Accessed 31 August 2019].


P. Adler, "Honolulu Civil Beat "Brainstorming Beyond The Mauna Kea Standoff"," 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/08/brainstorming-beyond-the-mauna-kea-sta....



* Just to preempt anyone who takes offence to my reference to the Native Hawaiian religion here.  Notice I do with respect.  No one can know with 100% certainty about the afterlife.  What we can all see and believe is in that which shows us clear proofs, and solid evidences of existing.  While I see one and only one God who set up a great universe of worlds, some others see multiple gods for every location and every phenomenonIn America one can have whatever belief they want.  However, in America one cannot demand that laws be made based on that belief.