The U.S. is the only developed country where climate change is still up for debate. As President Barack Obama said after the Paris climate talks in 2015, “You travel around Europe, and you talk to leaders of governments and the opposition, and they’re arguing about a whole bunch of things. One thing they’re not arguing about is whether the science of climate change is real and whether we have to do something about it.”
Why is the U.S. the only advanced nation in the world debating the human impact of climate change and a warming planet? It may be because the Republican Party—the only major political party in the world that denies the existence of climate change, according to Brian Schatz, Democrat from Hawaii—relies heavily on campaign cash from the fossil fuel industry, or because it wants to keep constituents whose livelihood depends on the coal industry, or that the issue of climate change has been maligned by a toxic political environment (pun unintended).
But no matter the reasons, in the face of so much resistance to objective science, researchers need to stick up for facts and hold public officials accountable to scientific data.
The idea for a March for Science on Washington on Earth Day, Saturday April 22, grew organically almost immediately after the inauguration of President Donald Trump and the Women’s March on Washington, and within a few months, the website and Facebook page had attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors.
But not all scientists are on board. Some scientists and professional organizations fear backlash. As Rob Young, a scientist working on sea-level rise, expressed in the New York Times, the science march is going to make scientists appear like just another interest group, making it harder for them to interact and work with political decision-makers. But is it any easier now? Is it not important for scientists to take a stand and stick up for reality-based science in a political climate where every issue is presumed to have two sides? Wouldn’t greater visibility for science, and hopefully public support for science, inspired by the march compensate for some of the backlash if it were to happen?
There is also a great deal of resistance in the scientific community about “making science political”. Scientists have voiced concern that the march is straying into partisan territory by aiming to address issues like equality, racism, immigration, sexism, and economic justice.
Why is that necessarily a bad thing? Shouldn’t all of us—upstanding citizens who support equality and fairness—stand up for these causes? And while science may not be directly related to these causes, it deals in fact and objectivity, and the numbers and data tell us that the aforementioned are significant issues that need to be addressed and corrected.
And secondly, who said science at this point in time is untouched by politics? 97% of scientists categorically believe in a warming world and humanity’s impact on it.
Yet, most Republican politicians have publicly rejected the premise of human-made climate change; the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Rep. Lamar Smith, is an avid climate change denier. The day after Trump’s inauguration, the White House scrubbed its website off all mention of climate change. Trump’s cabinet members, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke all discredit climate change.
In the last several election cycles, Republican presidential candidates have consistently and categorically denied the merits of evolution, a fundamental tenet of biology. Vice President Mike Pence is a creationist, and the jury is still out on what Trump believes.
Trump himself consistently and blatantly gives out erroneous information, with no regard to facts: his assessments on voter fraud, the size of crowds at his inauguration, and crime statistics being just a few examples. The people close to him routinely engage in alternative facts.
Science is already political and the science deniers are winning. As long as scientists stay on the sidelines and allow prevaricators to fill the airwaves with non-facts, the less the chance of ever moving this country forward towards scientific consensus.
Besides, scientists have a duty to ensure that the value of science is understood by the public, that science is interpreted correctly in the public discourse, that elected officials are held accountable to scientific facts and that it adequately informs policy decisions.
As Eric Davidson, president of the American Geophysical Union, said, “We can’t simply sit back complacently and assume that everyone understands how valuable science is for the economy, for national security, for environmental sustainability, for human health, and the list goes on.”
The march is a really great way to show support for science, raise visibility about its value to society, and categorically deny the idea that scientific facts are up for debate.
More than 500 satellite marches are planned all throughout U.S. cities and the world — from Ghana to Ukraine to India to Argentina.
In Philadelphia, marchers will gather at City Hall at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The march will start at 11 a.m. with marchers heading along Market Street to Penn’s Landing for a rally to be held from noon to 2 p.m.
Will you be there?