The Trump administration is set to implement huge cuts to the EPA. It has also formally approved the dreaded Keystone XL pipeline. The President called it “the greatest technology known to man,” while turning a blind eye to the reality of global warming. These tactics mark the beginning of a full-on assault on all things climate and environment, but on Apr. 22 (Earth Day), thousands will take to Washington and beyond to fight back.
The March for Science campaign gathered 1.3 million supporters on Facebook and Twitter within a week of its inception, but what began as a social media movement will soon take the form of a mass demonstration, which will descend upon the nation’s capital. It will also have sister events, which will take place in 400 other cities around the world on the same day. The march will be unique in that it will be spearheaded by members of the scientific community – workers who have been victims of layoffs due to cuts to environmental federal agencies. Many of these same workers have watched as the Trump administration deliberately obfuscated facts concerning the danger of fossil fuels, as well as the threat of climate change.
“We gather together to stand up for scientists,” said the March for Science campaign. “We pledge to speak up for them when they are silenced, to protect them when they are threatened, and to provide them with support when they feel they can no longer serve their institutions. Scientists in both public and private sectors must be allowed to communicate their results freely, without misrepresentation or distortion and without the fear of retribution.”
The march owes much of its creation to lead organizer Dr. Jonathan Berman, a worker at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “The people making decisions are in Washington,” he remarked, “and they are the people we are trying to reach with the message: You should listen to evidence.”
“The overall tone of the current government seems to be trending in an anti-science direction,” remarked Dr. Caroline Weinberg, a public health researcher and co-organizer of the march. “That is why so many people are motivated to do something like march for science.”
These organizers are talking about much more than a few scientists’ jobs being put on the line. While that would be dire enough by itself, their concerns and warnings over a steadily growing dismissal of scientific research are legitimate. President Trump is a notorious climate denier, going so far as to call global warming a concocted conspiracy, and picking politicians for his cabinet who share his views. If one wonders how environmental safety fares under such an administration, he or she need only look at recent developments, and that is undoubtedly what scientists and activists are doing.
On March 24, Trump granted a permit to finally build the Keystone XL pipeline, a source of endless consternation for environmentalists and indigenous communities, due to the monstrous threat it could pose to sensitive ecosystems and wildlife. The $8 billion project involves a 36-inch underground pipeline that would carry 830,000 barrels of oil from the tar sands region of Alberta, Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast – not all that far from the site of the disastrous BP oil spill, the aftereffects of which will continue to be felt for a long time.
Issues like these are front and center, but in the Trump administration’s war on science and climate, it is using subtler weapons, as well. References to climate change have been erased on the official White House website, the terms “climate change” and “global warming” have been banned at the Department of Energy’s climate office, and the EPA has endured a social media blackout – a “temporary suspension” in posting and sharing news.
Given that latter tactic, Berman said, “There’s been a building desire to speak out, especially among young scientists, and the March for Science became a fulcrum to that shift. Thousands of scientists and science enthusiasts will be ready to take action and make their voices heard. We have the opportunity to couple an incredible coalition of science organizations with thousands of motivated scientists and science supporters to change the world.”
The attack on what these scientists are trying to do, however, is multi-faceted. Victoria Hermann, climate scientist and managing director of the Arctic Institute, said that the Trump administration is actually steadily deleting online archives of her research. “Each defunct page is an effort by them to deliberately undermine our ability to make good policy decisions by limiting access to scientific evidence. These back-to-back deletions come at a time when the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. Just this week, it was reported that the Arctic’s winter sea ice dropped to its lowest level in recorded history.”
“Our concern is that we will have scientists who are silenced or aren’t able to continue to do the work they’re doing,” said Nicole Cantello, who represents EPA workers as chief steward of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704. Research conducted by the agency for many environmental studies, she added, has been put on hold by the administration. “What will become of the studies?” She also decried the defunding of the EPA, stating that such cuts could have prevented the agency from responding to the contamination disaster in Flint, Michigan, or the BP oil spill. If such cuts continue to move forward, she said, “the EPA’s mission could be shackled completely.”
The march in Washington will begin at 10 a.m. on Earth Day, with a teach-in and rally on the National Mall, followed by a street march, rallying under the slogan “Science, Not Silence.”
“Our ultimate goal,” said Weinberg, “is to encourage politicians and people watching to understand that people really do care about science, and think that evidence-based policy should exist in the government.”