March for Science: The global movement to protest the willful denial of climate change

In his 1964 novel, Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote, “Science is magic that works.” It is a dichotomous statement primarily because it combines two ideas that don’t generally blend. Science is the opposite of magic, and the ideas of magic are often applied to notions of faith. To say that science is in direct opposition to God is only partially false, since there are many scientists who believe in both, but the core ideas of each are fundamentally antithetical. Belief and facts are entirely different animals, and to eschew facts in light of pending global disaster is not only ignorant, it is reckless. It shows a complete disregard for the well-being of both humans and animals.

That an American president would deny the danger of global warming and reverse such policies intended to preserve the environment is particularly disturbing, especially since America has played a big part in contributing to the effects of climate change. According to an analysis from the World Resources Institute, the U.S. alone contributes to 27 percent of all the carbon emissions in the world. This analysis accounts for all emissions from 1850 to 2011 precisely because carbon dioxide (CO2) remains in the atmosphere for a very long time. According to a 2012 article in The Guardian, 65 to 80 percent of C02 released in the atmosphere can take anywhere from 20 to 200 years to dissipate. The remaining 20 to 35 percent can take “hundreds of thousands of years.” Since this country produces the largest amount of greenhouse gases in the world, it‘s our duty to take responsibility for our actions and correct the problem—a responsibility that President Trump completely evades.

So we march—not just for science, but for truth and accountability.

The March for Science, a global protest held in over 600 cities inside in the U.S. and 78 outside it, celebrated Earth Day by standing up to the Trump administration’s exclusion of policy decisions that address scientific knowledge, and its stated intention to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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Photo by Geoffrey Foster

Despite the nearly continuous rainfall in Washington D.C. on April 22, approximately 40,000 people came to the event at the National Mall. The event included multiple speakers and musical acts. Dozens of men and women from the scientific community were present, including Bill Nye, who led the actual march after the stage events concluded.

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Photo by Bradley Wells

Among the 40,000 were people from all walks of life, young and old. One such attendee was Michael Ferro, the Collection Manager for the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department at Clemson University in South Carolina. Ferro said he is no stranger to the continual debate between faith and science, which prompted the creation of his essay, “A Citizen’s Guide to Science.”

“I’ve been learning and teaching science for a long time,” Ferro said. “I worked with a lot of students over many years and it’s a skeptical area, especially concerning evolution. So, I have taken all the arguments and ideas I’ve had and distilled them down to an essay on what science is. It’s about trying to understand how the universe works by actually looking at the universe. We often forget to remind people that that’s essential, because there are some people who try to understand how the universe works by looking at sacred literature or by choosing something that makes them feel good, and that’s where things tend to go wrong.”

Ferro said that he is not interested is politicizing science as much as promoting the idea of making better decisions when it comes to choosing the people that represent us.

“I know there’s a lot of hostility toward the current administration,” Ferro said. “The fact of the matter is that we human beings promote ourselves, and there are always people who are going to try to sell you something and sell themselves, and it’s really up to us to be good consumers. We’re the ones that should have recognized the issues with the Trump administration before it was the Trump administration. I think it more important that we learn how to think right so we can make better decisions.”

Among the crowd gathered at the event, the presence of millennials was a common sight, as many of them tend to adopt a liberal viewpoint that screams in the face of conservative values. The millennials are now poised to become the dominant voice in the future of U.S. politics, even in predominantly red states like West Virginia. Two such people are West Virginia University science students Andy Thomas and Austin Davis, who were present with a poster suggesting a course list at the defunct Trump University based on the president’s controversial ideologies. However, the sardonic poster was only part of the message they intended to convey.

“I think it’s important for West Virginia to be part of a function like this,” Davis said. “We’re here to show our support for a state that is typically put on the back burner, but with emerging technologies, it is important for West Virginia to be a part of science in any facet.”

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WVU students Andy Thomas, left, and Austin Davis. Photo by Geoffrey Foster.

Whereas some protestors were present to show their support as citizens, others came on behalf of organizations that exist specifically to combat the effects of climate change. One such protestor was D.C. resident Philip Downey of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

“The Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a grassroots organization fighting for Carbon Fee and Dividend,” Downey said. “The basic idea is that we need to tax carbon at it source and really come up with the use of alternative energy sources by putting an appropriate price on carbon. We are bi-partisan, supporting both democrats and republicans who are willing to stand up and be counted in terms of the climate change movement. Actually, we’re very psyched right now because there is a bi-partisan climate action caucus. There are 37 democrats and republicans in the house so were beginning to see some coalescence, and I think legislators are beginning to see that it’s a real problem.”

Downey further said that the most significant way to engender change on the issue is through aggressive legislative action.

“Everyone needs to get involved,” Downey said. “Stand up. Write to your congressman. Fight for positive legislation that will move us in the right direction. Don’t be passive.”

Among the many combatants of the fight for proper scientific legislation is climatologist and geophysicist Dr. Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and pioneer of methods that have isolated temperature records and changes in climate patterns for the past 1,000 years. During his speech at the event, Mann said that despite years of scientific research and techniques, science is still under attack.

“I was initially reluctant to be at the center of a fractious public debate over human caused climate change, but I ultimately came to embrace that role,” Mann said. “I’ve become convinced that there is no more noble pursuit than seeking to ensure that policy is informed by an objective assessment of scientific evidence. So, here we are at a crossroads. Never before have we witnessed science under the kind of assault it is right now. Never before have we needed science more to deal with the changing climate. All of us who care about science and our planet must now make our voices heard, and indeed today, the entire world is listening.”

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Photo by Geoffrey Foster

Although the reckless disregard of global warming sits at the forefront of the ongoing movement, the enduring message is the importance of science not only in government legislation, but in our everyday lives. During his speech at the event, Bill Nye stressed this point by asserting that the practice of science is integral to the continuation of a healthy and functional society.

“The process of science has enabled humankind to discover the laws of nature,” Nye said. “This understanding has, in turn, enabled us to feed and care for the world’s billions, build great cities, establish effective governments, create global transportation systems, explore outer space, and know the cosmos. Yet today we have a great many lawmakers—not just here, but around the world—deliberately ignoring and actively suppressing science. Their inclination is misguided, and in no one’s best interest. Our lives are in every way improved by having clean water, reliable electricity and access to electronic global information. Each is a product of scientific discoveries, diligent research and thoughtful engineering. These vital services are connected to policy issues, which can only be addressed competently by understanding the natural laws in play.”

However, as long as lawmakers continue to suppress scientific evidence and research, the problem will only persist, blossoming into a beast that we cannot tame. To ignore science is to ignore the laws that govern the universe. Our lives, our societies, our continuance as a people rely on understanding the natural world and playing by its rules. Nature does not broker deals or lobby for those in power. It is indifferent. We owe our existence to nature and we must obey its laws. Otherwise, it will devour us all.

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Photo by Geoffrey Foster

 

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