Fearing Trump policies, 15,000 in San Diego join science marches across the globe - San Diego U-T
As many as 15,000 scientists and their supporters, increasingly disillusioned with President Donald Trump’s posture on climate-change policy and proposed cuts to federal research agencies, gathered on Saturday in downtown San Diego as part of international day to champion science in government decision making.
The March for Science, held on Earth Day, included rallies in more than 600 cities on six continents, from Honolulu to Houston to Hong Kong to Mexico City. At its nucleus in Washington, D.C., tens of thousands of people converged on the Washington Monument and then marched down Constitution Avenue to the foot of Capitol Hill. In San Diego, police put the crowd at roughly 15,000 people.
At the rallies, scientists and others voiced concerns about the administration’s dismissal of established climate science, as well as its proposal to cut federal agencies that conduct or fund scientific research. That includes the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Health, which the president has called for slashing by 31 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Trump and his deputies have also taken steps to roll back Obama-era policies aimed reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants and cars.
Ralph Keeling, a climatologist with UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told the crowd of demonstrators in downtown San Diego that the question of whether humans are causing climate change is a “fake debate.”
“In 40 years of skepticism, there has not been a theory put forth that has traction, that has a school of thought associated with it,” said Keeling, who is carrying on his father’s groundbreaking research tying the rise of carbon-dioxide levels to global warming. “You have skeptics that individually have reasons for doubting, but they have not engaged in producing an alternate hypothesis. What that tells you is that the debate has been over for decades.
“Something like 97 percent of the papers on climate endorsed the view that this is a serious problem, and even that undersells it, at least in my opinion,” he added, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Thousands of people participated in the March for Science in downtown San Diego on Saturday, April 22, 2017.
As evidence for human-caused climate change continues to mount, from record high global temperatures to melting ice caps, some in the opposition have shifted from outright denial of global warming to varying levels of skepticism. Critics have questioned, for example, whether scientists have exaggerated projections of damage to come and the extent to which humans are contributing.
Trump and his appointed team have embraced subtle differences in their statements around the issue, from Trump’s pre-candidate statement that climate change is a “hoax,” to EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s statements last month that there’s “tremendous disagreement” about the extent to which human activity is causing the planet to heat up, to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statements that impacts from warming will likely be tempered by human’s ability to adapt.
In the run up to Saturday’s events, organizers repeated the assertion that the marches would be political but not partisan, an attempt to diffuse concerns that the marches could further polarize the electorate on issues around climate change and research funding.
People in San Diego marched from Civic Center to Waterfront Park holding a wide variety of signs. While some people carried placards that directly disparaged Trump, much of the signage featured less divisive slogans, such as “In God We Trust; All Others Bring Data” or “Evidence is Not Ideology.” Other messages skirted the political line a bit closer, including “Science is Not a Liberal Agenda” and “Let’s Make America Smart Again.”
Pamela Reynolds, a chemist who teaches high school science at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, said she has long felt the federal government hasn’t been doing enough to support scientific research. Although, she added, the current administration has increased her frustration.
“I think it’s pathetic that as a country, even under any administration, that we don’t support science to a greater degree with the amount of money that we put into defense,” she said. “We as a country are not showing good stewardship, nor are we being good mentors to the rest of the world.”
Some scientists voiced concern in the run up to the science march that such an overtly political event could damage the credibility of the field.
“I worry the march would drive the wedge deeper,” said Robert S. Young, a coastal geologist at Western Carolina University who wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed article in January expressing misgivings about the march.
The march's national website offered this in response to concerns about political blow-back: “In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense? There is no Planet B.”
“We are at a critical juncture. Science is under attack,” said Cara Santa Maria, a science communicator who was one of several emcees of the rally in D.C. “The very idea of evidence and logic and reason is being threatened by individuals and interests with the power to do real harm.
“We're gathered here today to fight for science,” she went on as the crowd cheered. “We're gathered to fight for education. To fight for knowledge. And to fight for Planet Earth.”
While traveling by motorcade to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Saturday, Trump passed dozens of demonstrators from the march holding signs, including one that said, “Stop denying the earth is dying,” according to a pool report. Later, the White House released a statement from Trump for Earth Day that did not mention the March for Science by name, but appeared directed at its participants.
Calling science critical to economic growth and environmental protection, he said, “My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks.”
“As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate,” he added.
While the March for Science evolved from social media into a street campaign, scientists seem to be wading into activism all over the country in an almost unprecedented fashion.
Most notably, a political action committee called 314 Action, named for the first three digits of Pi, launched a campaign earlier this year to help scientists run for office against incumbent lawmakers the group labels as “anti-science.” In the last few months, news of scientists considering a run for Congress or other political offices has become more prevalent.