Why climate scientists are marching this weekend

Mann and Mandia

Climate scientists Michael Mann and Scott Mandia will be marching and speaking for science on April 22.

Why climate scientists are marching this weekend

By Stephanie Sides

Scientists, as a group, are far more comfortable in the lab than out on the streets. So, why are so many of them participating in the March for Science this Saturday? Michael Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, might be speaking for many when he says, “Science is under attack in this country.”

He should know. Testifying recently before the House Science Committee at a hearing dominated by climate science skeptics, Mann said, “It’s now more important than ever for scientists to speak up — loudly and clearly.”

Mann will speak at the March for Science April 22 in Washington, D.C. The march is the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments. This march represents an opportunity to take a public stand in support of science. Satellite marches are planned in at least 514 cities in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Overwhelming evidence on climate change 

Scott Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences at Suffolk County Community College (Long Island, NY), agrees wholeheartedly with Mann. He points out that people who deny climate change have had some success in convincing the general public and our political leaders that human-caused climate change is still debatable. “But there is overwhelming evidence,” he says, “of human-caused global warming in the scientific community.” In fact, 97% of the peer-reviewed published scientific literature on the topic agree on this.

Scientists are not typically the first to be called to the front lines. But Mandia insists that the public sees scientists marching: That will help people understand how important this issue is and to what degree scientists, self-selected and trained to identify fault with each other’s theories and methodologies, agree on this issue.

In addition to his academic work, Mandia walks the talk in another way: He is Co-founder of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, a group of more than 160 of the world’s top climate scientists who endeavor to provide the most accurate climate science information to the media and government.

Delay exacerbates problem

Mandia, who will be marching and speaking at the Rockville Centre event on Long Island, NY, thinks that the most compelling argument in support of acknowledging climate change is to show that delay works against deniers’ self-interest: It makes it more likely that things will get bad enough to require increased taxes and regulations. By acting sooner rather than later, he argues, we can make choices and enable the free market to provide solutions. “This is a human, not environmental, issue,” he says.

The Power of Marching

William McGinnis, Dean of the UC San Diego Division of Biological Sciences, says, “This march has been prompted by an administration that tends not to use facts as a basis for policy decisions: Witness that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been cut to one ‘senior’ advisor with a bachelor’s degree in political science.”

As many of us do, McGinnis wonders: Do demonstrations have any effect besides airing protesters’ grievances and garnering TV coverage?

“They do have an effect,” he insists, “if they are followed up, repeated, and developed into funded organizations that influence politics.” He argues: “Think of the civil rights and Vietnam War demonstrations. These initiatives took time to achieve their ends but they started with public, grassroots action. Martin Luther King said that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ Participating in the March for Science is one way to start bending the arc of public discourse in the U.S. toward a greater appreciation for evidenced-based reasoning.”

Melissa Miller, a long-time marine technician at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) at UC San Diego, plans to march at the San Diego rally. She supports SIO’s newest ocean-going research vessel, The Sally Ride. She says, “It’s very fulfilling to help scientists from high school students to retired professors collect data about the ocean. Science shouldn’t be politicized: The EPA and NOAA are doing important work, and defunding them is dangerous. There are countless examples of how we have benefited from government-funded research programs: fisheries management bringing species back from the brink of extinction to cleaner air and safer drinking water.”

Sally Ride

Scientists aboard The Sally Ride watch a monitor showing life on the ocean floor.

Jeff Severinghaus, Professor of Geosciences at SIO, says, “I will march in San Diego because, when the government stops listening to economists, markets crash; when medical doctors are not listened to, children remain unvaccinated and disease breaks out; and when climate scientists are not listened to, we have floods, drought, famine, millions of refugees, and war. The stakes couldn’t be higher.”

People’s Climate March

The April 22 event will also remind and invite marchers to come back the following weekend to participate in the People’s Climate March April 29 with a similar international distribution of rallies. To find a climate march in your area, go to Peoples Climate.

Stephanie Sides
Stephanie Sides is a freelance writer who works primarily with academics in science, medicine, and engineering.