Next Saturday, in Washington, DC, and in hundreds of rallies around the world, scientists and their supporters will stage what is likely to be the largest gathering of its kind in history. The March for Science, an idea hatched by a few enthusiastic people on Reddit, has mobilised scientists and their supporters as never before.
As a colleague observed: “You know you’re in trouble when scientists take to the streets.” He’s right. I’ve worked closely with scientists for decades and, by training and temperament, they tend to be happiest in the lab, testing and retesting experiment results – among the last groups of people you might expect to find protesting.
So, why are they grabbing placards now? Because an unprecedented attack on science, scientists and evidence-based policymaking is underway in the US federal government.
Nowhere is the attack more ferocious than on the issue of global warming, where the Trump administration has taken a wrecking ball to the modest but important policies put in place by President Obama. First among them is the Obama administration’s signature Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first-ever limit on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which Trump has vowed to repeal. He has also pledged to “reopen” (which could well mean “weaken”) hard-won vehicle fuel economy standards that have already begun lowering carbon emissions and oil consumption. Meanwhile, in a tragic example of wilful blindness, Trump has abolished a rule requiring federal agencies to consider how large federal projects affect climate change and how climate impacts, such as sea level rises and drought, might affect the long-term viability of the projects themselves. This is akin to erecting a building on a fault zone without considering earthquakes.
Thankfully, bureaucratic hurdles make it hard to accomplish these goals with a stroke of the president’s pen. But if the administration succeeds, it may increase by billions of tons the emission of global warming gases and other pollutants that endanger our health; burden our children with much higher costs of fighting climate change; cede the United States’ clean energy prominence to other countries and make it much harder to meet the goals the US set as part of the 2015 international Paris agreement on climate.
There is nothing subtle about Trump’s antipathy to science. As a candidate, he dismissed decades of established scientific evidence by calling global warming a “hoax” and he has displayed an unprecedented disregard for facts and evidence throughout his brief presidency, even on matters as trivial as the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
He picked cabinet members for crucial posts who prominently display their ignorance about or disdain for science. Scott Pruitt, his choice to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency, has stated publicly that he does not accept that carbon dioxide emissions are a primary cause of climate change. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, thinks funding research on global warming is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Source/More: Why scientists are fighting back.