by Emily Quecke
This Earth Day, hundreds of Edmontonians braved the wind and sleet to march with the thousands of others in over 600 locations across the globe in the name of science. All ages and backgrounds banded together in support. From the school-aged children with their families and homemade signs to the “Edmonton Raging Grannies” singing their protest, the rally was electric and warm despite the weather. The message was resounding, that we as scientists, science enthusiasts, and concerned citizens will not sit by amidst the science denial and alternative facts but rather, that we will peacefully and respectfully educate and promote critical thinking. As one of the speakers put it: “Without good trustworthy science the noise wins”.
The March for Science was organized as a political movement in response to a variety of concerning current events regarding science and research. The rise of homeopathic remedies, the anti-vaccination movement, and climate change denial are just a few of the emerging trends which are causing concern in the scientific community. A common theme among these trends is the mistrust of science and research, as well as a reliance on other unqualified resources for potentially critical information for the longevity and prosperity of society. Though these trends have been causing concern and debate for years, the factor which propelled scientists across the globe to band together and act was undoubtedly the Trump administration.
The current president of the United States, Donald Trump, has been singled out by the scientific community as a threat to research and a catalyst to drastically increase general mistrust of science. As the March for Science website observes, “political decisions deeply influence the type of science we are able to do”; Trump’s politics are creating skewed science with an ulterior agenda. Within the first hundred days of his presidency Trump has purged mention of climate change from the official White House website and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, appointed a climate change skeptic as the administrator of the EPA, cut funding and programs from the EPA, and tweeted about the dangers of vaccines. He has also previously stated his disbelief on the dangers of asbestos. As president, Trump not only has the administrative power to create policy which harms research and the scientific community, but also the influence to increase the mistrust of scientists and fact-based research by propagating his own personal beliefs.
“At the start of every disaster movie there’s a scientist being ignored.” This sign found on the March for Science forums aptly describes the future waiting at the end of the path we currently walk. Support for scientific research and its application to health, safety, and preservation, is the foundation of modern society. Our understanding of the world is constantly changing with new research; the more diversity, trust, and funding that goes into science and research, the more accurate, evidence-based information we can get. Without evidence-based policy and good impartial research, the best interests of the international community and future generations cannot be upheld.
As an environmental engineering student, I am deeply concerned about the impact Trump’s administration is having on the EPA. In my classes we have learned about the evolution of the EPA as well as the amazing steps the organization has taken towards protecting the environment and the citizens of the world from what humans have done to the environment. My heart sank upon opening the climate change page of the EPA official website to see; “Thank you for your interest in this topic. We are currently updating our website to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.” In that moment I saw that in one hundred days trump had erased years of progress. That is why I marched.
The slogan of the International March for Science movement, “Science Not Silence,” was ever present at the rally on the signs of the marchers and in the words of the speakers. The gathering heard from five speakers of very different backgrounds, but sharing the same passion for the topic at hand.
Speakers focused on calls to action for the supporters rather than vilifying those against whom they marched. As speaker Torah Kachur put it: “We (scientists) need to come down from our pedestals and engage and act and make science change the world.” The speakers had common themes including engagement, critical thinking strategies, science education for youth, and having open conversations supported by evidence, all of which received roaring applause from the crowd.
The other shining element of the march was the signs the protesters brought. Though by the end some were wind worn and wet, the signs were clever, insightful, and a wonderful conversation starter for fellow protesters. Protesters bonded over similar signs and even took pictures of one another brandishing their signs with pride. Likewise, on the LRT to the march commuters sat with their signs and bonds were formed between attendees before they even set foot at the march grounds. It is evident that science and research are of vital importance not just to professional scientists and researchers, but to people from every walk of life, and it was heartening to see them come together to say so.
One of the elements I loved the most about the rally was seeing all the kids in the crowd as they reminded me of my younger self. Growing up, science was very important to me; I had wonderful teachers and parents who fostered a love of science from a very young age. My mom would take me every couple of weeks to get a new Bill Nye movie from the library. To be a part of a movement supported by Bill Nye himself, defending something which has always been a part of my life, was a surreal experience. The passion that was evident from every individual there was inspiring and gave me hope amidst the recent terrifying trends regarding science and research.
Robin Miller one of the organizers of the March ended off the day with a passionate speech reminding all those present that “to be a scientist you must ask questions”. Though the march ended, attendees implored each other to realize that the activism should not stop there. It should be carried on into our daily lives by questioning what we see and read while simultaneously starting the discussions that desperately need to be had.
Photography by Emily Quecke.