Science March on Washington: A closer look | May 16, 2017

On April 22, 2017, thousands of people around the world gathered to speak out in support of science-based politics and to commemorate the impact science has had on various aspects of life. Although the main March for Science took place in Washington, D.C., sister events drew protesters from cities such as Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia and London – to name a few.

Let’s take a closer look at the impetus for this assemblage and its intended impact moving forward:

The Trump campaign on the environment

Since his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump has had differing opinions on various topics. One such example is the environment, in general, and climate change, in particular. By now, most Americans are familiar with the now-president’s November 2012 tweet which read “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

During his campaign, Trump avoided the topic and the term “climate change,” only broaching the subject to promise to withdraw the country from the Paris Climate Accord or bring back jobs to the coal industry. The agreement called for nations to reduce their carbon emissions, of which coal-fired power plants are a top contributor.

In various interviews prior to his election, Trump cited the need for additional research into climate change to truly understand its causes and effects. Speaking for the businessman, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN that Trump believes “global warming is naturally occurring” and humans are not the source, according to Politico.

Trump’s other campaign promises that deal directly with the environment and global warming include the following, according to Scientific American:

  • Approve the Keystone XL pipeline
  • Dismantle the Clean Power Plan put in place by the Obama administration
  • Remove the Stream and Wetland protection rule
  • Re-open federal lands to new coal leases, reversing a ban by the Obama administration
  • Reduce the number of regulations on energy production and development on public land

Scott Pruitt: The new EPA administrator

As the head of the EPA, the administrator is responsible for implementing and enforcing various measures designed to protect the environment, as well as Americans, from risks that will impact the world for years to come.

The current President of the United States nominates their choice for this position, which then must be confirmed by the Senate in order to become a member of the presidential cabinet. Trump selected Scott Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, for the role. Senate Democrats, environmental groups, the public and current employees of the EPA strongly opposed this nomination, citing Pruitt’s history of suing the agency and calling for disintegration of its authority as well as his relationship with the fossil fuel industry as some of the primary reasons against their votes, according to The New York Times.

Pruitt was confirmed on February 17, 2017, despite facing this opposition. Since then, he has made controversial comments regarding climate change, even stating that carbon dioxide is not the primary contributor to global warming, CNBC reported. This declaration, paired with his call for additional review and analysis of the research, is at odds with the 97 percent of climate scientists who agree that climate-warming trends are due to human activity, according to NASA.

The new EPA administrator isn’t the only person causing alarm for leaders within the field of science, according to The Washington Post. While cabinet members such as Secretary of Energy Rick Perry have challenged the facts of global warming in the past, it’s President Trump and his ability to enforce real change that has scientists taking notice.

Environmental budget cuts are a possibility

So far, President Trump has signed 78 executive orders, with several aimed at removing environmental regulations to create more jobs. The following are some of the most controversial relating to the environment, according to Business Insider:

  • January 24: Expansion of oil pipelines, including the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines
  • February 28: Revision of the Clean Water Act to better clarify what is protected by the federal government
  • March 28: Dismantling of Obama-era climate change protections, by removing regulations that “unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources.” This order also asks the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan for potential future cancellation
  • April 26: Analysis of Obama administration designations and expansions of protected land
  • April 28: Call to review offshore energy development, allowing Arctic drilling to begin again

President Trump also released his first budget proposal in March, calling for cuts to a number of federal agencies. The plan called for the budgets of the EPA and National Institutes of Health to be cut – by 31 and 18 percent, respectively – which could result in the loss of thousands of jobs as well as lack of funding for programs specifically created to study climate change, according to The Hill. This breakdown is simply an outline of guidance for Congress, which will make the final decision regarding budget spending.

These executive orders and budget proposals, along with Pruitt’s controversial statements and stances, led thousands of people to rally in science’s defense during the March for Science.

Taking a page from the Women’s March

Following the election of Donald Trump, a group of women organized the Women’s March on Washington. The event gathered almost half a million people to Washington, D.C. on the day after the new president’s inauguration. Across the world, anywhere from 3.3 million to 4.6 million joined in the cause, making the occasion the largest day of protest in U.S. history, according to The Independent.

Although the Women’s March had a strong anti-Trump sentiment, the reason for the event was to draw attention to a wide variety of women’s rights, which intersected with those of immigrants, workers and members of the LGBTQ+ community, while also shining a light on healthcare reform, reproductive rights, racial and religious equality and the environment.

A spark was all it took for the March for Science to take a page out of the Women’s March book. The idea was generated by an anonymous Reddit user after seeing that references to climate change had been removed from the White House website. Much like the Women’s March, another user, Jonathan Berman, ran with the concept and created a Facebook page, inviting people to participate, The Washington Post reported.

An Earth Day commemoration

Appropriately, the March for Science took place on Earth Day. The all-day event featured teach-in sessions, a rally complete with speeches and musical performances and a march around the Washington Monument grounds that ended at Capitol Hill.

Garnering bipartisan support from a number of mainstream science organizations, the assemblage brought together people – both with and without a science background or career – to the nation’s capital to protest for the need for science-based policies, evidence-based research and honest and open communication of these subjects.

The long-term goals

The impact of the event is unknown at this point, although President Trump did release an Earth Day statement that seemed to acknowledge the March for Science.

“My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks,” the declaration from the White House read. “As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”

Yet organizers like Berman see the march as the first of many steps to ensure advocates in the field are not silenced, but find a way to lobby for themselves in order to truly have an effect on the political sphere without getting overwhelmed and entangled in the partisan game, according to Science magazine.

Only time will tell the long-term, positive outcomes of the March for Science. Recent updates to the congressional budget, however, have momentarily prevented budget cuts for agencies such as the EPA and the NIH.

An updated budget

On the brink of a shutdown, Congress reached a bipartisan deal on April 30 that would fund the government through September 30 – the end of the fiscal year, according to The Los Angeles Times. The $1 trillion accord narrowly avoided the budget cuts to nondefense purposes President Trump previously called for and increases spending on green energy programs. In addition, the proposal includes a 6 percent budget increase for the NIH. A final vote is set to take place in early May, before funding runs out.

While this is good news for the environmental community, tensions are still high. Scientific advocates and organizations are still skeptical of the Trump administration’s future plans for its federal agencies.
Furthermore, they are unsure of what upcoming executive orders may mean for the environment as well as climate change.

It’s important for those professionals within the science and public health fields to remain updated on environmental regulations that could impact individuals and their communities. Depending on the severity of these orders, the effects could be felt for years to come.

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