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Earth Day 2017

MARCH FOR SCIENCE—AND FOR FACT

This past weekend, on Saturday, April 22, 2017, Earth Day was celebrated around the world. Here in the United States, the day was headlined by the first-ever March for Science, with the main march taking place in Washington, D.C., and satellite marches occurring in cities all across the country and around the world. Scientists, parents, children, university students, environmentalists, displaced workers, supporters of traditional energy, and supporters of clean energy rallied in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago to support the role of science and the search for truth. Marchers started Earth Day in Australia and New Zealand, then on to Cape Town, South Africa and Tokyo, Berlin, London, Geneva, and spreading through France, Ireland, Finland, Portugal and the Netherlands.

Although not organized as a protest against certain things as much as a demonstration in support of the scientific method and evidence-based facts, the march did rail against the Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts to agencies that fund climate scientists’ work. Trump’s budget proposes cuts of 5.8 billion to the National Institutes of Health alone, and a whopping 31% proposed cut to the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. All in all, the proposed cuts total $54 billion across government programs in order to make approximately that same size increase to defense spending.

But the money is not really the issue, or the main issue. The real issue is the way in which facts—evidence-based, method-driven, peer-reviewed—scientific facts are giving way to politicized, ideologically-based alternative facts. There have always been controversial subjects causing tension between science and government; acid rain and ozone depletion are two recent examples. There are controversies over what research the government should fund; fetal tissue and stem cell research are two such hotly debated areas. But playing fast and loose with scientific fact? That is something new and very scary to scientists. And as the turn out at the March for Science around the world shows, it is very scary for many non-scientists, too.

PARIS CLIMATE DEAL: A GOOD DEAL

Also on the agenda for Earth Day and very much on the minds of the marchers for science is the imminent decision of President Trump on whether the United States will remain a party to the Paris Climate Agreement. The Paris Climate Agreement has been ratified by 143 countries of the 197 party countries to the convention in November 2016. The Agreement brings nations into common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. Specifically, the goal is to keep the global temperature rise in this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement asks that all countries commit to target emissions reduction goals, and that developed countries commit resources to help developing countries reach their target goals. All countries must agree to report on their progress toward their goals.

President Trump, as candidate Trump, promised to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, claiming that the target emissions reduction was too ambitious and would cost the United States too many lost jobs. However, oil, gas and even some coal companies are calling for the United States to remain a party to the accord. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson argues that the U.S. should maintain a “seat at the table.” Some U.S. energy companies agree that they are better positioned to compete globally if the United States remains a party to the Paris Climate Agreement.

Even if the U.S. will no longer be the leader on reducing global carbon emissions, other countries will push ahead. Climate change is a matter of national and global security, a multiplying factor of social and political fragility, and root cause for displacement of people. In addition, reforming the world’s energy systems is a significant driver of job creation, investment opportunities and economic growth.

ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE LITERACY

Nothing beats a good education, or so the saying goes. Education was the focus of Earth Day 2017, with its theme being Environmental and Climate Literacy. Climate Education Week starts with Earth Day, and the following activities are scheduled for the week:

April 24: Environmental Teach-in

April 25: Green Jobs and New Tech

April 26: Community Action Day

April 27: Civic Action

April 28: Science in the Classroom

For more information on Climate Education Week, go to earthday.org.

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