Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist who admittedly has a “crush” on the scientific method.
“It is elegant and reliable and able to answer questions how the world around us works,” she said earlier this month at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. “Science forms the foundation of policy decisions.” But she added emphatically: “Our government has been less committed to that principle.”
The adjunct professor at New York University is deep into science, yes, but she never thought she would be taking to the streets on its behalf. But she is.
After Donald Trump was elected President, Johnson’s scientific colleagues rushed to preserve their archive material, worried about the removal of data. Now she is one of the organizers of today’s March for Science, which is expected to coordinate about 428 marches in this country and around the world, with 100 partner organizations. Scientists are worried about governments – the U.S. and elsewhere – becoming increasingly hostile toward science. A teach-in also will be part of the event, co-coordinated by the Earth Day Network.
“I’d never thought I’d be helping to organize a March for Science because I never expected in my entire professional career to be threatened,” Johnson said. “But the silencing of scientists,” she added, “hit my core.” The prospect that the administration would “simply eliminate data” that sets the course of evidence-based policy was untenable, she added.
Johnson told the Observer she thinks her profession is “at risk” under President Donald Trump. She is the founder of the Ocean Collectiv consulting group, which “employs a social justice-oriented approach to the preservation and protection of the sea,” the Observer said..
Trump’s proposed budget is leaving scar tissue on health and science plans. For example, the administration’s proposed spending plan for the National Institute of Health includes a $5.8 billion to $25.9 billion.
“Science and evidence-based policy making is under attack,” Caroline Weinberg, national co-chair of the Science March, said during the Press Club forum, noting an array of issues, ranging from cutbacks to the EPA, and “aggressive silencing” of scientists.
There has been “heightened anxiety and distrust,” added Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union.
Johnson, co-director of partnerships for the Science March, said the team’s effort is only beginning in the continual fight for truthful science and policymaking that is “broad, diverse and inclusive.”
— By Joe Cantlupe-
For too many Americans, unfortunately, Earth Day is a once a year event to think about the planet, and the rest of the time who cares about those paper cups tossed into the trash, not the recycling bin, after the barbecue. About a quarter of us never recycle. Then, there are those “climate-change deniers,” yeah, the group of folks running the country starting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Maybe President Donald Trump or the head of the EPA and some others walking backward on the environment and science should take a crash course in how they are helping to head us to disaster. Or have a conversation with Kathleen Rogers, the President of the Earth Day Network, the people coordinating the marches and other events today in Washington DC and in 500 cities around the globe.
Perhaps this Earth Day may take on even greater significance because there seems to be more of the “earth is flat” mentality in leadership than there has for awhile. Scientists are also taking the stage too, with the first ever March for Science, in which Rogers’ group is an organizing partner.
“I went to the Capitol and there are so many climate deniers,” Rogers said in an interview with Health Data Buzz recently. “I want it to be in history books, the way the bad guys are listed in history books. I want a lineup of the climate deniers in every history book forever for the rest of human history. Some pages in all our history books need to line up all those people on Capitol Hill that were climate deniers, and memorialize their stupidity.’’
Rogers is not one to mince words. Under Rogers’ leadership, Earth Day Network says it has developed a “significant role in advancing the new green economy and has emerged as a dynamic year-round policy and activist organization.” Earth Day Network says it reaches into 192 countries and “integrates civic participation” into each of Earth Day Network’s programs and activities, particularly aiming toward young people.
Rogers, an attorney, has 20 years advocacy experience, notably senior positions with the National Audubon Society, the Environmental Law Institute, and two U.S. Olympic Organizing Committees.
For Rogers and millions of people, Earth Day comes 365 days a year, as it should. Rogers believes deeply in the cause, with always more work to be done.
The Evidence Is ‘Crystal Clear’
Even during the years of Presidents Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, there were environmental pushbacks, to be sure. Under Trump and this administration, it feels different. It is different, but not only because of the politics, Rogers says.
Now, scientists know about the environment and the damage that is being caused.
“I wasn’t around all these 46 years (of Earth Day), but the difference between now and say Ronald Reagan, and George Bush II, who undid (environmental restrictions) for awhile, what they did hurt, but what is different from what happened in the 1970s, the science is so crystal clear now that the fossil fuel industries and economies are leading us to an existential crisis,” Rogers says. “It’s methane, it’s land production, and it’s cutting down trees, building the wrong way in the wrong places. It’s overpopulation.”
“People have a tendency to think about what they can see,” Rogers says. “Earth Day was built at a time when you could see a lot of this stuff. You couldn’t see across the street in L.A. during rush hour. We cleaned up a lot of junk. Now all of a sudden you can’t see it, you cannot imagine it, and you can’t own it.”
Then Rogers taps off a list of environmental crises.
“The tell-tale signs aren’t just storms. There are beetles from Central and South America, eating their way north, killing our forests,” Rogers says. “There is burning of the Amazon. There are extraordinary changes when you continue to burn fossil fuels. We’re slowly eroding the basis for life on earth.”
Yet the current administration coughs up advances, rolling back mining rules, and “pulling back the lead rules, ” Rogers adds.
Rogers referred to the polluted water fiasco in Flint, Mich. and what she termed the lack of caring in impoverished areas, with an attitude of “we don’t really care, we won’t change the outcome of the election, they are poor and vote Democrat, and screw them.”
“My (water) pipes are fine, but where there is poverty they don’t invest in infrastructure, and these people don’t have a voice; they aren’t fine,” Rogers says. “There are people with completely brown water. Do you think they would put up with that (where I live)?”
Of the Trump administration and leadership, “the kings of status quo are back in power. It’s not fun to change,” Rogers says. “People are creatures of habit. If you are making boatloads of oil and gas, you don’t like to see that change.”
Of Trump himself, she says, “It’s hard to know what he focuses on, except anything that’s what is in front of him.”
LOOKING BACK AND AHEAD
The environmental cutbacks and other moves hurting science are inexcusable, Rogers says. “I can’t understand it. Why would they want to step backward in time?”
Rogers loves to read about the industrial revolution, and the fits and starts we’ve had since then. She pointed to a story about one of the famous automobile brands of the last half-century, the Studebaker. The company was in the “horse and buggy” business, but adroitly made the turn toward making automobiles, still keeping horse and wagons, when other companies didn’t see the future in the car. Studebaker went forward and maintained a business for decades when others “went out of business,” Rogers says.
A key point of the Studebaker story, she says, is a vision, even if it may be that of a lonely visionary. “There’s a reason Silicon Valley is the ‘center of the universe. Look at this one state, this one little area, but it’s the center of the universe for computers and technology. They got smart,” Rogers says.
“We can be that way for green energy. Every single thing has to be rewritten, everything – the chairs we sit on, the plastic cups we drink out of. That all has to change,” Rogers says. “The person who gets that technology straight is going to be the next Rockefeller or Carnegie. Scientists already have the capacity to move us in the right direction. But we are dragging our feet and being stunningly stupid.”
“What’s going on now – we are all dumber than a box of rocks not to see it. I feel like I should load up the industrial revolution history books and dump it on the desks of people who are taking giant steps backward and say, ‘read this.”
When I raised the specter of ”anger” about environmental and science reversals, Rogers dismissed it. “I don’t do anger, I don’t have that capacity maybe because I’m a lawyer. I don’t necessarily feel anger. Scientists might feel that way because they are all being called liars. These are scientists with PhDs from incredible universities around the world; they are not doing this to get rich. That’s their personality and who they are. They love discovery and they love seeking and understanding. They stand for hours and pondering and asking questions and try to get to the truth.”
“And then some bozo comes along and says you are a bunch of liars, and science is a fake,” she says.
“The world was on this momentum for a green economy; there was the climate agreement, and people really cared, and all of a sudden….” Rogers adds.
As Rogers looks to Earth Day and the March for Science, her attitude is:“You get back by working really hard. We’re going to live through this tragedy.”
“It’s going to be about people coming to their senses. Things may start going south,” Rogers says. “All this stuff. Even those ‘die hard’ supporters of what’s happening now. They will wake up, ‘I have no insurance, oh, my kids are getting sick, ooh, I’ve got mercury in my water, I’ve got lead in my water.’ All that crap they want to bring back.”
Around the globe, there is a sensitivity that attitudes toward the environment must change and many people are moving in the right direction, she says.
“I travel around the world and I go in the trenches and speak to policy makers and scientists and NGOs (non-government organizations), and talk to faith-based groups and I talk to government officials and scientists. It’s all the same, they are moving forward.”
For the U.S., its people have to ask a question as we stumble along to preserve the Earth: “Do you want to own it or do you want to give it to China or India or some other nation?” Rogers asks.
Still, Rogers has faith in this country’s ultimate resolve, reflected in people like Mona Hanna-Attisha, who exposed the water crisis in Flint. There are many more Monas in this country, Rogers says. “I believe in the American public. We will move forward. We are moving towards a green world.”
— By Joe Cantlupe