Hundreds of people, many of them scientists, rallied in support of science yesterday in San Francisco just a few blocks from where the largest annual gathering of Earth and space scientists in the world was taking place.
Rally organizers staged the event in the face of what they said are unprecedented threats to the sciences, particularly climate science. The demonstrators protested some of the likely appointees and potential policies of the incoming administration of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump.
“This is a frightening moment. We have seen in the last few weeks how the reins of the federal government are being handed over to the fossil fuel industry,” rally speaker Naomi Oreskes told the crowd that gathered for the lunchtime rally on a cloudy day. Oreskes is a professor of the history of science and an affiliated professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University.
As she spoke in a small park on Mission Street in downtown San Francisco, nearby more than 20,000 scientists were attending the annual Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), an international organization of Earth and space scientists and the publisher of Eos.org.
Oreskes and other scientists on an impromptu stage donned lab coats while speaking to the protesters, many of whom wore AGU meeting badges. Some protesters held signs that read, “Thou shalt not make Earth too warm,” “We love science,” and “Climate science not debatable, it’s life or death for civilization.”
Scientists Urged to Fight Back
Scientists “have to stand up and be counted in whatever ways we can,” Oreskes told Eos. She said that in the past, scientists “have been reluctant to get involved in politics because we’d like science and politics to be separate, but our science has been politicized by the right wing, by the climate deniers, by ExxonMobil, and we have to fight back against that.”
Within the past several days, Trump has announced his intention to nominate Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic, as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
First Mass Gathering of Climate Scientists Since Election
Beka Economopoulos, director of the Natural History Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a rally organizer, told Eos that the event is the first mass gathering of climate scientists “since climate deniers gained unprecedented power” after the U.S. presidential election. She said that the rally builds upon momentum that began with scientist letter-writing and petition campaigns following the 8 November election.
“We want to affirm and champion the role of science in society and call for evidence-based policies and really champion freedom of inquiry,” she said of the rally’s purpose. “In this new antiknowledge, antiscience era, it’s essential that we stand together to affirm the truth of science.”
Science Under Assault
Rally speaker Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, told Eos that the rally sprang from “the widespread recognition by Earth scientists that our science is currently under assault” and aimed to raise awareness among other Earth scientists and the public of the challenge.
“We face a very difficult time ahead with an administration that by all accounts appears hostile to environmental science in general and climate science specifically,” Mann said.
Another speaker, Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Cambridge, Mass., told Eos that he wants scientists to know that his organization stands with them “in trying to protect their work and the work of federal agencies in ensuring that science informs public policy.” UCS is also trying to provide hope and encouragement to scientists feeling despair, discouragement, and fear, he said.
ClimateTruth.org, an Oakland, Calif.–based organization, helped organize the rally. “This is really about being vocal, being visible, to show that we’re not going to stand for rolling back support for science and science education in this country,” Brant Olson, campaign director for the group, told Eos.
—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer