Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Science, not Silence
distributed 4/21/17 - ©2017

Tomorrow, April 22, is Earth Day. Throngs of people will be taking to the streets in Washington, DC, and in over 600 other cities across the US and around the world. I will be part of the crowd in Denver.

This Earth Day has a surprising new focus, with those hundreds of events all under the banner of the March for Science. Our commitment to caring for Earth leads us, this year, to stand up in solidarity with those who study Earth's systems, and who create technologies that help with Earth's healing. We stand in solidarity because science and scientists are under attack.

The new administration in Washington has taken the anti-science agenda to frightening new levels, but the March for Science isn't about current policies or Trump alone. One of the honorary co-chairs of the march said, Support for science has been falling for quite some time. And discussions about whether or not science is valid have been going on since long before Trump entered the political scene. These two trends have been building to the point where many of us feel that we need to make the case for science in as nonpartisan a way as possible.

Think of Senator James Inhofe, the long-standing climate denier. And think of the recurring battles in courtrooms and school boards about teaching evolution as a core principle in biology. And think of ongoing conflicts about the research undergirding the Endangered Species Act. No, the attacks on science and scientists are not new. But the scale of current efforts to deny and defund science are new, and we must rise up.

Join a march near you, or speak up in support of science (on social media, in church, or at work). Or, at the least, if you know a scientist or science teacher, give them a hug.

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One of the most glaring examples of the science-denying style of the new administration is in climate policies. Even when almost all reputable scientists hold to basic assertions about the human causes of climate change, the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he doesn't believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. The President is reversing policies that would reduce greenhouse emissions, and he's slashing the staffing of agencies that do climate research.

The President's proposed budget shows a widespread disregard for science, going far beyond climate. Science Magazine crunched the numbers, and gives us "Trump's science vision, in a single graph". The National Institute of Health is hit with an 18% cut, which would essentially eliminate all new grants for biomedical research. The US Geological Survey (USGS) would probably lose significant funding for research on land-use changes, and natural hazard risk reduction (including earthquakes and volcanoes). Other Department of Interior cuts would impact water resource management, and fish and wildlife studies.

But climate and energy take big hits in the proposed budget. EPA as a whole is cut 30%, and their research and development programs are cut by 48%. The research offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are cut by 52%.

It used to be that those trying to block action on climate change said that the science was uncertain and more studies are needed. The administration's new approach of shifting priorities and denying funding puts those foundational climate studies at great risk. The LA Times commented, "the signs are piling up that the new president's distaste for distasteful facts will lead to, well, fewer facts."

One commentator writing for The Hill said, "For a president who touts his ability to think big, his science request reflects incredibly small thinking." But a December article in the New Yorker didn't see small thinking at all. Looking at the emerging list of cabinet nominees, they wrote: "Taken singly, Trump's appointments are alarming. But taken as a whole they can be seen as part of a larger effort to undermine the institution of science, and to deprive it of its role in the public-policy debate."

It is from that political and cultural contest that the March for Science has emerged. In a description of the mission of the march, the organizers say: "We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely. Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We must stand together and support science."

The website for the March for Science is interesting reading. It goes far beyond any simple political agenda, with extensive descriptions about the role of science in our society, and the principles and goals that underlie good science and this new pro-science movement. (It seems obvious to me that these descriptions were written by real scientists who value accuracy and detail. They're not the product of a marketing team with 10-word sound bites.)

The attack on science is real. It is intentional, strategic, and well-funded. The March for Science is an essential affirmation of the careful research and creative technology that are needed more than ever in this time of environmental crisis. The march kicks off tomorrow, but it doesn't end then. "It grows and becomes an ongoing dialogue on how we build an enduring movement committed to advancing science and its role in public life."

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The celebration of science is personal for me. In college, my major combined environmental biology and religious studies. What I learned about ecology in the early 1970s has shaped the way I look at the world. That awareness of a biosphere that is inherently relational has informed my theology, and defined my work of religious environmentalism for the last two decades. I am who I am because of scientists who mentored me, and scientific institutions that inform me.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for the dedicated scientists who study our planetary home, who uncover the amazing mysteries of life, who document the damage we are inflicting on Earth, and who work to find ways of environmental healing. Their studies and their teaching provide objective and evidence-based information -- knowledge that is essential as we prioritize how we must live into the future, both personally and as a global society. Without good science, it is impossible to do adequate work in developing religious ethics, economic opportunities and public policies.

Join the movement! Take part in one of the marches tomorrow -- in person or virtually. And, in the days and years to come, be vocal and visible in your support of science.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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