Ninety-eight days have passed since Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. In a country as divided as ours, opinions on Trump’s performance so far will naturally run the gamut from condemnation to overt praise, but all are anxious to see where the next four years will take our country. The scientific community, for example, is particularly terrified based on how they’ve been treated by the new administration. It’s bad enough that no steps have been taken towards clean energy or alternative fuels (not to mention an emphasis on more coal), but it is another thing entirely to outright reject the scientific consensus of climate change as nothing but a Chinese hoax. This, to many in and outside of the global scientific community, is absolutely unnacceptable.
Last week, on Earth Day, hundreds of thousands of scientists and concerned citizens banded together and participated in a series of rallies and protests known collectively as the March for Science. Taking place in over 600 cities worldwide, the march was a response to actions and comments of the President that they believe to be openly anti-science and as such, a threat to the planet at large. Many carried signs of varying urgency, outrage, and humor, but all carried the same goal with them: to fight back against climate change denial and a growing tide of anti-intellecualism.
But after such a striking global demonstration, one must ask whether or not this movement will make any real difference in the long run. After all, it’s not protests and angry crowds that can save the planet from our influence, it’s the collective cooperation of governments to reverse the effects of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and so far, there’s been almost none of that. We rest on the brink of disaster and yet, we’re still trying to convince half the population that this is even a problem, resulting in a situation where we are a long ways off from significant action when we need it right now. It’s likely that anyone who didn’t participate in the march has at least heard about it at this point, and a few of the major news channels reported on it, including CNN (though the coverage wasn’t extensive).
However, as a news segment on the same channel seemed to imply, that might not nearly be enough. A couple days before the march, CNN did a story on fishermen in southern Louisiana who witnessing firsthand the effects of rising sea levels on the bayous and marshes that they call home, inevitably leading to the day when they will all have to retreat from the coastline, yet despite all of it, many of them continue to flat out deny that what they are witnessing is caused by man-made climate change. The instinct to survive is a powerful urge, arguably the most important drive involved in all our species has accomplished. But in this day and age, the urge to avoid having to change the way we live and sacrifice our comfortable lifestyles may prove to be even more powerful. To stop the threat of climate change, humanity will have to make drastic changes to our way of life, and it’s really hard to convince people who aren’t being affected by a long term problem to start thinking long term.
Despite all this, there are signs of hope. Most people still generally believe in the word of scientists. After all, if not technically scientists, are doctors, dentists, and physicians not at least professionals dabbling in scientific services? Now that the March for Science has sent a clear enough message, they need to bring that message home. If they want to make sure that the momentum their demonstration generated doesn’t quietly fizzle out like so many before them, their solution is simple: they need to keep marching. Seriously, every time there is some kind of protest such as this, thousands of people show up, its this big massive event that gains a lot of attention, and a couple weeks later nobody cares. I personally witnessed the aftermath of the march in New York City’s Time Square. While it was nice to see so many people in the flesh showing enthusiasm for the scientific process, it still just amounted to another spectacle to stare at while you’re on your way to lunch. Nothing I saw made me feel like I needed to take a stand or get involved with the group in any way, and I’m already interested in this topic, so one can only imagine the uphill battle involved with convincing average people that don’t particularly care.
So did the March for Science complete its goal? Maybe. Maybe not. I suppose it’s too early to tell. But its organizers would be wise to capitalize on the attention they already have. Sadly, in the United States, the loudest voice in the room is more often than not deemed the wisest as well. So to convince average Americans to take action the Marchers will have to scream and shout, rant and rave ad nauseum until they become impossible to ignore. It’s only the fate of the planet at stake. What have they got to lose?