On Earth Day, a necessary defense of science from Trump

Singer Lauren Wakefield kicks off March for Science, and Doris Matsui speaks in Sacramento

Roughly 200 people gathered Saturday morning, April 22, 2017, at Southside Park for the local March for Science, part of a series of rallies held globally in support of the sciences. Singer Lauren Wakefield kicked off the event with a performance.
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Roughly 200 people gathered Saturday morning, April 22, 2017, at Southside Park for the local March for Science, part of a series of rallies held globally in support of the sciences. Singer Lauren Wakefield kicked off the event with a performance.

Years before the first Earth Day in 1970, California made it a priority to reduce carbon smog particles in the air, preserve public lands for future generations and clean pollutants from waterways.

Never was there a serious doubt that science would present the path to get us there.

Decades later, it should scare every Californian – and every American – that scientists by the thousands feel compelled to spend today demonstrating and making speeches just to convince the federal government to base policy and funding decisions on scientific fact, not ideological fiction.

The March for Science, scheduled to coincide with Earth Day, will fill thoroughfares in Washington, D.C., and more than 500 other cities worldwide. In California, the home of the environmental movement, marches are taking place in Sacramento and at least 40 other municipalities.

Although inspired by the decidedly anti-Trump Women’s March, the science march organizers stressed that their action is meant to be nonpartisan and apolitical. But given the “alternative facts” and destructive anti-intellectualism prized by this White House, it’s hard not to apply a political lens to the protests.

The Trump administration has threatened to cut billions of dollars from the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy, affecting critical initiatives from cancer research to satellite monitoring of the Earth’s climate.

Congressional leaders have wisely declared Trump’s so-called “skinny budget” dead on arrival, but it’s nonetheless a sobering insight into the uninformed priorities of this administration.

Celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has often quipped that “the good thing about science (is) it’s true, whether or not you believe in it. That’s why it works.” But it’s becoming ever more clear that to get science to work for people, we do, in fact, need leaders who actually believe in it.

You won’t find many of those leaders in the Trump administration.

Vice President Mike Pence has testified before Congress that the science of human evolution is merely a “theory” and should be taught that way in public schools. He’s an evangelical Christian who prefers the creationist notion of “intelligent design.”

Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon turned director of Housing and Urban Development, has cast doubt on the benefits of children getting a full course of vaccines, saying some standard childhood immunizations are “unnecessary.”

The development of vaccines has been one of the great modern milestones in public health, and no, it is not “unnecessary” to fully immunize your child against polio, pertussis, rubella, measles and other potentially lethal diseases. Carson’s pandering to the anti-vax fringe borders on malpractice.

But credit him with being a step ahead of President Donald Trump, who has unrepentantly peddled the discredited conspiracy theory that vaccines cause autism.

The president also thinks climate change is a hoax and casually dismisses the fact that human activity is its primary driver, never mind the consensus of scientists.

The man he nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is a climate change denier, too. And so neither Trump nor Pruitt has a problem with reopening carbon spewing coal plants, allowing more fracking for oil or letting automakers slow their roll out of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Most troubling, Trump has threatened to pull out of Paris climate-change accord, under which the United States, China and nearly 200 other countries agreed to cut carbon emissions. Withdrawal would have disastrous consequences for an already warming planet. The White House is expected to announce a decision by May.

On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown called China the world’s “great hope” for combating climate change, lamenting that Trump and the Republican Party cling to “a slavish adherence to the non-belief in anything to do with climate change.”

Meanwhile, not even your kitchen appliances may be safe from Republican ideology: The administration also wants to kill the 25-year-old Energy Star program, which encourages makers of TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners and other products to prioritize energy efficiency.

Beloved by consumers and companies alike, Energy Star has shaved some $362 billion from energy bills, costs taxpayers a pittance and has prevented nearly 2.5 billion tons of greenhouse gases from escaping into the atmosphere. California Energy Commissioner Andrew McAllister said he doubts Trump will dare make good on his threat to cut such a popular, useful and cost-effective program.

But that’s where we are now, incredibly.

It is stunning that the country that put the first men on the moon must now take to the street to defend science itself from blind ignorance and corruption. Californians, however, can take pride in this state’s fact-based leadership.

Today’s March for Science may not change many minds within the Trump administration, but the priorities this state has brought to the fore had to be defended, and at a volume that the White House can’t ignore.

“We’re not changing our direction,” McAllister told a member of The Bee’s editorial board. “That’s clear.”

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