This is not normal – climate researchers take to the streets to protect science

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and for scientists, these are desperate measures.

Tuesday in San Francisco’s Jessie Square, approximately 500 people gathered for a ‘rally to stand up for science.’ Many of the attendees were scientists who had migrated to the rally from the nearby Moscone Center, where some 26,000 Earth scientists are attending the annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference this week.

This was an unusual activity for scientists to participate in; after all, they’re often accused of remaining isolated in the ivory towers of academia. Scientists generally prefer to focus on their scientific research, use their findings to inform the public and policymakers, and leave it to us to decide what actions we should take in response. In fact, one of the keynote speakers at the rally, Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes made that exact point:

We don’t want to be here. We want to be doing the work we were trained and educated to do, which is science ... but we are at a moment in history where we have to stand up.

As Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb noted, with the appointments made thus far by the incoming Trump administration, science is under attack and scientists feel compelled to protect their research, and their ability to keep doing it. Cobb also called on more of her scientific colleagues to step outside their comfort zones and engage in activism:

Kim Cobb speaking at the rally to stand up for science. Video by Collin Maessen of

The rally followed other recent efforts by scientists to advise the Trump administration and reassure the public. For example, over 800 Earth scientists and energy experts signed a letter urging the President-elect to take six key steps to address climate change:

1) Make America a clean energy leader;

2) Reduce carbon pollution and America’s dependence on fossil fuels;

3) Enhance America’s climate preparedness and resilience;

4) Publicly acknowledge that climate change is a real, human-caused, and urgent threat;

5) Protect scientific integrity in policymaking; and

6) Uphold America’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.

Over 11,000 women scientists also signed a pledge committing “to build a more inclusive society and scientific enterprise.” The leaders of 29 scientific societies signed a letter encouraging Trump to appoint a “nationally respected” science advisor with sufficient expertise. 

And more than 2,300 scientists, including 22 Nobel Prize recipients, published an open letter with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) urging the Trump administration and Congress to set a high bar for integrity, transparency, and independence in using science to inform federal policies. UCS plans to act as a watchdog protecting science and scientists during the Trump Administration, as it did during the Bush administration.

Scientists under attack, win the first battle

These scientists have been motivated by concern stemming from President-elect Trump’s decision to fill the key powerful positions in his administration with an oil industry dream team of climate deniers.

Some of those selections include individuals who have harassed and intimidated climate scientists, like David Schnare and Chris Horner, whose tactics forced the creation of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) five years ago. The CSLDF began in an effort to assist Michael Mann with the legal attacks documented in his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars (Mann also has an excellent new book co-authored with cartoonist Tom Toles, The Madhouse Effect).

Over the past five years, CSLDF has provided legal assistance to over 100 scientists, and has helped coordinate counsel for approximately 20 scientists facing litigation. The Legal Defense Fund has had a significant presence at the AGU conference, assuring scientists that their organization can answer basic legal questions, or help with potentially costly legal attacks and litigation.

Adding to scientists’ alarm, the Trump Department of Energy transition team submitted a questionnaire that raised serious concerns about the incoming administration’s plans to influence or curtail DOE’s research, potentially engage in a witch-hunt, and perhaps even tamper with or destroy scientific data.

After much public and media backlash, the Trump team now denies that the questionnaire was authorized. This retreat was the first victory for science in an impending battle with the incoming administration. Scientists also have any ally in California Governor Jerry Brown, who spoke at the AGU conference and promised:

If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.

We’ve failed to hold up our end of the bargain

On the issue of climate change, it’s been decades since scientific research first identified the threats and dangers resulting from human-caused global warming. A growing number of climate scientists had already begun to speak out about the need for much more aggressive global efforts to cut carbon pollution if we’re to avoid its worst impacts. 

Finally, nearly all of the world’s countries signed last year’s agreement in Paris, creating a framework to limit global warming below the dangerous level of 2°C hotter than pre-industrial temperatures. Less than a year later, the world’s largest cumulative carbon polluter elected a president who promised to do what he can to reverse that landmark Paris agreement.

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Posted by dana1981 on Friday, 16 December, 2016

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