The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

March For Science On Earth Day To Resist Trump’s War On Facts

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Science isn’t everything. But it is crucial to governing, decision-making, protecting human health and the environment and resolving questions and challenges around our existence.

Those determined to advance industrial interests over all else often attack science. We’ve seen it in Canada, with a decade of cuts to research funding and scientific programs, muzzling of government scientists and rejection of evidence regarding issues such as climate change.

We’re seeing worse in the United States. The new administration is proposing drastic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and others. Information about climate change and environmental protection is being scrubbed from government websites, and scientists are being muzzled. Meanwhile, the government is increasing spending on military and nuclear weapons programs.

There’s nothing wrong with challenging research, developing competing hypotheses and looking for flaws in studies. That’s how science works. But rejecting, eliminating, covering up or attacking evidence that might call into question government or industry priorities — evidence that might show how those priorities could lead to widespread harm — is unconscionable. It’s galling to me because I traded a scientific career for full-time communication work because good scientific information helps people make the best decisions to take us into the future.

Many scientists prefer to work quietly, letting their research speak for itself. But recent attacks are galvanizing scientists and supporters throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. The March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, has been building steam for months. The main march will take place in Washington, D.C., but more than 425 marches are planned around the world. That kicks off a week of action, culminating in the People’s Climate March on April 29, also focused on Washington but with satellite marches throughout the world.

The March for Science website says organizers are “advocating for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.”

The group’s 850,000-member Facebook page is inspiring, with “advocates, science educators, scientists, and concerned citizens” sharing personal testimonials about their reasons for marching and why science is important to them, along with ideas for posters and slogans, questions about the march, articles about science and exposés of climate disinformation sent to schools and science teachers by the anti-science Heartland Institute.

March participants are a wide-ranging group, from a neuroscientist who is marching “for the thousands of people suffering from spinal cord injury” to sci-fi fans who are marching “Because you can’t have science fiction without science!” to a scientist marching to honour “the many, many women and young girls interested or involved in science” to those marching “because we know climate change is real.”

Celebrating and advocating for science is a good way to mark Earth Day. I’ll be in Ottawa, where a march is also taking place. David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington and I will launch our new book, Just Cool It!, at an Ottawa Writers Festival event that also features Nishnaabeg musician, scholar and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

Climate change is one area where anti-science rhetoric and actions at the highest levels of society are endangering human health and survival. Our book is a comprehensive look at the history and implications of climate science, the barriers to confronting the crisis and the many solutions required to resolve it.

It’s discouraging to witness the current attacks on science, and the ever-increasing consequences of climate change, diminishing ocean health and other human-caused problems, but seeing so many people standing up for science and humanity is reason for optimism. Of all the many solutions to global warming and other environmental problems, none is as powerful as people getting together to demand change.

Every day should be Earth Day, but it’s good to have a special day to remind us of the importance of protecting the air, water, soil and biodiversity that we all depend on for health and survival. Politicians are supposed to work for the long-term well-being of people who elect them, not to advance the often short-sighted agendas of those who pay large sums of money to get their way regardless of the consequences. Standing together to make ourselves heard is one of the best ways to ensure they fulfill their responsibilities.

This article was originally published by the David Suzuki Foundation. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation.

 This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

The Only Way To Understand Climate Change In A Post-Truth World

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Seeing terms like “post-truth” and “alternative facts” gain traction in the news convinces me that politicians, media workers, and readers could benefit from a refresher course in how science helps us understand the world. Reporting on science is difficult at the best of times. Trying to communicate complex ideas and distill entire studies into eye-catching headlines and brief stories can open the door to misinformation and limited understanding.

Recent headlines about a climate study, “Shifting patterns of mild weather in response to projected radiative forcing,” in the February 2017 issue of Climatic Change illustrate the predicament. Some news outlets implied the study showed countries such as Canada and the U.K. would benefit from increasingly frequent “mild weather days” brought on by climate change. Many failed to convey the true take-home message: Climate change will have devastating consequences for human civilization.

Just ask the study’s author, Karin van der Wiel, a research scientist at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. She studied the frequency of mild weather days as a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. She found a few countries, mostly in the mid-latitudes, will experience slightly more frequent mild weather—defined as days between 18° and 30°C with less than one millimeter of rain and dew point temperature not exceeding 20 C.

But that’s not the whole story.

“The climate is changing in many places over the world and these changes are ongoing now,” Van der Wiel said in an email. “Globally, mild weather is decreasing and in many locations summers are going to be increasingly too hot and too humid to be considered mild. These are not desirable changes.”

Van der Wiel chose to examine climate change and mild weather rather than extreme events such as floods, wildfires, and drought to make it easier for people to relate to the issue and inspire them to learn more.

“I am happy the research was picked up so widely; that way more people hopefully will learn that climate is changing the weather near them and in the coming decades,” she said, adding, “mild weather is not the only important thing in climate change, and therefore the other, more alarming aspects of climate change should not be forgotten.”

Van der Wiel points out that mild weather isn’t necessarily good, as it can also create negative conditions.

“If there are projected changes in mild weather, that means there are changes in temperature, precipitation, and/or humidity,” she said. She noted that although mild weather could create more opportunities for things such as outdoor recreation, it could also have negative consequences like changing snowmelt patterns and threatening water resources.

Mild weather at the wrong time and place can be disastrous. The wildfire that devastated Fort McMurray last year reached city limits on a mild weather day, with an average temperature of 22.1 C and no precipitation, after several weeks of unseasonably warm and dry weather.

“Mild weather is not good for everything,” Van der Wiel wrote. “If you like skiing, increasing mild weather is bad. We haven’t investigated the coincidence of wildfires with mild weather, but such a link might exist and would indicate again that climate change is something the global community should try to mitigate as much as possible.”

This research is an important piece of the emerging narrative about the impacts of climate change, but we must consider it in the context of all the work on climate. Prior to her work on mild weather, Van der Wiel studied extreme precipitation and flooding in the U.S. She has since moved to a project investigating climatic conditions that could negatively affect agriculture, to determine if it’s possible to warn farmers and communities in advance of bad crop years.

Science is the most useful tool we have to adapt to climate change and avoid its worst outcomes. But it requires critical thinking and a big-picture perspective to ensure we consider all available evidence. With so many people scrolling through social media feeds for news rather than reading entire articles, facts and clarity can become elusive. It’s up to us all—media and consumers alike—to dig deeper for the full story.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation

IMAGE: Environmentalists demonstrate near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, as the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) continues at Le Bourget, December 12, 2015. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol