Scientists prepare to march on Trump

Scientists prepare to march on Trump
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Scientists and climate activists opposed to the Trump administration are bringing their message to the streets of Washington. 

Two marches in D.C. this month will bring out scientists and other protesters who say the Trump administration’s policies sideline science’s role in public policy, undermining the science on climate change and other issues.

Organizers will host the March for Science on the National Mall on Saturday, followed by the People's Climate March the week after.

President Trump is the unifying factor for both marches, both in how they came together and what messages they’ll promote.

“I think it’s fair to say that this administration catalyzed the happening of this march, there’s no doubt about that,” said Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a national co-chairwoman of the March for Science who will speak at the Saturday event.

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The March for Science idea grew out of the Women’s March, a protest that drew millions of demonstrators around the country in January, one day after Trump was sworn in as president. 

Science activists saw the event as something they could replicate and devised similar action  — a large D.C. rally with satellite protests around the country — based on showing general support for science policy. 

Speakers in Washington will include television science educator Bill Nye and other activists, musicians and former administration officials. The event’s Twitter account has 350,000 followers and its Facebook page has more than 527,000 “likes” but organizers don’t yet have attendance projections.

Activists have tried to pitch the March for Science as a non-partisan event, and Saturday’s demonstrators won’t demand specific policy outcomes beyond supporting science as a guide for public policy.

Next weekend’s climate march, on the other hand, will directly pressure policymakers to back away from the Trump administration’s energy proposals and work on tackling climate change. 

“The March for Science is about recognizing this truth, and the People’s Climate March is about acting on it,” said Lindsay Meiman, a spokeswoman for 350.org, a climate group that’s part of the steering committee of the climate protest. 

The idea for the People’s Climate March was originally conceived last year, Meiman said, with supporters planning to make their case for a quicker transition from fossil fuels to whoever captured the White House.

It’s pitched as the sequel to a 2014 New York climate march that drew 400,000 people and ranks as one of the largest single protests in U.S. history. 

Trump’s election, followed by his administration’s work dismantling much of former President Obama’s climate agenda, only raised the stakes for this month’s event. Organizers expect “tens of thousands” of attendees in Washington and at the 300 other simultaneous events around the country.  

“After Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWhy Donald Trump flipped a Dem county in blue Connecticut Dem rep: Trump can't deliver on promise because of Russia probe Trump turns up heat on AG Sessions over recusal MORE was elected, we understood it was more important than ever to come together to take action around both pushing back against this administration … [and] putting forward a vision for transitioning off fossil fuels,” Meiman said.

Activists and Democrats have lambasted the Trump administration’s approach to science policy, from proposed deep spending cuts at key federal science agencies to its work undoing Obama-era climate change regulations and policies. 

Trump’s first budget proposed large funding cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Energy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA’s Earth science budget.

Along the way, officials have begun the process of stripping away key climate policies from the Obama administration. 

Those efforts have raised concerns from across the political spectrum, including among some Republicans. 

On a call with reporters previewing the science march, Elias Zerhouni, the NIH head under President George W. Bush, said he is concerned about new spending cuts targeting federal scientific research, while Bush’s first EPA chief, Christine Whiteman, warned about “politicized” science within the government. 

“We do not want to promulgate regulations, rules and laws based on anecdotal evidence,” she said. “It’s not just NIH, it’s EPA, it’s NOAA. We’re seeing science becoming politicized across the board.”

But Trump allies say those criticisms could be lobbed at scientists, as well.

“The problem we face now is that there are very large megaphones at the disposal of people who are promoting their own special interests in the guise of scientific facts,” said Myron Ebell, the director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Ebell, who headed Trump’s EPA transition team, said scientists have begun using their research to make policy recommendations, something he suggests goes beyond their expertise and should be left to lawmakers. 

“Climate policy is not science, and saying, ‘I know what we have to have is the cap-and-trade system or the Clean Power Plan' ... I mean, give me a break.”

Rush Holt, a former New Jersey congressman who heads the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has sought to cool expectations for the marches, saying activists shouldn’t expect to move lawmakers or the administration by protest alone.

“The first thing, before the marchers make demands that Congress do this or the president do that, is there is some remedial work for the public and policymakers to understand the value of science,” he said. 

“You don’t want politicians prescribing what questions can be answered by science. ... Scientists should be saying: Here are questions we should answer and here is what we need to answer them.”

Rep. Don Beyer (Va.), a Democrat on the House Science Committee, said he expects the message to be “don’t cut” funding for research, a message he hopes resonates with appropriators in Congress.

“For me, it’s a matter of remembering the larger picture,” he said. “This won’t last forever and we need to keep people’s spirits up, and keep good research being done.”

—Updated at 12:45 p.m.