Our scientific salvation

Science and its place in policy making

By Sophie Weir, Reporter

Earth has been blessed with the incredible miracle of life. Our world is vast and magnificent, with too many species to count, roaring oceans fading deep into oblivion, forests stretching across continents and connecting countries. Flowers burst forth in the spring and snow drifts to the ground in winter. We hang in a delicate balance, depending on our planet’s perfect position between the sun and whatever lies beyond to supply us with the ideal amount of energy and light.

It’s only through science that we understand the intricate harmony that exists on Earth. We’ve made breakthrough discoveries, uncovered scientific truths, and have begun to unravel the complex web of Earth’s ecosystems. We depend on science every day, from commutes, to cooking, to technology.

On Saturday, April 22, Earth Day, the world marched to protect one of humankind’s greatest assets, with an estimated 10,000 participators in Portland’s march alone. The March for Science was a grassroots movement dedicated to advancing scientific literacy and strengthening the role of science in policy making. Over 600 cities participated worldwide, each with the same message: we need science. We need it for our medicine, safety, jobs, and, perhaps most importantly, environmental protection.  

Man-made climate change is a direct result of human engineering – most notably the dramatic increase of carbon dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution. Today, we are already suffering the consequences of this. The ice caps are melting at rates faster than we could have ever predicted, water levels are rising worldwide, and droughts are parching what was once fertile land. Ocean acidification threatens the very existence of marine life, and ecosystems across the planet have been severely disrupted, with 150-200 species going extinct each day.

Science knows no bias – it’s a simple tool wielded by humans, for better or for worse. But in our modern world, it’s looking like science is all we have left to right our wrongs.

Especially during today’s global climate crisis, it’s become more important than ever for government officials to enact evidence-based policies, including replacing dirty fuels like coal and oil with renewable energy sources. We need to use the research and technology we have at our fingertips to correct our impact on the environment, and reduce our carbon footprint.

With the current American administration in place, however, we’ve taken steps backward in terms of how we view this kind of science.

Within the last few months, the Trump administration has made moves to defund the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NASA, National Health Institution, and other science-based foundations committed to the public well being. The administration’s disregard to science reflects how little politics trust modern scientific studies, especially climate change research. Because these sciences are typically associated with the “liberal agenda,” they’re seen as biased and potentially dishonest. Said Kathleen Fuller, Cleveland IB Environmental Systems and Societies teacher, “They’ve been just stripping science out of everything, and thinking that facts are something that can be debated–it’s been incredibly frustrating because [climate change] is the biggest issue of our time, and it’s going to impact all of us.”

In our age of greatest need, while we watch the world collapse as a result of our decisions, we have shunned science and all that it stands for. Our government’s failure to take research into account will result in environmental deterioration, lack of progress, and will drive the wedge between scientists and politicians even deeper.

So in the wake of the March for Science, it’s important that we make the connection between science and progressive policy. For the US, that link lies in education. A quote from the March for Science official website reads, “The best way to ensure science will influence policy is to encourage people to appreciate and engage with science. That can only happen through education, communication, and ties of mutual respect between scientists and their communities.” It’s a statement that rings true in many ways, and exactly what the Cleveland environmental science class aims for every day. In fact, up to 15 members of the class attended Portland’s chapter of the March together, including junior Haley Nemec. “I wanted to be involved–there’s not a lot of ways that teens can immediately take action, whereas this was something that anyone could go to and show your support for the cause,” said Nemec on her experience at the March.

This group of Cleveland students is a great example of how important community involvement is. In order to get people involved, you first have to generate enthusiasm and passion for the movement, and all that stems from adequate education. By spreading knowledge and awareness about these issues, it’s possible for the public voice to be heard loud enough for politician ears.