Why I plan on attending the March for Science


I wrote last time how I probably won’t be attending the People’s Climate March. The event seems more political than science based, plus it focuses on a ton of other issues that in my opinion have nothing to do with climate.

I’m pleased to say that from reading the stated goals of the March for Science, this event appears to be just the opposite. The organizers have focused on science itself and outreach to the general public. This is a far cry from a couple of months ago, when the stated goals of the March for Science included things like worker’s rights and immigration reform!

Not that those issues aren’t important, but they aren’t scientific issues. I make a point in my classes to tell people that as good as the scientific method is, it doesn’t always work for moral, ethical or political issues — for those, you need other ways of looking at things. I don’t see this as a bad thing, it just means scientists have an opportunity to work with people from other fields, including social sciences, humanities, law, religion, etc.

I covered some of these issues in my first blog post. I want to see scientists of all political stripes represented here.

I’m under no illusion that we won’t see leftist politics on display at the march itself. I see at least three reasons for this:

  1. The event was planned after Trump won and is at least partially in response to his administration;
  2. Many scientists, especially in the environmental field, which I expect to see prominently featured considering this takes place on Earth Day, depend on public financing and have a vested interest in big government;
  3. Perhaps paradoxically, the more educated someone is, the less likely they are to see the downsides to liberalism/socialism.

The first point doesn’t bother me at all. Although I still support president Trump, if his election manages to bring more attention to science that can only be a good thing. (Maybe I’ll do another post later on why an environmental scientist voted for Donald Trump).

The second part is a consequence of how science is funded in this country. I would love to see a discussion on the merits of public vs. private financing of science and the advantages to either approach. (One big advantage to private funding is that no politician can decide to delete your data or suppress your findings). Based on what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think this discussion is likely to take place at the March for Science. But that’s OK with me, I don’t expect to get everything I want at one event.

For the third part, I’m not sure what can be done about this — I don’t meet many scientists who have a strong interest in evaluating the pros and cons of socialism, at least not in my field. Most of my colleagues plan to work for universities, the government or NGOs anyway, so it’s easy to see private business as the enemy.

I don’t mind hearing liberal viewpoints so long as other opinions are not being silenced, and from what I’ve read so far it looks like the organizers have made an effort to make this event inclusive to everyone. I don’t think scientists have ever had their own day on Washington and I hope this can be a first step toward bigger and better things in the future.

There’s still a few things that seem out of place to me (for example, the United Auto Workers are listed under Partners, plus they’re still including 314 Action, which has a history of plagiarism I’ve documented here and here.) But, so far this seems to be about as good as I could have expected for a march designed to appeal to as many scientists as possible. I look forward to Marching for Science!

Why I won’t be at the People’s Climate March


I’ll preface my remarks by saying that I firmly believe climate change is real and that humans have played a role in the slight warming trend we’ve seen over the last few decades. To me, the science is settled on whether or not climate change is occurring. (What we should do about it, on the other hand, is something still open for debate and I hope more people will work to come up with creative policies that can be beneficial today and for future generations).

I think it’s great we’re going to have so many people meeting up in Washington D.C. next month to discuss this issue. Based on what I’ve seen so far however, I probably won’t be among them.

I Googled the event to learn a little more about it and came across the following page: https://peoplesclimate.org/#about. Clicking the link to “read more”, brings up a list of reasons why people will be marching. Here is my analysis of each issue:

On the 100th Day of the Trump Administration, we will be in the streets of Washington D.C. to show the world and our leaders that we will resist attacks on our people, our communities and our planet.

Right away, the organizers have shown their hand that this will be a political event, by tying the timing to the Trump administration. I am not saying anyone has to like the president, but this alienates the millions of people who voted for Trump and still support him (many of whom are just as concerned about the environment, by the way).

Next, the text strikes a dark tone, talking about resisting attacks. What attacks have been carried out, and by whom? Who are “our” people? To me, this reads like the start of an “us-against-them” manifesto. At the very least, the organizers could have included specific examples of these attacks and who “our people” and “our communities” refers to.

 We will come together from across the United States to strengthen our movement. We will demonstrate our power and resistance at the gates of the White House. We will bring our solutions to the climate crisis and the problems that affect our communities to our leaders in Congress to demand action.

We invite you to join the Peoples Climate Movement on Saturday, April 29th as we march to:

  • Advance solutions to the climate crisis [that are] rooted in racial, social and economic justice and committed to protecting front-line communities and workers.

What exactly does this mean? I’m not sure what “racial, social and economic justice” would look like. Maybe these are good goals, but without any context I have no way of knowing — all I see is a side issue, separate from climate.

As for front-line communities and workers…. I’m guessing people working in industries likely to be affected by climate change? If that’s the case I think it’s a good point, I think any climate change proposal has to include a human dimension as well.

  • Protect our right to clean air, water, land, healthy communities and a world at peace.

An excellent point and one I fully support, taking into account ecosystems and human communities. I wish the entire list read like this.

  • Immediately stop attacks on immigrants, communities of color, indigenous and tribal people and lands and workers.

Okay. I have no idea what this refers to. Of course, I agree no one should be attacked. But I’m not following the connection to climate science (if anyone reading this has specific examples, please post them.)

  • Ensure public funds and investments create good paying jobs that provide a family-sustaining wage and benefits and preserve workers’ rights, including the right to unionize.

Once again, I don’t see any connection to climate. The only reason I can guess this is included is that several unions are listed on the steering committee. I also think the first point is debatable — where is the evidence that public funds are better at creating jobs than the private sector? This is a distraction at best.

  • Fund investments in our communities, people and environment to transition to a new clean and renewable energy economy that works for all.

I guess this one is pretty benign, since anyone can already choose to invest their money in renewable energy today. I’d actually be interested in learning what investment opportunities are available in this sector.

  • Protect our basic rights to a free press, protest and free speech.

Yes, I agree 100%  — but again, what’s the connection to climate? Are there examples of climate-related speech being repressed in this country? If so, please post them!

What I’d like to see, and at this point I may have to plan it myself, would be an event that focuses primarily on climate, the science behind it and the effect of climate change on human populations and biodiversity. Overall, there are some good points here and I’d probably find a lot in common with at least some of the attendees.

But I think there is plenty of evidence for anthropogenic climate change to make a strong case based on the science alone, without bringing in the politics of divisiveness or trying to scare people by talking about being under attack.

Unfortunately, I fear this kind of language is only going to further alienate people who might otherwise agree with goals of conservation and environmental protection but not the more extreme aspects of this event. In some ways it feels like the conservation movement is being hijacked by fringe radicals. I understand some politics is inevitable, but why make it the focus of the march? Can anything be done to bridge the divide and bring people together in support of a common cause?

Eel smuggling and the press mixes up its eels


Photo credit: The Sun

Meanwhile, in Europe — a smuggler tried to bring 600,000 European eels (Anguilla anguilla) onto a plane. They were at the glass eel stage, where the fish are less than 15 cm in length and translucent, hence the name “glass eel”. Full story here: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2997674/slippery-smuggler-caught-trying-to-sneak-600000-live-eels-on-to-a-plane-in-a-haul-worth-1-2million/

Why would someone try to do this? Well, all those eels are worth approximately approximately $1.46 million dollars! These fish are incredibly valuable both economically and as part of the ecosystem, but unfortunately their populations have crashed as a result of overfishing, dams, parasites, habitat degradation, climate change and other reasons.

As is sometimes the case with the mainstream media, The Sun manages to mix up two kinds of fish with a completely unrelated video of an electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) filmed in Brazil. While these species may have a similar common name, they are actually not that similar, with the European eel being in the order Anguilliformes and the electric eel in Gymnotiformes. An electric eel is actually classified as a knife fish and is not a true eel. Anguillid eels cannot use electricity to find or attack prey.

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