We didn’t know what the presidential election would bring when we started planning the science issue. We did know that climate change was not getting the rapid response we thought it merited from political leaders of every party. And we noticed more outspoken scientists challenging the convenient magical thinking of energy corporations and unfazed politicians. It made us consider the powerful alliance of a critical-thinking public and a passionate science community advocating for the common good.
That was then. Now Donald Trump is in the White House, and the leaders from the fossil fuel industry pepper his team of advisers and Cabinet. The White House website’s “Climate Change” page has been replaced with an “America First Energy Plan” page. Trump has frozen grants and contracts at the EPA. There are gag orders and media blackouts.
After the election, researchers at the University of Toronto and University of Pennsylvania coordinated a guerrilla archiving event to migrate public data stored only on Environmental Protection Agency computers to storage in Canada so that access would not be cut off by an administration hostile to climate research. Those scientists are scared for their careers and for their data, and so are we.
Climate science is looking like the front line of a war, and scientists have become freedom fighters.
Researchers, who usually communicate through scholarly journal articles, are grabbing megaphones. In December, during the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, hundreds of climate scientists put down their research papers to march in the streets, a truly unprecedented sight at a major academic conference. Scientists have even formed a PAC, 314 Action, to get into politics.
Climate science is looking like the front line of a war.
When scientists are willing to risk their professional reputations and futures to speak up for people and planet—and truth—we’d better listen up and meet their courage with our own. That requires participation.
We all can dive into observing our world, gathering information, and insisting that decisions at every level of government be based on our best understanding of scientific fact. That’s where the democracy comes in. We the People need to demand truth and then ensure that government and industry use such fundamental research for the common good.
Whether you’re someone who reads scientific journals in your spare time or has trouble recalling the chemical formula for carbon dioxide, you can help. Count the birds in your backyard, test your own water, join a citizen science group, hug a scientist. Whether we think of ourselves as words people or numbers people, it’s a great big data-filled world that desperately needs us all to deeply understand things like parts per billion. We are all scientists now.