Large groups plan to assemble on April 22 in Washington, D.C. and cities across the world as part of the March for Science to demonstrate their support of science and the role of scientific evidence in guiding policy. Glacier researchers and other cryosphere specialists are preparing to join their colleagues from other disciplines in this global expression of concern.
The March for Science has grown over a short period, the idea first emerging soon after the 2017 Women’s March in January. It quickly gathered momentum with large numbers of adherents on social media, drawing inspiration from the 2014 People’s Climate March. The organizers selected April 22, Earth Day, as the date for the events. By February, 27 scientific associations had joined as partner organizations to co-sponsor the march. To date, 107 organizations are sponsoring the event, with 429 satellite marches planned in 42 countries.
In addition to seeking to assure funding for scientific research, the march has a number of other goals: supporting scientific education, promoting diversity and inclusiveness in science, affirming science as a democratic value, and advancing the role of scientific evidence in policy-making. Though some have voiced a concern that the march could serve those who seek to attack science, by politicizing science and presenting scientists as an interest group, the march’s supporters have argued for the urgency of taking a public stand in the face of unprecedented threats to scientific research and to the belief in science itself.
One of the march’s earliest sponsors was the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific organization, with over 120,000 members. Agustin Fuentes of the University of Notre Dame, the chair-elect of the anthropology section of the AAAS, spoke recently with GlacierHub about the back and forth discussions across the membership when the idea first came up. “The leadership stood up right away and spoke publicly,” he said, adding that this “galvanized the membership.”
Fuentes further underscored the importance of science at a time when, as he said, “the structure of the planet is changing so fast.” He continued, “We are at a point of almost no return. I never expected to see video footage of glaciers shrinking…We’ve known of this global disruption climatologically, and it’s been ramped up politically. People who engage in science have to speak up now.” He spoke as well of primates, the “canaries in coal mines for the world’s forests,” with over 60% of primate species listed as threatened.
Robin Bell of Columbia University, the president-elect of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), linked cryosphere processes with the importance of the march. The AGU, with over 60,000 members, was one of the march’s first sponsors. “The march is a chance for us to talk about how science matters,” she said. “Science is important for society, and it’s non-partisan.”
“We’re still making basic discoveries about how ice sheets work,” Bell continued, referencing her own work in Antarctica. These findings are important to society because of “the linkage to sea level rise” and the threats to port facilities in the current economy, where “goods move all around the world.” She emphasized that the march was global, with other countries besides the US needing to assure the role of science in policy and decision-making.
Alisse Waterston, the president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), described to GlacierHub her organization’s path to supporting the march. At the AAA’s 2016 annual meeting in mid-November, less than two weeks after Election Day, members voiced their wish to take action. “It was remarkable to see such a strong sense of solidarity, of deep concern because of the rhetoric,” she said. The annual meeting led to a number of initiatives that began in late November and December.
Valorie Aquino, one of the three co-organizers of the March for Science and an anthropologist from the University of New Mexico, approached the AAA in January to ask for support. Waterston felt it was an excellent opportunity for the AAA “to leverage its capacity and work in solidarity with individuals and with other organizations.” The march serves to oppose what she termed an “assault on people, assault on the most vulnerable, and assault on knowledge itself.”
Laura Ogden, an anthropologist at Dartmouth, and head of the AAA’s Anthropology and Environment Section (A&E), is mobilizing A&E to support the March. She described her work with the indigenous Yaghan community in Tierra del Fuego. Her current research, a “collaborative archive project,” examines photographs of glaciers from the early 1900s. She traveled with the Yaghan to visit these glaciers and discussed changes with them. She explained that for the Yaghan, “the loss of glaciers are related to the loss of lands, the loss of language and of rights.”
Susan Crate, an anthropologist at George Mason University and a member of the AAA’s Task Force on Climate Change, raised similar points from her work in Siberia, where she has collaborated with permafrost scientists in the management of hayfields crucial to the indigenous Sakha, who raise horses and cattle. Permafrost thawing and changing patterns of snowfall and snowmelt leave hayfields flooded, ravaging long-established livelihoods. Crate emphasized “the need to invest deeply in understanding the diversity of ways that people experience all these changes,” echoing what Ogden termed “understanding how climate change is part of this bigger story” of vulnerability.
A cryosphere scientist who works at a federal agency had a different response to the march. “You should be aware in advance that— as an [agency] employee— I cannot speak to the media about, nor participate in, public actions wearing my ‘[agency] hat,” he wrote in response to GlacierHub’s request for an interview. “The administration here is going strict on this requirement, as they don’t want to give any reason for any next budget slashing, which is becoming increasingly possible by the day, and specifically on a planned political action. I don’t want to provide anyone with an excuse to lash out on my work. Hope you understand.”
In a subsequent conversation, he elaborated his points: “Marching is easy. You are with thousands of people. There’s an energy in the crowd. But back in the office, there are daily battle lines when you are on your own. That is far more demanding than the march, which I fully support.”
He continued, “The true heroes will be science managers, agency people and university administrators who will be supporting and protecting the scientists. They are the ones who will preserve NSF [the National Science Foundation], NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and NASA [the National Aeronautics and Space Administration].” He paused, and then completed his thought: “They probably won’t come to the march. But on Monday they will come back to the office and they will fight.”