March for Science draws thousands to State House on Earth Day

  • Chris Schul (left) and Kaitlyn Morse (center), both from Ashland, and Donovan King of Plymouth attend the March for Science rally at the New Hampshire State House in Concord on Saturday. Photos by GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Four-year-old Esperanza Gonzales of Manchester waves Earth Day flags at the New Hampshire State House for the March for Science rally. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Four-year-old Esperanza Gonzales of Manchester waves her Earth Day flag at the New Hampshire State House during the March for Science rally.

  • Participants in the March for Science rally prepare their signs for the march at the New Hampshire State House on Saturday.

  • March for Science rally participants hold up their signs as they get ready to march at the New Hampshire State House on Saturday.

Monitor staff
Published: 4/22/2017 11:27:29 PM

About 2,000 people gathered at the State House steps on Saturday to march for science in concert with hundreds of similar rallies across the world.

Environmental groups and scientists who organized the global Earth Day demonstrations have said the event is non-partisan. Still, the election of President Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, and appointed a fossil fuel industry-friendly head in Scott Pruitt to the department, loomed large over the event.

Roger Stephenson of the Union of Concerned Scientists told the crowd of a recent press conference Pruitt had held – at a coal mine – to announce the agency’s “back to basics” approach.

“He said ‘back to basics’ means returning EPA to its core mission of protecting the environment through sensible regulations that enhance economic growth,” Stephenson said, to boos from the crowd.

“That was never the mission of the EPA. That is re-writing history,” Stephenson said, theatrically unfurling a scroll delineating the “60 federal agencies, departments, and bureaus” that are actually dedicated to the U.S. economy.

Erich Osterberg, a climate scientist at Dartmouth College, told the crowd that he had spent his career studying the effects of climate change in glaciers, and had seen first hand the front-line repercussions of a warming climate.

“We have got to get past this false debate about whether climate change is real. We have to get past that false debate so we can have the real debate about what we’re going to do to fix it,” he said.

Osterberg said that despite years studying climate change, he’d reached a “personal tipping point this past fall.”

“At the same time as our leaders were saying – so many of them – that climate change was a hoax. That it’s a con. That it’s a fraud. And that climate scientists like me, and so many others here today, are falsifying their data and manipulating it and lying – at the same time that they were saying these things, the Earth was literally shattering its temperature record for the third year in a row,” he said.

And in many ways, anxiety about a settled scientific consensus suddenly being up for debate in the political arena was the event’s central theme.

“Facts are facts,” read one sign. “It’s not raining. It’s fake,” march organizer Nicole Stratton joked as it started to drizzle on the crowd.

But speakers also spoke broadly about the need for policy makers to be better informed by good science and data – and what could be accomplished when they were.

Melody Brown Burkins, the Associate Director for Programs and Research in the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and an environmental studies professor at Dartmouth, spoke about working on policy in Washington, D.C.

“I saw first-hand how access and attention to independent scientific data could both inform and shape responsible policy,” she said.

State Rep. Tim Smith, a Manchester Democrat, said that scientists, in concert with policy-makers across the globe, had been able to eradicate smallpox. And that’s not all.

“Here inside the building, a lot of you might not know this, we have a moon rock on display in the lobby. And you know how it got there? It didn’t just fall from the sky. We sent one of the greatest heroes who’s ever lived to pick it up off the ground,” he said.

Citing an estimate by police, a Concord organizer pegged the number of participants at the march’s peak at about 2,000. Another march was also held in Portsmouth.

Participants carried signs both mathematical and cheeky – “Climate change is not √ -1 (imaginary)” – or blunt – “Act now, or swim later.”

A quote by the famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson – “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe it” – was also popular.

Joanne Wood came to the march from Nashua with her mother because she said too little is being done to combat climate change.

“The administration that we have right now is terrifying and the fact that we’re not moving forward on a very, very pressing and scary issue and that we’re not actively fighting against it is terrifying,” she said.

Becky and Bruce Berk came up from Hooksett to march and pick up materials from local environmental organizations they might get involved with.

“I think science and facts, and the study of science, is incredibly critical to everything that we do as a country. And I think we’ve lost our way,” Becky said.

And her husband, Bruce, said the November election had felt like a make-or-break moment.

“I think people have to make a choice now – whether to be discouraged or involved,” he said.

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