Sending a message that science matters

Climate Change Scientists Rally
Scientists hold signs during a rally in conjunction with the American Geophysical Union's December meeting in San Francisco.

THIS YEAR'S Earth Day represents a pivotal moment in the fight for our environment, as it will be marked by the first March for Science. Thousands of people from across the country - including Philadelphia - will march to send a message that science matters in all public policy decision-making.

Scientists used to think that their work stopped once they stepped outside of the labs they labored in and that the research they published spoke for itself.

Yet in a world where the president's own advisers spout out "alternative facts" when faced with inconvenient truths, when an entire administration sets out to repeatedly attack the integrity of the very foundation that our modern world is based on, the scientific community has a unique role to play. We must ensure that the interpretation of empirical data guide public policies, ranging from the fight against climate change to decisions over protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Saturday's March for Science makes it clear that scientists are realizing that they must take the fight out of the laboratory and the classroom and stand up for the value of objective truth.

Scientists must communicate the impact of their work on people, communities and the planet in clear and precise language.

Our collective failure to do that has had many negative impacts on people's lives. One look at the history of toxins such as lead or asbestos can demonstrate the gap between what we know scientifically about their health impacts and what we advocate for in regulatory protections. And now we are continuing the trend of ignoring glaring public health hazards by supporting our addiction to fossil fuels.

The following statistics are indicative of the continued gap. Fewer than half of Americans believe that climate change is due to human activity, according to a Pew study released last year. And only a third believe that scientists well understand the occurrence of climate change. Still, two-thirds of Americans think climate scientist should have a major role in policy making (pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/public-views-on-climate-change-and-climate-scientists/).

One scientist blamed Al Gore for turning conservatives off from listening to the truth. Indeed, so many public policy debates - particularly around the environment - have become polarized along partisan lines. How can denying climate disruption be justified by rational intelligent decision-makers, regardless of their party line? Climate-change deniers have spent years attacking the scientific process and attempting to delegitimize the consensus held by the scientific community: Climate disruption is real; it is being caused by human activity and represents a grave threat to our health and well-being. But most importantly there are solutions.

It is time for those who understand the gravity of climate change to step up and take action. It's time to fight back against an administration that is intent on locking our planet, and us along with it, in a path of inexorable warming by rolling back our efforts to curb harmful carbon emissions. A path where extreme and deadly weather events become more frequent, where massive food shortages cause starvation and spark geopolitical conflict and where the future of our neighboring coastal states such as New Jersey is threatened.

The Trump administration is seeking big budget cuts for climate research to make it more difficult for scientists to develop effective solutions. It wants to slash the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency to give polluters free rein as outlined in the recent executive orders.

Science is not a liberal concept; it is not a conservative concept. It is a crucial tool we need to employ to chart a course forward in perilous times.

That's why scientists, researchers, academics and health professionals are finally demanding a chance to advocate for evidence-based solutions that benefit American families, communities and environments.

The national March for Science event will be on the National Mall in Washington. Other cities will host events, as well. Here in Philadelphia, supporters will gather at City Hall at 10 a.m.on Satrday to make their voices heard.

We would like you to join with us this weekend. We must send the message loud and clear to our elected officials in Washington - and closer to home in Pennsylvania - that facts and truth matter and that scientists need and deserve a seat at the policy-making table.

Poune Saberi and Walter Tsou are members of Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility.