I am a tree hugger, and that’s precisely why I did not attend the March for Science on Earth Day 2017.
I wasn’t at all 600 marches across the country (I wasn’t at even one), but there are no reports from any of them that environmental injustice and environmental racism were sufficiently acknowledged. Our planet is for everyone, yet marchers failed to get specific about how much more pollution, flooding and climate change impact communities of color. In King County asthma affects Black, Asian and multiracial youth more than White and Hispanic youth. This is in part because sources of heavy pollution — SeaTac Airport, industrialized sectors and truck routes, for example — affect the
surrounding neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are often cheaper (in part because of the environmental hazards of living in them), and income is heavily divided along racial lines. Higher-income areas also have many more trees, which makes a difference not only during summer but also in communities with a lot of impervious surfaces that absorb heat and intensify the effect of pollution. Seattle Public Utilities predicts that South Park and Georgetown, two of Seattle’s most racially diverse neighborhoods, will be underwater at high tide by 2100. Without acknowledging that community resilience is highly unequal, the march gave the impression that a general approach (“science = love” as one marcher’s sign in D.C. read) is sufficient.
Science has long been dominated by White, cis, straight men. Many, including members of the March for Science planning team, were worried that the march would politicize science. I admit that was one reason I didn’t attend. Science, in theory, is the discipline of seeking to understand the physical properties of objects, and attempting to make accurate statements about the world. In practice, science is yet one more political tool in the belt of those in power. The idea that politicizing science should be avoided, as if it wasn’t already prejudiced and therefore political (science justified the use of atrocities such as eugenics and forced sterilization against Black, female, disabled and other marginalized people). If scientists didn’t organize a march after the Deep Horizon oil spill or on behalf of the protectors involved in protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline and only now want to organize a “nonpolitical protest” when their funding is threatened by a decidedly anti-science administration, their march for science is, too.
This is not to say that matters of science are simply matters of opinion. We live in a world with nuclear capacity to destroy itself multiple times, escalating climate change and tenuous foreign relations paired with the ability to communicate to billions of people in seconds. These are not political issues, but not because they are debatable as if there are two neutral sides. The loss of almost 50 percent of Earth’s natural biodiversity between 1970 and 2008 is not a “worldview” that one may adopt if it suits her. Our technological capacity for extraction and rapid consumption of finite resources are political issues not because they got enough votes in order to exist but because of the civic willpower it will take to fix them.
The March for Science was an explicit attempt to put pressure on the Trump administration to stop undoing all the environmental protection work of the past 50 years. Now, it will be even harder to convince Trump supporters that climate change and environmental issues aren’t liberal schemes to raise taxes or hem in businesses. Worse, it made liberals feel like they were taking positive action while being unwilling to take an intersectional stand and center the needs of marginalized people and scientists; many scientists of color were silenced, ignored or forced to step down from positions of leadership in planning for the March for Science.
The march claimed to demand “accountability,” but it did not specify for what, therefore making the petition more of a threat than a desirable outcome. Thus it did exactly the opposite of what we the polarized people desperately need: It burned rather than built bridges inside its own community and out.
Megan Wildhood is a writer, advocate in the mental health community and published poet and essayist living in Seattle.
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