When President Donald Trump’s administration silenced federal scientists and instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to freeze its grants Tuesday, a San Antonio scientist decided to take a cue from last weekend’s Women’s March and take a stand.
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio postdoctoral fellow Jonathan Berman began organizing that very evening, creating a Facebook page for a March For Science in Washington, D.C. By Wednesday afternoon, the group had more than 315,000 followers.
Since then, Berman and fellow scientist Caroline Weinberg have established an active Twitter handle, website and Google form where followers can sign up to help. Overwhelmed with inquiries, Berman declined an interview on Wednesday.
Sister marches in other parts of the world are popping up as well, including this one in London.
It’s unclear whether the March for Science in Washington will approach the scale of other protests resisting Trump and his policies. Currently, the Facebook group discussion is very active, with the “white coats” sharing their opinions and inspiring one another to get involved.
One wrote: “I’m so thankful for this group … as a scientist in Texas it can feel a bit lonely.”
Such activism is uncommon for the scientific community, which tends to remain politically neutral. But Trump’s policy promises have sparked concern for health and environmental protections.
“These actions don’t just threaten scientists — they threaten everyone in the country who breathes air, drinks water and eats food,” Andrew Rosenberg, Center for Science and Democracy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, stated in a news release unrelated to the march organization. “These agency scientists carry out research in support of policies that protect our health and safety and help farmers, and it makes no sense to put up walls between them and the public, or unilaterally halt the work they do.”
During his campaign, Trump promised to significantly reduce EPA regulations, claiming they place unnecessary burdens on U.S. businesses.
“I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist. I believe in it, but it’s out of control,” Trump said in a meeting with automakers Tuesday.
In addition to restricting government employees in several agencies from communicating with the public, Trump is requiring EPA’s research to undergo review by his administration, placing future projects on “temporary hold.” He also ordered the agency to delete its climate data from its website, though recent reports indicate his administration is backtracking that mandate.
Many EPA employees say this degree of control is unprecedented for the agency, which Republican President Richard Nixon created in 1970 with strong bipartisan support.
As of Friday, no March for Science events have been publicly organized in San Antonio or Austin, but at least one is expected after former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s recent comments to the committee overseeing his confirmation as U.S. Energy Secretary. He believes that climate change is occurring, but “the question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth.”
Like several of Trump’s cabinet appointees, Perry has been predominantly pro-oil as governor of Texas, at one point proposing to abolish the very department he will now oversee. He has also played a substantial role in making Texas the largest wind energy producer in the U.S.
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Trump’s selection to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has spent much of his career fighting the agency and has vowed to limit “unnecessary regulation” that he said drains billions of dollars from the U.S. economy.
Environmentalists argue that regulations force companies to internalize some of the costs otherwise absorbed by citizens through health expenses, lost work days, and a wide range of externalities. Some point to recent polls that show the majority of Americans – Republicans included – believe EPA regulations should be left as is or strengthened.