Why One Midwestern Scientist Will March for Climate Justice in Washington

April 13, 2017 | 3:39 pm
Photo: Michael O'Brien/CC BY-NC (Flickr)
Jessica Collingsworth
Former Contributor

With the Trump Administration’s recent attacks on climate policy, the proposed cuts to the EPA’s budget, and numerous attacks on science it’s no surprise that people are outraged and want to stand up for science and fight for climate justice.

That’s why the Union of Concerned Scientists joined the Steering Committee of the People’s Climate Movement, which is a project of dozens of organizations working together to solve the climate crisis. The People’s Climate March will be held on Saturday, April 29 in Washington DC which marks Donald Trump’s 100th day in office. We must push back against the Trump administration’s agenda and at the same time push forward on our vision of a cleaner and safer world.

So why should scientists and science supporters attend the march? To answer that question I recently interviewed UCS Science Network Member Tim Gerrity for his take on how scientists and others can get involved to fight for climate action. The interview is recorded below.

 Jessica: Thanks for talking with me today, Tim. Can you tell me a little about yourself and your work?

Tim: I have a long background in different areas of scientific research. I have a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois at Chicago and I’m currently a medical technology consultant. I was previously the Chief of the Clinical Research Branch/Health Effects Research Laboratory at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At the EPA, I researched the acute health effects of air pollutants. In addition to my research, I provided scientific input to the EPA on the quality Criteria Documents required under the Clean Air Act. I have a deep seated concern for the protection of the environment and the setting of standards to protect human health.

 Jessica: Why are you attending the People’s Climate March on April 29?

 Tim: First, climate change is a fact, it is caused by humans, and we must act to protect the environment and human health. Last month, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released a report showing that increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events like floods, heat waves and droughts are influenced by human-induced climate change. I care as a citizen, a human being, and as a scientist.

Second, I am attending the march to fight back on the current attacks on science and Donald Trump’s harmful statements questioning the validity of climate change. Climate change is happening, and since it is human caused, we may be able to mitigate the worst impacts of it by taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Trump and Congress must fight to limit carbon emissions. Trump’s recent Executive Order on “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth”, seeks to unravel critical public health and climate protections, including the Clean Power Plan. Additionally, with the proposed cuts to the US EPA’s budget, scientific research is threatened, as well as the health and safety of all Americans.  I was a witness to similar budget cuts to the U.S. EPA during the Reagan administration, and research was targeted. Scientific research is crucial for our government to make informed and unbiased policy decisions.

Jessica: Why is it important for scientists, like you, to engage in public policy at the state and federal level?

Tim: Engaging in policy is extremely important because scientists must inform the political establishment and the broad public on the implications of science in driving policy.  Not just in the area of climate.  I am very concerned about rollbacks in various areas of research that have impacts on human health and reflect a misunderstanding of science and the use of science to benefit society.  Science is essential for government policymaking.

Jessica: We are actively working to increase clean energy in the Midwest. Do you think our current political climate threatens the development of clean energy in the region?

Tim: No, but we have a lot of work to do. Educating policymakers and the broader public is vital. President Trump claims he is going to bring back coal jobs, but the truth is, there are now twice as many solar jobs as coal jobs in the United States. We know that coal is becoming less and less competitive as a source of energy, and power companies want to get away from it for economic reasons. The notion that we are going to bring back jobs is an ill-informed notion and it’s cruel. At the same time Trump’s proposed budget is cutting job training programs for coal communities. Our nation’s power sector is already rapidly transitioning away from coal and toward cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar, which has experienced record growth in recent years.

Jessica: At UCS, we’re encouraging our members to get involved and take action and demand climate justice. What would you say to encourage other folks to attend the Peoples Climate March on Saturday, April 29 in DC?

Tim: I have never in my life seen such a dramatic reversal in thought and understanding on the part of government leadership on air quality and the health of the people and the planet. We are going to hit a point where there is no return. It’s easy if you aren’t going to be around in 2100 when we could see some of the most dramatic effects, but we can’t ignore it. Generations to come will look back at us and judge us by our actions today. Climate change is one of the most important societal issues nationally and globally. And the United States cannot pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. We need to do more for the public and public health that is based on scientific fact. It is the job of the federal government to protect human health. We need to think of this not as regulations but as human health protections.

How to get involved

Join us on April 29th as we march for climate justice and march to protect our communities. UCS will be chartering a bus from Chicago to Washington DC, and there are still spots left—reserve your spot today!  You can register to attend the People’s Climate March here.