March for Science: Remarks by Enrique Gómez

On Saturday April 22, 2017, over 2,000 people gathered for a March for Science in Asheville, NC, which was a part of over 600 such marches across the world to support science and policies informed by science. Dr. Enrique Gómez, president of the Jackson County branch and professor of physics and astronomy addressed the marchers with these words.

I come to you today as a scientist, an astrophysicists by training, and a science educator by profession. I come to you as a published scientist, an anti-racism and violence against women activist. I come to you as Latino man, an immigrant, an English language learner, an LGBT person, a parent, a person of faith, a citizen and a human being.

I march with you in deep distress, and I feel your distress too. I am moved to action when my community suffers from lack of economic opportunity, from lack of access to health care and education, from racism, from gender violence, from homophobia and transphobia, from a damaged environment and from economic disruption. I am a scientist and an activist because I am moved by the suffering of children, the elderly, the sick, and by extinction of species, by diminishing biological diversity and existential threat posed by climate change of whole countries and societies.

Some have said that it is improper for scientist to organize a political march to defend science. That this compromises the ideal of objectivity that defines the scientific process. This is said even by people that I respect, but I also respectfully disagree. Science before anything else is human enterprise to find out what is real and how to solve problems. Science is not just an interest of a narrow group. We have built our civilization from what was discovered through the dedication and service of generations of women and men doing science. Not only have we come to understand ourselves and our place in the cosmos, but we have also improved the quality of each other’s lives, nursed the sick, extended our lifespan, reduced childhood mortality. Using science to solve problems is one way in which we express our love for our children and each other.

By knowing what is true and understanding the consequences of our actions, both individually and collectively, science also allows us to be moral agents in this world and to live by our deepest values. A moral vision for our country sees humanity embedded in an expansive web of natural relationships so that moral action is always informed by evidence-based knowledge of these relationships that shape our world. We live in a time of rapid technological and cultural development. In the last hundred years, the Earth’s biosphere has been drastically and fundamentally transformed through human activity and the introduction of invasive species so as to be unrecognizable through cascading effects on the Earth’s ecosystems. There is a developing conception among geologist that we are transitioning from one geologic age, the Holocene, into a new age named the Anthropocene, where human activity is the primary driver of ecological and geologic change. From radioactive isotopes from all the atmospheric nuclear detonations found in the teeth and bones of every one of us, to the gas content in Greenland ice-cores, to plastic deposits in the Mariana Trench, and contaminants in Antarctic lakes, the signature of human activity can be found everywhere. In the face of these changes that herald the beginning of a mass extinction, as well as a precarious circumstance for human communities facing climate change, we have a moral imperative to know and understand the consequences of our technology.

If we ignore what we have found, we are not being responsible to each other, to the nation and to every generation of human beings that will come after us. When we learn about ocean acidification and increased ocean temperatures, and the bleaching death of the Great Coral Reef for a second year in a row, we feel a moral duty to respond. When we learn that by 2050 there will more plastic than fishes by mass in the oceans, we feel a moral duty to respond. When we learn about the melting of the Himalayan glaciers and the drying of the rivers of India that provide water to millions, we feel a moral duty to respond. When we read about rising sea levels from warming oceans affecting the homes of a billion people, we feel a moral duty to respond. When we learn that it will take thousands of years for most of the carbon dioxide we put out to be scrubbed from the atmosphere naturally placing an added burden to hundreds of generations to come, we feel a moral duty to respond.

But there are prominent and power people that don’t feel these moral obligations, and don’t want the rest of us to respond morally either. These are immoral leaders that insist on an absurd and demonstrably false idea that the air, the land and the oceans have infinite capacity to take in pollution without change. They are militant in their ignorance and gyrate around their biases and indulge in groundless conspiracy theories publicly to discredit the good work and decent names of researchers and institutions for scientific work that the American people invested in. They operate on ideology not evidence. And use rejection of scientific evidence as a litmus test for joining their ranks.

This administration has shown contempt and disregard some of the most significant and weighty scientific conclusions about our changing world. It’s done so by eliminating information pages on Climate Change on government websites, deleting research-based date on EPA pages, removing thousands of USDA animal welfare reports from government site, dropping requests on methane pollution reports, proposing a cut of $5.8 billion from the NIH and $900 million from the Energy Department’s Office of Science, proposing $510 million cut NOAA’s satellite division, repealing Climate Rules to meet Paris’ Agreement emission targets, banning the phrase ‘climate change’ from official documents, omitting the NSF from the proposed budget, proposing the elimination of NOAA Sea Grant Program, proposing the cancellation of four satellite Earth Science missions, proposing the elimination of the NASA Office of Education, proposing cuts of EPA jobs dedicated to climate change issues, delaying the appointment of White House science advisor, proposing the elimination of the International Space Station, and closing EPA offices. This House has also passed legislation limiting EPA’s use of peer-reviewed science.

In the face of this most corrupt and immoral leadership, I join the call for a moral revolution of values shaped by evidence-based scientific knowledge is an ethical imperative that informs how we conduct ourselves and live by our shared values. Science is real. And there are moral laws and physical laws in this universe to which even the most powerful must bow. And it is with the service and integrity of the scientists, which we as a nation trained and invested in our common good, that we will take the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the marginalized, the refugee and the silenced and raised them to a place of love and justice and dignity. Because we are such a nation.