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April 27, 2017

Moab March for Science draws large crowd

by Rose Egelhoff
The Times-Independent

Local residents and others march through downtown Moab during the April 22 March on Science. Marches were held in over 600 cities and town across the country and internationally, including Salt Lake City and Moab.

Moab residents and visitors joined groups across the country and around the world on Earth Day, April 22, in taking to the streets to march in support of science.

More than a hundred people gathered at Swanny City Park for an introduction by organizer Katie Miller of Moab and speeches by teachers, students, scientists and land managers. A banner reading, “May the Facts Be With You,” created by local environmental group Canyon Country Rising Tide, was stretched across the pavilion behind the speakers. At tables throughout the park several sponsoringorganizations explained how they use science for their work.

Speakers addressed public understanding of science and spoke in support of using science and facts to guide public land management.

Richard Schwartz, known locally as Professor Purple, drew on his background as a high school physics teacher to explain how pure theory and basic research from the 19th century is important in daily life today.

“When your car tells you to turn left, give a hat tip to Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which is essential to GPS,” Schwartz said. “We couldn’t work as a society without being able to use the theoretical, pure research of a hundred years ago. It’s become absolutely essential to the way we work today.”

Several speakers discussed climate change andenvironmental issues. John Weisheit, conservation director at the nonprofit Living Rivers, said that Colorado River users with junior water rights face their water being cut off. He added that scientists predicted today’s water shortages decades ago.

“[Scientists] told the policy people that the Colorado River is in trouble, and what have the water policy people done for the last 71 years? Absolutely nothing,” Weisheit said. "The shortages are here and it’s about to happen.”

He called for policymakers to listen more to scientists.

Rachel Nelson an adjunct professor in the department of environment and society at Utah State University-Moab, gave a demonstration of the scientific method — the way scientists use experiments to find out facts.

“We can all be citizen scientists and I think if we take that mystery out of science that people are more willing to embrace it and understand that it’s attainable for everybody, it’s understandable for everybody,” Nelson said. “It’s not just these super smart people who are telling us what to do.”

After the speeches, the group marched up 100 North and around downtown, carrying signs with messages such as “Science Saves Lives,” “There Is No Planet B,” and “Science Keeps America 1st and Great.”
According to the Southeastern Utah March for Science Facebook page, The March for Science was organized as “a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists, and the incredible and immediate outpouring of support has made clear that these concerns are also shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world.”

“Speaking up for science is critically important because it is what drives society forward. From the technology we rely on, the medicine we need, the food we eat, science is the driving force for all of it,” local march organizer Katie Miller told The Times-Independent. “It is important right now because despite there being an abundance of information freely available to virtually everyone, there are still people who deny the viability of science.”

Miller said more than 600 cities around the world participated in the April 22 March for Science, and she hopes the connections made in the process of planning and executing the march will lead to more support for science-based policies and science education.

‘The result we want is a better-educated civilization that understands science and understands what is at stake if we do not act accordingly, most perilously in regards to climate change,” she said.

Miller, a stay at home mother, said she had helped remotely organize national events, but had never organized a local march like this one.

Nationally, the March for Science was organized after several scientists on the website Reddit discussed their concerns that references to climate change had been deleted from the White House website, according to the Washington Post. Scientist Jonathan Berman from the University of Texas set up a March for Science website and social media pages. Other science advocates, concerned about a perceived disregard for science among national politicians, quickly joined. Thousands attended the march in Washington, D.C., according to NBC News.

“The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest,” according to the national March for Science website.

In Moab, march participants came from the local community, Colorado and around the West.

Sam Foster of Durango, a retired scientist, and Dot Wehrly, also from Durango, came to Moab to participate.
“[Science] is being ignored in too many policy decisions now and we need to listen to science,” Wehrly said.

“It’s not well-funded,” added Foster. “It’s like one of the speakers said, when budgets get tight, they ... stop doing science. The problem is that a lot of science takes years or even decades and if you stopped right in the middle of it, you ruin what you’ve done. It’s got to be a solid investment.”
Another participant from Colorado, David Reed, held a sign that read, “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

“I figured if there’s any place I should show up today that needed to support wilderness, it’s in the state of Utah,” Reed said, adding that it is unfortunate that science has become a political issue.

He said he hopes the march will “increase awareness and bring more people to promote the needs of science period that we need to be funding science, that we need to be respecting the findings of science, not just disregarding them.”

The march was followed by a performance by Meander Cat and poetry by Barbara Galler.

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