In Support of Science
A Personal Confession
I like science, even if I didn’t ‘like’ science while in school. Other than our 9th grade teacher, who offered anyone in class a full case of Coke (in those now-classic bottles!) if we could produce enough suction through a long straw to draw water up to our 2nd story classroom (you can’t, actually)—to our high school physics teacher, who told my classmates and I that we should sell the pieces of glass we’d just wrongly determined had the refractory value of diamonds and thus move to Latin America after we cashed in—I never was good enough to understand and relish much about the field of science.
But I did thrill to the notion posed by President Kennedy that we should put a ‘man’ on the moon in ten years, so much so that I sat up to watch John Glenn blast off and circle the earth, and later followed the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft’s launches (and postponements) time after time. And yes, even on a late Saturday night in July of 1969 I stayed up at a friend’s house till early morning as we watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon’s surface and tracked his every step—even though I had to be awake and alert just hours later while leading a worship service and teaching a class for adults.
Joining the March
So it wasn’t much of a stretch for me yesterday, at age 76, to follow my wife’s suggestion and join a massive March for Science (April 22, 2017) in downtown Sarasota, FL That activity was planned for 10:30 a.m. and we assembled, along with thousands of others, in Five Points Park near the city’s main library. It was an impressive bunch of folk who gathered there—people of all ages, backgrounds and styles of dress, though rather monochrome in terms of race.
Nearly everyone who came to the march had a lot in common otherwise, but three things in particular struck me. First, people were happy and enthused about science, and learning in general. Second, they wanted to talk with those around them. And third, they were extremely witty and clever, as evidenced by their homemade signs and posters. I’ll list just a few examples here to demonstrate the point.
Signs of the Times
One woman in her late twenties or early thirties wore a tank top that said, “My Jesus fish is a coelacanth.” Several children carried signs that quoted the American astrophysicist Neal Degrass Tyson: “The good thing about science is that it's true, whether or not you believe in it.” Another woman held up a sign with a colorful mosaic on one side that resembled an eastern religious symbol that could have been from one of Joseph Campbell’s books, while on the other side of the poster was this four-part epigraph:
Birthplace: Earth / Race: Human / Politics: Freedom / Religion: Love
The list could go on and on. Every sign and poster that people brought to the march was clever and intelligent. None of them was overtly political, although I did see one young woman holding a hand-lettered sign that said, “Not Paid by Soros.” Clearly, the crowd that assembled downtown was focused on the important roles that science plays in our world, as evidenced by one slogan that asked simply, “Remember polio?” and several displays on T-shirts and signs that pictured Planet Earth with an arrow drawn to the statement: “I’m with her.”
What's it All About?
As we waited for the march to start, my wife overheard an interesting conversation. A woman who came by stopped long enough to question one of the marchers. “What’s this about?” she asked. The person near us said, “It's a march for science.” To which the questioner replied, “Oh, so this is about climate change!” . . . a not-so-friendly expression on her face.
“Well,” the marcher near us replied, “Yes, it’s about the changes in climate. But it’s also about healthy children . . . and clean water . . . and enough air to breathe . . . and cheaper energy, and . . .” but you get the picture.
And . . . They're Off!
At 10:35 a.m. a female voice on a bullhorn welcomed us, thanked us for coming and asked, “What are we here for?” SCIENCE the crowd roared, and the lead voice said, “Let’s GO then!” and we were off. Just ahead of us was a woman who walked with a cane, a small service dog at her side. In back of us was a couple from New York City, accompanied by a middle-aged man from Ireland. He said he’s been coming to the States for twenty years now, and as the walk progressed, that small group’s conversation moved from why he was here to what he thought of the U.S. to the topic of Brexit and it’s potential impact on the Emerald Isle (which could be massive, he suggested).
Along the approximate three-mile route, lots of people in cars honked their approval, made ‘thumbs-up’ signs and cheered us, while we marchers cheered in return. One woman rode by on a bicycle and rang her bell as she passed, and several young males rode by us, all the while making videos with their phones. No one countered us with angry protests, and not a ‘Trumpster’ could be seen anywhere. One older couple that just happened to be walking the same direction joined in, once they learned what we were about.
A March . . . or a Movement?
The four-and-a-half hour event was striking for any number of reasons. Our ‘bullhorn’ announcer shouted periodically, “What does democracy look like?” and we responded, “This is what democracy looks like.” But mostly, the march was in support of facts and honest inquiry and a caring for each other and the planet.
Recently, it seems, that same thread runs through almost everything in sight. Marches were held around the world yesterday, in Berlin and London for instance, and also in D.C.—where one clever sign proclaimed: “Ice doesn’t have an agenda. It just melts.” But questions about the earth’s future and that of the human race abound in other places too. On April 21st, for instance, Bill Maher offered a “new rule” segment that discouraged the human colonization of Mars and favored better living here on earth in more caring, thoughtful ways.
To mention just one other link, this past week I finished reading the third installment of Margaret Atwood’s trilogy, MaddAddam, after first devouring Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. All three books are set in the future, after a lab-devised plague has been spread purposely to wipe out most of the human race in order to a) avoid over-population and b) rid the world of war and violence, ala the water flood in the Noah saga. The few remaining humans regroup, along with a bunch of genetically modified people, in an attempt to save themselves and the planet. But the third book leaves us hanging: will it work, or not?
Reading those three books brought home to me the urgency of the current moment. Do we treat science respectfully and try to apply its lessons, or do we dismiss it all as a hoax? Last week, a world news broadcast included a feature from Louisiana on the encroaching Gulf of Mexico that is inundating low marshlands and killing off trees. Local residents were asked about it, and about climate change, and all of those interviewed said there’s no doubt things have shifted, but they also believe that either the changes are naturally-caused or that we as people can’t do anything about them.
What to Do?
But clearly, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done by everyone who’s concerned about our future and the future of the planet . . . not just on Earth Day, but every day of the year. We can recycle, turn off faucets, turn down (or up) our thermostats, care for and repair what we own, limit our consumption of fossil fuels, reduce the total miles we drive by limiting our trips or doubling up on errands (my wife and I now drive our hybrid car 14,000 miles annually instead of 22,000), and countless other things that contribute to a healthier planet and its inhabitants—not to mention lobbying for a more effective EPA at both the national and state levels.
The 'Einstein' Approach
Still, this is a time when we need to apply an axiom that Albert Einstein championed: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
To me, that means we need to think ‘out of the box’ collectively. Instead of decrying the current administration in power, or simply taking an either/or approach to problems that we encounter, we should begin to do an ‘end run,’ to use a sports metaphor. Try a new approach, and come at our troubles in newer and more creative ways.
More than one knowledgable expert has suggested, for instance, that we attempt to work with North Korea’s regime in order to improve the living conditions of the people there and reduce the level of outside threats, thus lowering their perceived need to develop and use nuclear weapons. Maybe it will work, maybe not. But as Fareed Zakaria suggested on his program this very day (4/23), what we’ve tried over the past four decades clearly hasn’t helped.
A Call to Action
So, let’s put on our walking shoes and begin marching to the beat of some new drummers—for the planet, for the human race (not races), for the politics of freedom and the religion of love . . . as the sign of one marcher yesterday suggested.
Earth is the only home in the universe we have, and will have for some time to come. So let’s get busy repairing our current habitat, and fixing some of our human failings in the process . . . while there’s still time.