Inspired by Washington, DC’s “March for Science” that coincided Saturday with this year’s Earth Day, more than 700 Athenians rallied in front of the federal courthouse/post office downtown to listen to speakers defend scientific research and protest huge budget cuts threatened by the Trump Administration.
Organized by Athens veterinarian Kathy Fowler, the one-hour rally featured speeches by a science teacher, an alumnus with EPA, an epidemiologist, a chaplain and several others. People attending the rally carried signs reading “Science not Silence” and the Dr. Seuss quote, “I Speak for the Trees.”
A thread raised by many of the speakers was the rising concern that the current administration believes that the widely accepted literature on climate change is a “Chinese hoax” and is gagging most federal agencies from speaking on the topic. Agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency have been ordered to delete references to climate change from their websites and to refrain from speaking of climate change research in any arena, including social media.
Speaker Duke Geddis, formerly of the EPA, captured the mood when he quoted Granger Morgan, a Carnegie Mellon professor of engineering and public policy and one-time chair of the Science Advisory Board: “Independent science advice is a real pain in the neck for people who already know the answer and don’t want to be confused by the facts.”
A rousing cheer greeted the speech by Almeta Tulloss, program director of Seed Life Skills, celebrity chef Hugh Acheson’s program that teaches students how to cook healthy food. She concluded her speech by saying, “Do not back down. Stay engaged. Love each other more. Learn, but do not back down.”
Marilyn Williams, a chaplain with St. Mary’s Hospital, challenged organized religion to support science and suggested that “there is no conflict between science and religion.”
The Union of Athens Scientists, a local group of academics and researchers who began meeting soon after the administration issued its gag order to federal scientists, was well represented at the rally, wearing T-shirts featuring a beaker.
Fowler gave the final speech of the rally, and called out to thank other local science organizations for supporting the event, including The Georgia Climate Change Coalition, the Oconee River Youth Science and Technology group, the UGA Office of Sustainability and others. At the conclusion of her speech, she invited the children in the audience to appear on stage with their hand-lettered signs, saying, “These guys are the future. They’re going to inherit the planet from us. We can’t trash it before we go.”