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March for Science

On April 22, 2017, S3 participated in the March for Science in both San Diego and St. Louis. We want to give a particular shout out to our friends and strategic partners at Connetic who shouldered more than their fair share in the San Diego March. 

Science is more than writing equations on a blackboard or blowing stuff up in the lab. Science impacts people's lives and is a key element of public policy. In short, science is the thin line between informed policy and ignorance; between civilization and anarchy. Our goal, as an organization, is to help companies and governments make informed policy choices for the betterment of all of their stakeholders. That is why we marched. 

Science is not restricted by borders or culture, and S3 exists only because of the movement of people and intellect from one continent to another. Science is non-partisan, and respects people from all sides of political discourse. 

But in 2017, the role of science in policy is under serious threat and that thin line is eroding. It is not that people don't believe in science; all sane people do. Saying that you don't believe in science is like saying you don't believe in purple. It's a meaningless utterance. But people doubt scientific consensus when it contradicts with their agendas. That's the fundamental issue here, and that was the major message of the St. Louis March. Here's a photo we took from that March which followed Market Street from downtown to the base of the Arch. You can guess from the heavy jackets and warm hats that global warming was not on display in St. Louis that day. In fact, in the morning hours it was bitter cold.

"Agenda" is key to understanding the March for Science and also a key for scientists to understand policy. We are at a very critical point in global history on several fronts in which science interfaces with policy, and this is where agendas clash. 

Climate change is one of those fronts. It's easy to blame the oil companies for climate change and climate change denial, but that misses the mark. Firstly, the oil companies clearly believe in science. Every year they aggressively recruit the best graduating geophysicists and chemists. They not only believe in science, but also in the scientific method those graduates bring with them. Five or ten years ago, the oil companies clearly denied climate change, largely because it conflicted with an agenda that they had developed through a lot of good science. But the oil companies' agendas have changed. The American Petroleum Institute (API) is the oil and gas industry's primary consortium and standards body. If you were to ask on the street, most people would probably guess that the API still denies the reality of climate change. But that's not true. Their official statement on climate change, as of the date of the March for Science says:

It is clear that climate change is a serious issue that requires research for solutions and effective policies that allow us to meet our energy needs while protecting the environment.

The API's position paper goes on to say 

[A]s the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes: “Scientists are certain that human activities are changing the composition of the atmosphere, and that increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases will change the planet’s climate..." [I]t is clear that climate change is a serious issue that requires research for solutions and effective policies that allow us to meet our energy needs while protecting the environment. That’s why oil and gas companies are working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The oil and gas industry has also been implementing new emissions estimation and tracking tools to enable it to assess how well it is meeting the goals it has set for itself and report progress to the public.

So the oil companies have come around. The science has overcome their agendas. But there is also hysteresis. The people, including politicians, who were influenced into denial by the oil industry's old agenda haven't come around to their new agenda. They lag behind, and that hysteresis may be a bad thing, even for the oil companies' agendas for the future. And to repeat the key point, we don't need to school the climate deniers on the validity of science. They rely on science for just about everything in their modern lives. Instead we need to cause a shift in their agendas. As we learn more and more about the impacts of previous periods of climate change, those agendas may become more plastic. For instance, it is becoming more and more clear that the Permian Extinction (the period when Earth came closest to becoming a dead planet) was brought on by a climate change event. Roughly 90% of species living on the planet at the beginning of the extinction died out, more so for marine species. Those few species that survived did not thrive. The Earth was barren, with a few hearty species--most simple enough to evolve with the environmental changes--hanging onto existence. Many whole families of species perished. There was an apt sign at the March for Science in Berlin that we since discovered, and it also deals with agendas. It reads (translated) "The dinosaurs also didn't want to hear that the climate was changing".

And while the Permian Extinction lasted for millions of years, the vast majority of the extinctions occurred in just 20,000 years. This is why climate change is so alarming.

As for the San Diego March, global warming was much more evident than in St. Louis, with lots of short sleeve t-shirts and Bermuda shorts, and apparently some species were evolving rapidly, with chickens coming out of their heads. But the message was much the same. 

S3 Data Science, Copyright 2017