Geologists, biologists, physicists, oceanographers, meteorologist, paleoclimatologists…. some are familiar titles, and some sound like something out of a sci-fi movie. But these are all professions at the leading edge of science, the tool of curiosity, creativity and discovery that began with humanity trying to understand the world we live in, and now has the power to dramatically shape our world.
Scientists of every calling – and thousands more people who don’t have “-ologist” in their job title, but support an evidence-based approach to improving understanding – will join the March for Science all around the world on Earth Day (22 April). In the UK there are marches in London, Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester and Norwich.
The March for Science is about showing passion for science and calling for support to safeguard the scientific community. This is important at a time when verifiable facts are competing with “alternative facts”, evidence with assertion, and experts are being undermined by ideology.
How did we get to this?
We have scientists to thank for many of the discoveries and inventions that enhance our lives today. Since Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin on a lump of mould accidentally growing on a petri dish in 1928, antibiotics have saved countless human lives – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for medical developments over the past century.
Science doesn’t just affect human lives. Our understanding of the world has grown in leaps and bounds since Charles Darwin proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection in 1859, after observing finches in the Galapagos Islands. Natural selection – often described as “survival of the fittest” – has informed the way we view the world around us. We know how species responded to changes in the environment over millennia, and we now know that the changes we’re witnessing in our climate may threaten the ability of the natural world to adapt fast enough.
Of course, it was the industrial revolution – fuelled by scientific discoveries, and powered by coal-fired steam – that benefited many but that we now know has brought the changes in our atmosphere which affect and threaten the lives of many people and species. But science, and the evidence-based foundation of science, may yet provide solutions.
Solutions in Science
It is science that gives us the evidence we need to confidently say that global climate change is already happening. Observations show that temperatures are rising and that this rise can only be fully explained when emissions from humans burning fossil fuels and natural factors are added together.
Everyone has heard of Albert Einstein, but did you know that he won his Nobel Prize nearly a century ago for his work on the photoelectric effect? His discovery is crucial to how solar panels work: sunlight hits the panel, the photoelectric effect occurs and electricity is produced. Science is now fuelling the renewable-energy revolution, and helping wean humanity off our dependence on dirty fossil fuels.
You don’t have to be Einstein to contribute to science. “Citizen science” involves members of the public collecting and analysing data relating to the natural world. Two examples are the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network – a UK-wide initiative and WWF’s Climate Crowd which crowdsources human responses to climate change which are then uploaded to the website.
Science and politics
Science and politics must work hand in hand. It is only through listening to what the science tells us that politicians can put the nations they lead on a path towards limiting global temperatures. Politicians who deny the science, who reject data when it does not fit ideology, are jeopardising the future of our planet. So while the politics may change, the science keeps saying the same thing – that climate change is happening and that we need to act to address it.
Science was a driving force behind the Paris Agreement, the international treaty to address climate change, and science will be responsible for providing many of the answers to how we tackle climate change.
Why WWF supports the march
As an organisation which values scientific research and uses evidence to underpin our conservation efforts, WWF supports the March for Science.
It is imperative that we continue to celebrate and, when necessary, defend science at all levels. This is what taking part in the March for Science means; standing up for better policy, better understanding, better quality of life, and a better future for the planet.
Science encourages us to question and helps form the world that we live in today, and it has opened the door to so many improvements. One of the joys of science is that there are still so many things to discover, but right now one thing is standing out clearly: we have only a small window of time in which to act to tackle climate change. We must act urgently, decisively, and in unity for our future.