To the editor:
I’m an emeritus professor from Williams College who will be going to Boston, Massachusetts to participate in the March for Science on Earth Day – Saturday, April 22, 2017. My views are my own, independent from any public policies taken by my former employer. I am going to Boston at my own expense, because I am a concerned citizen who feels that Strong Science makes for a Stronger America.
My experience as a researcher in the geosciences has shaped my outlook on the environment and how it has changed through our planet’s long history. I am old enough to have witnessed significant environmental degradation in places like the Florida Keys and Mexico’s Gulf of California – where I’ve taken students on field excursions over a teaching career spanning three and a half decades. I am particularly concerned about global warming and the extraordinary changes in the environment that have happened over the last 16 years, when each succeeding year has broken records for global average temperatures. Indeed, our planet’s rock record shows us that big changes have occurred on a cyclical basis in the distant past, but those we see today are occurring with unprecedented speed on a yearly basis instead of tens of thousands or even millions of years.
My own professional research on the “Pliocene Warm Period” (lasting from 5 to 3 million years ago) confirms that the interval was affected by permanent El Niño conditions with huge hurricanes in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans – the likes of which we now see with greater intensity as recently as the October 2015 Hurricane Patricia (a Category 5 event) that set new records for size, wind speed, and low air pressure. We can’t blame human interference for the Pliocene Warm period, but the study of past climates does inform our outlook on the severity of climate change facing human populations today. I am worried that my granddaughter, now two and a half years old, will grow up to live in a world strikingly different from that we enjoyed and prospered from during the last half of the 20th century.
Climate change should not be a Republican vs. Democrat thing. Marching for Science on Earth Day is not a partisan activity, nor is advocacy for evidence-based decision-making in government policy. I plan to march in Boston because policy decisions that affect the environment (and many other issues such as health and education) must be informed by scientific evidence. I am distressed that too many of our representatives in Washington, D.C. are willing to ignore scientific evidence when it conflicts with political ideology. The Nixon administration (1969-1974) is a much-maligned Republican administration, but it achieved important advances with the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency supported by strong Congressional legislation through the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. We can’t afford to now turn back the clock and diminish those hard-won rights that helped protect this nation and its citizens.
Markes E. Johnson