About 5000 people in Sydney, 2000 in Melbourne and 1000 in Brisbane gathered on April 22, heeding an international call by scientists in the US, who were protesting the massive cuts to the 2018 science budget proposed by President Donald Trump.
The cuts would apply to the US National Institute of Health, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
NOAA records, analyses and curates much of the world’s climate science data. Although the EPA has made some dubious decisions, if it were further weakened, corporations could pollute rivers, oceans and atmosphere at will.
As a presidential candidate, Trump had disparaged climate change as a hoax and cast suspicions on the safety of vaccines. The same policy was immediately echoed by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.
The many home-made posters at the march were illuminating. One, organised by scientists in Antarctica, had a quote from Marie Curie: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood, now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.”
In Sydney, some posters read: “More equations = less invasions” and “Data, logic and reason before religion”. Others read: “Science tests alternative hypotheses not alternative facts” and “Ignorance ÷ Fear = Hate”.
The call to march morphed into a general celebration of science and its discoveries over the past century, lamenting the lack of funding and support in most countries, dominated by economic neoliberalism, short-term policies and crass populism.
Rally chair Julie McCrossin announced that there were marches planned in 610 cities around the world.
Jonica Newby, a reporter on the ABC’s Catalyst program, said many technologies and inventions had been developed by publicly funded universities. But “the voices of anti-science were winning and we have to stop their wrecking”.
Former leader of the Liberal Party, John Hewson announced that the Australian Academy of Sciences had not endorsed the rally, to cries of shame. Hewson changed the meaning of GST, the cause of his downfall, to Get Science Tough.
Dr Angela Maharaj, an expert in satellite oceanography at the Climate Change Research Centre at UNSW said the advice of scientists must be heeded. The atmosphere and the oceans don’t obey national boundaries, she said. The 450 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere was caused by anthropogenic climate change and science can help us make good decisions for future generations.
Aboriginal leader Luke Briscoe made a plea for Indigenous science to be recognised. Indigi Lab has been set up so that scientists can learn from the Aboriginal community of their knowledge over 50,000 years in this country.
In Brisbane, spokesperson Joel Gilmore told Green Left Weekly: "Our research organisations, both our universities and industry driven organisations like the CSIRO, are critical for our future as a society.
"We are going to have to move on from fossil fuels as being one of our key economic drivers," he said echoing a strong sentiment in the crowd for recognising climate science and rejecting "alternative facts".