An Apache legend tells the story of a beautiful woman who was transformed into a pronghorn, with generations of her descendants still roaming the desert and grasslands of North America. A subspecies of pronghorn, the Sonoran pronghorn is uniquely adapted to the harsh deserts of southwest Arizona and Mexico, surviving on cacti and other tough desert vegetation. It is also, unfortunately, one of the most critically endangered animals in the world, with only about 160 remaining in the wild.
Other unique and beautiful species are also at risk. Indigenous Hawaiian mountain bird populations are being decimated by mosquito-borne diseases, as warming temperatures allow mosquitoes to move to higher elevations. Atlantic puffins are finding it harder to raise their chicks, as ocean waters warm and their food sources move further from puffin breeding areas. The plight of these species and thousands of others illustrates the challenges they face as the combination of climate change and habitat destruction drive them towards extinction.
If we are to have any hope of saving these species from extinction, we need sound scientific analyses of climate change and its effects on species and their habitat. It is critically important that we recognize and sustain the integrity of the scientific process as we contemplate and evaluate decisions about our future.
Americans deeply value science and hold scientists in high regard. The public also believes that good policy and regulatory decisions should be grounded in science and free from political interference. Politicians who dismiss scientific facts as “fake news” and supply their own “alternative facts” don’t just irresponsibly erode the fabric of science; they erode a quintessential American value.
Next month, people across the country will be demonstrating their support for science. On Earth Day, thousands will gather in Washington, D.C. and in cities across the country to march for science and protect these deeply held values. They are marching to defend the vital role science plays in our communities and our world. They are marching because science is not partisan; it is not liberal or conservative. And they are marching to demonstrate that our nation values the scientists and the scientific agencies working to make our world safer, cleaner and healthier.
But it will not be just scientists marching; it will be men, women and children of all backgrounds and affiliations who believe that scientific research is a vital feature of a working democracy and the American character.
Attacks on science are not new. From climate change deniers to anti-vaccinators, those who want to ignore the tenets of scientific research and fundamental knowledge believe that if they lie and present fake science, the American public will fall for it. On Earth Day, marchers will demonstrate that they are not about to abandon their values. Instead, they will march to demonstrate that they support science, what scientists can accomplish, and the urgency with which their work must be done.
Kathleen Rogers is president of Earth Day Network. Jamie Rappaport Clark is president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.