Back in 1970, an organizer of the first-ever Earth Day, Denis Hayes, called his event the "largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year." Rallies, conferences and service projects worldwide have since marked the day, all spurred by the grassroots movement put in motion by then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Nelson's reaction to a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara was to encourage a national "teach-in," educating the American public about the environment.
Following last year's historic signing of the Paris climate agreement on Earth Day, this year promises a series of marches in the name of science, as environmental advocacy group Earth Day Network (EDN) joins forces with the March for Science to host demonstrations and expos in cities across the country.
The March for Science Los Angeles is projected to be the second largest of over 500 March for Science events tomorrow, trailing only the national march in Washington, D.C. In a press release on behalf of the group, lead organizer of the marches Alex Bradly said the marches will "advocate for evidence-based policies and stand against the silencing and defunding of research."
Individuals have been planning for the marches since late January, following President Donald Trump's inauguration and his initial rounds of policy. The president enacted gag orders on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Park Service, and the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. Trump also began reining in funding for the EPA, impacting those doing scientific research with support from EPA grants.
In response, members of several government-funded organizations launched so-called "rogue" Twitter feeds: employees of the EPA launched several unofficial feeds, such as "@ActualEPAFacts," "@ungaggedEPA" and "@EPAWouldSay"; workers at the Food and Drug Administration launched "@alt_fda"; and scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched "@ResistanceNASA" and "@RogueNASA." Many national park feeds and other sites that had previously been able to publish data online also launched alternative accounts in order to deliver scientific facts to the public.
Representatives from the aforementioned organizations and several hundred other speakers will band together in support of scientific research and communication at marches tomorrow. In Los Angeles alone, 50,000 marchers are expected, including "scientists, educators, students, advocates and community leaders," according to the March for Science's press release.
The March for Science Los Angeles will feature a few dozen speakers, including Stephanie Pincetl, professor in residence at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities.
Pincetl's work analyzing "urban metabolism" — the energy and water consumption patterns of cities like Los Angeles, and how to use gathered data to reduce energy use and transition into renewable energy — is why she marches.
"My goal is to figure out strategies to consume less and to identify the sectors and the people where that reduction in consumption will make the most difference," Pincetl said. "I think we need to show our dedication to this kind of work, and say that it's only through scientific analysis and a quantification of these kinds of flows can we really begin to identify opportunities for change."
In discussing her own work with the crowd at LA's march, Pincetl hopes people will begin to understand the need for science and data to back up policies.
"I think that the march is really, like many other marches, to show solidarity for an activity or an issue that's important to people's lives," Pincetl said. "Attendees will feel that they had an opportunity to express their commitment and their sense of concern about the vulnerability of knowledge that's generated through actual analysis."
Pincetl's ambitions of science done in the public interest and for public consumption will be realized at the event, which will, according to the press release, also promote "comprehensive education in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics," with a science expo of informational booths, science-inspired music and demonstrations available throughout the day for children and adults.
Tepring Piquado, a neuroscientist and policy researcher for RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis, will also speak at the event to promote what she calls "science-minded civic engagement."
"I'm marching to celebrate the scientific process, scientific achievements and scientists, to honor the push for science to serve all communities nationally and internationally," Piquado said. "It's really important for me to consider all communities when we're thinking in a scientific way, and that's part of why I agreed to speak and am marching on Saturday. I'm going to touch on the fact that evidence matters in cases of scientific exploration, and that includes policy exploration, and that diversity matters and you matter."
Events in Los Angeles will kick off at 9 a.m. in Pershing Square Park, with a legislative meet-and-greet with local politicians and then a pre-march rally with several speeches. At 11 a.m., two electric Hummers will lead the march to City Hall, and at noon, the West LA Children's Choir will open a call to action at City Hall with an original song.
"We need to have more science-minded civic engagement, and by science-minded, I mean just allowing people to express their needs and challenges, and for us to look at them in a really methodological way and take an approach that's less about feelings and more about the evidence provided," Piquado said. "We need to open up our minds and increase the well-being of all people, all communities. If it doesn't work for all of us, it's not an ideal solution.
Joshua Blockstein, co-director of USC's Environmental Student Assembly, is helping lead a group of USC students through the march. As the child of two environmental scientists and as a graduating biology major, Blockstein said he understands the way science is "being attacked right now" and hopes the march will show policymakers how integral supporting the sciences is.
"What I want people to take away most is how crucial science is in making informed and educated decisions," Blockstein said. "Science can be kind of up in the air and abstract, but … it is absolutely crucial it is to everything we do and modern society wouldn't exist without it."
Corrected 9:07 p.m. Pacific Time on Apr. 21: A previous version of this story said that 500,000 attendees were expected for the march. The organizers actually estimate 50,000 attendees. The previous version also misattributed the creation of "alt" social media accounts. These accounts are not officially endorsed by federal agencies.