For those striving for climate action in America, the current social and political climate presents obstacles. Our current federal government has undermined and devalued science arguably more than any prior administration in history.
The move to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement has left America alone among nations in its rejection of the scientific consensus that immediate action is needed to avert climate chaos. The leaders of the EPA and other agencies entrusted to address climate issues have made it clear that they do not subscribe to the mainstream science about carbon emissions and climate change, and therefore do not view the climate as an urgent issue.
Meanwhile, a growing division between conservatives and progressives has made talk of the climate all but inappropriate at the dinner table. This is distressing, because now is not the time for silence, and it is certainly not the time for inaction.
For scientists, the reluctance by the government and public to heed the scientific warnings about climate change is becoming more than frustrating. For years, peer-reviewed studies in near unanimity have concluded that the burning of coal, oil and gas is causing the Earth to heat up, melting polar ice, increasing sea levels and creating more extreme weather.
Yet, the needle has moved very little in addressing the underlying cause: namely, carbon emissions. While often considered apolitical, many scientists are saying "enough," and beginning to speak up.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, along with other groups, is organizing "Science Rising," a nationwide mobilization of events and actions in the run-up to the midterm elections with one purpose: To ensure that science is front and center when politicians make decisions that affect our future.
314action.org, a non-profit named after the first three digits of pi, is dedicated to getting more scientists elected. The group has been overwhelmed by inquiries and interest from the scientific community.
So far its membership has ballooned to 400,000, with more than 3,000 scientists signing up for political training. As of now, more than 200 scientists are running for federal or state offices in 2018, the largest number in modern U.S. history.
Here in Orange County two incumbent members of Congress are being challenged by scientists who promise to bring evidence-based reasoning to policy making.
One local scientist, Shahir Masri, is an air pollution specialist at UC Irvine who is planning a project that captures the energy and commitment of the larger national movement, albeit in a different way. Masri and his partner, Athina Simolaris, a teacher, are embarking on a 10-week, coast-to-coast climate action road tour through 30 states beginning Aug. 1.
On their journey this young couple will organize speaking engagements in communities and on campuses to advocate for climate action and identify effective strategies for climate communication. They will be calling on fellow scientists and educators to speak out about the dangers of climate change and urging fellow citizens to make climate policy a central issue in the 2018 midterm elections.
They also plan to engage with and listen to local communities to learn which aspects of climate change matter most to people and share stories of those who are being affected most by the changing climate.
This is a huge commitment for young professionals. It involves pausing their careers, taking a leave from work and foregoing weeks of income.
However, Masri says, "It just feels like the right thing to do. I've spent a decade studying air pollution and the impacts of climate change, even publishing peer-reviewed studies. Most scientists, like me, are convinced of the existence and dangers of climate change.
"Yet our voices are drowned out by the ill-informed clamor of media and political personalities refuting climate science. I believe it is time for scientists to become outspoken advocates for science and carry the climate message directly to the public. Some already have, and I want to be one."
Leading up to their departure Masri is scheduled for two radio interviews and will be hosting a booth at the upcoming Climate Solutions Summit to be held at UCI from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 30. The action plan, he says, is to educate, inspire, make connections and listen.
"We want to ask questions and give individuals the opportunity to share their stories," Masri says. "Through our video blogs we will share those important stories and interviews with the public."
To engage the public during their journey, they have created a webpage where people can learn more about the project, view their planned route, follow their blog and offer donations. They even created a short video trailer to highlight their action plan. All of this can be found on their website at RoadForClimateAction.com.
Perhaps it will be this uprising among scientists that finally steers America towards much-needed climate action. Individual acts by a few have indeed shaped the past and can help shape the future for the better. Those who do not see themselves running for office or embarking on a climate advocacy expedition can nonetheless play an important role.
Find local scientists and science advocates in your area who are taking these bold steps for positive action, and let them know you're watching and that you appreciate and support their ongoing efforts. Together we can continue to raise the voice of science and ensure a safe and stable climate for future generations.