European scientists are taking part in the March for Science demonstration taking place in hundreds of cities around the world to commemorate Earth Day. Science and research skeptics are becoming more mainstream in an era of populist and Eurosceptic movements. And on both sides of the Atlantic, there is less funding to support independent research.
Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a professor at the University of Leuven, says shifting priorities in Europe has had an impact on the work of scientists.
“Now funds for fundamental research are much more difficult to get. Even if the budget remains the same or sometimes has increased, there was a shift in priorities towards research that is supposed to deliver more immediate results in terms of job creation or that kind of thing. Or research that helps the European industry to bring a product to the market. And climate scientists are not building any products that the European industries can sell.”
The European Union set a target for its member states that they should spend three percent of their budget on science, but many countries are only at around two percent.
Scientists hope that by joining forces globally, they will raise awareness about a global trend that seems to take science less serious. With U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House and populist and Eurosceptic movements gaining popularity in Europe, scientists say their budgets are being reduced and their work is being taken less serious.
Bas Eickhout, a scientist and member of the European Parliament for the Greens Party, says climate change policy should not be seen as a “left wing hobby.” He calls on scientist to be more involved in the decision making process.
“Not in policy making itself but providing information to politicians is crucial. And quite often once we start with decision making, that information is just lost. Scientist are really a bit too scared for the word lobby, and I don’t think its lobbying that your doing, but its also trying to feed decision making also during the negotiations, and not only at the beginning.”
The March for Science is a volunteer based movement and organizers say there is an “alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery.” The organizers aim to celebrate science and hold political and science leaders accountable, but do not affiliate with any political party.
Sofie Vanthournout, director of Sense about Science EU, a charity advocating the importance of science, says the march aims to change the perspective of citizens and politicians who doubt the importance of science:
“The message that we want to bring it is important for every aspect of our lives, for every aspect of society. Whether it’s in technology that we use in our daily lives or whether it is for important decisions that politicians make about our lives. We don’t want scientists to tell politicians what to do but we need the politicians to have access to all of the facts and all of the knowledge that is available.”
One week after the March of Science, the Peoples Climate March will follow. In 2015, the world came together to sign the Paris Accord, an agreement signed by almost all nations in the world to curb global warming.
U.S. President Trump promised during his election campaign to pull the United States out of the international accord, but later softened his stance, saying he thinks there is "some connectivity" between human activity and global warming.