Editorial: Park City marchers are right — science should not be up for political debate

On Saturday, a crowd was set to march down Park City’s Main Street in the name of science for the second straight year.

The size of the demonstration, dubbed the March for Science, was not expected to be on the same scale as the recent March For Our Lives or the protests held during the last two Sundance Film Festivals. But its primary message — that elected officials should base policy on science — is an important one. And the need to share it highlights one of the biggest problems our society faces: the fact science itself has become such a partisan issue.

Long gone are the days when members of both political parties generally accepted scientific research, then debated how to address problematic trends, like deforestation and air pollution. Instead, many conservatives now reject scientific evidence outright.

Environmental issues are the most stark example. For instance, the debate about whether climate change exists, and whether humans are causing it, has been closed in the scientific community for years — at least 97 percent of scientists say it does exist and we are causing it, according to a 2016 examination of nearly 12,000 research papers. Yet, Republican leaders transformed the issue from science fact into a political wedge and convinced a significant percentage of Americans that the entire idea of man-made climate change is fictional.

The damage to our planet from the resulting lack of action is impossible to quantify but catastrophic.

On a national level, the right’s dismissal of science has been exacerbated in the Trump era. Most notably, the president declared his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has loosened a number of regulations that were aimed at fulfilling the very mission identified in the organization’s name — protecting the environment. Just this month, in fact, the EPA indicated it may roll back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

All of this despite overwhelming scientific evidence indicating the government should ramp up its environmental efforts instead of dismantle them.

Locally, residents are fortunate that Park City and Summit County have been proactive about issues like protecting the environment and appear to understand the role science has in determining policy. The Utah Legislature has been frustratingly slow to catch on but has shown signs of progress.

In the recent legislative session, for instance, lawmakers passed H.C.R. 007, a concurrent resolution that “encourages the use and analysis of sound science to understand the causes and impacts of local and regional climates.” The resolution, while non binding, earned the support of dozens of Republicans, including three who represent parts of Summit County, Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, Sen. Allen Christensen and Rep. Logan Wilde. Rep. Tim Quinn, however, voted against it.

Hopefully, the resolution indicates the Legislature is ready to take stronger action on environmental issues going forward.

That would doubtless please those convening Saturday in Park City. But until the federal government follows suit and science is no longer a partisan issue in America, they’ll have plenty of reason to march.

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