I have worked in the environmental field for over 40 years and had been greatly concerned about the rhetoric related to environmental issues during the election. The present budget proposal that would drastically cut the funding for science agencies with public health and environmental protection missions has made those concerns real. We have recently seen the term “climate change” scrubbed from government web sites, technical studies from science agencies have been withheld from publication and discussion pending political review, and the findings and recommendations from a scientific work group on pesticides has been overruled by a political appointee. And perhaps one of the most ill-considered proposals is to de-fund NASA missions focused on the collection of earth-based scientific data from satellites which are so important in characterizing the effects of climate change. Watching the progress of this aggressive deconstruction of environmental science efforts evoked not only a concern for the present, but a greater concern for the future. For we are at the leading edge of the environmental changes that will gather momentum as time passes and we will need the help of all of our science agencies to adapt. It is with this background that I decided to join the March for Science that was held in Washington DC on April 22nd – Earth Day.
I was fortunate to join up with a man who is both a mentor and friend. Together with my daughter and his grandson, we attended the March on what turned out to be a raw and rainy day in the nation’s capital. Collectively, we represented a span of at least 3 generations. We witnessed long lines of people of every imaginable age and background – young people with blue, pink, or rainbow-colored hair, doctors in their lab coats with stethoscopes around their necks, biologists, writers, teachers, ecologists, students, professors and many, many more. I saw an elderly and somewhat frail couple who appeared to be in their late seventies, holding hands, carrying a sign and moving forward with the flow of the march. There were mothers pushing strollers and entire families with toddlers in tow, young professionals, middle-aged scientists – people of every age, some singing, some chanting and all expressing a determination to not let this moment pass unnoticed. To say I was encouraged is an understatement.
Like many events in life, there are many layers to an experience and so it was with this. I was able to spend time with one of my mentors whom I have not worked with for many years, but who was an important part of my development from a young technician into a working professional. At 90 years of age, Bill has witnessed a lot of life. He served his country in the military during World War II and served our society as an environmental engineer who worked on projects throughout the US, Japan and Egypt. Along the way, he spent the time to mentor a lot of young entrants to the field of environmental science and engineering.
We had a chance to visit the war memorials before the march began and I was moved by the many people who would stop and thank him for his service when they noticed his service patches. I was equally moved when he sought out other veterans to thank them for their service. And I realized too that I am not only grateful for his military service, but also for the impact that he has had through his work as an environmental engineer. His work has touched many lives and most may never know of the positive impact that one life’s work has on society.
Before attending the march, I couldn’t help thinking that much of the hard-fought environmental improvements of our time may be in jeopardy. Yet the thousands of people who walked those streets in a cold rain, and who may be in various stages of their life’s work, gave rise to hope in the four of us. The work will continue.
Thank you Bill for your service – in so many ways.
KEVIN DEENY – A lifelong resident of Levittown, PA