You want action on climate change? Elect some scientists.


As the nation is forced to deal with an actual President Trump and the climate deniers in his cabinet and in Congress, those opposing him and his party are starting to “grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself,” as President Obama encouraged them to do in his farewell address. But who will these new leaders be, and where will they come from, especially when it comes to the issue of climate change?

How about some actual scientists?

A group called 314 Action (the name comes from the first three digits of the number pi) is actively recruiting scientists to run for office with a a new effort called STEM the Divide. The organization lists several mission statements and purposes on its website:

We are members of the STEM Community, grassroots supporters, and political activists committed to bring innovation to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education, aggressively advocate for real solutions to Climate Change, and elect more STEM trained candidates to public office. …

314 Action champions electing more leaders to the U.S. Senate, House, State Executive and Legislative offices who come from STEM backgrounds. We need new leaders who understand that climate change is real and are motivated to find a solution.

The group’s website lists four issues as its focus: Climate change, STEM education, gun violence, and energy. The organization is seeking candidates at all levels, not just in Congress. The group’s founder is Shaughnessy Naughton, a chemist, breast cancer researcher, and entrepreneur who has run unsuccessfully for office but now wants to concentrate on 314 Action. According to a story from Motherboard, which covers science and technology:

[Naughton] says she can use the experience from her losses to help scientists have stronger representation on a local, state, and national level.

“We have school boards that are determining the curriculum for our children and having people with a pro-science agenda at the table is very important,” she said. “We’re looking at the federal level, which is very important, but we’re also looking a few steps prior to that so we can build a pipeline to have more scientists at all levels of government.”

314 Action’s board of directors includes scientists and university professors from a range of scientific fields. Many are heavy hitters in the scientific world, such as world-renowned climate researcher Michael E. Mann, PhD, the lead author of the Observed Climate Variability and Change chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Scientific Assessment Report in 2001. In 2002, he was chosen by Scientific American as one of the 50 leading visionaries in science and technology. On the political side, the board also includes Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004 and has become a campaign veteran.

“Out of the lab, into public office” is the motto on the page asking for volunteers to run for office. Scientists interested in pursuing public office can submit a form on the website, and there is an online information session planned for March 14 (yep, that’s 3/14, or pi day for your inner nerd) for scientists who want to take the next step in pursuing a political career. The purpose of that forum is “to talk them through basic campaign structure, communications and messaging strategies, and money-raising processes,” according to the Motherboard story.

Since many of these candidates will be political novices, the group hopes to connect them with campaign professionals to show them the ropes. According to a story in The Washington Post:

STEM the Divide will offer training for first-time candidates and connect them with experts who can help organize their campaigns, as well as organize a network of donors from which the group can raise funds on the candidates’ behalf.

Some of the donors already in line are people who contributed to Naughton’s congressional campaigns. Other connections will come from advisers, such as Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann and Democratic political consultant Joe Trippi.

There are only two science PhDs in Congress today, both Democrats: Rep. Bill Foster, a particle physicist from Illinois, and Rep. Jerry McNerney, an engineer from California. There are 18 physicians, both senators and representatives, on the Republican side who make up the GOP Doctors Caucus.

Since 314 Action has been getting more publicity, including the Post story and a story in The Atlantic, more and more scientists are indicating an interest in running. The new group has 400 possible candidates so far, with new calls coming in every day. Even if not all of those actually run and—even more important—win, they will be changing the election conversation on topics related to science. From the Atlantic story:

Since the election, many scientists have made forays into politics, from signing open letters to marching in open protest. “I think most scientists view their work as pure and noble, and politics as a dirty game. It’s almost like selling out or going to the dark side,” says Frances Colón, who until recently was Deputy Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State. But, since Trump’s victory, “many more scientists are realizing why their voices are needed. I’ve had numerous coffees with people who are considering ways to run.” …

For now, 314 Action will only back Democratic candidates. I wonder if that risks turning science into yet another partisan issue, but Naughton argues that it is already on that road. “When we’re talking about climate change, there’s a clear distinction between the two parties,” she says.

Of course, running for office isn’t free. The group currently has more than 80,000 donors. To counter anti-environmental money, such as that donated by the Koch brothers, it’s going to need dollars as well as candidates.

After the success of the Women’s March on Jan. 21, scientists are planning their own March for Science. When else would they have it but Earth Day, on April 22? They’d like to keep it nonpartisan, but the differing approaches to science between the two parties are too obvious. According to a story on Yahoo News:

The scientific community has expressed indignation at a number of policies set forth by the new Trump administration. The president’s decision to defund NASA’s Earth Science divisions –and more recently to censor environmental agencies such as the EPA, the National Parks Service, and the Department of Agriculture over climate change data — has spurred scientists around the world to speak out against the administration.

And this has to be one of the best protest signs ever:


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