By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
The first ever Earth Day was held on Wednesday April 22, 1970 and quickly became an annual event. It gained momentum in the ensuing 47 years, and in 2017 tens of thousands of people marched in over 600 cities, and all seven continents were represented, according to the Washington Post. Charleston, South Carolina not only participated, but stunned observers with attendance estimates ranging from 1,200-2,000 people.
“Did you see? There were 60 people in Tokyo. TOKYO [with its much larger population]! So I figured if we got 61 it was a success,” exclaimed Paige Mangan. She was not only one of four organizers of the March for Science Charleston (Britney Quimby, Bonnie Cleaveland, Steffi Green), but also in charge of the group’s Twitter feed.
Mangan couldn’t sleep the night before, and since Earth Day follows the sun she had up to the second stats from around the globe.
Mangan works in foreign trade importing chemicals, so she knows what can happen when 8000 pages of regulations are ignored. Complying with regulations [or not] determines the effects of those chemical imports on Charlestonians. The FDA’s efforts to steam clean imported foods, for example, prevent the unintended import of non-indigenous species.
“If we have regulations it’s because something went wrong in the past we are trying to correct,” said Mangan.
She feels Charleston is a hotbed of conservation and looking around a brimming Liberty Square, who would argue?
Participants in the March for Science/Earth Day 2017 gathered in three staging areas around Charleston; Marion Square, the Charleston Visitors Center, and the Four Corners of Law. Marchers channeled their way through Charleston streets to Liberty Square. Organizers tried herding people to the right edge of the park, but quickly abandoned their human levee to the flood of enthusiastic science supporters. The importance of the event drew the attention of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg.
Mayor Tecklenburg said he “absolutely” believed in science, and seemed to chuckle at the irony embedded in the question, given the crowd on hand. He went on to tell this reporter about the scientific process of innovation being deployed in town hall, and around the city. He agreed wholeheartedly science should be used as a guide for public policy adding, “Science is the whole mentality of basing decisions on truth. The scientific method is a way of getting it right.” However significant a visit from Charleston’s first son, it was the signs/posters that stole the show.
The March for Science website marchforsciencechs.com/logistics specifically asked everyone to keep posters objective, purportedly being the product of scientists. The request was heeded more in some examples than others.
There were clever signs:
• The thing about science is it’s true whether you believe it or not
• Talk nerdy to me
• Keep calm and analyze the data
• Make America cool again
• Liberty and justice for y’all
• Sandra Stringer [James Island] had an umbrella with “Believe in Science” arranged in a spiral she twirled to mock the hypnotic effect of “fake news”
Signs with an edge:
• Alternate facts are not an option on a science test
• Don’t ruin my B.S. with yours
• The dark ages – Let’s not do that again
• Great minds think
• Got polio? Me either! Thank a scientist
Resentment of the new administration was more than just an undercurrent. Asked if scientists really felt under attack from Washington, Charleston organizer Dr. Bonnie Cleaveland, Ph.D. tried her best to be objective.
“I personally don’t, but I felt a serious responsibility to stand up for the scientists who cannot stand up for themselves right now. There is genuine fear out there. I absolutely heard that from a number of scientists who said ‘you know I can’t have my name associated with this thing.’ Some people could march, but they couldn’t have any affiliation with their agency. Other people felt like they couldn’t march at all or [even let their] face be seen in the crowd.”
Cleaveland said climate researchers are the ones feeling most of the heat. “Science is for everyone and should not be an issue for just one side of the aisle. Everybody wants clean water. Everybody wants clean air, and every single person in Charleston will be affected by the flooding and more intense weather events spawned by climate change whether [the administration] thinks it’s real or not. So, yes there is a threat; the administration is proposing 20 to 30 percent cuts to agencies that are important to all of us.
“Here’s the thing; we don’t have to convince the small number of people that really are climate deniers. There aren’t that many of them. There is no debate amongst scientists. The only debate is in the media and amongst politicians, which makes us look more polarized than we really are. We’re not going to convince those hardcore deniers and we don’t have to. The people we need to convince are our Senators and U.S. representatives. They are the ones who will ultimately be approving the budget. Arguing with somebody on the Internet won’t get it done, but sending postcards to your legislator will,” she insists.
Cleaveland is a Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist with a private practice in West Ashley. She spends all day, every day working to help people challenge their thinking, and to see things as they really are. “During the  election, lots of people were unable to distinguish fact from fiction. I was pretty shocked by that,” said Cleaveland. She and her daughter have started a website which demonstrates how science discerns the truth defactoscience.org.
“Saturday [April 22] was only the beginning. It was beautiful; it was all so inspiring, I’m starting to cry … I was just so impressed with Charleston and overwhelmed by the number of people who came out yesterday. Our legislators will listen if we continue to speak out and to contact them. The national march in DC is collecting e-mail addresses so that we can have a registry across the country and across the world to communicate with the media and with our legislators. I would ask people if they haven’t already, to provide their e-mail to the national March for Science [by visiting] satellites.marchforscience.com or by simply sending an email to us firstname.lastname@example.org,” concluded Cleaveland.Tweet