With the recent anniversary of Toronto’s March for Science, it’s hard to ignore changes rolled out by the Ford government this past year.
Not only has the government scrapped initiatives such as Ontario’s cap and trade carbon tax program and energy efficiency programs, it eliminated the position of Environmental Commissioner and fired Ontario’s Chief Scientist. Many of us who disagree with these changes are wondering where and how we can have our voices heard, especially since the march — which sought to encourage science that works for all — did not take place this year.
Having a seat at the table is the first step toward the inclusion of scientific evidence in policy. This means showing up to city hall meetings and contacting local representatives about science issues that matter to you.
“There are many competing voices [in policy], and there will be trade-offs and balances. Our job is to help people understand what those trade-offs really mean,” said Dr. Dan Weaver, Assistant Professor in UTSC’s Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences.
Each year at U of T and across the world, research yields mountains of new scientific data. Weaver noted that we must continue to incorporate this new data, see if our goals should shift, and ask ourselves if policy and the public are still informed. For researchers, this means communicating findings effectively to those drafting policy.
Weaver pointed to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris as an example of effective communication. Initially, limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius was set as a policy goal, but further scientific evidence showed that the outcomes would be less costly and far more manageable if capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius instead. This informed policymakers and inspired stronger initiatives for more aggressive emission reductions.
Let’s Talk Science and U of T’s Science Communication Club, both organizations that focus on science communication and outreach, are outlets for students to advocate for science. According to UTM PhD candidate Sasha Weiditch, students can also create their own blogs or participate in activities with groups such as Soapbox Science.
For those interested in policy, Toronto Science Policy Network (TSPN), co-founded by U of T PhD candidate Ellen Gute, regularly organizes workshops on science advocacy, communication, and policy, in addition to hosting panel discussions. These workshops teach students and researchers how to translate their knowledge into an accessible format for the public and for political representatives.
Initiatives outside of campus, such as Citizen Science, allow people to assist in the collection of important data, work on environmental monitoring, or get involved with public science education and awareness.
There are many ways to fight for science as citizens, students, and whoever we will be in the future.
Instead of showing up en masse to march in the streets this year, we must show up in equally great numbers to our campuses, city halls, and voting booths, to communicate the critical importance of science for our democracy and the world at large.