By Asia Hester
Student’s from this university’s sustainability program and Resident Housing Association hosted a panel discussion April 26 on various topics centered around the environment and different ways in which science is politicized.
As UMD Green Week comes to an end and with the People’s Climate March this Saturday, science, which has been a contentious issue since President Donald Trump’s administration took office, is as hot a topic as ever.
In the Stamp Student Union Atrium, to an audience of about 14 students, the panel had three speakers lead the discussion. The panel did not go as planned due to a booking issue and missed a few key faculty speakers and the now-disbanded student political group Terps for Trump.
RHA Oakland Hall Council Sen. Ben Reichard, a sophomore government and politics major, said he was glad to see student and professional involvement on the panel.
“I had kind of hoped to have a more holistic approach,” he said. “I would’ve like to have heard some conservative perspective on sustainability.”
The panel noted how it was not until the 1980s that the environment became a more partisan issue. Maille O’Donnell, president of Our Revolution, a progressive organization on campus, started the discussion by saying environmental science and sustainability are political issues.
“A lot of the politicization has to do with corporate influence,” she said.
O’Donnell also touched on how people sometimes think the political parties either hate or love the environment. “It’s not necessarily that Democrats are pro-environment and Republicans are anti-environment.”
Professor Joseph Sullivan, associate dean for the academic programs in the agriculture college, said, “When money comes into play, politics comes into play. They’re always going to be linked with each other.”
The politicization of science is when it is used for political gain and can determine what information or scientific data is reported and how it is interpreted for the public. One of the reasons science is at the front of political issues now is because scientists want to make science heard and emphasize looking at the data, Sullivan said.
Commenting on Trump’s Twitter response to the science march April 22, Sullivan said he thinks people fail to see that science and jobs go together. People think “environmental and sustainability protection cost jobs, but it can actually produce more than it actually costs.”
Recently, the state of Maryland passed a bill that prohibits fracking, which uses high-pressured water to release natural gas from rocks underground. Fracking was also a hot topic during the panel discussion.
“My question is that now that we got fracking out of the picture, can we take advantage of retraining people who say they are going to lose their jobs, which is a fallacy, for renewable energy jobs?” asked senior economics major Ian Genove, senior economics major.
At this university, sustainability is a big and active program. The discussion touched on how college campuses can be echo chambers for certain political and social topics. When asked about how to reach the people who don’t believe or understand the importance of the environment, Sullivan said you have to reach out and talk with people and stay involved.
On how politics can stifle talks of climate change Reichard said, “Science takes time, but politics needs immediate answers. To me, from my perspective as a government student who cares about sustainability and environmental issues, that seems to be the main conflict between the two.”
Featured Photo Credit: Despite the march for science occurring on Earth Day, many attendees were not so conscious of their litter, with trashcans across the city overflowing with signs and other trash. (Julia Lerner/The Writer’s Bloc)
Asia Hester is a senior multiplatform journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.