Continued investment in science is key to creating a world in which nature and people thrive together. © The Nature Conservancy (Barry Truitt)

Why We March for Science

Mark Tercek is the president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy and author of Nature’s Fortune. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkTercek.

In the last hundred years, humans have developed a great capability to anticipate the future and shape it to serve our purposes. We owe this skill to our mastery of empirical science — the power that comes from using millions of observations and data to decipher trends, and act on that knowledge to preserve and enhance the world in which we live.

This Earth Day, tens of thousands of citizens will join the March for Science to celebrate this ability. The message to policymakers will be clear — robust funding for science is in everyone’s interest.  The March for Science isn’t a partisan event, but steep cuts in the proposed federal budget would severely damage scientific work that ensures we are not surprised by tomorrow, and allows us to thoughtfully correct the mistakes we have made in the past.

As the CEO of a science-based organization, The Nature Conservancy, I understand that rigorous science is much more than an aesthetic benefit to egghead ecologists.

Take the outdoor recreation industry, which supports millions of American jobs. Why does science matter to them? Consider hunting. Duck populations declined dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s when wetlands were drained to make way for crops and urban development. That decline was reversed by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. It used science to identify 25 million of acres of breeding and nesting habitat that have been conserved by public and private funds. In 2016, the duck population was 48 million, 38 percent above the 1955-2010 average. This is just one example of science shaping a tremendously successful federal conservation program.

Duck populations have rebounded in the U.S., thanks to science-based government programs like the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. © Seabamirum/Flickr via Creative Commons license

Do federal conservation programs cost you a lot? Not a dollar more than they cost you in 1980. Since President Reagan came to office, federal appropriations for natural resource conservation and pollution control have fallen from 2.5 cents of every federal dollar spent to less than a penny.

If you had to design a federal budget, would you spend less than 1 cent of every dollar on science-based work managing and protecting our parks, wildlife refuges, sea shores, fisheries, forests, air and water quality?

Environmentalists are rightly concerned about proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency. But I think the greatest threat is the potential decimation of many national science programs including biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health, weather satellites at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the breakthrough energy technology research done by ARAP-E and the work on anticipating and averting climate change done by the Global Change Research Program.

Proposed federal budget cuts would decimate programs designed to advance clean energy technology. © The Nature Conservancy (Dave Lauridsen)

In our darkest days, the first Republican President faced a threat to the security of the Republic that was certainly more dangerous than any we face today. Did he deny that the federal government had any role in moving the country forward outside of prosecuting a war? Not at all. President Lincoln launched a federal development program that made us a great nation. He signed the Homestead Act that brought millions of Americans to the Great Plains to grow food for the world. He created the Department of Agriculture to support them with science and advice. He signed the Merrill Act that established land grant universities producing science to support farmers and foresters to this very day. He also drove development of the trans-continental railroads that allowed this army of new people to bring their crops and timber to market.

One might expect that President Lincoln had no time to think about opportunities for the federal government to transform the future of the nation, but he did exactly that. That should be the example every President looks to when shaping the federal budget.

As you surely expect, I think the greatest challenge of our time is climate change driven by our fossil fuel consumption without carbon pollution controls. We need deep investments in science to anticipate the impacts of those emissions and adapt to them. And we need investments in research and adoption of new technologies that can bring carbon emissions to an end.

What gets me excited about going to work every morning is my capacity, armed with the best science, to understand how the future is likely to unfold and to do something to make it better for nature and people.  Those marching in Washington and in hundreds of cities around the world this Earth Day understand that this is what science can do for us. We must not lose this command of the future.

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. I have great concerns about adding weight to migrating birds, many of which travel long distances over open water. Some barely make it before running out of fuel. Do we learn from these efforts? Yes, Is it worth losing some members to exhaustion because of the added weight of tiny tracking devices? Not in a world with seriously declining species. We could do much more by educating people about how to improve habitat for birds on their own properties. In a few decades, we may find that we have studied them literally to death.

  2. Science being threatened, shows us the time we are facing, we were dealing with Trump’s rhetoric based alternative facts… No more!

  3. Logical conversations like this are great to have but I wonder if this message is one of solidarity for those who care and may not reach those who brought the need for a march to happen in the first place. The need for dialogue is primary at the moment and I wonder also what the best medium for that may be.

  4. Why is the Nature Conservancy turning to advocacy? I’ve always respected TNC for being apolitical and quietly buying up and conserving land. Surely there are other groups doing advocacy. Stick to your core mission.

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