Meet Fall Intern Vaishali Nijampatnam

Meet Fall Intern Vaishali Nijampatnam

The fall semester is in full swing at Alabama’s colleges and universities and we’ve got some awesome new interns to introduce! Vaishali Nijampatnam and Kenneth Paik will be working with Gasp this fall through UAB’s Academic Small Business Alliance internship program. First, we’d like you to meet Vaishali, a junior at UAB majoring in biomedical engineering.

What is your major at UAB and why did you choose it?

In high school, I saw a video about a dog with 2 prosthetic legs and watched its before and after prosthetics life and saw how life changing and happy the dog was. I really wanted to find a major that can teach me the foundations for that type of career. Hence, why I chose biomedical engineering as my major. I chose it because the combination of engineering and medicine is impactful for all life forms whether it’s a bird, elephant, a dog, or a person biomedical engineering can be applied to everything.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

I will be applying to grad school.

What is your dream job?

My dream job is to travel around the world while making prosthetic limbs for handicapped animals.

What do you hope to learn while volunteering with Gasp?

I hope to learn how a non-profit runs and maybe work with a non profit in the future. My project is to build an air monitor so I really hope to create one and aspire Gasp to use the air monitor at events and encourage the public to make their own.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you?

Air pollution keeps increasing every day and someone needs to remind the governments and public that if we continue polluting the air eventually the air will become toxic meaning the next generations won’t be able to breath normally.

What is your favorite food?

Mochi Ice cream and gulab jamun. Honestly I love food and don’t have a favorite because they are all so tasty!

What are your hobbies?

I like to travel, hike, watch movies, workout, but my ultimate favorite thing to do is sleep. The best days, to me, are the days when I get sleep in!

Who or what are your influences?

My family members are my influencers. My parents brought my sister and me to a new country without any one to count on. They had no one but themselves to push through the hardships and I truly am grateful for their sacrifices. My sister is also my motivator, best friend, and (sometimes) the most annoying person I’ve ever met. But without her and my parents, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

  1. I’m a Canadian citizen.
  2. My favorite animal is a panda.
  3. I once booked a plane ticket to Spain, then 6 hours later cancelled the ticket.
Gasp & Sierra Club Praise Rep. Terri Sewell for Opposing ‘Smoggy Skies Act’

Gasp & Sierra Club Praise Rep. Terri Sewell for Opposing ‘Smoggy Skies Act’

This is how democracy ought to work.

Last year, Rep. Terri Sewell voted in favor of the so-called Ozone Standards Implementation Act. Fortunately, after House approval, the legislation stalled in the Senate and wasn’t signed into law.

This year, Rep. Sewell listened to her constituents and opposed the legislation when it was again brought up for a vote last week.

While the bill did ultimately pass in the House (229 to 199), we want to thank Rep. Sewell for exemplifying the best characteristics of our most responsive Members of Congress: listening, learning, and adjusting accordingly. Rep. Sewell learned about the harmful effects of ozone pollution, and this year made a more informed vote on the legislation. That’s what elected officials are supposed to do.

What’s the bill that Rep. Sewell voted against? A better name for the legislation would be the “Smoggy Skies Act.” By delaying the implementation of new science-based ozone standards, this bill is nothing but a giveaway to big polluters.

Ozone pollution is one of the most common types of air pollution in Alabama. It’s dangerous — deadly even — for children, the elderly, communities of color, and folks with lung and heart disease. Smog is gross. Exposure to smog can cause wheezing and shortness of breath, asthma and heart attacks, low birth weight and even premature death.

For decades, the Clean Air Act has protected Americans from the harmful health effects of air pollution. It is legislation that has helped to clean up our air. Overwhelming and bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress passed it.

Through technological innovation, the Clean Air Act has resulted in significant reductions in harmful emissions. Healthy air is a human right, and ensuring our air is not polluted should be one of any lawmaker’s top priorities.

The Smoggy Skies Act will now go to the U.S. Senate. It would delay life-saving, science-based standards protections. By kicking compliance down the road, the bill would give polluters permission to continue to pollute our air. Millions of American lives are at risk.

We’re glad Rep. Sewell voted no on the Smoggy Skies Act. We are now asking Sen. Richard Shelby and Sen. Luther Strange to do the same if and when it comes up for a vote in the Senate.

Michael Hansen is the Executive Director of Gasp, a Birmingham-based healthy air advocacy organization. michael@gaspgroup.org

Stephen Stetson is a Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. stephen.stetson@sierraclub.org

(Photo courtesy of The Birmingham Times)

Meet Summer Intern Sara Jones

Meet Summer Intern Sara Jones

What are you studying at Birmingham Southern College?

I have not yet chosen a major, since I am hesitant on rushing into a career option without being sure of whether or not I would enjoy it. I am currently taking classes in order to figure out what career I would enjoy; however, I have discovered that I would like to focus specifically on human rights, and am studying on the different issues and concerns surrounding this topic as I go through school.

What is your dream job?

My dream job would be to travel the world investing in and educating others on their rights (and hopefully be paid for it!) Foreign cultures fascinate me, and it is often true that the best way to learn from them is to go live in these areas that have such different practices. I hope that I will eventually be able to explore and learn from countries over in the Middle East and Asia, although where I would primarily like to work and experience culture is in Central/South America.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp?

It is my desire to see that I learn more about Birmingham on a local, more intimate level; since I have not had much interaction with the area prior to my college experience, I would like to become familiar with the city that I now call home. Performing outreach in my internship would achieve both this and introducing me to the approaches communities take to address specific concerns, such as political policy and education. I am also hoping to see how Birmingham functions on an activism level through coordinating with other human rights organizations, as well as how people respond to information about different rights and violations that are occurring within their area.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you?

The necessity of clean air for everyone boils down to three arguments: human rights, environmental protection, and technological advancement. We citizens shouldn’t have to worry about whether the air in our neighborhoods, homes, or workplaces will have detrimental effects on our bodies simply because we breathe it; it is within our right to demand that the industrial practices of companies not physically

invade our lives and cause us harm- long term or immediate. In addition to this expectation, it is also important to recognize that clean air, like clean water, is a commodity on which all living things rely. It is possible that we could damage and pollute these renewable resources for several years, should we increase our abuse of them.

Lastly, the drive for creating clean air and a clean environment is also a drive for self-sustainable technologies and technological growth overall. Decreasing our reliance on non-renewable sources of energy allows us to find ways of sourcing energy locally, with more stable machinery due to the fact that the energy from renewable sources replenishes itself and needs little to no input in order to generate it. Therefore, environmental conservation is not only necessary for the protection of our planet, but also for forcing us to become innovative and imaginative in how we redevelop our old methods in addition to creating some new ones.

What is your favorite food?

Food overall is one of my favorite things on the planet, but a dish I enjoy in particular is homemade seafood gumbo. I grew up only two hours from New Orleans, so many of the same flavors and recipes ended up where I live with delicious results- I have yet to come across a terrible cup of gumbo from my hometown!

What are your hobbies?

Most of my hobbies include creative practices, such as painting, writing, and singing. I also enjoy reading, and for sports I prefer swimming over anything else. I have a tendency to become fidgety if I spend an extended amount of time not doing anything, so I try to find personal projects that will keep me occupied for a good amount of time.

Who or what are your influences?

A large portion of my influence comes from my parents, who have worked for everything they now have without taking any shortcuts or making any excuses to reach the point in their careers that they are currently at. I also find strong influence from literary sources, with characters and authors that impose strong values, as well as several historical figures, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Joan of Arc (two of my favorites!)

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

I used to be an avid actress, and performed throughout most of my secondary education as well as assisted in two shows during my time in college. The last show I acted in was a competition theater performance of Ralph Roister Doister, where my theater group made it to state competition and I won two awards for best supporting actress. I have also had the opportunity to travel to two countries: France and Mexico!

Gasp Responds to Corruption and Bribery Charges Related to North Birmingham

Gasp Responds to Corruption and Bribery Charges Related to North Birmingham

The following is a statement from Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen regarding corruption & bribery charges related to North Birmingham:

I was stunned to learn the extent of the conspiracy involving former-Rep. Oliver Robinson, Balch & Bingham, and Drummond Company to block EPA’s efforts to remediate contamination in northern Birmingham and Tarrant. We learned via Twitter that meetings with Robinson and Gasp representatives were recorded and shared with Drummond and their attorneys.

Gasp has been working in north Birmingham neighborhoods for years. In 2014, we petitioned the EPA to investigate whether or not additional cleanup was necessary in the Inglenook community and city of Tarrant. Between advocating for the National Priorities List (NPL) for the 35th Avenue Site (the NPL listing would have released millions of dollars for clean up) and additional testing in the Pinson Valley Site, we’ve been at odds with some of the most powerful interests in Alabama for years now.

This case is a sad commentary on the lengths to which unchecked greed will go for a buck. People deserve to live in a healthy community, including clean air, clean water, and clean soil. Residents have been complaining of respiratory illnesses, cancers, asthma, and other diseases. Despite Birmingham’s reputation for being a hub of medical advances, there has never been a study to see how the pollution is harming the communities’ health. We know there is a higher rate of pre-term birth and lower birth weight in the areas near heavy industry.

Toxic pollution literally kills people and makes them ill. Attempts at covering up pollution and avoiding responsibility for cleaning it up are among the most egregious forms of public corruption, and it must be rooted out.

This story is not simply about corruption. It is about harm to real people. For decades, people living near ABC Coke and other polluting industries have been breathing toxic emissions and growing gardens in contaminated soil. They’ve been telling us for years that they believe their families, their children are being exposed to serious environmental hazards and that their health is suffering from it. Everyone from the polluters to politicians to regulators turned a blind eye to these concerns, claiming there is no health risk. Well, now we know why.

The folks living in impacted communities deserve answers. Who else was involved in this scheme and how long has it been going on? How deep is this conspiracy? Will others be held accountable? Why aren’t the leaders in our state condemning these actions? What recourse do the residents have now that they know powerful interests conspired to thwart community cleanup efforts?

We won’t rest until we have answers and the residents of the northern Birmingham area are protected from toxic pollution and corruption.

President Trump’s Decision to Withdraw from Paris Climate Agreement

President Trump’s Decision to Withdraw from Paris Climate Agreement

Below is a statement from Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen on President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement:

“Pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement jeopardizes our role in the world as leaders on climate action. Global problems demand global solutions — and we cannot go it alone. Climate change is real, and it is a health issue that we cannot simply ignore.

“In Alabama this is especially perilous. We have no comprehensive plans in place to mitigate climate risks, nor have we implemented any adaptation strategies. We barely fund state agencies like ADEM — the lowest funding level per capita in the entire nation. As a result, climate solutions in Alabama are virtually non-existent.

“We lag behind other states in clean energy jobs despite ample land and abundant free fuel (namely, the sun). We rank at the bottom in energy efficiency, resulting in the highest utility bills in the country as a portion of income, which impacts poor and fixed-income households the hardest. Alabama lacks adequate water management policies in the event of droughts. Our infrastructure is not ready to handle extreme weather events, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise.

“Former Attorney General Luther Strange literally sued the EPA over climate regulations. That is what we’re up against in Alabama. We are woefully unprepared to deal with the health and environmental impacts of climate change. It is now on us to demand better policies from the our elected officials and agencies.

“Call your mayor and city council and ask them to pass 100% renewable energy standards. Call the PSC and tell them to rescind the regressive solar ‘tax. Call your state legislators and demand responsible action on climate change. There is no Planet B, so we must take action and fight for change.”

TAKE ACTION

Trump Expected to Back Out of Paris Climate Agreement

Trump Expected to Back Out of Paris Climate Agreement

Multiple news outlets are reporting that President Trump will announce this week his intentions to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate change agreement. The move is likely to upset U.S. allies across the globe, especially considering that the accords were agreed to by 197 nations.

This is further evidence that the onus is on us to fight climate change. Here in Alabama, some of our vulnerabilities include extreme heat, increased ozone pollution, drought, wildfire, or coastal flooding. And yet our state government has not taken any action whatsoever to assessing climate change impacts.

Alabama has no plan in place for future climate risks, nor have we implemented any adaptation strategies. State funding and resilience policies are virtually non-existent. Alabama is woefully unprepared to deal with the health and environmental impacts of climate change.

Public opinion is on our side. A poll released last month by Yale University and George Mason University found that 69 percent of Americans support staying in the climate agreement. That level of support is inconceivable in these polarized times.

The support is bipartisan, too. Majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans think the U.S. should remain a part of the accords. Even a plurality of Trump’s supporters (47 percent) support staying in.

Regardless of the overwhelming bipartisan support for participating in the Paris climate change agreement, we cannot lose sight of what matters most: the science.

 

Inaction is not a viable action, nor is going it alone. We have to work collaboratively with other nations to solve the intractable problem of our changing climate and start implementing solutions now. The health of our planet and, most importantly, future generations is at stake.

SPEAK UP

What I Learned Working at Gasp: A High School Intern’s Point of View

What I Learned Working at Gasp: A High School Intern’s Point of View

This blog post was written by Cayla, our work study intern for the past two semesters.

Interning here at Gasp from Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School through a Corporate Work Study program, I learned many different things about the environment that I did not know. My experience with Gasp has changed my perspective in different situations.

I learned how to find people on the internet just by their name, address, phone number, etc. (We were working on a mailing list for Gasp newsletters and needed to make sure the addresses were up to date.) I got the chance to help gather information that helps improve the work process. I helped get information about schools so Gasp could talk to them about education programs.

I also got the chance to learn about the different air qualities and how bad air affects the environment and the people through a website called Southern Exposure. I created two binders based on different air monitors around the state of Alabama. In those binders it tells what air monitors check for by pollutant from 2011 to 2016. I have also gotten the opportunity to sit in on meetings and take in how it feels to be in meetings with different people from different age ranges. I got to be in my very first webinar.

But most importantly, I have gotten to meet some amazing people. They are Kirsten Bryant, Haley Lewis, and Michael Hansen. They have taught me great things! They provided me with helpful advice and the conversations were also amazing. We could talk about anything and they would listen to you. I even learned a better way to fold shirts while interning here. They are super nice, cheerful, supportive, and inviting people. I have met other great interns while working here. It is a quiet and peace environment to work in. I would definitely work here again next year! 🙂

AirBeam Saga Part III: Analyzing Pollution Data in Five Local Parks

AirBeam Saga Part III: Analyzing Pollution Data in Five Local Parks

After conducting an air study around three major public high schools, I decided to conduct some testing around Birmingham’s local parks. The five parks tested were Elyton, Lynn, Greenwood, Avondale, and Homewood Park. I tested each park over a period of three days, and I spent around five minutes walking around each park.

Day 1:

On the first day of testing, I noticed how different the parks were from each other. In Elyton and Lynn Park, there were no people around. I was quite happy by this development, because I would not have to explain to any civilians why I was carrying around a weird looking device! Greenwood Park was also empty, except I saw an airplane flying over the park. Due to this observation, I assumed that Greenwood would have a high level of pollution. At Avondale and Homewood Park, there were actually people walking around and playing tennis. I even saw geese near the lake in Avondale, and I was taken away by the beauty of the architecture.

Elyton: Day I

Lynn: Day I

Greenwood: Day I

Avondale: Day I

Avondale: Day I

Homewood: Day I

Day 2:

On the second day of testing, Elyton and Lynn Park were still empty of my fellow human brethren. While at Elyton Park, I did hear a very loud noise. It sounded like an engine or really strong wind. After checking the weather data, the wind was only travelling around 9 miles per hour, so I concluded that there may have been an airplane flying by that was out of my line of vision. I actually saw other people at Greenwood Park, and even a cute little dog enjoying the park’s playground and basketball court. The geese were at it again at Avondale Park, except they were enjoying the scenery under the playground steps. I am so glad that I was able to capture a picture of their relaxed awesomeness. I concluded my journey at Homewood Park, where there were so many people walking around.

Elyton: Day II

Lynn: Day II

Greenwood: Day II

Avondale: Day II

Avondale: Day II

Homewood: Day II

Day 3:

The final day of testing was pretty interesting. I actually saw another human at Elyton Park! He was enjoying a morning stroll, while I walked around the park collecting data. Next, I went to Lynn Park where I discovered that there was another part of the park that included a small playground, so I made sure to collect data near that part of the park. At Greenwood Park I, once again, observed a few people playing basketball. While at Avondale and Homewood, I noticed that there were so many people around. I tried to walk for more than five minutes in both parks, because both parks are at least twice the size of the other three, and I wanted to collect as much data as possible. After returning back to work, I realized that no pollutant particle data was recorded for Avondale, because the AirCasting app apparently crash and froze while I was there collecting data.

Elyton: Day III

Lynn: Day III

Lynn: Day III

Greenwood: Day III

Avondale: Day III

Homewood: Day III

Federal Roundup: Trump’s First #100Days Edition

Federal Roundup: Trump’s First #100Days Edition

The news is a buzz this week with assessing President Trump’s first 100 days in office. NPR did a great Q&A with Cokie Roberts about this Presidential benchmark and its significance, if any. I have been doing my best to keep you all up to speed since day one of the new administration and how actions at the executive and federal level are affecting clean air and health. It has been a very busy first 100 days to track, sadly mostly not in a good way. Since I last blogged a couple of weeks ago, several new developments have cropped up and we have new updates.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

  • April 27, 2017: S.987 “100 by 50” Bill. This bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). This bill would phase out fossil fuels and completely replace them with clean renewable energy by 2050. The bill would put in place a comprehensive plan to ramp up renewable energy and energy efficiency, the electrification of transportation and heating, while putting a halt to the development of fossil fuel infrastructure. It also includes provisions to train workers in the transition to clean energy to encourage the deployment of clean energy in disadvantaged communities.
  • April 27, 2017: D.C. Circuit Court suspends Litigation Over MATS. On April 18, 2017 the EPA, in an email, announced its plans to file a motion to the D.C. Circuit court to ask them to delay oral arguments set for May 18, 2017 in EPA’s defense of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. In 2015, the D.C. Circuit Court did not throw out the MATS rule and instead instructed EPA to go back and consider costs (most plants subject to MATS have either complied or retired). On April 27, 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court granted EPA’s request to delay oral arguments.
  • April 28, 2017: President Trump signs Executive Order to expand offshore drilling. President Trump signed an Executive Order that calls for a “review of the locations available for offshore oil and gas exploration.” The order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review a five-year plan in which President Obama banned drilling in parts of the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic Oceans.
  • April 28, 2017: D.C. Circuit Court grants EPA’s request to pause litigation over Clean Power Plan. Last month, the White House requested a 60-day hold on litigation surrounding the Clean Power Plan. On April 28, 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court granted that request. This pause allows the parties (EPA, 24 states and cities, environmental and industry groups) to file briefs addressing the future of the rule.

UPDATES ON PREVIOUS ACTIONS

  • Congressional Review Act put into play by U.S. Congress. The CRA allows senators and representatives who disapprove of a regulation to enter a resolution eliminating it. The resolutions require the signature of the president. So far this year, the following rules protecting the environment and human health have been targeted under the CRA:
    • The Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule. UPDATE: On February 16, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the repeal of the Stream Protection Rule.
    • Department of the Interior Methane Flaring Rule. The House voted on February 3, 2017 with no action so far from the Senate as of the date of this post. UPDATE: on March 21, 2017, some Republican lawmakers came out against using the CRA to repeal this rule. Specifically, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he believed the rule could be subject to improvement, not just cancellation. “I think we can replace it with a better reg, rather than a CRA.”
    • Drilling and Mining on Public Lands. On January 31, 2017, the House introduced a joint resolution that would repeal the rules that allow the National Park Service to manage private drilling and mining in 40 parks across the country. UPDATE: on March 26, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing the Department of the Interior to review over 20 years of national monuments under the Antiquities Act. Specifically, President Trump has asked Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to review 24 national monuments created since 1996 and to recommend ways for Congress to shrink or abolish them. The Order requires the department to make preliminary recommendations within 45 days and affects only those monuments that are not larger than 100,000 acres. Currently monuments are now closed to new oil and gas leasing and no new mining claims can be granted there. If monuments are downsized or abolished, they will no longer be protected from drilling or mining.
    • OMB Proposed Budget Cuts to EPA and NOAA. The proposed budget cuts would reduce EPA’s staff by one fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs. Specifically, EPA’s staff would be slashed from 15,000 to 12,000. The proposed budget would also cut EPA’s grants to states, including air and water programs, by 30 percent and eliminate 38 separate programs in their entirety. Media outlets also discovered a four page budget memo that would slash NOAA’s budget by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs. Any such cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process. UPDATE: On April 28, 217 U.S. Congress passed a bill that would extend until May 5, 2017 the deadline for a deal on federal spending through September and head off a feared government shutdown at midnight on Friday, April 28, 2017.
    • Republicans Joint Resolution on Climate Change. A group of 17 Republican members of Congress signed a resolution vowing to seek “economically viable” ways to combat global warming. No update since last post.

Bills, Bills Bills

Bill Number Sponsor Description Status
HR 998 Jason Smith, R-MO Establishes a commission to identify obsolete and unnecessarily burdensome regulations to be repealed. It also sets goals for the commission to reduce costs by 15 percent and to prioritize major rules that are more than 15 years old and rules that can be eliminated without diminishing effectiveness. No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
HR 1009 Paul Mitchell, R-MI Requires independent agencies to submit rules to the Office of Management and Budget before they are published—essentially giving the president tight control of the rule-making process No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
HR 1004 Tim Walberg, R-MI Would require agencies to publish more detail of forthcoming rules and regulations No action since the bill passed the House on 3/2/2017.
HR 637 Gary Palmer, R-AL Blocks the EPA’s ability to address climate change No actions taken since the bill was introduced. You can read our analysis of the bill here.
HR 861 Matt Gaetz, R-FL Would abolish the EPA effective December 31, 2018 No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
HR 958 Sam Johnson, R-TX Would leave EPA with a budget of less than $1 billion. This bill would eliminate EPA climate change programs and would also close all of the EPA’s regional offices, halt new regulations on ground-level ozone pollution and require the agency to lease unused property No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
H.R. 1430 Lamar Smith,

R-TX

The bill works “[t]o prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” This bill is an attempt to revise the EPA’s scientific review process that guides their rulemaking. No action since bill passed the House on 3/29/2017
H.R. 4775 Pete Olson, This bill aims to update to the national ozone standards, with various provisions that would change the way the Environmental Protection Agency reviews standards for particulate matter, lead and other air pollutants. No action since it was introduced. You can read our blog post from last year when this bill was introduced and failed.
H.R. 1731 Hal Rogers,

R-KY

This is a bipartisan bill called the RECLAIM Act that would release $1 billion to create economic development opportunities in coal communities affected by the energy industry’s transition away from dirty fossil fuels. No action since the bill was introduced.

 

We are keeping our ear to the ground on any and all developments that could affect clean air and health in Alabama. Be on the look out for regular updates from us about legislative and executive actions that could threaten your health and environment. We will also always provide ways for you to act on any development, whether it’s positive or negative.

Guest Post: Science Education as a Civil Right

Guest Post: Science Education as a Civil Right

Below is the text of a speech given by Kathryn Drago at the “Shelby, show up for science” march April 21. Ms. Drago is a science educator and curriculum developer. She has all but defended her Ph.D. in Science Education from University of Michigan and has M.A. in Research Methods from University of Michigan, an M.S. in Cancer Biology from Stanford University and a B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.


 

Central High School Falcons, University of Alabama Tide, citizens of West Alabama, look around you. At this Rally for Science, we have students and teachers; citizen scientists and research scientists, beginners and experts. And we’ve all come together today.

No matter how you identify, I have an important message for you. Every single person in this crowd deserves a high quality science education– that is a solid base of science understanding upon which we can build our careers, support our communities, and enjoy our lives. Exceptional science education is guaranteed to us because it is a civil right. It is no less important than the right to free speech or assembly.

I draw my inspiration for this idea from Bob Moses, the great civil rights activist. In the 1960’s, he registered Mississippi sharecroppers to vote. Later, in the 1980’s, he saw that students in his daughter’s school were not provided with the math instruction in eighth grade that they needed to qualify for honors level math in high school.

Bob Moses asked himself the question: Why do students need to study Algebra? The answer was that mathematical literacy set students up for entrance into college, higher paying jobs, and personal success. And so the Algebra Project was born. Its mission was to grow the math abilities of students who had traditionally been underserved and overlooked. Algebra Project alumni had more possibilities open to them. In that way, access to vote is no different from access to math.

The same is true for science education. It is a civil right, yet it is being denied for far too many youth. Let’s take Tuscaloosa for example. In 2016, 15% of 10th graders scored proficient on the standardized science exam. This statistic shows that we are squandering the talents of untold youth. But even worse, this number is an average. The hard truth is that 42% of White 10th graders scored proficient while only 6% of Black 10th graders did so. These numbers are shocking. But what is even more shocking is the cause of these disparities–segregation in schools, unequal distribution of resources, and uneven support for Black students taking advanced classes have caused this. Systemic racism has caused this.

Like Bob Moses did, we ask ourselves the question: Why do students require science education? The answer is that every student deserves access to the highest paying jobs in America. Black and brown students should grow up to be laboratory managers, computer scientists, and doctors making six figures. They are also the ones whose communities are hardest hit by lead in the drinking water, cement dust in the air, and severe storms brought on by climate change. They must be able to raise the alarm and devise the solutions to these human-made problems. And they too should be able to experience the wonder and joy that learning about and participating in science can bring.

Again, I say top notch science education is a civil right, and as such, the government guarantees each of us that right. Algebra Project founder Bob Moses said that it’s time for us to take responsibility for our government. Not that we are asking the government to do something for us, but that in the end, we are the government. And if we do not take responsibility for the government, it will take us to places we don’t want to go.

This administration is taking science education where none of us want to go. Here’s an example: the White House’s budget cut funding to NASA’s Office of Education from $115 million dollars to zero dollars. And what does that cut save? A half of a percent of NASA’s budget.

But what does this cut cost us? Space camp, curricula for teachers, and scholarships for young scientists. In particular, the Minority University Research and Education Project, which helps fund students seeking STEM degrees at historically black colleges and universities, will be eliminated. So, we have a local system that has not provided equitable science learning opportunities, and our federal government has taken away some of the few precious programs that tried to equalize the playing field. This is a disgrace and a shame.

In the absence of elected leadership, let us be our own government. We will take science education where we want it to go. I’m going to challenge us to achieve three goals to that end.

First, let’s educate ourselves about science education. Investigate your area schools. Don’t be satisfied by averages–dig deep into the disparities. Then, give your time, talent, or treasure. If you have time, volunteer. If you have scientific talent, offer your expertise. If you have treasure, improve the school’s material resources.

Second, fight science education injustice whenever you find it. As a student, demand that you be placed in advanced classes, and then ask for the help you need to succeed there. Adults, stand with teachers in receiving the salary they deserve. Reject legislation that increases funding and zoning inequalities in schools.

Third, never give up on science learning. Don’t pay attention to what anyone has told you that you should do. Go to events you wouldn’t normally attend. Stop by a science demonstration at a tailgate. Watch a Nature TV show. Be curious, try things out, take risks. You can be your own science educator. Science education is your civil right, and you deserve it. Thank you all.


 

The “Shelby, Show Up for Science!” march in Tuscaloosa was organized by the Kudzu Coalition of West Alabama. They describe themselves as “a collection of progressive voices committed to transforming our community through collaborative, direct action.” Check them out on Facebook.

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