Locals march for science on Earth Day [photos]

Demonstrators shout outside of the TDEC offices during the March for Science on Saturday, April 22, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. About a thousand demonstrators marched from the Main Terrain Art Park to Riverfront Parkway and back in support of science and education in solidarity with other marches nationwide.

For a day in Chattanooga and across the nation, lab coats were preferred attire for political activists.

Around a thousand people gathered in the Main Terrain Art Park on Saturday afternoon, Earth Day, to participate in a "march for science" and demonstrate support for publicly funded and publicly communicated science.

The Chattanooga march was a sister event to a larger march in Washington and marches in hundreds of other cities - a backlash to the policies of President Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax and threatened to cut funding for scientific research in multiple agencies.

"When science is done right, it gives us the truth, not alternative facts," said Dr. Eugene Mesco, a biology professor at Dalton State College in Dalton, Ga. "It gives us a light to shine into the abyss."

Mesco, like many of the Saturday protesters, said climate change and pollution are some of the biggest problems facing the human race. He said it is essential to address those problems fully now instead of undermining the sciences, no matter how uncomfortable the truth may be.

"America, I think, has an anti-intellectual streak," he said while peering under the brim of a that had "evolve" written inside a fish with legs.

"People like simple answers to things, but just because it's hard doesn't mean it's not worth it."

Activist Jordan Mooney marched with the crowd from the park to the office of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. She continually shook a large, home-made sign reading, "Yo mama is so hot she's experiencing desertification and rising sea levels."

"We're cutting funds to science and it's behind everything," she said. "Our health care, our water we're killing ourselves."

The marchers occupied two lanes of traffic and stretched over multiple blocks as they moved along Main Street shouting, "Don't suppress progress, science is real."

The theme of the march was also an indirect invitation to policy wonks and nerds to craft their best science-based signage.

Multicolored placards bounced over the demonstrators' heads: "There is no planet B," "Trump, I've got my ion you," and "I've got 99 problems and the GOP's attitude towards science based climate policy covers like 98 of them."

Some of the demonstrators have been around Chattanooga long enough to remember the dirty air of past decades ago. In 1969, Chattanooga was tagged by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare as the most polluted city in the nation.

Lynnda Owens and Denie Pursley, who taught statistics and science, respectively, at Ringgold High School for more than 20 years, said they came to the event in part to ensure that level of smog never returns.

"We're going backward," Pursley said. "I want to go forward."

She said the air quality in Chattanooga used to be so terrible that she remembers being told by officials to not venture outside on certain days.

"You couldn't even wear pantyhose because the air would eat through them," she said. "We've seen leaps and bounds in Chattanooga."

Both Pursely and Owens said their professions highlighted the importance of public support for science and reasoned thought. They feel the current administration doesn't have the same priorities they do, but they said science isn't bound by ideology or opinions.

"Statistics don't lie," Owens said. Science isn't liberal or conservative. Science just is."

Staff writer Emmett Gienapp and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.