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Buried, Altered, Silenced: How Government Climate Information Has Changed Under Trump

Posted: 01.07.2019 no comments


After Donald Trump won the presidential election, hundreds of volunteers around the U.S. came together to “rescue” federal data on climate change, thought to be at risk under the new administration. “Guerilla archivists,” including ourselves, gathered to archive federal websites and preserve scientific data.


But what has happened since? Did the data vanish?


Read the entire article at The Conversation


As of one year later, there has been no great purge. Federal data sets related to environmental and climate science are still accessible in the same ways they were before Trump took office.


However, in many other instances, federal agencies have tampered with information about climate change. Across agency websites, documents have disappeared, web pages have vanished and language has shifted in ways that appear to reflect the policies of the new administration.




Two groups have been keeping a watchful eye on developments. Both belong to the Environmental Data Governance Initiative, the organization behind the data rescue events. The initiative now monitors tens of thousands of federal websites with the help of specialized tracking software. In January, the group published a report that describes sweeping changes to federal web resources.


Meanwhile, Columbia University’s Silencing Science Tracker documents news stories about climate scientists who have been discouraged from conducting, publishing or otherwise communicating scientific research.


These groups have documented four ways that climate-related information has become less accessible since Trump took office.


1. Documents are difficult to find


Documents on existing international environmental treaties and national climate policy have been buried or removed from departments’ current websites.


2. Web pages are buried


Some administrative pages have disappeared from agency sites and can be accessed only from the Obama-era web archive.


3. Language has been altered


Departments have scrubbed websites of environmental terms. The term “climate change,” for instance, no longer exists across certain web pages of several agencies, such as the White House, the Department of Transportation and the Department of the Interior.


4. Science has been silenced


Columbia’s Silencing Science Tracker records 116 instances when scientists have been obstructed. The list includes budget cuts, staff cuts, unfilled positions and suspended funds. Climate-related research projects have been canceled and climate fellowships rescinded. In some cases, advisory boards and research centers have been dismantled entirely.


Why it matters


These changes are not just damaging to those trying to address climate change. Burying climate science diminishes our democracy. It denies the average citizen the information necessary to make informed decisions, and fuels the flames of rhetoric that denies consensus-based science.