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Climate Change References Are Disappearing From U.S. Government Sites

Politics

It's no secret that the Trump administration has championed fossil fuels and scoffed at renewable energy. But the Trump administration is trying to keep something secret: the climate crisis. That's according to a new analysis from the watchdog group Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) who found that more than a quarter of the references to climate change on .gov websites vanished.



The watchdog group found some disturbing trends since Trump took office in January of 2017. In his first two years in office, the terms "climate change," "clean energy" and "adaptation" dropped by 26 percent on .gov websites, as VICE reported. EDGI analyzed over 5,300 webpages across 23 federal agencies and concluded that the Trump administration has severely weakened public access to information about the climate crisis and distorted language around it.

One of the more conspicuous and troubling removals of references to climate change happened across the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, which garners more traffic than whitehouse.gov. The report found that over half the pages (73/136) where climate change was completely removed from public view belonged to the EPA.

Additionally, the watchdog group noted an uptick in nebulous politicized terms that obscure science. It found that "catch-all terms that are employed to undermine clear analysis – such as 'energy independence,' 'resilience,' and 'sustainability' – increased by 26 percent," according to the EDGI report. In fact, the term "energy independence" comes directly from Trump's America First Energy Plan, which calls for an increase in fossil fuel production, as VICE reported.

"[U]nlike the much-discussed White House effort to question climate change findings, website changes go unannounced and are often beyond immediate public recognition," the report reads, as VICE reported. "They insidiously undermine publicly-funded infrastructure for knowledge dissemination."

The report categorized three types of website changes:

  • Undermining climate change as a key component of pressing policy challenges – for example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) removed all references to "climate change" on a page about handling heat-related health risks.
  • Changing descriptions of science and scientists – for example, the EPA changed the work of some of its researchers from "Climate Science" to "Ecosystems."
  • Removing access to and descriptions of resources – for example, removing the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Climate Change Clearinghouse pages climate.dot.gov, as CNN reported.

"The real problem is that the administration has taken down webpages for political reasons and had repeatedly shut down the communication of climate science," said Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, when the DOT removed climate change references, as CNN reported. "So we are all left guessing. If the administration actively encouraged scientists to communicate about climate science this would not even be an issue at all."

The EDGI report found that the manipulation of language was not solely restricted to climate change in 2018. The term "wildfire" dropped by nearly 50 percent across EPA pages, even as wildfires tore through California. Additionally, the website of the U.S. Geological Survey, an agency partially tasked with preventing wildfires, dropped the term by 47 percent, as VICE reported.

The blatant attempts to hide the climate crisis have continued in 2019. Earlier this month, the U.S. Geological Survey removed references to climate change from a press release. At the end of June, the administration refused to publicize several U.S. Department of Agriculture funded studies that would help farmers cope with the climate crisis. And, it recently removed from congressional testimony a written report by a State Department scientist.

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That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

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"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


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