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New Report Reveals Trump's Year of Systemically Censoring Climate Crisis

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Motherboard / Vice

By Jessica Corbett

A watchdog group that monitors U.S. government websites released a new report on Wednesday detailing serious concerns about censorship and the "systemic" manner in which the Trump administration is misleading the public about the environment, energy and the climate crisis.


The report, Changing the Digital Climate: How Climate Change Web Content is Being Censored Under the Trump Administration, is the third in a series by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI), an international network of academics and nonprofits that launched shortly after the election of President Donald Trump with the goal of archiving publicly available environmental data and ensuring its continued availability.

One of Trump's first moves as president was to launch a new White House website devoid of any reference to the threats posed by the climate crisis, but since then, other agencies have also made significant revisions to websites controlled by the federal government.

EDGI's report, which documents changes made to content on federal websites during the first year of the Trump presidency, emphasizes how such changes can increase public confusion, make it harder for experts and policymakers to make informed decisions, boost climate denialism and "diminish our democratic institutions."

"These websites provide the public access to scientific results funded by their tax dollars, support democratic process by serving as an authoritative and easily accessible source for the public to educate themselves on key climate change issues, and provide a bulwark against efforts to obscure or cast doubt on accepted science on politically sensitive topics," the report notes. "Alterations to these federal websites can thus have very broad consequences."

The report highlights five key findings:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has notably amended its climate change website in ways that raise "strong concerns about loss of access to valuable information for state, local and tribal governments, and for educators, policymakers and the general public."
  • The EPA, State Department and Department of Energy have all removed information about the government's international commitments to addressing the climate crisis.
  • Agencies have revised materials to downplay the harmful impacts of using fossil fuels and the need to transition to renewable energy, while increasing an emphasis on job creation as a top priority.
  • "Language about climate change has been systemically changed across multiple agencies and program websites" to replace "climate change" and "greenhouse gases" with vaguer terms.

"While we cannot determine the reasons for these changes from monitoring websites alone," the report acknowledges, "our work reveals shifts in stated priorities and governance and an overall reduction in access to climate change information, particularly at the EPA," which has taken many notable actions to censor scientists since Trump took office.

The EDGI report features a lengthy statement from Gretchen Goldman, the research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who ties the "sporadic but significant" website changes to the Trump administration's broader sentiment toward scientific research and policies that involve the global climate crisis.

"The scientific community gets the message loud and clear: study of climate change is no longer welcome within the government enterprise," Goldman said. "Under the current administration, a federal scientist simply doing his or her job might be viewed as defiant or disloyal."

Pointing to documented cases of researchers self-censoring or second-guessing their work in the age of President Trump, Goldman warns, "The frightening long-term consequence of such censorship is that we may have fewer scientists working on one of the most complex and urgent scientific problems of our time."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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