Quantcast
Popular

This Student-Built Website Is Keeping Government Climate Data Safe

By Terri Hansen

It wasn't long after President Trump took office that chaos took hold at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Throughout his campaign, Trump had promised to get rid of the agency, leaving just "little tidbits left." He wasted little time.

Out of the gate, Trump's transition team was set to remove former President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan and other climate data, reported InsideEPA on Jan. 17. Trump officials told EPA staff on Jan. 24 to remove the agency's climate change page from its website, according to Science. The next day, EPA staffers were told to hold off. Then, two days later, the words "climate change" were erased from the EPA site altogether. Then they were back.

Many scientists didn't wait to find out what was up, what was down or what was going which way. At risk was years of data on greenhouse gas emissions, temperature trends, sea level rise and shrinking sea ice—data essential to our understanding of the enormous environmental shifts our planet is undergoing. Worldwide, they scrambled to capture the information from the websites of the EPA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey. Hackathons were organized to download the data to university servers and sites like DataRefuge and the Internet Archive for the fear that Scott Pruitt would be confirmed as head of the EPA; he was confirmed by the Senate on Feb 17.

Even outside of scientific circles, concerned citizens recognized a need to act. When John Rozsa, a graduate student in technology studies at Eastern Michigan University, heard about these efforts, he thought the more copies, the better. So, between classes and his full-time job, he began to download the pre-Trump version of the EPA website—28,000 files and counting.

"I used a variety of Windows and Linux-based high-tech tools that look at every corner of the website and grab every single file," he said. "I repeated the process four times and then compared the data sets. Once I confirmed my data sets were reliable, I backed them up and then sorted the files."

Now he's uploading the files to a website he calls EPA Data Dump. It's very simplistic, he said, "due to the fact that less than one week ago the website was just a small project of mine." The website is not quite ready for prime time—it's still under construction—but already it's getting a lot of attention.

EPA Data Dump has seen more than 200,000 users to date, so much traffic that its server nearly crashed. Rozsa had to start a modest online fundraiser to pay for a dedicated server, more bandwidth and increased security. The site will soon include a search engine, he said, but first the files must be organized by librarians and other volunteers.

Already many people, including an aerospace data manager, have offered their skills to further the project. And Rozsa has received messages from students and individuals in academia who said the data on his website have helped them significantly.

Rozsa has degrees in computer science and technology management. He is now studying for his master's degree in technology studies and he calls himself an activist. One audience that appreciates his type of activism is journalists who cover science and the environment.

"Journalists and the public rely on the EPA's website for accurate public information about climate change, EPA regulatory actions, greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution data," said Bobby Magill, senior science writer at Climate Central and president of the Society of Environmental Journalists. "It's among the first places members of the public may go to find information about climate change and how human carbon dioxide and methane pollution contribute to it."

Ensuring that accurate information remains available to the public is critical to understanding government efforts to keep our air and water clean and to address climate change. "The EPA greenhouse gas emissions database is valuable because it helps journalists and the public identify emissions sources and trends," Magill said. "There is an inherent public good in maintaining those databases online so that accurate environmental information is available to the public."

When Rozsa created EPA Data Dump, he did so believing that the public should have access to information about climate change, regardless of who the president was. For many scientists, whose individual decades of study are built on generations of accumulated research, open access to information is essential.

"Any climate data that has been collected and published by government scientists or as a result of government-funded or government-sponsored research, belongs in the public domain," said Michael Mann, professor and director of the Pennsylvania State University Earth System Science Center and lead-author of the now-famous "hockey stick graph" of rising global average temperatures.

"The public has a right to know that it is safe and that it will be preserved for posterity, despite the fluctuations in the prevailing political winds," he said. "The fact that scientists are fearful that climate data inconvenient to the vested interests that have funded President Trump and congressional republicans will be scrubbed from government websites is a testament to the truly chilling nature of the fossil fuel industry-funded assault on climate science."

Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Right: magpiessoftserve / Instagram Left: veganrobs / Instagram

11 Vegan Food Trends to Watch in 2018

By Danny Prater

New dairy-free favorites, surprising protein sources and automated everything: We've prepped a list of 2019's biggest food trends—all vegan, of course. Like you, millions of people are more curious than ever before about the latest developments in the vegan culinary world. Below, you can check out the newest, fanciest vegan foods and the hottest trends that will help you reduce your environmental footprint, improve your personal health and spare hundreds of animals a violent death in the coming year.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

New York Gov. Proposes State Legalize Recreational Marijuana

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday he will push to fully legalize recreational marijuana in the state as part of his agenda for the next year.

"The fact is we have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and the well off, and one for everyone else," Cuomo said in a speech about his agenda for the first 100 days of his third term, as quoted by The New York Times.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Circus elephants. Laura LaRose / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

New Jersey Is First State to Ban Wild Animal Circus Acts

It is now illegal to use elephants, tigers and other wild and exotic animals in traveling animal acts in New Jersey, the first state to mandate such a move.

Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy signed "Nosey's Law," the namesake of a 36-year-old African elephant with crippling arthritis that was forced to travel around the country, including to the Garden State, for traveling circus acts and suffered abuse, according to a press release from the governor's office.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. WClarke / CC BY-SA 4.0

Major Investors Pressure Exxon to Set CO2 Reduction Targets

The world's largest oil company is being pressured by major shareholders to take action on climate change.

Institutional investors with an estimated $1.9 trillion under management, led by the New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) and the Church Commissioners of England (CCE), filed a shareholder resolution calling on ExxonMobil to set targets for lowering its greenhouse gas emissions, covering emissions from both its operations and the use of its products.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Minimize plastic waste by wrapping gifts with reusable, recyclable and biodegradable materials. Westend61 / Getty Images

How to Have Yourself a Plastic-Free Christmas

By Manuela Taboada, Glenda Amayo Caldwell, Hope Johnson, Leonie Barner and Rowena Maguire

Research shows that waste can double during the Christmas period, and most of it is plastic from gift wrapping and packaging. The British, for example, go through more than 40 million rolls of (mostly plastic) sticky tape every year, and use enough wrapping paper to go around the Equator nine times.

We love plastic. It is an amazing material, so ubiquitous in our lives we barely notice it. Unfortunately, plastic waste has become a serious worldwide environmental and health issue. If we don't love the idea of a planet covered in plastic waste, we urgently need to reduce our plastic consumption.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Patrick Neufelder / Pixabay

2018: The Year Things Fell Apart — or the Year the Tide Turned?

By John R. Platt

This has been one hell of a tough year for the planet.

Just look at the past few weeks: The Trump administration tried to bury its own climate report, planned to eliminate sage-grouse protection on millions of acres of oil-rich land, allowed more pollution from coal plants, and then withdrew the Waters of the United States rule, threatening the entire Clean Water Act in the process.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Business
Swen Pförtner / Getty Images

Amazon Employees Praised for Using Shareholder Status to Demand Comprehensive Climate Plan

By Jessica Corbett

A small group of Amazon workers is receiving big praise for their efforts to force their employer to be a better steward of the planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
A container of Johnson's baby powder sits on a table. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson Knew About Asbestos in Baby Powder for Decades, Reuters Investigation Finds

By Jessica Corbett

A Reuters investigation published Friday charges that Johnson & Johnson, a multi-billion dollar company known for its healthcare products, knew for decades that its iconic talcum baby powder "was sometimes tainted with carcinogenic asbestos," but concealed the information from regulators and the public.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!