Apparently believing that if you cannot see something, then it does not exist, the Trump administration is increasing its efforts to deny the realities of climate change by removing all mentions of it from the Environmental Protection Agency's website.
Reuters has confirmed that administration officials gave directions to the Environmental Protection Agency to delete its webpages on climate change. Such a deletion endangers years of scientific research on global warming and emissions, much of it funded by U.S. taxpayers. As one EPA staffer told Reuters, “If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear.”
Anticipating such a move, scientists began to mobilize in an urgent effort to archive data shortly after election day. Some universities in the U.S. and Canada reportedly engaged in “hackathons” to access government databases and create mirrors of their contents on non-government servers, in order to safeguard access on behalf of the scientific community and the public.
In one related event, more than 250 volunteers from academia, the tech community, and various non-profits gathered at the University of Pennsylvania for a two-day event called “Data Rescue Philly” to download and save scientific data and research from the EPA and other government websites.
Following the outcry over the Reuters story, a representative from the administration downplayed potential changes, claiming, “We’re looking at scrubbing it up a bit, putting a little freshener on it, and getting it back up to the public. We’re taking a look at everything on there.”
But that claim must be taken with a grain of salt, as all of this is happening in the context of gag orders issued by the administration to various agencies, prohibiting the staff of those agencies from talking with the media directly or the public via social media. The gag order was later extended to include communication even with members of Congress. In response, leading Democratic representatives are offering protection to federal workers who feel the need to speak out about the orders they are receiving from the White House:
Any federal employee who wants to visit, we will listen. We will protect you. firstname.lastname@example.org
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) January 25, 2017
Despite all evidence to the contrary and the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community, Trump himself has previously claimed global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese to hurt U.S. manufacturing:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Additionally, Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Rick Perry to head the Energy Department, and Ryan Zinke to head the Interior Department, all of whom have previously expressed varying degrees of doubt about the reality of climate change and the related impact of human activity. And Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is the CEO of ExxonMobil, a corporation that is situated to make billions in an environmentally disastrous Arctic oil drilling deal with Russia once the Trump Administration lifts existing sanctions on the Russian government.
Telegraphing a possible intent to purge departmental staff engaged in climate change research, the Trump administration submitted a list of 74 questions to the Department of Energy in December that included a request for the names of “employees or contractors who have attended any lnteragency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings” and large amounts of other detailed information. News of this request was leaked and first made public in a report by the Washington Post. In response, the Department of Energy publicly refused to release such a list to the administration out of concern about how they would use the information. The administration later back-pedaled, claiming the questionnaire was “not authorized or part of our standard protocol” and the person who submitted it had been corrected.
In the long term, climate change presents an existential threat to the human race. In the shorter term, it represents threats to the national security of the United States and stability of the international order. In a report produced by the Department of Defense and delivered to Congress in 2015, climate change was cited as contributing to the degradation of quality of life in many areas, increases in poverty and food shortages, and the inability of some governments to meet even the basic needs of their populations.
In a press conference, when asked about the deletions and gag orders, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) noted the importance of the press and public sentiment in fighting back against such measures. She further declared,
You cannot silence people’s voices. And it is a deterioration of intellectual resources to prevent information to flow. That’s what has made America great, that we have open, we listen to ideas, we exchange them. And any country that doesn’t does so to their own detriment.
And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also made an important point:
Silencing dedicated fed employees or removing facts & science from websites will do nothing to keep our air & water clean or our food safe.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 25, 2017
The Trump administration appears to believe denying the existence of climate change is a successful strategy. One thing is worryingly certain: It is a strategy that will no doubt be greeted with cheers by his cronies and donors to his campaign from the fossil fuel industry.