While it’s not exactly shocking news that climate change denial is rife in the Trump administration, sometimes the sheer hubris of Trump officials in their censorship of scientific press releases just slaps you in the face. One such case came to light recently: a March news release from the U.S. Geological Survey was supposedly about “infrastructure planning along the California coastline,” but the real news in the report the release discussed was the shocking damage climate change would inflict upon the state.
The Trump administration’s spin certainly didn’t mention the impact of climate change, but that’s not surprising. What is surprising is that an earlier version of the press release written by researchers was “sanitized” by Trump administration officials, who removed references to the impact of climate change on California and then delayed disseminating the news release for months.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, shows that California would face more than $100 billion in damages related to climate change and sea-level rise by the end of the century. In essence, three to seven times more people and businesses would be affected than had been previously thought.
“We show that for California, USA, the world’s fifth largest economy, over $150 billion of property equating to more than 6% of the state’s GDP and 600,000 people could be impacted by dynamic flooding by 2100,” the researchers wrote in the study.
This is just part of a pattern by the Trump administration of downplaying climate change research happening at USGS and other government agencies.
“It’s been made clear to us that we’re not supposed to use climate change in press releases anymore. They will not be authorized,” one federal researcher told E&E News.
The California coastline study press release went through the office of USGS Director and Trump appointee James Reilly, a former astronaut whose main task at the agency seems to be to minimize the consideration of climate change in agency decisions. The New York Times reported on a directive Reilly is preparing for USGS scientists to use climate models that only go through the next 20 years rather than through the end of the century because the effect of emissions is supposed to be less by 2040.
Ironically, at his nomination hearing, Reilly promised to protect the USGS’s scientific integrity. “If someone were to come to me and say, ‘I want you to change this because it’s the politically right thing to do,’ I would politely decline,” Reilly said. “I’m fully committed to scientific integrity.”
Uh, yeah. Not so much, it seems.
But someone was brave enough to send an earlier, unedited draft of the release to Point Blue Conservation Science. That version compared the possible effects of climate change on California to the effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans.
Allowing valuable information to disappear is a waste of taxpayer dollars and could prevent policy decisions from being informed by science, said Joel Clement, a former staffer for the Department of the Interior (that’s USGS’s parent agency) and current senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
“It’s an insult to the science, of course, but it’s also an insult to the people who need this information and whose livelihoods and in some cases their lives depend on this,” Clement said. “What’s shocking about it is that this has been taken to a new level, where information that is essential to economic health and safety—essentially American well-being—is essentially being shelved and being hidden.”
Photo: A 2017 Earth Day demonstration against the Trump Administration’s policy of climate change denial. Credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com