Scientists Scramble to Save Climate Data Before Trump Can Delete It

The President-elect is the only one of the world’s 195 leaders who denies that climate change is real.

It sounds like something from a cheap political thriller, but with President-elect Donald Trump’s team stacked with those skeptical of manmade climate change (at best) and already asking for names of researchers who’ve attended climate meetings, scientists are “frantically” acting to protect massive volumes of climate data in fear the incoming administration will delete or suppress it because it doesn’t serve its interests.

“Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis, told the Washington Post. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”

The University of Toronto has scheduled what it’s calling a “guerrilla archiving” event for Saturday, December 17.

“This event is focused on preserving information and data from the Environmental Protection Agency, which has programs and data at high risk of being removed from online public access or even deleted,” they write. “This includes climate change, water, air, toxics programs. This project is urgent because the Trump transition team has identified the EPA and other environmental programs as priorities for the chopping block.”

The effort was kicked off by a tweet from journalist, meteorologist, and self-proclaimed “climate hawk” Eric Holthaus, who posted, “Scientists: Do you have a US .gov climate database that you don’t want to see disappear? Add it here:

That began a race to preserve as much publicly owned climate data as possible before the Trump team takes over in January. There’s more at risk than just data, though—there’s the expression of it for public knowledge. As Vice points out, once Trump takes over control of .gov web domains, he could easily shut down “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Level Rise viewer (above), NASA’s suite of climate change apps, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s maps of the country’s worst polluters.”

This is not just paranoia. The George W. Bush administration systemically redacted, repressed, withheld, and obfuscated environmental information that didn’t suit its purposes. A 2007 report by the Government Accountability Project found:

A perception of inappropriate political interference is widespread among employees of the federal climate science agencies and programs, as well as among journalists from national, mainstream outlets who cover their research. This perception is substantiated by evidence from inside sources, scientists’ personal testimonies, journalists, and Freedom of Information Act disclosures.

The investigation found no incidents of direct interference with climate change research. Instead, unduly restrictive policies and practices were located largely in the communication of “sensitive” scientific information to the media, the public, and Congress. In this context, “sensitive scientific information” is meant to signify that science which does not support existing policy positions or objectives in research dealing with the effects of climate change or greenhouse gases on hurricanes, sea levels, Arctic ice loss, marine life, and human society.

These restrictive communication policies and practices are largely characterized by internal inconsistencies, ambiguity, and a lack of transparency. In turn, they send chilling signals to federal employees, including scientists and public affairs officers, that reinforce the suppression of “sensitive” information. There is a clear trend toward increasingly restrictive policies and practices unsupported by any official justification from the agencies and programs.

In an op-ed piece in the Post, Holthaus wrote, “I genuinely don’t think the Trump administration will intentionally delete data — such an act would be illegal, as well as unforgivable. However, I do anticipate budget cuts that will likely put data in jeopardy. Having an independent repository of the sum total of American knowledge of the climate system will serve as a testament to future fundraising efforts, if necessary, to support universities or other nongovernmental organizations to continue the (previously public) practice of climate science in the United States. I see our efforts as a firewall against a hostile administration: The more we can preserve before Trump takes power, the less incentive he has to stand in the way of science.”

With Trump, though, you never know. After all, he is the only one of the world’s 195 leaders to deny the existence of climate change. And as Holthaus points out, yes, that even includes North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

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Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal.
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Showing 13 comments
  • Explore-Cry-Diary


    I understand that preserving climate change data is relevant to adventuring, hardly, but holy cannoli this site has become political.

    Is this site a pedestal for the editor to project his/her opinions? Or to vent their frustrations? Or is it about the awe inspiring stories of adventure that should inspire people to get outside?

  • ASJ

    Thank you so much for this article and those similar to it. Our family’s income is directly affected by climate change (my husband is a ski patroller) and so I am very curious about what the next few years will bring in terms of climate change policy. For me, this site – and the AJ publication – are about the totality of adventure culture. Like it or not, weather and the state of natural resources are important variables in adventure equation.

    • D

      Becoming? It has been for years.. If you can sift through the political BS you find some good stuff.

  • DOM8632

    In Canada, we just went thru a decade of a climate change denying Prime Minister who destroyed vast amounts of scientific records, some dating back over one hundred years. He muzzled all government scientists: disobey and lose your job. He only funded programs that supported his own narrow views. Things like bitumen pipelines, fish farming and GMO studies were well funded, while anything to do with nature, the environment or green initiatives were completely ignored. There is every reason for all outdoor enthusiasts to be afraid of Donald Trump and what he’ll do to environmental causes and the world of science.

  • Miles

    The sky is falling! The sky is falling!! Please AJ, ditch the political posturing- who do you think you are, Hollywood celebrities??

  • Swenson

    This alarmist article makes it sound like all the data is saved on a central, private server where someone with questionable ethics could delete it rather than being housed on countless servers with redundant backups and published hard copy journals across the world. Methinks this is a tempest ina teapot.

  • jowes

    We should probably be doing this with more than just climate data.

    BTW: I think this information fits the website. The threats of returning federal land to states for probable privatization will have a chilling effect on people’s ability to adventure when they have no access to it. The threats to our wilderness from ignoring climate change are also real.

    Like the Chinese curse, we live in interesting times.

    • Lee

      I’ve been reading this site for 4 or 5 years. It has always covered climate related and political news that goes along with it. Furthermore, it’s Steve’s Website, he can do whatever he wants with it.

      • Steve Casimiro

        Lee—thanks for backing us up. Yes, it’s my site and I can do whatever I want with it. But if it were a wholly personal site, a personal blog, the tone and content would be different from what you see here. We occupy a space that doesn’t slot into an easy category, with highly personal essays sitting side by side with reporting on policy. I am very aware of the diversity of opinions on what AJ should be, and I value tremendously that people care enough to offer their criticism. That said, my decisions about what we publish are going to be based on the issues that I think are important to people who love, live, and play in the outdoors, and that has always included policy and politics, from public lands attitudes to climate change issues. I understand that many people read AJ for stoke and inspiration, and that will always be our foundation. But we also have a responsibility as citizens to act on the issues that matter to us and to stay informed about those issues. AJ was built with that in mind just as much as sharing the latest radness from the Powder Triangle.

  • Gina Obrien

    Thank you for this post!! Very relevant, very scary – politics matter. This guy and his intended appointees are not interested in science, only more $$$$ to line their pockets, as fast as they can.

  • DanO

    I am a Climate Change believer, I’m not sure about GLOBAL warming as anything other than a cycle in the Earth’s system and a way for slicksters to make money. I also do not have any problem with Steve’s veiwpoint, as I am a big boy and can listen to alternate views. Editors just need to watch quotes from other sources and vet them. I have read other blogs where a person was pegged as a Global Warming Denier (oh my!), and when I checked their stance they were Climate Change Believers (whew). It’s like a Baptist and Lutherans looking down on each other for not embracing the true faith. (my apologies to Baptists and Lutherans).

    As far as backing up data, Great! do it! Every administration may bend, suppress or alter statistics for their own ends. Can you say “Unemployment #s in today’s America?” We need to hold them accountable. It just gets old when Trump, Republicans, Conservatives, SUV drivers, people over 50 who don’t run a non-prfit, etc. are always the boogie man.

  • Mark

    Global warming is not religion. It’s not a matter of faith. You might as well avoid publishing stories which suggest that the earth is round (or kind of spherical). And whether you believe it or not, facts are facts, Trump is a denier, scientists are worried. I’m worried. So the story is relevant. If you’re the guy driving around with a “I don’t believe the liberal media” bumper sticker then you should probably skip this website and stick with Fox News. If this were instead a story about global warming deniers who were worriedly backing up their own data (on the tiniest thumb drive imaginable) then I’d have a good laugh and move on to the next story. I wouldn’t jump all over AJ. The only thing “political” about this story is that you know if you dare mention climate change the “deniers” will jump out of the woodwork screaming bloody murder. Suppress the stories. Suppress the science. Who benefits from that?

  • Jeff Fujita

    I still read Outside but the hypocrisy is often conveniently ignored. Big time ski resorts, adventure outings, expensive gear are connected with fossil fuel and electricity. Heck, even the delivery of reviewed gear relies on fossil fuels. Governments,scientific bodies, and beautiful celebrities can point to CO2 all they want but the real driving force for threat to our environment, I believe, is simple excess consumption. I just found this website and admire its long-term reporting but along with all other adventure media, it is complicit in the ever increasing advertising of enjoyment and reward in the great outdoors. It’s a double-edged sword – engagement in outdoor pursuits makes us appreciate our earth but at the same time those pursuits, along with all that precedes achieving them, takes a toll (e.g., Everest). The advantages of fossil fuel is the genie out of the bottle. I wish we could find a way or leader that promotes, lives, and breathes minimalism, or at least a more minimal lifestyle. This forum inherently promotes that: experience trumps (pun intended) materialism. Keep it up, Steve.

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