“Climate change” redacted from U.S. Geological Survey press releases

July 10, 2019 • 9:00 am

I’m rereading Orwell’s novel 1984, and so this new report from Science reminded me of the Party’s attempt to change language into “Newspeak” and, by purging old words, creating a new language with a new ideological slant. (That, of course, derived from Orwell’s earlier but superb essay Politics and the English Language.)

The Science article relates, at some length, how studies by several federal agencies—mainly the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), but also the Department of Agriculture and the Interior Department—have been deleting references to climate change from press releases. It appears to be a deliberate but unofficial policy of the government.

Click on the screenshot below to read:

To be sure, there are no accusations that the Trump administration is forbidding the agencies from conducting studies on global warming, or from publishing the results in journals. The accusation is that in the press releases—often the only thing journalists read or care about, since they’re averse to reading papers—expunge mention of global warming as a cause of various damages or potential damages to the environment. This redaction has been going on for some time, but this useful article collects several instances of press-release censorship.

This contrasts with the Obama administration, which quickly released press releases mentioning climate change and approved more of them. According to the article, in the last year of Obama’s administration USGS distributed at least 13 press releases that dealt with climate change and even mentioned it in the headlines, while in the Trump administration—from early 2017 to the present—the figure has been zero.

I’ll give just two examples, as quotes from the article:

a.) “A March news release from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) touted a new study that could be useful for infrastructure planning along the California coastline. At least that’s how President Donald Trump’s administration conveyed it.

The news release hardly stood out. It focused on the methodology of the study rather than its major findings, which showed that climate change could have a withering effect on California’s economy by inundating real estate over the next few decades.

An earlier draft of the news release, written by researchers, was sanitized by Trump administration officials, who removed references to the dire effects of climate change after delaying its release for several months, according to three federal officials who saw it. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, would face more than $100 billion in damages related to climate change and sea-level rise by the end of the century. It found that three to seven times more people and businesses than previously believed would be exposed to severe flooding.

‘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.

The release fits a pattern of downplaying climate research at USGS and in other agencies within the administration. While USGS does not appear to be halting the pursuit of science, it has publicly communicated an incomplete account of the peer-reviewed research or omitted it under President Trump.

‘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 said, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal.”

Note, however, that later in the article, when summarizing the press release, author Waldman does quote the final press release as saying this:

 “The authors then translated those hazards into a range of projected economic and social exposure data to show the lives and dollars that could be at risk from climate change in California during the 21st century.”

So it’s not completely kosher to imply that all mentions of climate change were expunged from press releases. The article could have been a bit more honest about this.

And on the incipient demise of polar bears:

b.) “A release in 2017 that publicized a study on how polar bears were expending more energy due to a loss of sea ice did not mention climate change. It noted that a ‘moving treadmill of sea ice”’ in the warming Arctic forced polar bears to hunt for more seals and placed pressure on their population in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, without stating that climate change is a key driver of sea ice conditions.”

That is even more dishonest.  And we all know why this censorship is happening: economic interests come to bear on the government that impel a Republican administration to downplay the results of anthropogenic climate change. The “moving treadmill of sea ice” is an Orwellian euphemism for “icecaps melting because of climate change.”

All this does, of course, is convince people that if there is a problem, it has nothing to do with greenhouse gases or human energy change. And that reduces the urgency of reducing emissions.  If there is any humanity to look back on our species in the future, they’ll marvel at how much we ignored an exigent problem. But of course nobody may be left to chastise us for our shortsightedness. It all seems unstoppable.

38 thoughts on ““Climate change” redacted from U.S. Geological Survey press releases

  1. This is just part of the most sick and perverted administration this country has ever seen. The damage that has and will be done cannot be measured. Right now there are many scientist working at the USDA who will be fired or will quit because of what they are doing. They are moving the entire unit to Kansas City for no apparent reason and they do not even have a building to go to. This is just another way to eliminate the important work done in our government today. Every department of this govt. is headed by an incompetent jerk who has no business being there. Latest jerk now running the department of Labor and making deals for serial rapists and child molesters. It is hard to even describe the swamp we have in DC.

      1. I am so glad and will sleep much better. However, I do not look for those wanting to argue or do not like what I say. I am more interested in providing information for others to think about.

  2. Future generations (if there are any, indeed) will look back on us with disbelief and contempt. I agree that through our collective contemptible negligence it is unstoppable.

  3. At one of his weird little “press availabilities” Monday, conducted in response to internal polling numbers showing his support among suburban women and millennials going down for the count, el presidente bragged for 15 minutes or so about what a wonderful steward and keen friend of the environment he’s been. While doing so, he was flanked by his administer of the Environmental Protection Agency (a former coal lobbyist) and his Secretary of the Interior (a former oil lobbyist).

    Speaking of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, it was the apotheosis of US government “doublethink,” at least since the Vietnam War when we had to destroy a village in order to save it.

    1. Here’s some examples of the Trump administration’s environmental stewardship.

      Since Trump took office, he pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, scrapped the clean power plan, loosened regulations on toxic air pollution, rescinded methane-flaring rules, weakened Obama’s fuel economy rules, revoked flood standards accounting for sea-level rise, weakened federal protections on rivers and wetlands, approved of seismic airgun blasts for oil/gas drilling in oceans, relaxed sage grouse protections by allowing mining and drilling in preserved habitat, is trying to change the Endangered Species Act by weighing economic considerations before designating a species endangered, got rid of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (large companies killing birds are no longer in violation of the Act), is in court trying to shrink national monuments for mining and drilling, called for 30% logging increase on public lands (ostensibly to stop wildfires while ignoring the fact climate change plays in said wildfires), dropped climate change from list of national security threats, and the EPA’s criminal enforcement is at a 30-year low- violations that would have been prosecuted in the past are no longer being prosecuted, or investigated for that matter.

      All this was done by executive order by a man who tweeted in 2014:

      Repubs must not allow Pres Obama to subvert the Constitution of the US for his own benefit & because he is unable to negotiate w/ Congress.

      This POTUS is a fucking, hypocritical moron, but even a moron can be extremely dangerous. The Republicans have embraced the policies of death and destruction in favor of short-term, monetized benefits. Good luck life!

  4. This is truly shocking. I never imagined the Trump administration doing something like this.

    Why doesn’t this site have a sarcasm font?

  5. Orwell used to be fun to read as science fiction. Many recent dystopian writings bring this home.
    I’m reading Bernstein’s “ why read Hannah Arendt Now” I frequently use the phrase “ the banality of evil” to describe those who fall prey to despots. I wanted to learn more. That peole can simply walk along supporting those who violate all aspects of moral behavior. Are those whose life is so boring that evil is not something to fight but something easily accepted.

  6. The behavior of this administration is criminal. They are trading a healthy cash flow in the short term for a world of hurt in the future. I believe there are a number of law suits underway. One of he most interesting is a group of US children suing the government for lack of attention to climate. Warming will, of course, hurt the children the most. We’ll be all comfortably dead. Another interesting effort is that of Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old Swedish girl who has been campaigning. I don’t believe in retributive justice in most cases, but, I think DT, and every government official involved in the cover-up should spend 15 years hard labor, breaking rocks, in Death Valley where the temperature can reach 135 F.


    1. I’d love to see that – tRump in Death Valley, that is.

      On a more positive note, Greta Thunberg’s influence spread to New Zealand, where on March 15th tens of thousands of school children took part in a nationwide ‘strike’ against climate change. Unfortunately, that was the day a fascist gun nut murdered 50 Muslims in two mosques in Christchurch, so the ‘strike’ went almost unreported. There’s a moral in that somewhere, but not a good one. 🙁


  7. Even as the Trump administration purges from the US Geological Survey information about the billions of dollars in damage to be wrought upon the California coastline by climate change, Donald Trump himself has obtained permission to build a seawall at his private golf course in Ireland to protect it from rising sea levels due to global warming (notwithstanding that the seawall is expected to alter local tidal flows, thereby damaging nearby public beaches and private property).

    The world could use a Netherlands-style system of dikes and dams and floodgates to forestall the erratic surges of this man’s ego and self-absorption.

  8. Rank and file Americans want what they want, and Trump is giving it to them. I am still reeling from the last election.

    “As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.” —HL Mencken

    1. The quote was also used in reference to W and then again to Obama. Wasted really. Little did anyone know, Mencken had something far more catastrophic in mind. It fits him like the white hot latex glove of eternal damnation.

  9. The term ‘Climate Change’ is itself already a euphemism, a concession to the denialists. We would better call it ‘Global Warming’, because that is essentially what it is.

    1. My understanding is that “climate change” was adopted not as euphemism, but as a more accurate description of the changes wrought by the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gasses: while an increase in global temperature is the most pronounced of these changes, there are others — some places get drier, some wetter; there are increases in the number and severity of major storms, changes in ocean currents, changes in the El Niño and La Niña patterns. Some places may even experience temporary cooling, among many other changes.

      1. Correctamundo. It’s just that deniers have picked up “change” as a smoke (*choke* *cough*) screen (as you well know). We live in a Faux newz, 1984 world. Welcome to it.

      2. I don’t entirely disagree with you, Ken, but I interpret the name change to be the result of concerns about PR, not accuracy. As you say, extreme weather events include getting cooler rather than hotter and wetter rather than dryer, thus making “global warming” subject to ridicule by dolts who can’t distinguish between weather and climate. “Climate change” conveniently covers all the bases—hotter, colder; wetter, dryer—you name it. In that sense, there is something euphemistic about it.

        This is old and you’ve probably seen it by now, but I still find it funny:

        1. I don’t entirely disagree with you, Ken …

          I appreciate your litotical non-disagreement, Gary. 🙂

          1. “I appreciate your litotical non-disagreement, Gary.”

            And I appreciate your expanding my vocabulary, Ken. I now know that “litotical” means “Of or pertaining to litotes.” 😊

    1. Penguins and seals of Antarctica don’t have any fear of things on the surface. … It wouldn’t take long for the polar bears to wipe out all of the penguins and the seals. Left with no food, the polar bears would not survive either. Monopolar bears it is!

      1. I suspect the whole idea was a set up for the “bipolar” bear pun.

        Jon was setting us all up for a bit of a “shaggy polar bear” story, I’m guessing.

  10. I started to write that maybe some of Elon Musk’s Martian colonists could write an account of humanity’s last days. But then I thought, maybe a Martian colony could be a lifeboat. It need not be able to survive for centuries. The residence time of methane in the atmosphere is around 10 years, so parts of the Earth might be habitable again after a few decades.

  11. Y’all gotta read Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk. A brilliant, very readable account of the stripping (more than decimating!) of federal agencies.

    1. Too depressing, I’m afraid. But, then, I already knew. I would hope such a book might swing a few voters to help defeat DT.

    2. Looks good. Here in Canada we are shoring up our public service to help against the sort of interference run by Trump and Harper. (There are new policies on scientific integrity, for example.)

  12. “It all seems unstoppable.”

    Well, as my father was fond of saying, “If there’s no solution, there’s no problem.” Historically, however, apocalyptic hype and doomsday predictions have invariably tended to underestimate both human ingenuity and unforeseen technological advances. For example, the turn of the 20th century saw dire predictions that within 50 years Manhattan would be buried in horse shit.

    Insofar as global warming (or euphemistically, climate change) is a physical, technological problem, I have no doubt that we will solve it; that’s our forte. In the meantime, I prefer to leave the-end-is-near fear-mongering to the religious right; that’s their forte.

    1. “Insofar as global warming (or euphemistically, climate change) is a physical, technological problem, I have no doubt that we will solve it; ”

      Well, as it’s not just a “technological” problem you confidence is misplaced.

      Sending manned probes to Alpha Centauri within a century is merely a technological problem, what’s the chance of that happenning?

    2. “I prefer to leave the-end-is-near fear-mongering to the religious right..”
      Apparently you see no difference between utterly unevidenced apocalyptic religious prophecies and what scientists are able to predict with good evidence and reasonable estimates of probabilities.

      1. “Apparently you see no difference between utterly unevidenced apocalyptic religious prophecies and what scientists are able to predict with good evidence and reasonable estimates of probabilities.”

        I see apocalyptic rhetoric from whatever source as 1) an attempt to establish authority/control by instilling fear and 2) an indication that the persons engaging in it fear that their authority/control is threatened.

Leave a Reply