At 11:59 AM Eastern, the official White House website had a lengthy information page about the threat of climate change and the steps the federal government had taken to fight it. At noon, at the instant Donald Trump took office, the page was gone, as well as any mention of climate change or global warming.
It's customary for www.whitehouse.gov to flip over to the new administration exactly at noon, but the only mention of climate on President Trump's new website is under his "America First Energy Plan" page, in which he vows to destroy President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which is a government-wide plan to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change. To reiterate: It is normal that the site is completely new; it is notable that climate change is not mentioned on any one of Trump's new pages.
"President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule," the site says. A search of the website found no mention of "global warming," and the only mentions of "climate change" were archived pages that, after clicking on the links, led to scrubbed pages.
Here's what President Obama's climate change page looked like this morning:
And here's what it looks like now:
Scientists and professors around the country had been rushing to download and rehost as much government science as was possible before the transition, based on a fear that Trump's administration would neglect or outright delete government information, databases, and web applications about science. Last week, the Radio Motherboard podcast recorded an episode about these efforts, which you can listen to below, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.
The Internet Archive, too, has been keeping a close watch on the White House website; President Obama's climate change page had been archived every single day in January.
So far, nothing on the Environmental Protection Agency's website has changed under Trump, but a report earlier this week from Inside EPA, a newsletter and website that reports on the agency, suggested that pages about climate are destined to be cut within the first few weeks of his presidency.
Scientists I've spoken to who are archiving websites say they expect scientific data on the NASA, NOAA, Department of Energy, and EPA websites to be neglected or deleted eventually. They say they don't expect agency sites to be updated immediately, but expect it to play out over the course of months. This sort of low-key data destruction might not be the type of censorship people typically think about, but scientists are treating it as such.
"When I stereotypically think of censorship, I don't necessarily think of data being deleted, but I think of spectacular instances of book burning—that's censorship," Bethany Wiggin, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has been archiving data told me. "But actually, it happens much more in subtle ways and it's not always so black and white."
Update: 2:28 PM: On social media, there's been some confusion over the finer details of the transition. President Obama's climate page (and his entire White House site) has been backed up by the National Archives—as well as by countless other archiving projects—some of which are linked earlier in this piece. It's not gone forever. Again, website transitions between administrations are normal.
At issue is not whether it's possible to find Obama's climate policies and information pages somewhere on the internet. But Obama's archived White House website is no longer the face of the American government, Trump's is. The current White House administration has decided that climate change is not an important issue to highlight or mention on the home page of the executive branch.
The concern that has been stated by many scientists is that the turnover from a pro-science administration to one that has publicly denied climate change science will make it much more difficult to find good information on the topic from the government. Much of this will happen simply because the issue has been de-prioritized and information will be moved to less prominent domains. That is what has happened here.
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