Trump's Interior Department Is Claiming Climate Change Is Actually Good for Plants

Misleading language has been inserted into at least nine reports that could affect environmental policies.
“Goks uncertainty language” has been inserted into at least nine reports that could affect environmental policies.

A climate change–denier who was promoted in Trump’s Department of the Interior has been slipping misleading claims about greenhouse gases into official reports, according to the New York Times.

The language, which misleadingly downplays the effects of climate change and touts the debunked potential benefits of carbon dioxide for plants, was inserted into at least nine reports. The effort’s been led by Indur Goklany, a longtime Interior Department staffer promoted in 2017 and given the task of reviewing climate policies — even though he’s an electrical engineer, not a climate scientist. That language could justify policies that could make droughts in the West worse as the world heats up.


The paragraph that Goklany has been inserting into the department’s scientific reports became known internally as the “Goks uncertainty language,” a reference to Goklany’s nickname. More carbon dioxide, the primary climate-heating greenhouse gas, is good for plants and the world might not actually be getting hotter, the language suggests. Neither is true.

The Times reviewed emails obtained through a public records request by a watchdog group, the Energy and Policy Institute. The emails provide a record of Goklany’s successfully pushing a policy of inserting misleading language into official reports.

“Warming and increased carbon dioxide may increase plant water use efficiency,” Goklany edited into several reports.

Goklany has been a low-level Interior Department staffer since Ronald Reagan was president, but his career got a boost after President Donald Trump took office in 2017. He suddenly found himself among the agency’s top ranks, able to influence major decisions on climate policy.

“They were like, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’” Joel Clement, a former climate-policy expert at the Interior Department, told the New York Times. Clement resigned and became a whistleblower in 2017 over allegations that the agency had “purged” scientists, which were eventually backed up by the agency’s inspector general.

Golanky’s published books with the help of a conservative think tank and was paid a $1,000-per-month stipend by the Heartland Institute, which pushes climate denial and recently hired an “anti-Greta Thunberg” to counter “climate alarmism.”


At the Interior Department, Golanky’s been given a platform for downplaying climate change. He gave a presentation at the Interior Department arguing that “human well-being” has increased alongside fossil fuel use.

And the language that he’s introduced appears in environmental studies and impact statements affecting major watersheds, and could influence decisions the agency makes over, for example, whether to remove four hydroelectric dams in the Klamath River Basin in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Farmers are opposing the removal of the dam — they fear it will mean they get less water — but the dams block salmon and steelhead habitat.

By including language that denies the realities of climate change, Golanky could be bolstering the Trump administration’s efforts to reallocate huge amounts of water for farming and irrigation, even as climate projections of how much drier the West will get show that kind of water use to be unsustainable.

READ: Trump Wants to Take Water Away from Whales and Endangered Fish and Give It to Wealthy California Farmers

Playing up the sense of uncertainty around climate change, experts say, could mean that the Department of the Interior is laying the groundwork for weakening environmental regulations. The scientific community is very careful to say clearly in reports what they know for certain and what still needs to be studied.

“The narrative that has been pushed by corporate lobbyists makes it so that policymakers react very differently to uncertainty in climate science than they do in other areas,” Femke Nijsse, a researcher studying climate modeling at the University of Exeter, told VICE News. “A lot of policymakers, politicians sort of turn it around. They believe that uncertainty is an excuse to do nothing.”

Cover: The Bruce Mansfield power plant, left, in Shippingport, Pa., is seen from across the Ohio River from Industry, Pa. on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)