The Trump administration has undermined the fight against climate change by suffocating facts and science on government websites, according to a federal watchdog group that monitors thousands of government pages for changes.
A report published by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) on Monday found that language related to climate change has disappeared at an alarming pace since Trump took office in 2016. Across 5,301 pages—ranging from websites belonging to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the US Geological Survey (USGS)—the use of the terms “climate change,” “clean energy,” and “adaptation” plummeted by 26 percent between 2016 and 2018. Of the pages where “climate change” was stricken, more than half belong to the EPA.
The EPA homepage was the 1,750th most-visited website in the US in early 2019, according to the report, giving it more reach than Whitehouse.gov. But “unlike the much-discussed White House effort to question climate change findings, website changes go unannounced and are often beyond immediate public recognition,” the report argues. “They insidiously undermine publicly-funded infrastructure for knowledge dissemination.”
According to the report, clear scientific terminology on government websites was often replaced with politicized language such as “energy independence,” a buzzword ripped directly from Trump’s “America First Energy Plan” which demands an increase in fossil fuel production.
The watchdog also found evidence of “diminished connections” between climate change and its effects on government websites, or quite literally, the breaking of links between public information about the topic.
This is an ongoing pattern for the Trump administration which, upon his inauguration, immediately flipped the White House’s website to exclude President Obama’s climate change priorities. Since then, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration deleted all mentions of climate change from a 2016 version of its page on heat-related health risks, the report noted. In 2017, Motherboard reported that the Interior Department had scrubbed its robust climate change page down to a mere 101 words.
Meanwhile, other websites have been quietly amended to unlink information about climate change. Between 2016 and 2018, a page belonging to the United States Geological Survey called “Science Explorer” removed links to a climate change explainer that is now blank.
When prodded by Motherboard, agencies such as the EPA have rebutted claims that the changes are symbolic of Trump’s anti-science attitude, saying that website updates are simply routine housekeeping.
The Trump administration’s well-documented approach to minimizing climate change language is a deliberate manipulation of public information, EDGI claims, and its dangers are no longer hypothetical.
As wildfires tore through California last year, use of the term “wildfire” fell by nearly 50 percent across a sampling of EPA pages, according to the EDGI report. On the website of the USGS, an agency tasked with preventing wildfires, use of the term dropped by 47 percent at the time.
Still, certain government websites have remained bastions of accurate information throughout the Trump presidency. Climate hubs belonging to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for instance, are well-maintained and reflect the scientific consensus around climate change. And the EPA’s Climate Research page has somehow survived two years of scientific censorship and intimidation at the agency.
“We see resistance from within the administration to its anti-science approach,” the report noted, referring to “several cases where web managers at the EPA have updated broken links.”
EDGI’s findings aren’t entirely hopeless, even though a few rogue employees can’t be expected to subvert an administration that is demonstrating a thoroughly hostile attitude toward climate science.