The Emperor’s New Climate Science

By Alex Meyer

The Trump Administration has ushered in a series of profound policy changes. One of the most worrisome is the markedly anti-climate change attitude that has seeped into every federal environmental agency.

A recent study by the US Department of Energy (conducted under the Obama Administration) on the retirement of coal and nuclear-based power plants sought to examine the burden of such retirements on the national energy grid. The environmental group Sierra Club, suspecting the influence of fossil fuel companies, issued a Freedom of Information Act request, seeking clarification of which groups the government had consulted.  After ignoring the request, the DOE now faces a lawsuit from the Sierra Club, whose lawyer Casey Roberts explains:

“We want to make sure that when this study is finally released, that the public and policy makers fully understand how it went about doing it, who they were influenced by, and whose views they did not take into consideration,”

In another story, emails have surfaced detailing instruction for staff at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (a USDA unit) to avoid ‘climate change’ and related terms, substituting instead phrases like ‘extreme weather’.

The situation echoes earlier sentiments at a US climate conference back in January. As detailed on The Intercept, journalist Sharon Lerner faced a gloomy and fearful atmosphere when she visited the National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment. Climate change itself was the phrase that could not be uttered, and one USDA employee admitted he was afraid to talk to her. Lerner adds:

The look in his eyes and the tight smiles I received from several federal employees after introducing myself as a reporter reminded me of interviewing scientists in China. My presence inspired fear.

Federal employees are prohibited from using terms accepted by the global scientific community, and fear talking to journalists; such a scenario is troubling both for the future of the environment and media’s ability to hold the government accountable.  In order to safeguard democracy and maintain the principles of a free press, the government must disclose such consultations (in the case of Sierra Club) and not impose partisan ideology to gag federal scientists.


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