Among the barrage of decisions being pushed through by Donald Trump's new administration, a handful are going to drastically shape the state of science as it enters the new era of "alternative facts". After some toing and froing from the new government over the past few days, the fate of climate change – or at least the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) climate change web page – hangs in the balance.
On Tuesday, January 24, two anonymous insiders from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Reuters that Trump's administration had ordered their communications team to delete the climate change page from its website.
On Wednesday, following these reports, governmental officials speaking to the political website The Hill announced there were no immediate plans to remove the climate change content. Instead, they will review the content by "walking through pages on the site" to see what could legally be removed.
"We're looking at scrubbing it up a bit, putting a little freshener on it, and getting it back up to the public,” spokesman Doug Ericksen told The Hill. "We're taking a look at everything on there."
The main purpose of the EPA's climate change section is to provide the public with accessible facts and scientific research on climate change. Any censoring of the website will mean it is harder for this information to reach the public. It also serves as a bank of climate science data used by researchers, which could affect important scientific research, both current and in the future, studying the effects of human activity on climate change.
Dangerous information the Trump administration doesn't want to get out? Screenshot from epa.gov/climatechange on January 25, 2017
The website currently reads: “Research indicates that natural causes do not explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming.”
This stands in opposition to the many people in Trump's cabinet who have chosen to believe that human activity has not affected Earth’s climate, despite the abundance of scientific evidence that proves otherwise. Trump himself has swung back and forth on the issue, declaring “some connectivity” between climate change and human activity after previously tweeting in 2014 about “very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit.” Most famously, of course, Trump tweeted in 2012 that climate change was “created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”
In another move on the EPA, the Trump administration has ordered a “freeze” on their grants and contracts, leaving scientists unsure if this refers to the future or affects current work and research being undertaken. And if that wasn't enough, he has placed a communications blackout on US scientists, banning staff from posting updates on any official agency or service social media pages.