We are excited to announce a new report from our partners over at EDGI: “Changing the Digital Climate: How Climate Change Web Content is Being Censored Under the Trump Administration” by Toly Rinberg, Maya Anjur-Dietrich, Marcy Beck, Andrew Bergman, Justin Derry, Lindsey Dillon, Gretchen Gehrke, Rebecca Lave, Chris Sellers, Nick Shapiro, Anastasia Aizman, Dan Allan, Madelaine Britt, Raymond Cha, Janak Chadha, Morgan Currie, Sara Johns, Abby Klionsky, Stephanie Knutson, Katherine Kulik, Aaron Lemelin, Kevin Nguyen, Eric Nost, Kendra Ouellette, Lindsay Poirier, Sara Rubinow, Justin Schell, Lizz Ultee, Julia Upfal, Tyler Wedrosky, Jacob Wylie, EDGI
Check out the full report here.
Read the Executive Summary:
“EDGI’s website monitoring working group monitors changes to tens of thousands of federal webpages that relate to environment, climate, and energy. In the first year of the Trump administration, we have observed alterations to many federal agency Web resources about climate change. Although there is no evidence of any removals of climate data, we have documented overhauls and removals of documents, webpages, and entire websites, as well as significant language shifts.
- The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) removal and subsequent ongoing overhaul of its climate change website raises strong concerns about loss of access to valuable information for state, local, and tribal governments, and for educators, policymakers, and the general public.
- Several agencies removed or significantly reduced the prominence of climate change Web content, such as webpages, documents, and entire websites, and the White House omitted climate change as an issue highlighted on its website.
- The Department of State, Department of Energy (DOE), and the EPA removed information about the federal government’s international obligations regarding climate change, downplaying U.S. involvement.
- Descriptions of agency priorities shifted to emphasize job creation and downplay renewable fuels as replacements for fossil fuels. At the DOE, mentions of “clean energy” and explanations of harmful environmental impacts of fossil fuels were also removed.
- Language about climate change has been systematically changed across multiple agency and program websites. In many cases, explicit mentions of “climate change” and “greenhouse gases” have been replaced by vaguer terms such as “sustainability” and “emissions”.
While we cannot determine the reasons for these changes from monitoring websites alone, our work reveals shifts in stated priorities and governance and an overall reduction in access to climate change information, particularly at the EPA.
These documented changes matter because they:
- Make it more difficult for the scientists, policymakers, historians, and the public to access the results of years of scientific and policy research funded by tax dollars.
- Make it harder for state, local, and tribal governments to access resources designed to help them adapt to and mitigate the harms of climate change. For example, the EPA removed over 200 climate webpages for state, local, and tribal governments.
- Diminish our democratic institutions, such as notice-and-comment rulemaking, which depend on an informed public. The removal of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan website has broad implications.
- Can confuse the public if significant changes are not sufficiently justified. Alterations to the U.S. Geological Survey’s search engine generated public confusion.
- Contribute to broader climate denialist efforts that obscure and cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change, hampering critical efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
What are EDGI’s Recommendations?
- Transparency. Especially for major website overhauls, but for smaller updates to webpages as well, agencies should detail the scope of the pages that will be affected and clearly explain the reason for planned alterations in a public statement, well in advance of the changes actually being made.
- Responsible Web archiving. Federal agencies should not alter or reduce access to Web content before they have created a log to thoroughly document their intended changes and ensured that the content is preserved and, for significant alterations, made accessible through a public archive.
- Valuing Web resources. Web resources should be valued in terms of their educational importance, how much they enable historical understanding, and their advancement of scientific and policy research. Records schedules and records governance broadly should reflect these uses.
- Distributed Web archiving. Federal agencies should work with growing civil society movements to rethink the way we organize, steward, and distribute data, Web resources, and online information.
- Environmental data justice. Federal environmental agencies should work to create digital infrastructure through which communities can determine what kinds of data are collected and presented about them, in response to which issues. This includes proactive efforts to identify and accommodate those who access federal Web information, as well as offering communities the right to refuse consent to data collection.”