The US Geological Service issued a press release last week on an article/study about the threats sea-level rise create for US coasts, In Next Decades, Frequency of Coastal Flooding Will Double Globally.
Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding
Those words did not appear in the above-linked USGS press release — though they were in the press release’s draft.
“It’s a crime against the American people,” Neil Frazer, a geophysics professor and one of the study’s co-authors, said of the line’s removal and of other efforts to limit scientific communication from federal agencies. “Because scientists have known for at least 50 years that anthropogenic climate change is a reality.” He added: “The suppression of this information is a scandal.”
There are numerous stories of interest and concern here:
- The Team Trump anti-science censorship is real, ongoing, insidious in effects, and happening almost certainly in the shadows far more than what is being ‘seen’ in public. (See The Washington Post article Interior Department agency removes climate change language from news release for more on this specific case.)
- Sea-Level Rise is extremely serious, with impacts worsening in terms of coastal flooding: ‘The frequency and severity of coastal flooding throughout the world will increase rapidly and eventually double in frequency over the coming decades even with only moderate amounts of sea level rise.”
- People — including scientists — are hesitant about ‘crying foul’ …
As to the last, I tweeted this last Thursday about the press release:
Alternative world of @USGSNewsClimate in #Trump Era; #climate impacts w/o #climatechange. #1984 #NewSpeak. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspeak 2:36 PM - 18 May 2017
My tweet was after seeing this:
FollowBrad Johnson ✔@climatebradNote what is missing in this @USGSNewsClimate report on sea level rise and coastal flooding https://www.usgs.gov/news/next-decades-frequency-coastal-flooding-will-double-globally … 2:21 PM - 18 May 2017
I then shared the material with a range of climate scientists and communicators including people specifically focused on sea-level rise (SLR).
From rather well-known, extremely knowledgeable, PhD expert, strong (even strident) climate hawk, the note:
The release is not shy about talking about sea level rise and SLR projections. It’s certainly possible that USGS edited out a mention of climate change, but it equally possible that it was just a incidental omission.
After all, the actual study directly comments on climate change in its first paragraph:
Peter W @techieshark Just the second and third words from the abstract of the study that page is reporting on. http://go.nature.com/2rjmAtj 2:26 PM - 18 May 2017 “Doubling of coastal flooding frequency within decades due to sea-level Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding. nature.com
From a Director of a significant scientific institution, the note included (removing some potentially identifying information):
I don’t believe that there is any Trump influence on their writing and believe that they are all first rate scientists who are probably more focused on the immediate science of future sea-level rise rather than diving into climate change issues.
Neither of these people are anything close to Team Trump devotees.
Both are serious experts — in science and even in sea-level rise.
Both are well-aware of Bush Administration science censorship.
Both have expressed concerns about Trump’s lack of science knowledge and Team Trump’s anti-science passions/science denial.
Both … both were reticent, in private communication, to even suggest that they thought this was a situation of censorship.
They knew the ‘first rate scientist’ authors and did not want, I suppose, to see the insidious hand of climate-denial censorship impacting those ‘first-rate scientists’.
Here is a situation where
- those “first rate scientist” authors were (see that Post story) willing (anxious even) to talk publicly about the censorship. (Note that their jobs are likely not on the line and, within their professional environments, they might actually ‘gain’ due to speaking out publicly rather than ‘losing their jobs’.)
- the censorship was obvious simply through reading the piece — simply reading the press release made one wonder why ‘climate change’ wasn’t there in a sentence or two for context about SLR.
- the censorship did not impact the actual substance — how SLR is accelerating and will lead to more coastal flooding.
Not hard to imagine situations where:
- People fear that they might lose their jobs and are reticent about speaking out;
- The censorship is more insidious and hidden, harder to discern; and,
- The censorship impacts the actual substance and conclusions, turning science into pseudo-science or actual science denial.
As to my interlocutors, on sharing The Washington Post confirmation of the censorship, one hasn’t responded and the other got back to me with a simply:
You were right!
I wish that I had been wrong.
- For additional information/updates (including sourcing that led to Post article), see here.
- Art can be powerful in communication, see Hands from the Sea about a Venice sculpture highlighting Sea-Level Rise along with a discussion of SLR issues.
- See Inside Climate News’ article Leaked Draft Shows How U.S. Weakened Climate Change Wording in the Arctic Declaration