Trump Administration Is Removing Climate Change Research from Government Websites
Victoria Herrmann of the Arctic Institute explains how her research and that of others have been removed from government websites and this is happening at the worst possible moment for climate change research
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
Science, particularly climate change science, is under attack in the United States. As government rolls back regulations to protect our health and environment, they are also removing scientific data from public government websites.
In response scientists are mounting a protest in Washington, D.C., on Earth Day, which this year falls on April 22nd, and our next guest says that her own citations have been removed by the Trump administration.
Joining us today from New York City is Victoria Herrmann. She is the President and Managing Director of the Arctic Institute, where her research focuses on the intersection of both climate change adaptation and human development. She’s also a National Geographic explorer; she’s also a Gates Scholar at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University.
Joining us today from New York, Victoria, thank you so much for being here.
VICTORIA HERRMANN: Thanks for having me.
KIM BROWN: Victoria, you also recently wrote an article that was published in The Guardian, titled: I am an Arctic researcher. Donald Trump is deleting my citations.
So we’re going to put a link to your article under the interview; but for people who have not yet read it, when did you first notice that your citations were disappearing off U.S. government websites?
VICTORIA HERRMANN: So I first got an email from the content manager of our website that some of the links to the National Policy for the Arctic and the strategy and follow-up reports had become defunct; and so in the aftermath of that, me and my colleagues quickly combed through the Internet to try to find archived versions of those important policies.
Now, of course there are going to be some defunct links between one administration and the next. But what was more concerning is that, since then, I have gotten a few emails from the content manager that other citations from government sites, such as the Department of Energy, have also become defunct.
Just last week — which is what caused me to write the article — there was a link to greenhouse gas emissions and energy deposits in the Arctic that had become defunct; and while that can be searched in the Wayback Machine on the Internet, they’re no longer on government sites.
KIM BROWN: What exactly is the effect that you think this is having on your particular brand of expertise when it comes to studying the Arctic?
What does this mean? What are the consequences for this kind of information being removed from government websites, and therefore not making it easily searchable? As you said, it’s not completely disappeared. You can find it. But it’s a little bit more work involved.
VICTORIA HERRMANN: Exactly. So I think the effects are two-fold.
One, it’s that this information is no longer readily and easily available, not just to researchers, but also to the general public that are interested in understanding what their northernmost citizens are facing in a rapidly changing Arctic, and what type of greenhouse gas emissions, what type of energy deposits are up in Alaska in general. So just that lack of education, and an opportunity to be well informed in what’s happening in the north for researchers and for interested citizens.
And a follow-up up on that: as researchers, most of the government data, reports and information that’s available are used as baselines for what we can then build off of to ensure that we’re filling important research gaps. So when you make those more difficult to search, or when you have to go through the Wayback Machine to find those things, it becomes a little bit more difficult to understand what types of research gaps there are, and what as researchers outside of the government we need to be doing to fill those.
KIM BROWN: As you said, stuff is changing in the Arctic pretty rapidly due to climate change.
So talk about the sea levels and the other big areas of concern. I’m sure you saw the story that was out within the past week about the huge chunks of ice floating in the North Atlantic shipping channel — I believe this was near Newfoundland — and the Coast Guard said that they have never seen anything like this. So, is this also a result of what’s happening in the Arctic?
VICTORIA HERRMANN: Absolutely. So in the Arctic we’re seeing temperatures, both air and in the sea, rising twice as fast as the global average.
And that means everything from more of a certainty to ice floes in those shipping lanes and the retreat of sea ice extent, and also more extreme storm surges and less ice around the Arctic communities on the coast to protect them from those intense waves as they roll in.
KIM BROWN: Talk to us about what we’re currently seeing in the Arctic — because residents, as you mentioned, they’re living with these changing conditions – and how they might be further impacted by climate change. What’s the human cost, and the human impact on those who live in that region?
VICTORIA HERRMANN: The human cost is huge in the Arctic to climate change. Like I said, with warmer sea temperatures we’re seeing more extreme fall storms in the Arctic.
That means that coastlines are seeing bigger and bigger waves, which damage infrastructure, people’s homes, school buildings, fuel tanks. And what usually protects the residents from the storm surges are ice, and with warmer temperatures, that ice isn’t forming. So those waves are just hitting onto people’s homes, onto the roads, and eroding the shorelines.
We’re also seeing effects on food security. Many Arctic communities live subsistence or partially subsistence lifestyles. They will hunt seals, walruses, whales. That’s getting a lot more difficult and less predictable as we’re seeing less sea ice to use for those marine mammal hunts; changing migration patterns for those animals; and people are finding it difficult to make sure that they’re getting enough food.
KIM BROWN: Discuss how the current administration’s rhetoric, actions, and budget proposals are impacting the ability of scientists to do more important research in the Arctic.
VICTORIA HERRMANN: From a budget perspective, the White House proposal has eliminated a number of really important programs that support both the research, but also helping communities adapt to the changes that we can no longer avoid.
The Sea Grant program across the country is really important to understanding just how much these changes are impacting communities, everything from shoreline erosion to how mammals are affected that are important for hunting. And as that program is proposed to be eliminated, all of that research, particularly from the University of Alaska, would also be eliminated.
On the adaptation side, the proposal for the budget cut to the Denali Commission — which is based in Anchorage and allocates money for really important nutrient programs, really important to relocation infrastructure programs — would also be completely eliminated. So that means that communities like Shishmaref or Newtok would not be able to get the funding they need to relocate away from the coastlines.
KIM BROWN: How will what the government is doing affect our ability to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in the Arctic?
VICTORIA HERRMANN: The Arctic is a really big place, and in Alaska, specifically, there are 280 remote communities. The vast majority of those communities rely entirely on diesel.
We’ve been seeing a slow implementation of renewable energy in those communities that not only provide reductions in greenhouse gases, but they also provide really important revenue for those communities that pay twice as much as you or I would for fuel sources.
So with a reduction of money for those communities to implement renewable energy, with a reduction for the research and development that goes into creating cold climate renewable energy technology, we won’t be able to mitigate those greenhouse gasses in the Arctic.
And beyond the Arctic, the general rhetoric — the budget proposals and the lack of engagement on the international stage by the Trump administration — means that the United States will no longer be a climate leader, at least on the national level, in reducing our greenhouse gases, and engaging in these really important climate negotiations at the United Nations, and really ushering in the rest of the world to follow us as a climate leader, to ensure that we’re doing as much as we can to reduce global warming.
KIM BROWN: Victoria, I want to get back to something that you just mentioned about how these current policies —
or at least the proposed policies by the current administration — would make it more challenging for residents in and around the Arctic to bring in forms of renewable energy. Because if I understand this correctly, about 280… of the 280 remote villages in Alaska, about 200 of those actually rely on diesel fuel, and 67% of all diesel fuel used in Canada, at least, occurs in Arctic communities.
Just using that as an example. So if it’s more of a challenge to bring in renewables, then that means that these communities will continue to depend even more heavily on diesel fuel. Does that sound right?
VICTORIA HERRMANN: Absolutely. Yeah. With a lack of technical assistance, with a lack of financial support from not just the federal government, but also the State of Alaska — as it sees budget shortfalls because of the low prices of oil — there won’t be enough support for those renewable energy systems to be deployed in these remote communities, which means that they’ll continue to rely on diesel fuel that’s only barged in or flown in once or twice a year.
So, again, pegging that price really high for residents that only have a finite amount of income; and not only producing greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to global warming, but also producing black carbon, which has local health effects, particularly among children in remote communities.
KIM BROWN: Lastly, Victoria, what do you think that scientists hope to achieve in Washington on April 22nd? And will we ever see anything like this — have we ever seen anything like this, this mass gathering of climate scientists and scientists at large to march on Washington in response to policy changes that they do not support?
VICTORIA HERRMANN: The March for Science, not just in Washington, but I think the last time I checked, in 514 other places across the world, is an incredible showing for the support of science-based policy-making, of informed and robustly funded and publicly available science.
That’s really the drive of what scientists and also concerned citizens are marching for: to ensure that science continues to be robustly funded by our government; to ensure that that public communication engagement and education from science is supported in every way possible.
I think that we have not seen as big a showing of the support for science, but we have seen many marches in the past for climate change across our country, and I think this is just a continuation of that trend of scientists, of concerned citizens, of champions in our local governments and our communities, supporting the need for science, for themselves, for their neighborhoods, for their cities and for the country.
KIM BROWN: Victoria Herrmann is the President and Managing Director of The Arctic Institute. Her research focuses on the intersection of climate change, adaptation and human development. She has a new piece in The Guardian. It is titled: I am an Arctic researcher. Donald Trump is deleting my citations.
Victoria, we really appreciate you taking some time to speak with us today. Thank you very much.
VICTORIA HERRMANN: Thank you so much.
KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.