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REALITY CHECK

Trump’s administration wants scientists to stop describing effects of climate change as “dramatic”

USGS
Glacial shrinkage.
  • Zoë Schlanger
By Zoë Schlanger

Environment reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

When a glacier shrinks by 85%, would you say it shrank “dramatically”?

The Trump administration would say that it’s you who’s being dramatic.

In emails obtained by the Washington Post, political appointees at the Department of the Interior took issue with federal scientists who authored a report showing glaciers in Montana were shrinking because of climate change.

“The warming climate has dramatically reduced the size of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966, some by as much as 85 percent,” a May 2017 news release for the US Geological Survey research began.

USGS
The changing perimeter of Sperry Glacier in Glacier National Park, shown in 1966,1998, 2005, and 2015. This is from the paper that two Interior Department appointees took issue with.

Doug Domenech, the assistant secretary for insular areas at Interior and an appointee under the George W. Bush administration, took issue with that characterization. Domenech flagged the line in an email to his colleagues, writing, “This is a perfect example of them going outside their wheelhouse.”

Scott Cameron, a Trump appointee who serves as principal deputy assistant secretary of the Interior and a member of its “deregulation team,” agreed it was “inflammatory.”

“They probably are relying on the percentages but the most basic point is we need to watch for inflammatory adverbs and adjectives in their press releases,” he wrote back.

In addition to USGS scientists, the report was co-authored by Andrew Fountain, a geology professor at Portland State University, who spoke to the Post. “In short, they just didn’t like the idea we found yet more evidence of climate warming,” Fountain said.

As Post reporter Dino Grandoni points out, that same USGS report prompted Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to visit Montana’s Glacier National Park to see the dwindling glaciers himself. He was supposed to meet with Daniel Fagre, one of the USGS scientists who co-authored the report and who is based at Glacier, but at the last minute, Fagre was pulled from the event. “I literally was told I would no longer be participating,” he told the Post at the time.

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