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Want to try to bury a critical climate report? Publish on Black Friday

A home is engulfed in flames during the Woolsey Fire in Malibu, California, U.S. November 9, 2018.
REUTERS/Gene Blevins
The Black Friday climate report
  • Amanda Shendruk
By Amanda Shendruk

Visual journalist

The Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday is the busiest shopping day of the year in the US. It’s estimated that nearly a third of Americans (all in turkey comas) hit store aisles this year, spending $23 billion. It’s also the day the federal government chose to release an alarming, 1,600-page report on climate change. The odd release date has led many to question whether the timing was a deliberate move to limit the public impact of the report. If it was, it may have backfired.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment details specific and dire consequences for the US if no significant action is taken to limit and adapt to rising temperatures. It warns of worsening natural disasters, increases in climate-related deaths, and hundreds of billions of dollars of annual economic losses.

The congress-mandated report was scheduled for release in December. However, earlier this week its publication was unexpectedly changed to Black Friday.

Among those concerned about the publication date was Al Gore, who accused the government of burying the critical report on a day when the public’s attention was elsewhere. He released a statement saying, “The President may try to hide the truth, but his own scientists and experts have made it as stark and clear as possible.”

Less than 24 hours after the report’s release, however, it has already produced over 3 million results on a Google news search. And on social media, the alarming publication has drawn the attention of well-known public figures, like actor and activist Alyssa Milano, comedian Billy Eichner, and Family Guy-creator Seth MacFarlane. Some, like comedian and television host James Corden, and actor Kevin Bacon, have also questioned its timing.

During a Friday media call about the report, federal experts were repeatedly asked about the timing of the release. They said the publication was finished early, and that they wanted to publish it before two major climate conferences set for December; though it remained unclear why Black Friday was chosen, and not, for instance, the following Monday. On the call, experts emphasized that the content of the report had not been altered by administration officials.

Releasing news on Fridays, or near major holidays, is a known strategy used to mitigate the impact of potentially critical or damaging information. The report directly contradicts much of Trump’s own approach to climate change, which is focused on environmental deregulation.

On the day before Thanksgiving, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the report’s updated release date, the president again questioned the validity of climate science via Twitter.

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