Science & Environment

Trump's 'control-alt-delete' on climate change policy

Trump Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Amid concerns over his attitude to climate change, the new President has signed orders to push forward with two major oil pipelines

Are the recent actions taken by the Trump team on the issues of climate and energy the opening shots in a war on knowledge?

Or are they simply what you'd expect from a new administration of a different political hue?

Let's examine what we know.

Just after Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president, a range of information on the White House website related to climate change was moved to an Obama online archive.

The only references to rising temperatures on the new Trump White House site are a commitment to eliminate "harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan". This was President Obama's broad-based strategy to cut carbon emissions.

The brief White House document now contains a further indication of the green priorities of the new administration. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), should focus on its "essential mission of protecting our air and water".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Twitter account of Badlands National Park has seen a number of tweets relating to climate change deleted

While the administration figures out how to achieve that re-focus, staff at the EPA have been told to freeze all grant making, and to be quiet about it. This means that no external press releases will be issued and no social media posts will be permitted. It is unclear when these restrictions will be lifted.

Reports from news agencies indicate that the roll-back will not stop there, with climate information pages hosted by the EPA expected to be shut down.

"My guess is the web pages will be taken down, but the links and information will be available," the prominent climate sceptic and adviser to the Trump transition team, Myron Ebell, told Reuters.

"If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear," said an anonymous EPA staff member, according to reports.

The Trump team has also taken immediate steps to push forward with two controversial oil pipelines.

So are all these moves evidence of a malevolent mindset, determined to crush all this snowflake climate change chatter?

Definitely, according to Alden Meyer, a veteran climate campaigner with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"President Trump and his team are pursuing what I call a 'control-alt-delete' strategy: control the scientists in the federal agencies, alter science-based policies to fit their narrow ideological agenda, and delete scientific information from government websites," told BBC News.

"This is an across-the-board strategy that we are seeing at multiple federal agencies on a range of issues, though climate denialism is clearly the point of the spear."

Not according to White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

"I don't think it's any surprise that when there's an administration turnover, that we're going to review the policy," he said.

However the disappearance of tweets of basic climate change information from the Badlands National Park Twitter account has raised serious concerns that the Trump team is not just seeking to roll back regulation, but is also taking an ideological stand against what they might see as "warmist" propaganda.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters have maintained a long-term presence to stall progress on the Dakota Access Pipeline

Back in 2009, President Obama enacted rules that federal agencies should have scientific integrity policies, that guaranteed the rights of free speech of employees, following on from the gagging of some researchers and the altering of reports under the Bush administration.

While the current steps being taken by the Trump team may turn out to be less restrictive than feared, on this side of the pond there's a great deal of concern.

Scientists see the forthcoming visit of UK prime minister Theresa May to Washington as an opportunity to press the President to rein in his approach.

"We are beginning to see our fears realised less than a week after President Trump has taken office," said Bob Ward, from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

"I hope that the Prime Minister will challenge President Trump about this censorship and political interference in the process of gaining and sharing knowledge about climate change during their meeting on Friday."

Climate scientists in the US are also rallying to fight back.

A march on Washington by scientists is being proposed, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have been created based on the the idea that "an American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world".

Meanwhile, another national park - Golden Gate NPS - has started tweeting climate facts.

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