US & Canada

Toronto 'guerrilla' archivists to help preserve US climate data

Steel plant in China Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Trump once claimed the concept of global warming was invented by China

Canadian "guerrilla" archivists will be assisting a rushed effort to preserve US government climate data.

Environmentalists, climate scientists and academics are collaborating to protect what they view as fragile digital federal records and research.

They want the data saved before Donald Trump takes office.

Database geeks and computer-savvy archivists will gather in Toronto to help preserve US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data.

Michelle Murphy, with the University of Toronto's Technoscience Research Unit and one of the event organisers, says concerns around climate do not stop at the border.

"Things like climate change, things like water quality, things like atmospheric pollution don't respect jurisdictional boundaries," she said.

"If we're approaching a moment when the United States is going to really pull back on regulations, we are also talking about something that's continental or even planetary in scope."

On Saturday, volunteers will help select data they fear is most vulnerable to being lost, mapping the location of inaccessible environmental databases and building a project "toolkit" for other groups interested in preserving some of the roughly 75,000 publications on the sprawling EPA website.

She said the team was in a "race against time" to identify government sites they believe will be rapidly changed after Mr Trump is sworn-in 20 January.

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Image caption Mr Trump said the climate change deal is bad for business

The event is being held in collaboration with the Internet Archive's End of Term project, which since 2008 has saved US government websites at risk of changing or disappearing altogether during government transitions.

The internet is constantly changing. All new administrations update government websites to replace previous iterations with updated information and fresh government policy priorities.

Mr Trump and his transition team have not said they plan to manipulate publicly available data, but archivists are expecting big changes based on the dramatic differences between outgoing President Barack Obama's policies and Mr Trump's priorities.

The Internet Archive, which also stores copies of billions of websites, said in November it wants to keep a back-up in Canada following Donald Trump's US election victory and is raising money for the expensive endeavour.

The non-profit organisation said it felt it was necessary in order to prepare "for a web that may face greater restrictions".

Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist, journalist and self described "climate hawk" helped launch the emergency archival effort by tweeting out a Google spreadsheet that collects databases people want preserved from federal websites.

Mr Holthaus does not believe the incoming Trump administration will intentionally delete government data.

But he said the "biggest concern is that, either through budget cuts or neglect or tough changing priorities, some data is lost or at least access to it is lost".

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Image caption President-elect Donald Trump has promised to help the struggling US coal sector

Mr Holthaus said that preserving existing American climate research and data that goes back decades has a "global benefit".

Environmentalists have been alarmed by the US president-elect's rhetoric on climate change.

Mr Trump threatened during his White House run to do away with the EPA, calling what they do "a disgrace".

He also has said he would "cancel" the recent Paris climate deal and has called for more drilling, fewer regulations and the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.

His recent cabinet picks, including Exxon Mobil boss Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and Oklahoma attorney general and climate change sceptic Scott Pruitt to the EPA, have done nothing to allay their concerns.

Mr Tillerson's nod "sent shivers down my spine," Mr Holthaus said.

The Toronto volunteers will be joined by academics from the University of Pennsylvania who will share the effort as a "prototype" on hosting similar data archiving events throughout the US.

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