The Guardian reported Monday that United States Department of Agriculture staffers received instructions to remove any language referencing climate change. Mere hours after the Guardian posted their article, The New York Times preemptively released the most recent draft of the Climate Change Report, a key part of the fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), which details the predicted effects of climate change and the hazards we already face from climate change today.
On both sides of this problem, the action results from the fear of being without power: for USDA leaders, this is the loss of political power, and for climate scientists, this is the inability to do what is right for the public.
With censorship in the USDA and fear of suppression of NCA4, the federal government is creating legitimate concern about the future of knowledge and public safety. Climate change is not a problem that can be resolved by ignoring it; quite the contrary, when we ignore what we are doing to the planet, we are putting everyone and everything in the whole world at risk. How can adaptation specialists protect the public if no one is allowed to inform the public?
From explicit orders to implicit intimidation, members of the climate science community face genuine obstacles in fulfilling the purpose of their jobs. According to the Times, one “scientist involved in the process, who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity, said he and others were concerned that it would be suppressed.”
The fears which sparked the international March for Science in April are truth today. The rallying cry of “Science, not silence!” has only become more relevant in the intervening months.
Or, as comedian Stephen Colbert quipped, “We now live in a world where climate science has to be leaked. Where are we going to have our local weather from? Whistleblowers in a shadowy garage?”
But censoring the spread of scientific fact is by no means original to the current political situation. For centuries, even millennia, scientific knowledge threatened the rule of various governing bodies; and of course, once threatened, those theocracies, oligarchies, dictators, and even presidents fought back.
When those who suppress the truth fight with violence, with scare tactics, and with lies, it is the duty of scientists – and of all servants to the public – to keep learning and to keep reporting. Whether accused of heresy or disloyalty, purveyors of scientific truth must remain so. Practitioners of climate adaptation, too, must remain so.