USGS scientists are responsible for, among other things Earth-related, assessing various kinds of disaster risks and publishing research about those risks. That work seems to be continuing apace. But now when those scientists put together press releases about their results — documents that can tip off reporters about important findings, so the news can reach the public — they're finding those documents altered to avoid mention of climate change and even held up for months before being released to the public, according to Waldman's reporting.
Waldman gave the example of a particular study published March 19 in the journal Scientific Reports examining climate risks along the California coast. Its conclusions were stark: [Ocean Acidification: The Other Carbon Dioxide Threat]
"Coastal inundation due to sea-level rise (SLR) is projected to displace hundreds of millions of people worldwide over the next century, creating significant economic, humanitarian and national-security challenges," the researchers wrote in that study. "We show that for California, USA, the world’s 5th largest economy, over $150 billion of property equating to more than 6% of the state’s GDP and 600,000 people could be impacted by dynamic flooding by 2100."
A March 13 press release touting the study mentioned rising seas and "a changing climate on the California coast," but didn’t mention anything else about sea-level rise or climate change; rather, the rest of the release focused on how the study could help future planning and the "state-of-the-art computer models" involved in the work.
According to Waldman, that represented a significant change from the original draft of the release.
"An earlier draft of the news release, written by researchers, was sanitized by Trump administration officials, who removed references to the dire effects of climate change after delaying its release for several months, according to three federal officials who saw it," he reported.
Waldman found other releases since 2017 where climate change had been omitted, and pointed out that this trend at the USGS isn't the first example of federal officials attempting to downplay climate change in government reports. At the USGS, under director James Reilly (a former NASA astronaut and Trump appointee), officials have instructed researchers to use shorter-term models showing less dire impacts. The Department of Agriculture and Interior Department have also faced accusations of suppressing climate research.
Waldman's full report has more details of his investigation.
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Originally published on Live Science.