In light of the possibility that the incoming Trump administration may suppress or destroy climate research data, environmental researchers have begun to safeguard decades of accumulated digital information, to prevent the potential loss of that knowledge.

President-elect Donald Trump has been appointing known climate change skeptics to key Cabinet positions, and has announced plans to not only cut funding for NASA’s earth sciences programs, but also to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency. While Trump’s transition team hasn’t outright said that they plan to suppress scientific information, the plans they have announced have prompted some scientists to fear that Trump’s inauguration may herald a dark age for climate research, that may result in the potential loss of key scientific data.

University of California at Davis environmental researcher Nick Santos has been copying government climate data to a non-government server, to make sure the data remains available for the public. “Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against. Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”

A University of Toronto "Guerrilla Archiving Event" collaborated with the San Francisco-based Internet Archive for their End of Term 2016 project, to "to archive the federal online pages and data that are in danger of disappearing during the Trump administration. This event is focused on preserving information and data from the Environmental Protection Agency, which has programs and data at high risk of being removed from online public access or even deleted."

And there are others, including University of Pennsylvania researchers that have been meeting with groups such as Open Data Philly and the software company Azavea to figure out how to harvest and store crucial data. Legal services are also being coordinated: the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund will be holding one-on-one consultations with researchers that think they may need legal help. The group is also distributing a pamphlet titled “Handling Political Harassment and Legal Intimidation: A Pocket Guide for Scientists.”

Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences professor Andrew Dessler believes that this digital form of book-burning won’t happen, due to the potential political ramifications that such an action might bring.

“I think it’s much more likely they’d try to end the collection of data, which would minimize its value. Having continuous data is crucial for understanding long-term trends. Trends are what climate change is about — understanding these long-term changes. Think about how much better off the people who don’t want to do anything about climate change would be if all the long-term temperature trends didn’t exist.”

“If you can just get rid of the data, you’re in a stronger position to argue we should do nothing about climate change.” 

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