The National Park Service (NPS) and the University of Colorado have released a joint report on sea level rise, despite alleged attempts by NPS officials to censure the report’s discussions regarding the effects of human activity on climate change. Its release follows a delay caused by a lengthy administrative review that started in early 2017, and the attempted editing also appears to be
The report itself draws on storm surge scenarios produced by both the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and examines what the state of rising sea levels will be at different points in time, specifically in the years 2030, 2050 and 2100. It also says that the National Capital Region, an area rich with sites of historic significance, could be the hardest hit in terms of raw sea level rise: warm water has been pooling along the Atlantic Seaboard for years, and since water expands as it warms, the region is seeing a disproportionate increase in ocean levels. Additionally, parks in the Southeast would experience the worst in terms of increasing storm surges.
"Ongoing changes in relative sea levels and the potential for increasing storm surges due to anthropogenic climate change and other factors present challenges to national park managers," according to the report’s executive summary. With "over one quarter of the units of the National Park System occur[ing] along ocean coastlines" this situation is indeed a concern for NPS managers, affecting "park planning and adaptation strategies for resources managed by the National Park Service. Sea level change and storm surge pose considerable risks to infrastructure, archeological sites, lighthouses, forts, and other historic structures in coastal units of the national park system."
But the report, already having taken four years to produce, was caught up in administrative limbo since early 2017, and appears to have been subject to attempts to omit mention of human-generated global warming. The Center for Investigative Reporting analyzed 18 different drafts of the report, and found that "a park service official crossed out the word “anthropogenic,” the term for people’s impact on nature, in five places. Three references to “human activities” causing climate change also were removed."
According to the censured drafts, the report’s lead author, University of Colorado geological sciences research associate Maria Caffrey, challenged at least some of the edits, but when asked by CIR she declined to comment on both the edits and the 10-month delay in NPS’s release of the report, saying instead that she would be "very disappointed if there were words being attributed to me that I didn’t write. I don’t think politics should come into this in any way."
Unfortunately, the issue of climate change has been politicized, with the Trump administration planting their flag firmly in the denial camp: since Trump took office, his administration has pulled the United States from the Paris Agreement; the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences removed virtually all references to climate change on its website; EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt barred top scientists from taking advisory committee posts within the agency; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was prevented from using specific words in future budget proposals–just to name a few examples.
This has created a climate (pardon the pun) where watchdog groups are concerned that career environmental officials may not only be pressured into holding back on reporting accurate science by Trump appointees, but they may also be preemptively self-censoring their publications to avoid scrutiny by White House officials.
"The individual who edited the document is making a personal opinion/assumption that runs counter to the scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions responsible for sea level rise are of anthropogenic origin and that the threat to the National Park Service assets arises primarily from human activities," said Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, and former head of the U.S. Geological Survey, the Interior Department’s main scientific agency.