agriculture

USDA cracks down on use of term “climate change,” prompting a chilling effect on agency scientists

(Creative Commons)

At 107.39 degrees, Death Valley set the record for the average hottest month — July 2017 — in US history. Parts of Europe and the Pacific Northwest, where air conditioning is not de rigueur as in the South, are wilting under a relentless and unprecedented heat wave. The Arctic could be ice-free by 2030, and a gigantic portion of the Larsen Ice Shelf calved from Antarctica this summer, reshaping that continent’s shoreline.

But a division of the USDA is responding to these climatic changes by erasing the term altogether.

The Guardian reported today that the US Department of Agriculture is censoring the phrase “climate change” from its work, asking staff to use the words “weather extremes” instead. The sources of the information are internal emails that detail the policing of language used to describe the phenomenon and implications of a warming planet. The emails were sent within the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is under the USDA, and works with farmers on land conservation.

The meaning of other terms were also watered down or obscured altogether: “Reduce greenhouse gases” has been replaced with “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency,” the Guardian reported. And “sequester carbon” has become “build soil organic matter.”

Some division scientists were displeased. From the Guardian:

One employee stating on an email on 5 July that ‘we would prefer to keep the language as is” and stressing the need to maintain the “scientific integrity of the work.’

The USDA still hosts its climate change solutions page, and its Climate Change Program Office site is still live. (The NC Department of Agriculture also devotes many of its webpages to climate change.)

Using this terminology with farmers also downplays agriculture’s role in greenhouse gas emissions. Fifteen percent of US emissions comes from farming. However, Sam Clovis, Trump’s nomination to be the USDA’s chief scientist, has labeled climate research “junk science,” the Guardian wrote, adding that “Last week it was revealed that Clovis, who is not a scientist, once ran a blog where he called progressives ‘race traders and race ‘traitors’ and likened Barack Obama to a “‘communist’.”

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