Sea ice floats in the western Antarctic peninsula, March 05, 2016, where penguins forage for krill. But krill are getting scarcer in the western Antarctic peninsula, threatened by climate change and fishing. 
Photo by Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty

Scientists scramble to secure climate data, fearing Trump purge

Scientists who study global warming and the climate crisis rely heavily on government data to document broader trends. What happens when Americans elect a climate-denying television personality to the presidency, and he chooses a variety of other climate deniers to lead key agencies?

Well, it’s obviously time to secure the data before Donald Trump and his team take office. The Washington Post reported yesterday that scientists are scrambling in advance of Jan. 20.
Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information.
Just so we’re clear, neither Trump nor anyone on his team has threatened to start trashing evidence of climate change. Scientists aren’t scrambling in response to an explicit threat, but rather, just as a precautionary move.

And unfortunately, that’s not an outrageous idea. Trump has said he believes climate data is part of a conspiracy cooked up by China, and his recent rhetoric on the crisis has been incoherent. The incoming White House chief of staff recently said the president-elect’s “default position” is that climate science, in general, “is a bunch of bunk.”

Trump has nominated climate deniers to lead the EPA, the Interior Department, and the Department of Energy. His choice for Secretary of State is the CEO of the earth’s largest oil company. Trump’s transition office even appears to have launched some kind of “witch hunt,” looking for career civil servants who worked on the Obama administration’s climate policies.

Can you really blame scientists, researchers, and scholars for worrying about the future of public-sector climate data?
“What are the most important .gov climate assets?” Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and self-proclaimed “climate hawk,” tweeted from his Arizona home Saturday evening. “Scientists: Do you have a US .gov climate database that you don’t want to see disappear?”

Within hours, responses flooded in from around the country. Scientists added links to dozens of government databases to a Google spreadsheet. Investors offered to help fund efforts to copy and safeguard key climate data. Lawyers offered pro bono legal help. Database experts offered server space and help organizing mountains of data. In California, Santos began building an online repository to “make sure these data sets remain freely and broadly accessible.”
It’s extraordinary that we’ve even reached such a point – as of next month, Donald Trump will be literally the only climate denier on the planet to lead a Western democracy – but this is where our political system has brought us.