Climate Scientists Watch Their Words, Hoping To Stave Off Funding Cuts

November 29, 2017 Rebecca Hersher read full NPR article here

Scientists appear to be self-censoring by omitting the term “climate change” in public grant summaries. An NPR analysis of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation found a steadily decreasing number with the phrase “climate change” in the title or summary, resulting in a sharp drop in the term’s use in 2017. At the same time, the use of alternative terms such as “extreme weather” appears to be rising slightly.

The change in language appears to be driven in part by the Trump administration’s open hostility to the topic of climate change. Earlier this year, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, and the President’s 2018 budget proposal singled out climate change research programs for elimination.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has been systematically removing references to climate change from its official website. Both the EPA’s leader, Scott Pruitt, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry have said they do not accept the scientific consensus that humans are causing the planet to get warmer….

…There is evidence that other agencies are making similar decisions. Earlier this year, a project coordinator at a Department of Energy lab emailed a researcher at Northeastern University asking her to adjust the language a public abstract for research funded by the DOE….

…Avoiding the term “climate change” could also lead to a more fractured scientific community. Climate change research is an inherently interdisciplinary field and shared terminology allows people to collaborate, either through interagency groups or through university departments that reflect the larger trends in available funding.

…And all of that could translate into problems for average citizens. Cities, some of them already dealing with rising sea levels and more severe storms, rely on the federal government for information about climate change. Water resource managers and emergency officials look to federal climate programs for long-term data. And insurers are using climate change data to determine rates for homeowners.

“This is the biggest environmental challenge in human history,” says Mote. “Absent political winds, I don’t think researchers would avoid using the term ‘climate change’ to describe it.”