Scientists Race To Preserve Climate Change Data Before Trump Takes Office
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Some scientists are rushing to copy and preserve reams of federal public climate data before the Trump administration takes office. Earlier I spoke with Eric Holthaus, a leading voice in this social-media-driven archiving campaign. He's a meteorologist and hosts "Warm Regards," a podcast on climate change.
We started by talking about what's driving the effort given that as far as our science reporting team can see, there's been nothing to suggest the incoming administration plans to dump or delete data.
ERIC HOLTHAUS: I wouldn't expect the Trump team to come out and say, you know, by the way, we're going to just delete all of the work that you guys have done for the last decades. I think the most likely scenario is that there will be across-the-board budget cuts in the realm of climate science across multiple parts of the government. NASA and the EPA and the Department of Energy come to mind. People that work there are going to have to make tough choices, and maybe that means not being able to maintain data sets in the same way that they have over the last several years.
CORNISH: All right, so help us understand what kind of data is out there.
HOLTHAUS: There are climate data sets that are scattered all throughout the federal government. The ones that come to mind are those at NASA and NOAA that take the temperature of the planet from weather stations, from satellites, from ocean buoys. There are satellites that take an assessment periodically of forest fires. There are assessments of Arctic sea ice.
Any and all knowledge that we have of the climate system - in many cases, the U.S. government is the leader on that in the entire world. And scientists all over the world rely on the data that's collected here. Sometimes these data sets are only stored in United States government servers, so there hasn't really been an effort to catalog those in other countries because we haven't thought it was necessary before.
CORNISH: So you believe this is necessary now, and you put out a call online, on Twitter and social media. Who's helping you, you know, and how are they saving this data?
HOLTHAUS: So these were climate scientists or people that use climate data that volunteered their knowledge of what is most important. We also have developers, tech companies that are working on their own time. We have data storage companies that have volunteered space. We have computer science professors. It's truly remarkable the quick attention that it's received and the number of people that are volunteering to help.
CORNISH: Is it any more helpful to have all of this data kind of scattered around the world and on random servers?
HOLTHAUS: So part of the reason that we are interested in storing this data either on the cloud or scattered across the world is that it's harder for someone who maybe maliciously would want to destroy it to access it.
So there are ways of keeping this data open and publicly available and uninterrupted during any sort of era (laughter) of our government that might be hostile to climate science. And it definitely feels like we are entering a time when climate scientists feel the need to sort of hunker down and preserve what they've done so far. This project is helping them to continue their work uninterrupted.
CORNISH: What's your response to people who look at this and see paranoia, right? Donald Trump can't kind of walk into some computing center in the government and hit a button that says delete.
HOLTHAUS: Sure. And again, the goal in this project is not out of some paranoia of a conspiracy to erase knowledge from humanity. It's to make sure that we are advocating for climate science in the sense that these scientists have devoted their lives, and they are now going to be operating under a government that is hostile to climate science.
And we don't really know what to expect. We're acting out of an abundance of caution. It's not because of something that we think will happen. It's because we can't honestly project what might happen anymore.
CORNISH: Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist. He writes for Slate and is host of "Warm Regards," a podcast about climate change. Thank you for speaking with us.
HOLTHAUS: Thank you so much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.