The Not-So-Secret Code The U.S. Government Uses To Talk About Climate Change

“They don’t want the E.P.A. website to pop up when middle school and high school kids are doing their research."

For years, Environmental Protection Agency ranked as a foremost authority on climate change. Its website on the topic was one of the first results for a "climate change" search query. But the E.P.A. has been "systematically dismantling" the site since April 28, according to an op-ed in The New York Times, which reports the links has fallen to the third page of Google results and now leads you to a page saying, "We are currently updating our website to reflect E.P.A.'s priorities under the leadership." An archived version of the old site exists, but it's been stripped of much of its former functionality.

"They don't want the E.P.A. website to pop up when middle school and high school kids are doing their research on climate change," David Doniger, director of climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Vox.


The news comes as the current government codifies environmental issues with new terminology, and environmental activists think the science is being censored. On the E.P.A. websites, the phrases "greenhouse gases," "climate change," and "carbon" have been swapped out for "emissions" and "sustainability," the Times notes. An E.P.A. website titled "Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments" is now called "Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments," with 200 webpages now gone, most of which dealt with climate change.

As Vox reports, the environmental rebranding has also occurred at the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health and Human Services. The DOE Energy Information Administration's Energy Kids page, for example, no longer stresses the environmental impact of fossil fuels.

In fact, Vox has published a list of instances in which buzzwords like "climate change" and "global warming" have been nixed from government messaging and programs. The Federal Highway Administration's "Sustainable Transport and Climate Change" team is now just called the "Sustainable Transportation and Resilience" team. A group of scientists says the Department of the Interior took issue with them mentioning climate change in a news release about their coastal flooding study. E.P.A. scientists say they were prevented from presenting their climate change research at a recent conference. And one anonymous E.P.A. staffer said internal documents about climate change were edited to use the term "climate resiliency."

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports Department of Agriculture staff has been told to reference "weather extremes" instead of climate change. Other suggested changes include saying "build soil organic matter" instead of "reduce greenhouse gases" or "sequester carbon."

Still, human-caused climate change is real, per near universal agreement by scientists around the world. 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, NASA reports, and 2016 was the warmest year on record. Eight months last year were the warmest on record for those respective months. The global sea level has risen eight inches in the past century, and in the past two decades, the rate of sea level rise was double that of the last century. Both Antarctica and Greenland have lost at least 150 cubic kilometers of ice. 

"The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia," NASA says.

That unprecedented rate of increase and the E.P.A.'s apparent reluctance to combat it means that the work of activists and environmentalists to decode the government's messaging and enact change is all the more important. Thankfully, as evidenced by recent headlines, many are already hard at work.

Cover image via Shutterstock /


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.