NPS Scientist Asked to Remove References to Climate Change from Paper

In March 2018, the principal climate change scientist at the National Park Service (NPS), Dr. Patrick Gonzalez, requested approval to publish a report on climate change trends in national parks. Before reviewing the full report, Dr. Gonzalez's supervisor asked him to change the first line, which read "[a]nthropogenic climate change is altering ecological and human systems globally." Dr. Gonzalez complained to Dr. John Dennis, the Deputy Chief Scientist of Natural Resource Stewardship and Science division at NPS, who also requested edits to the report.

Documents obtained by the New York Times show that Dr. Dennis highlighted a sentence reading: "Anthropogenic climate change is altering ecological and human systems globally." Dr. Dennis added a comment asking if the word "anthropogenic" is "necessary to the basic scientific thesis of the paper" and suggesting that Dr. Gonzalez change the sentence to read "carbon dioxide driven climate change" or "rapid climate change." In a separate email to Dr. Gonzalez, Dr. Dennis wrote:

"From the policy aspect, I think we in find ourselves in a gray area. Within NPS, unless things have changed from the Director's March 6 , 2012 memorandum, the NPS policy is that humans have a role in climate change as expressed in the following phrase : "Considering that current science tells us that climate change is linked in large measure to human activity, and that the rate of climate change will continue to accelerate. ... ". In DOI, the assessment appears to have changed with the change in administration, if the E&E News group accurately reported on March 14, 2018 the following quote the Secretary: " I don't have a problem with climate change ," Zinke replied. " I've always said three things : Climate's changing, as it always has. It's changing in ways we don't understand . And man has been an influencer on this. I don't think those are in dispute at the Department of Interior." So, from a policy standpoint, it would appear that humans are influencing climate but the intensity of the strength of that influence is uncertain. Given only these two examples, from a policy standpoint, it might be too strong for a person to say " anthropogenic climate change"."

Dr. Gonzalez refused to make the requested changes and, after several months, received approval to have the paper published. A spokesperson for the Department of the Interior subsequently attempted to justify the request for changes by saying: Dr. Gonzalez's research focused on "adaptation to climate change rather than cause of climate change and, as a result, the integrity of the science did not require discussing the cause of climate change in a situation where such use could divert attention from the scientific findings of the article.”