References to Humans’ Role in Climate Change Removed from NPS Report

Date: April 2nd, 2018

Agency: DOI, Federal

Explanation: Government Censorship, Self-Censorship

Scientist: Climate

On April 2, 2018, it was reported that officials at the National Park Service (NPS) had removed all references to humans’ role in causing climate change from a report on the impact of sea level rise and flooding on coastal national parks.

The report, titled “Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge Projections for the National Park Service,” is intended to inform NPS staff and the public about how to protect park resources and visitors from climate change. It was drafted by Maria Caffrey — a scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder — in the summer of 2016. Since then, the report has been under review by NPS officials, who have reportedly made significant edits. For example, in early February 2018, NPS officials removed five references to “anthropogenic” climate change and three references to “human activities” causing climate change.  The opening sentence of the report’s exchange summary was changed as follows:

executive summary

The introduction was also changed, with the following two sentences deleted: “While sea levels have been gradually rising since the last glacial maximum approximately 21,000 years ago, anthropogenic climate change has significantly increased the rate of global sea level rise. Human activities continue to release carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm.”

The changes were reportedly made by Larry Perez, a career public information officer who coordinates the climate change response program at NPS. It is not known whether he was directed to make the changes or was engaging in “self-censoring.”

UpdateOn May 18, 2018, the full (unedited) report was published on the NPS website.

In an interview on January 5, 2019, Maria Caffrey told reporters that NPS officials had pressured her to edit the report prior to its publication. Ms. Caffery said that she met with Ray Sauvajot, the Associate Director of Natural Resources Stewardship and Science at NPS. Mr. Sauvajot questioned why Ms. Caffery opposed deleting the word “anthropogenic” from her report, pointing to studies by other government scientists that discuss climate change, but do not use the term. According Ms. Caffrey, Mr. Sauvajot, “smack[ed] the table,” and yelled “but these reports don’t have the[] term[] in it.” He then suggested that if Ms. Caffrey didn’t agree to edit the report, he might lose his job, saying “who do you think they’re gonna replace me with? Do you think their gonna be as nice to you as I am?” Others told Ms. Caffrey that her report might never be published if she did not agree to the edits.

On January 14, 2017, Ms. Caffrey was informed that her contract with NPS would not be renewed. Ms. Caffrey had previously been told that she would be hired for a new project, but her supervisor later said funding could not be secured for the work. When Ms. Caffrey asked whether “this [is] because of the climate change stuff,” the supervisor said “I don’t want to answer that.”