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Jul 13, 2019

Silencing science

Co-produced with PRX Logo

President Donald Trump says he doubts humans have much of a role in climate change. His administration has not only downplayed the science of climate change, it’s sought to silence scientists working for the federal government. In this hour, Reveal’s Elizabeth Shogren details the pressures one researcher faced as she worked on a project for the National Park Service.

Graphic:
See how climate change could bring disaster to some popular coastal national parks

Read:
Wipeout: Human role in climate change removed from science report
Democrats ask Interior to investigate climate change edits
Zinke grilled about edited science report
National parks report on climate change finally released, uncensored
Top Interior officials ordered parks to end science policy, emails show
National park officials were told climate change was ‘sensitive.’ So they removed it from a key planning report
Zinke’s unscientific reign over 500 million acres of public land

Listen:
Behind Trump’s energy dominance

Credits

Today's show was reported by Elizabeth Shogren, produced by Amy Walters and edited by Deborah George.

Special thanks to Michael Corey, Yan Wu and Kavya Sukumar for their data help on today's show.

Our production manager is Najib Aminy. Our sound design team is Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, who had help from Kaitlin Benz and Joe Plourde.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

Al Letson: It's officially hurricane season. Plus it's that time of year when a lot of people head to National Parks on their vacations. So we're updating a show from earlier this year. It's about the suppression of science, especially climate change science at federal agencies. Reveals use government data to make maps of future flooding at 10 popular US parks near coastlines. Our science reporter Elizabeth Shogren is with me.

 

Al Letson: Hey, Elizabeth.

 

Elizabeth S.: Hello, Al.

 

Al Letson: Okay, so let's look at some of these maps. This one is the National Mall in Washington DC.

 

Elizabeth S.: That's what the Mall looks like now, but take the cursor and swipe left.

 

Al Letson: Okay. So I'm seeing the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, are submerged. The Washington Monument is just a little island surrounded by water, and the coastline now goes right up against the Pentagon.

 

Elizabeth S.: This is what the Mall would look like in 2050 if the East Coast gets hits with a Category 3 hurricane. This is from National Park Service projections. Al, you're from Florida, right?

 

Al Letson: Yeah.

 

Elizabeth S.: Check out the map for Everglades National Park. Here it is today.

 

Al Letson: Okay. So the water is all around the tip of Florida. Okay.

 

Elizabeth S.: This is what it could look like in 2050, after a Category 5 hurricane.

 

Al Letson: The tip of Florida is gone. It's like the coastline has come up significantly.

 

Elizabeth S.: These maps show what could happen if greenhouse gas emissions keep rising. The problem is, research like this has had a tough time under President Trump. Scientists working for the government have been ignored or attacked. They've been defunded, or even censored.

 

Elizabeth S.: Let me tell you the story of what happened to one particular scientist, Maria Caffrey. Maria fascinates me because so many things about her are unexpected. She's got this career dedicated to US National Parks, but she grew up in a gritty neighborhood in London. She raced cars for fun.

 

Maria Caffrey: I grew up by Heathrow Airport. So it was airplanes, and roads, and congestion, and stuff like that. I think that's why I got into environmental science. It was just so foreign to me. I was like, "Wow. I'd love to have a job where I actually get to go out and be in nature. That's a little different."

 

Elizabeth S.: She's an idealist. She picked climate change because she hoped her science would have a positive impact on the world. Under President Obama, addressing climate change was a top priority. So being a climate scientist was kind of like being an astronaut in the 1960s. That's when President Kennedy challenged Americans to beat the Soviet Union to the moon.

 

Elizabeth S.: In 2012, Maria launched her big mission; to come up with estimates of how much flooding could be expected in National Parks because of climate change. It was heady stuff. She was a University of Colorado scientist, contracted by the National Park Service. She just started on this work when New York got hammered by Hurricane Sandy.

 

Speaker 4: Sandy has killed more than 90 people in 10 states.

 

Speaker 5: Even the dock on Liberty Island has been washed away.

 

Speaker 6: The Statue of Liberty is off-limits because the island on which it stands was damaged by rising floodwaters. Lady Liberty herself appears unharmed.

 

Elizabeth S.: Not even park rangers could get there.

 

Speaker 6: The statue-

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria was still in her pj's when her phone rang at home early that morning. Park rangers urgently needed her estimate of how high floodwaters had gotten at the Statue of Liberty. She crunched the numbers in about an hour, and got her estimate to park managers. But she felt parks should have had that kind of information long before storms hit.

 

Maria Caffrey: It's really important to have that information way in advance, before that storm ever happens. When a storm's coming in, park staff are scrambling to get ready for the storm. Right? So they can't sit on a phone call with a scientist.

 

Elizabeth S.: It took a long time, four years, for Maria to calculate the risks for 118 National Parks that are exposed to rising seas. Finally in the autumn of 2016, she was getting ready to publish. She gave park managers a preview in a webinar.

 

Maria Caffrey: It is such a pleasure to be here today speaking to all of you. This is a project that I've been working on for a long time, and so it's great to be able to get the word out on it.

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria told National Park staff she had projections of how much water levels will rise at each park by 2030, 2050, and 2100. If people reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and if they don't. And if a major storm hit?

 

Maria Caffrey: What would happen if we up the ante a little bit?

 

Elizabeth S.: She showed the park staffers a map-

 

Maria Caffrey: So this would be a Category 2 hurricane [crosstalk 00:04:34].

 

Elizabeth S.: ... of Washington DC getting slammed by a Category 2 hurricane in 2100. The entire National Mall is shaded blue. It's all under water. The Natural History Museum, the White House Visitor's Center, even the Environmental Protection Agency.

 

Maria Caffrey: There's a lot of flooding taking place here, ranging up to around 15 feet of flooding in some locations. It's not outside the realm of possibility for storms of this magnitude [crosstalk 00:04:58].

 

Elizabeth S.: Park managers seemed eager for this information. Maria told them her research would be published soon, in 2017. But before that could happen, Donald Trump was elected.

 

Elizabeth S.: He announced the US would exit the Paris Climate Change treaty. he started rolling back policies; the Clean Power Plan, auto emissions standards.

 

Crowd: Stop the hate, make America great! Stop the hate, make America great!

 

Elizabeth S.: Lots of people worried about the fate of science under Trump.

 

Crowd: Stop the hate, make America great!

 

Elizabeth S.: Enormous crowds marched across the country, in defense of science.

 

Al Letson: What about Maria? Was she worried about her research?

 

Elizabeth S.: A bit, but her supervisors reassured her that her science was safe.

 

Maria Caffrey: I had heard that we should not let politics interfere with our work, which is the way I've always conducted myself.

 

Elizabeth S.: The Park Service had already edited her report and sent it out for peer review.

 

Maria Caffrey: I was told it was locked from editing, which meant it was going to be released any day now. It was imminent.

 

Elizabeth S.: Press releases were drafted to send to the media. This is May 2017. They were about to publish.

 

Maria Caffrey: Then something came up and they chose to delay it.

 

Elizabeth S.: The delay seemed temporary.

 

Maria Caffrey: Then I was notified again, in September, that they wanted to release it.

 

Elizabeth S.: But then Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, followed by Irma and Maria; pummeling the Caribbean and Florida. And they didn't release it after all. Maria was left guessing why. The repeated delays were frustrating for her, but she was distracted by another big project. She gave birth to her first child at the end of December 2017, and went on maternity leave.

 

Al Letson: Okay. So we're up to 2018. Trump's been President for more than a year, and this report still hasn't been released.

 

Elizabeth S.: Yeah. That's a long delay. I got curious if her research was getting ensnared by the Trump administration. I emailed a Park Service spokesman, who said the report was still in internal review. So I filed public records requests with the Park Service, and the University of Colorado, Maria's home base.

 

Elizabeth S.: The Park Service stalled, but the University responded pretty quickly and gave me 18 different drafts of the report dating from August 2016 to March 2018.

 

Al Letson: 18 different drafts. What did you find?

 

Elizabeth S.: There had been lots of changes. The early drafts had many references to humans causing climate change, and flooding the National Parks. Then about a year after Trump became President, after the report had been considered final for months, the changes started showing up. Park officials commented that this was really unusual. For instance, the first sentence of the Executive Summary read: "Anthropogenic climate change presents challenges to National Park managers."

 

Al Letson: Anthropogenic meaning... humans?

 

Elizabeth S.: Right. It's the scientific term for people causing something. A version from January 2018 dropped the word anthropogenic, and other references to people causing climate change. I could see that those changes were made by a Parks Service spokesman, and the Head of the Park Services Climate Change Response Program. That's the park of the Park Service that's supposed to help parks get ready for climate change. They'd scrubbed the report of all mentions of humans causing climate change. An email exchange showed their boss had just communicated his, "Anthropogenic concerns."

 

Elizabeth S.: I called Maria and told her about the drafts I'd seen.

 

Elizabeth S.: What would you do if your report came out as I saw it edited? Without any reference to the human causes of climate change?

 

Maria Caffrey: I'd be very disappointed if there were words that were being attributed to me that I didn't write.

 

Elizabeth S.: So have you been under any pressure from colleagues to delete words from your report that you think are important to have in your report?

 

Maria Caffrey: I don't really want to get into that today.

 

Al Letson: Maria sounds very nervous there. Do you know why?

 

Elizabeth S.: She's afraid. Maybe this research that's consumed five years of her life might never see the light of day.

 

Al Letson: After this, you wrote a story for Reveal about how Maria's report was altered. And it got a lot of attention.

 

Speaker 9: So today the non-profit investigative journalism organization Reveal came out with a stunning report that officials for the National Park Service [crosstalk 00:09:37].

 

Elizabeth S.: This is MSNBC. Dozens of news organizations picked up the story. Members of Congress called on the Interior Department's Inspector General to investigate. The Park Service is part of Interior.

 

Speaker 9: [crosstalk] that outline human activities that are impacting climate change. The Interior Department told Reveal that no one was available to comment, but Secretary Zinke must be shocked to learn this! Because those edits were made just one month before he was on Capital Hill, testifying under oath!

 

Secretary Zinke: I don't know of any document we've changed. And I challenge you, any member, to find a document that we've actually changed on a report.

 

Elizabeth S.: Ryan Zinke was defensive, and declared his department would never alter science. Zinke was forced to resign in December, under accusations that he used his office for personal financial gain. But several months earlier, just after my story came out, he was on Capital Hill answering questions about it.

 

Secretary Zinke: Nobody, no political, has ever seen that document. And I haven't seen the document. So I want an investigation, how that document got around to the press, before even we had a chance to look at it. I think that's fair.

 

Elizabeth S.: Zinke focused on the leaks to the media, not his department's violation of a basic principle of civil society, scientific integrity. Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree from Maine was seated across from him. She wasn't convinced.

 

Chellie Pingree: Can you assure me that you are not going to deny any references to climate change? And that you will allow for the inclusion in documents from the Department of Interior that have a human impact on climate change?

 

Secretary Zinke: If it's a scientific report, I'm not going to change a comma of it.

 

Elizabeth S.: Last May I went to Denver to visit Maria. I wanted her to tell me her version of the story, and compare it to what Zinke had said on Capital Hill.

 

Elizabeth S.: We sat in her small backyard in the warm afternoon sun.

 

Elizabeth S.: So how long have you lived here?

 

Maria Caffrey: We just kind of moved in. I was pregnant, and it was like, "We need to find a proper house for a baby!"

 

Elizabeth S.: So you've been through a lot in the last few months; childbirth and then...

 

Maria Caffrey: That part was all right. I bounced right back.

 

Elizabeth S.: But her life is still topsy turvy, because of her troubles with the Park Service.

 

Maria Caffrey: I was so proud of my work with the National Parks, and helping to be part of America's legacy, and now it's kind of like, "Well, what's the point?"

 

Elizabeth S.: She grimaces.

 

Maria Caffrey: It's been a turbulent few months. There's been sleepless nights because of a baby, and then there's been sleepless nights because of some of the worst times of my career.

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria rejected the edits to her report, several times. But then she was called to Park Service offices in Fort Collins, Colorado for a meeting with a big boss from Washington.

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria's lawyer told her not to tell me any names, but emails I got from the Park Service show she's talking about Ray Sauvajot. He's the Head of Natural Resources and Science for the Parks. 700 scientists and other staff are under him. He wouldn't do an interview with me, but here he is giving a big speech at UCLA in 2017.

 

Ray Sauvajot: It is my responsibility to the American public to make sure that we, and they, have the best information to make the most effective decisions about how we understand and protect our resources. This greater public good. It is a responsibility to do good science.

 

Elizabeth S.: And to support scientists, Sauvajot said.

 

Elizabeth S.: But Maria felt attacked, not supported, during her meeting this spring with Sauvajot. First she started telling him about her report.

 

Maria Caffrey: And that's when he interrupted, and said, "I have some reports here."

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria says Sauvajot held a stack of papers, and told her they were recent reports by another government agency.

 

Maria Caffrey: They concerned climate change, but there's no reference to the human causes of climate change.

 

Elizabeth S.: He wanted to know why Maria had to mention humans, if government scientists who wrote the other reports didn't?

 

Maria Caffrey: And that's where he started smacking the table with the papers, and saying, "But these reports don't have these terms in it."

 

Maria Caffrey: It kind of escalated from there. He raised his voice a lot.

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria says he suggested he might lose his job if she didn't agree to the edits.

 

Maria Caffrey: "And who do you think they're going to replace me with? Do you think they're going to be as nice to you as I am?"

 

Maria Caffrey: And then suggesting that the Climate Change Response Program, in general, could disappear if I chose to keep these words in the report.

 

Elizabeth S.: Sauvajot wasn't the only one pressuring Maria. Another Park Service official told her in a telephone call that anthropogenic and human activities were banned words at the Interior Department under President Trump. That official warned Maria the report might never be released unless she agreed to the edits. Maria says a third official took her on a walk to try to persuade her.

 

Maria Caffrey: It's different kinds of bullying, and pressure from different people.

 

Elizabeth S.: Even people Maria had worked with for years.

 

Maria Caffrey: People were saying that they could lose their jobs, "And please think that I've got children, Maria. I've got children." Implying that I should be thinking of their kids. It was a lot of pressure, to make changes.

 

Maria Caffrey: If one person says one thing, and then another person says another thing, after awhile it really starts to built up and it becomes an absolute mountain.

 

Elizabeth S.: What's that look I see on your face?

 

Maria Caffrey: I don't know. I just... disappointment. These are people I held in very high esteem, people who I've really respected; to catch them in some instances telling mistruths, or misleading statements, and sometimes frankly just flat-out lying... it's wrong! It's just very disappointing. Because it's not the Park Service that I thought I worked for.

 

Maria Caffrey: Excuse me, I'm going to get a tissue.

 

Elizabeth S.: It's not just Maria being emotional.

 

Maria Caffrey: And more than that, the edits that I was being asked to make violated the Scientific Integrity Policy, in my opinion.

 

Elizabeth S.: The Park Services Scientific Integrity Policy forbids decision makers from altering scientific work through "coercive, manipulation, censorship, or other misconduct."

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria kept rejecting the edits her supervisors wanted her to make. The Park Service didn't publish without her okay. Maybe because the University of Colorado stepped in to assert her intellectual property rights under her contract, or maybe because they knew Reveal was watching, and so were the senators and representatives who demanded an investigation. The Park Service appointed a mediator.

 

Maria Caffrey: The guy said to me, if we couldn't agree, then the report would be released in a format that he would not tell me, and without my name on it.

 

Maria Caffrey: It was certainly a technique to encourage me to make edits that I was not comfortable with. I felt very pressured and intimidated.

 

Elizabeth S.: That's baby [Catherine 00:17:15]. Her Dad just brought her home.

 

Maria Caffrey: Are you going to try doing your hello trick?

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria's focus shifts to the future. She's working under a new contract with the Park Service until February, but not on climate change. And she's earning a lot less money.

 

Maria Caffrey: What I'm making right now doesn't even pay my daycare for my baby. So there's certainly a lot of, "Why am I doing this?" I'm hoping long term it will all work out. I at least wanted to see an example of someone fighting back. Because at some point, she's going to get bullied or she's going to get pressure put on her, and so I want her to see someone standing up to bullies. Right? Yeah.

 

Elizabeth S.: A Park Service spokesman tried to explain away the edits, and the harassment, as a normal dispute among co-authors. Two Park Service officials are named as co-authors on the report, but we sued the Park Service under the Freedom of Information Act. They finally gave us thousands of pages of documents. They back up Maria's story. They show her rejecting edits repeatedly over months, and fighting for her science.

 

Elizabeth S.: It's clear from the documents that Ray Sauvajot, from the Park Service, interfered. But there were lots of lines and paragraphs redacted. Whole pages blacked out. So it's not clear how far up the Department of Interior's chain of command the censorship went.

 

Maria Caffrey: Essentially I feel I've been shut out from my project. It certainly feels like there could be some retribution playing a role in this.

 

Al Letson: When Maria changed jobs, she was told to stop working on a website she designed for the Park Service. It lets you see how much flooding would come from sea level rise in particular parks because of climate change.

 

Al Letson: We'll have more on what happened to that project after our break.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigating Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

Al Letson: Today we're bringing back a show we aired earlier this year. You just heard about National Park Service officials trying to censor climate change science. They pressured a researcher to get her to okay changes to her report, but she refused. Elizabeth shogren is our science reporter who broke the story about what was happening to a scientist named Maria Caffrey.

 

Al Letson: Elizabeth, what happened next?

 

Elizabeth S.: Well, Al. After all the attention the censorship got, the Park Service published Maria's report. Almost exactly the way she wrote it.

 

Maria Caffrey: I'm stubborn, and I felt very strongly that these words had to remain. So I think by staying firm on that, then they decided that they were sick of fighting with me.

 

Elizabeth S.: The Park Service posted the report without any fanfare, but it didn't post the data that went with it. Or an idea Maria came up with to help parks, and ordinary people, visualize the threat. It's an interactive website.

 

Maria Caffrey: My report doesn't do it justice, right? I mean, you can use words to describe it, but a picture paints a thousand words.

 

Elizabeth S.: The website would let Park Service employees, or anyone really, see with their own eyes which shorelines, marinas, monuments, or archeological digs, could be under water in 2050 or 2100. It would be a really powerful tool for helping people see how dangerous climate change really is to places Americans love, their National Parks.

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria built it with Park Service computer experts. They worked on it for years.

 

Al Letson: Did you see the website when you went to Colorado to talk to Maria?

 

Elizabeth S.: Well that was the plan. That's not exactly what happened. Here's how it went.

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria takes me to the University of Colorado, Boulder. We walk into this swanky building, and stop at a map to find the conference room where we're supposed to meet her colleagues.

 

Maria Caffrey: I have three degrees in Geography, and I can't read the map.

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria calls someone who gives her step-by-step instructions to the room.

 

Maria Caffrey: Okay, well I'll be there in a minute. Okay.

 

Elizabeth S.: She introduces me to her colleagues, and starts the meeting with a surprise announcement.

 

Maria Caffrey: Well, so today we were going to demo the Sea Level Rise Viewer, so I sought permission from the National Park Service to have someone come here and demo it, and I was refused.

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria's clearly irked. But then, all of a sudden her face lights up. She turns to her colleague, [LeeAnn Lestag 00:22:18]. LeAnn's the one who actually crunched the sea level rise data.

 

Maria Caffrey: Do you have the maps on your computer upstairs? Do you have the data on your computer upstairs?

 

LeeAnn Lestag: You mean the data?

 

Maria Caffrey: Yeah.

 

LeeAnn Lestag: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

 

Maria Caffrey: Yeah. That's allowed. We could pull it up on her computer. We could look at the maps.

 

Elizabeth S.: We go upstairs to LeeAnn's cubicle and cluster around her computer.

 

LeeAnn Lestag: This takes a little while, to refresh. It's hard to navigate.

 

Elizabeth S.: Finally a map appears on her screen. It's National Park land at North Carolina's Outer Banks.

 

LeeAnn Lestag: So this is Kitty Hawk on the East Coast.

 

Maria Caffrey: Let's zoom in right to the tip of Cape Hatteras section of the park.

 

LeeAnn Lestag: This is kind of what the swipe tool, how the swipe tool, works. And the viewer.

 

Elizabeth S.: As LeeAnn moves the cursor, dry land becomes flooded.

 

LeeAnn Lestag: See the imagery without the layer, and then see it with the layer.

 

Elizabeth S.: The image shifts between two possible futures on Hatteras. It's the year 2100. In the first future, greenhouse gas pollution has kept growing, and large areas of Hatteras Island are permanently under water.

 

Elizabeth S.: t's compelling, isn't it?

 

Maria Caffrey: Yeah.

 

Elizabeth S.: It's a big change.

 

Maria Caffrey: Yeah, and that's not even the storm surge.

 

LeeAnn Lestag: Yeah.

 

Maria Caffrey: You get the right storm at the right time, I mean we're talking about 2100 in those images. But really, if you get the right storm at the right time, that section could be gone.

 

Elizabeth S.: LeeAnn swipes back.

 

Elizabeth S.: Could you go back to that one?

 

LeeAnn Lestag: Yeah.

 

Elizabeth S.: And shows us the second future. What the island would look like if we've curtailed our use of coal, oil, and other fossil fuels. The areas are dry. With this peek into the future, a National Park could make better informed decisions about how, or whether, to spend millions of taxpayer dollars; to move a lighthouse, construct a seawall, protect a monument, rebuild after a storm, or let it go.

 

Maria Caffrey: So when a road washes out, typically that road is replaced. But if you have something like this, where you can see that you're moving towards a future where that area is going to be permanently flooded anyway, maybe you won't pay to rebuild that road 50 times over. Maybe you'll just choose to let it go and save the money.

 

Elizabeth S.: What's the big message that you take away from seeing this?

 

Maria Caffrey: I think the big message, the wider message, is that we as American public, have some choices to make as to which future we want to aim for here. Do we want to carry as we're doing right now? And deal with those damages? Or is it better to curtail what we're doing? And reduce the extent of damage.

 

Al Letson: So Elizabeth, from what you're saying, it sounds like if we keep going the way we are, we're going to lose big chunks of our National Parks because, well they'll be under water.

 

Elizabeth S.: That's exactly right. Maria's research pointed me to National Parks where evidence of climate change is pretty obvious. I'm based in Washington DC, and I went down to the National Mall. It's one of the most popular National Parks. It was September, just as Hurricane Florence was approaching.

 

Mike Litterst: We're on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial looking across the tidal basin towards the Washington Monument, and the White House.

 

Elizabeth S.: Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst is showing me around. There's a lot here that's already under water; the trail on the west side of the monument is flooded several feet deep. Ducks and great white egrets are swimming where tourists normally would be walking. A bike rack is half submerged. And the cherry trees whose pretty pink blossoms draw more than a million people each spring...

 

Elizabeth S.: I see water up the trunks of lots of cherry trees.

 

Mike Litterst: Correct. The trees are under water at this point. That exposes them to things like root rot, long term.

 

Elizabeth S.: Mike says the tides are unusually high today. But even under normal conditions, the Mall is constantly contending with high water from the Potomac River.

 

Mike Litterst: It's striking what we're seeing every day. Normally if you're here at high tide, the area closest to the tidal basin would be under water. It's become such a recurrent problem that several years ago we actually had to reroute the trail. Unfortunately you can't even see that today because the water's so high.

 

Elizabeth S.: The trail he's talking about is between the Jefferson Memorial and the tidal basin. But we can't see it. There are miles of stone and concrete embankments, or seawalls, to keep the water out of the National Mall. But many are crumbling. The Park Service estimates it will cost a lot of money to build them up.

 

Mike Litterst: We've identified about 338 million dollars worth of seawall reconstruction that needs to be done.

 

Elizabeth S.: We walked to some nearby park buildings.

 

Elizabeth S.: Are there ducks swimming over your parking lot right now?

 

Mike Litterst: There are.

 

Elizabeth S.: And your building looks like it's in water.

 

Mike Litterst: It is. You can see the access doors have been sandbagged to keep the water out, but historic structure...

 

Elizabeth S.: Does that keep it dry?

 

Mike Litterst: It does for the most part. I can take you to areas where sidewalks have buckled. Where you can literally look through the sidewalk down into the Potomac River. Yeah.

 

Elizabeth S.: I'm remembering Maria's map of what the Mall would look like in 2100, if greenhouse gas pollution keeps growing and a hurricane hits. The Reflecting Pool, the Smithsonian Museums, the monuments are all under water. Which doesn't seem that hard to believe on a day like today. But Mike says the Park Service isn't using Maria's data to plan for ways to protect the Mall. Each time I mention climate change, Mike seems to dodge the subject.

 

Elizabeth S.: What will happen to this park when [crosstalk 00:28:19]-

 

Elizabeth S.: Has the Park Service studied what would happen to the Mall if a big hurricane sent a storm surge up the Potomac?

 

Elizabeth S.: ... potentially bringing a storm surge up the Potomac?

 

Mike Litterst: I don't know about the science and the things, I can refer you to the folks that could answer those questions for you.

 

Elizabeth S.: One of the things that-

 

Elizabeth S.: I try again, and ask if the Park Service has changed what rangers can say about climate change.

 

Mike Litterst: Well again, I'm not familiar with the causes... As I said, if you want to talk about the science and the research, I'll refer you to the people who can talk about that.

 

Elizabeth S.: It starts to sound like a chorus.

 

Mike Litterst: I can show you where it's flooding. I can't tell you why. So I think we've hit everything at this point.

 

Speaker 18: Come on, boy.

 

Speaker 20: They want to take a picture of us.

 

Elizabeth S.: After I leave Mike, I walk past some cherry trees and around the Jefferson Memorial with its stately marble columns. And meet a young boy with his family.

 

Elizabeth S.: How old are you?

 

Nicholas: Nine.

 

Elizabeth S.: What's your name?

 

Nicholas: [Nicholas 00:29:13].

 

Elizabeth S.: Do you know anything about climate change?

 

Nicholas: I know it involves greenhouse gases!

 

Elizabeth S.: What about greenhouse gases?

 

Nicholas: They're made from carbon dioxide?

 

Elizabeth S.: And where do they come from?

 

Nicholas: Car exhaust pipes, and motorcycles. Anything that involves fuel, pretty much.

 

Elizabeth S.: Do you know about the oceans getting higher? The seas rising up because of climate change? Did you hear about that?

 

Nicholas: Well, I just found out now.

 

Elizabeth S.: This impressive boy is visiting from Florida. His father, [Eduardo Lial 00:29:52], is a computer software entrepreneur. His mother, [Inishka Sumanska 00:29:56], a former ballerina. I tell them about Maria Caffrey's report and the government's interference. They say it reminds them of the authoritarian regimes of their childhoods.

 

Eduardo Lial: She is from Poland; born in Poland, raised in Poland. I'm Cuban. So we come from two communist countries.

 

Inishka Sumansk: I know from my parents how information was distorted, and people just knew what was fed to them, not the real truth.

 

Elizabeth S.: They say Maria's story sounds like that.

 

Eduardo Lial: It shows a little resemblance to what I think is happening in Russia now, and other parts of the world. By restricting information, by denying information... We're concerned. Our children need to hopefully grow up in a country that becomes better, not worse.

 

Elizabeth S.: Then I tell them I'm planning to go to Florida the next day, because Maria's research is also bad news for the animals the National Parks are required by law to protect. In this case, sea turtles.

 

Elizabeth S.: They tell me their home in Vero Beach backs up to a stretch of shoreline where sea turtles nest.

 

Inishka Sumansk: As a matter of fact, last year when the hurricane-

 

Eduardo Lial: Irma. Irma.

 

Inishka Sumansk: When it came in our area, it washed away a lot of the sand and a lot of the nests were destroyed.

 

Eduardo Lial: Destroyed. So we would walk the beach after the hurricane, and we would see many, many many eggshells throughout the beach. It was devastating, and we were very sad. Very sad.

 

Eduardo Lial: Nicholas, Diego!

 

Inishka Sumansk: Come!

 

Eduardo Lial: Come!

 

Inishka Sumansk: Because we have a flight to catch.

 

Elizabeth S.: And so did I.

 

Elizabeth S.: I decided to come here to Canaveral National Seashore, because I wanted to see for myself how sea turtles are faring. Canaveral is a very special place. 24 miles of undeveloped coast. Most of the land belongs to NASA. If the space agency hadn't preserved it, this whole area probably would be covered with high rise condos like the rest of the coast.

 

Elizabeth S.: Hurricane Florence is one day from landfall, and stirring up the ocean. The tides are higher than normal, so the beach is narrow. In some cases, waves lap at the dunes.

 

Kristen Kneifl: Yeah, I figured there'd be lots of surfers out today.

 

Elizabeth S.: The Park Service's Kristen Kneifl is responsible for looking after sea turtles here.

 

Kristen Kneifl: I'm the Chief of Resource Management at Canaveral National Seashore.

 

Elizabeth S.: Kristen kneels next to a lump in the sand.

 

Kristen Kneifl: I'm going to dig into it right now.

 

Elizabeth S.: It's a turtle nest that's just hatched.

 

Kristen Kneifl: We'll show you. So the eggs are probably be about a foot and a half or so down, before we get to the first one.

 

Elizabeth S.: Adult turtles are huge; weighing a few hundred pounds each. With big flippers and shells three to four feet across. The Park has special tours to watch them nest, and they fill up immediately.

 

Kristen Kneifl: The female turtle comes up at night. She finds that location that she wants to find to lay her eggs. She uses her back flippers to dig out a egg chamber. And then she'll deposit about 100 eggs or so. Covers it really well. And then goes back to the water.

 

Elizabeth S.: Kristen looks like a kid tunneling into the sand.

 

Kristen Kneifl: A shell...

 

Elizabeth S.: After digging as deep as her arm will go, she starts bringing up one sandy egg shell after another.

 

Kristen Kneifl: This is a hatched egg. You can see that it's nice and white.

 

Elizabeth S.: She counts 71 cracked shells. 71 baby turtles hatched from this one nest, and scampered across the narrow beach toward the ocean. Up and down the beach, as far as I can see, every ten feet or so there's a yellow stake.

 

Kristen Kneifl: Those are all sea turtle nests.

 

Elizabeth S.: There's a lot of them!

 

Kristen Kneifl: Yeah. Right now we've got about 4,500.

 

Elizabeth S.: How important is this stretch of beach to protecting these endangered animals?

 

Kristen Kneifl: It's very important! I mean, between the National Wildlife Refuge to the south, and us, I mean that accounts for almost 40% of the nesting in Florida.

 

Elizabeth S.: Loggerhead and green sea turtles nest in this park. They're both on the endangered species list. But last year nearly 14,000 buried their eggs here. Scientists were thrilled by the large number, and then crestfallen when Irma washed so many of them away.

 

Kristen Kneifl: So there was still about 6,000 still on the beach waiting to hatch that never made it.

 

Elizabeth S.: So all the nests that were left on the beach when the storm came were gone.

 

Kristen Kneifl: Right.

 

Elizabeth S.: Irma was an especially intense hurricane. Scientists say storm surges and flooding will get even worse with climate change. Increasing the likelihood for wiping out nests. I ask if the Park Service is concerned about climate change, and its impact on turtles. Laura Henning, the Park's spokeswoman, has come along with us. She takes this one.

 

Laura Henning: I don't know. As far as the National Park Service, we're concerned about everything that impacts endangered species. That's part of our job.

 

Elizabeth S.: But what about climate change in particular?

 

Laura Henning: Yean, I mean I think we're concerned about it. I mean, we do what we can.

 

Elizabeth S.: Kristen hired a scientist to study how climate change is hurting the turtles, but she gets squirrel-y every time I raise the subject.

 

Elizabeth S.: I remind her that when we talked on the phone a few weeks earlier, she said the Park Service's message to the public on climate change, and sea level rise, is changing. I ask how it's different?

 

Kristen Kneifl: Not really different. I don't know. What would you say?

 

Elizabeth S.: Kristen looks to Laura. So I ask her.

 

Elizabeth S.: What's the message from Washington about what story you can tell about climate change? And how is that different from what it was before?

 

Laura Henning: We haven't gotten any different direction. The Park Service is still kind of staying the course as far as what science is telling us.

 

Elizabeth S.: Later, when I'm with Kristen in her office, I press her again.

 

Elizabeth S.: Before when we were talking on the phone, you had said that there was new direction on how to explain climate change, and your colleague said there wasn't any new direction. I'm just trying to understand, is there a new direction?

 

Kristen Kneifl: Not really a new direction. Each administration is different, and so there's different focuses and different pushes. Our big focus right now is on providing more opportunity for people to enjoy the park.

 

Elizabeth S.: What was the focus in the last administration?

 

Kristen Kneifl: It was focused on climate change research.

 

Elizabeth S.: So I wanted to show you these maps.

 

Elizabeth S.: I open my laptop. Reveal used public records laws to get Maria's calculations of future flooding from sea level rise and storm surge. With the help of Reveal's data team, we made our own maps.

 

Elizabeth S.: So, okay.

 

Kristen Kneifl: Okay. [crosstalk 00:37:01].

 

Elizabeth S.: Basically the whole park is covered in water-

 

Kristen Kneifl: Wow, yeah.

 

Elizabeth S.: ... from the storm surge in 2050.

 

Kristen Kneifl: 2050.

 

Elizabeth S.: With a hurricane.

 

Kristen Kneifl: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Elizabeth S.: The map shows what it would be like in 2050, if people keep using oil and coal the way we do now, and then a hurricane hits. The entire map is shaded blueish green. The beach where the sea turtles hatch, the lagoon where they go to swim, it's all under water.

 

Elizabeth S.: Does looking at those maps make you think about what's at stake here?

 

Kristen Kneifl: Oh, yeah. It definitely makes us think about what's at stake. I mean, we definitely know we're vulnerable here.

 

Elizabeth S.: I ask what park managers can do?

 

Kristen Kneifl: There's not a lot that we can do. Nature will always sort of do what it's going to do, and it has a way of fixing itself sometimes.

 

Elizabeth S.: But this is a manmade situation with greenhouse gas emissions, increasing sea level rise, and storm surge.

 

Kristen Kneifl: Yeah. I mean, I don't know... I mean, there's debate on whether it's manmade or not manmade, or whatever. But as we get more frequent storms and things like that, I mean, that is going to continue to affect our park.

 

Elizabeth S.: What do you mean there's debate on what... it's manmade? Climate change?

 

Kristen Kneifl: I mean, a lot of it is natural too. I mean, there's been storm events here at the park, long before we were here, so yeah.

 

Elizabeth S.: It seemed to me that Kristen was downplaying the potential damage to turtles from climate change, and people's role in creating it. I was counting on one more interview for the story.

 

Elizabeth S.: A few years ago, the Park Service had hired a scientist to study the effects of sea level rise on turtles. Her name is Betsy Von Holle, and when we spoke on the phone she told me Maria Caffrey's data has been crucial to her research. We scheduled an interview, but the day before we were going to meet she abruptly canceled. I tried to figure out what happened. I made a public records request for emails between her and the Park Service.

 

Elizabeth S.: Remember Mike Litterst? The Park Service spokesman who showed me the flooding National Mall?

 

Mike Litterst: I don't know about the science and the things. I can refer you to the folks that could answer those questions for you.

 

Elizabeth S.: One of the emails I got shows Litterst, and another Park Service official, pressuring the scientist. They tell her it would not be prudent to do an interview. No one from the Park Service would give me a straight answer. It started to seem like a deliberate strategy. Certainly it's in line with President Trump's intention to downplay the science of climate change.

 

Elizabeth S.: In fact, Maria Caffrey told me she was instructed that the Park Service works for Trump. And not the American people.

 

Al Letson: When we come back, we talk to someone who did work for Trump in the White House.

 

Speaker 26: He sees this as, if we acknowledge it's a problem, then we're going to have to deal with it. What we have to do to deal with it, there's an incredible economic cost to it.

 

Al Letson: That's next up on Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

Al Letson: The vast majority of climate change scientists, 97% agree, humans are causing climate change. Donald Trump, on the other hand, says he doesn't see it. We've known there've been cases where the very mention of human-caused climate change has been taken out of government reports.

 

Al Letson: Elizabeth Shogren is Reveal's science reporter. She's been tracking these instances.

 

Al Letson: Hey, Elizabeth.

 

Elizabeth S.: Hi, Al.

 

Al Letson: So you've told us about this one scientist, Maria Caffrey, who was working on contract for the National Park Service, and how her supervisors tried to pressure her into removing all mention of human beings causing climate change, from a report she wrote. She resisted that pressure, and was taken off her project. But what's happening now to all the work she did?

 

Elizabeth S.: Maria's report was released to the public uncensored, and just before the deadline for this story, the Park Service finally released her website. But I found out about it from a source, there was no news release, and when I googled it, I couldn't find it.

 

Al Letson: But the good news, I guess, is that Maria's science finally was published. I got to wonder if it would have ever come out, though, if you hadn't reported the Park Service was trying to censor it?

 

Elizabeth S.: I wonder, too.

 

Elizabeth S.: I knew about the research Maria Caffrey was doing, so when it didn't come out, I knew something was up. But I keep thinking, "There must be a lot of other research being censored, that we just don't know about." We do know about some other examples, though. A National Park in Massachusetts was told to delete every mention of climate change in its planning document; 16 different mentions. They were told it was just too sensitive, and it's happening across the federal government.

 

Elizabeth S.: Columbia University has been compiling a list. They have this website called the Silencing Science Tracker. So far, there are more than 200 examples of censorship or interference. Many scientific projects have lost government funding. Quite a few have to do with obscuring the human role in climate change.

 

Al Letson: That's Reveal science reporter Elizabeth Shogren. Thanks, Elizabeth.

 

Elizabeth S.: Thanks, Al.

 

Al Letson: It's not just government agencies downplaying the role of humans in climate change. Trump has been pretty vocal on this topic himself. He said this on 60 Minutes:

 

Donald Trump: I don't think it's a hoax. I think there's probably a difference, but I don't know that it's manmade. I will say this, I don't want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don't want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don't want to be put at a disadvantage.

 

Al Letson: Bottom line? It sounds like money is a big concern. So what does that mean for people working on climate change for this administration?

 

Al Letson: George "David" Banks served as a special assistant to President Trump on energy and environment. Thanks for joining me.

 

George David B.: It's a pleasure.

 

Al Letson: So in Elizabeth's reporting, it's not just Trump that's questioning human's role in climate change. The human cause has been edited out of government reports, potentially damaging our National Park, our environment, our health.

 

George David B.: I can't speak for my colleagues out in the agencies, but it's quite possible that they may have thought that was the policy, when it wasn't.

 

Al Letson: If you're saying that people are editing things based on their own beliefs, that means that the Trump administration put somebody in a role to make decisions on scientific questions, who are basically acting as political agents. So that's one.

 

Al Letson: And then two, if that's not the case, then you're saying that these people were scared that they were going to hear it if they allowed this report to go out? Which overall, an administration can set a tone that lets people below them understand, "We're not really interested in looking into that, so don't come to us with it."

 

George David B.: I can tell you this for certain. That, at least from a White House perspective, we were very clear, my colleagues and I were very clear, that there would be no sort of editing of the science. I think you saw that. The National Climate Assessment, there was absolutely no attempt whatsoever to edit that document.

 

Al Letson: So the National Climate Assessment is the federal report that comes out every four years. Trump attacked the conclusions of the last one released at the end of November, but he didn't try to have that report altered in any way?

 

George David B.: That was a White House decision. So I think it's important to sort of note that.

 

Al Letson: So what is Trump's view on climate change?

 

George David B.: So, I actually think that he's moderated his position. Okay? Because it wasn't that long ago when he was calling it a hoax. The President looks at climate policy through the lens of, what kind of impact is this going to have on US manufacturing? On competitiveness?

 

Al Letson: So the idea, I guess, and please correct me if I'm wrong, the idea is that he looks at the right now instead of looking at the long-term picture. Because if he's just worried about what it's going to look like for employment stats, and what it's going to look like about regulation, that's the right now. The future, though, is that parts of the United States will be under water. There could be severe droughts. All sorts of things.

 

George David B.: I'm not going to disagree with you on the impacts of climate change, particularly as they pertain to certain parts of the country, including the US Southeast. But I will say, that the President does look at things through a long-term lens as well. It's just a different set of issues. He looks at national power, and the economy, through that lens.

 

Al Letson: If there's lack of water throughout the world, we're going to have more wars and more conflicts. So if you don't look at climate change in reference to American power, then you're kind of missing half the picture.

 

George David B.: Well look, I mean, I agree that certainly over the long term climate impacts are going to have a major impact on national security issues. Whether they're here in the United States or elsewhere. But I do think when it comes to what's tangible, and what people can look at and measure right now, it's far easier to see what the impacts are on US power if we lose our manufacturing base, than it is to try to determine what are the long-term climate impacts with sea level rise, etc.

 

Al Letson: Do you believe that climate change is manmade?

 

George David B.: Well, I accept the science. I mean, look. There's a consensus that humans contribute significantly to climate change. For me as a policy person, my position is you defer to the science and you defer to the experts on whatever's going on. Then you look at the evidence, and then you try to figure out what the best policy is to address whatever problem has been identified.

 

Al Letson: Let me ask you a question, though. Are you a scientist?

 

George David B.: No. I'm an economist, and a lawyer.

 

Al Letson: I think my big question here, though, that all of this kind of goes back to, is why does Trump diminish the human role in climate change?

 

George David B.: It's not just him. It's a number of Republicans who will argue that if we acknowledge it's a problem, then we're going to have to deal with it. But unfortunately, when they think about what we have to do to deal with it, there's an incredible economic cost to it.

 

Al Letson: What if Trump is wrong? What if humans do have a role in climate change, and we are passing up the last opportunity to save our planet from this very dangerous fate?

 

George David B.: I would say that if we don't figure out a smart way, a real effective way, to drive global emissions reductions, we're going to get a bad scenario.

 

Al Letson: Do you have kids?

 

George David B.: Yeah.

 

Al Letson: I have kids, too. I just keep thinking that we keep arguing over these points, and nothing changes. Ultimately the world that my children will inherit, the world that your children will inherit, will be worse off because of our inability to do anything right now.

 

George David B.: If you were to ask the President, "What are you going to tell your grandchildren if you're wrong about climate? I mean, how are you going to explain to them... How are you going to justify what you did?"

 

George David B.: If he ends up pulling out of the Paris Agreement for example, how are you going to justify that? I think the President says, "Look, I was focused on making sure that the United States was in a position to meet the challenge represented by China, that China clearly has geopolitical ambitions, so therefore as the President, I've got to think about the more immediate threat to the United States. And that's what I focused on."

 

Al Letson: George "David" Banks is a former White House climate change advisor. Thanks for talking to us.

 

George David B.: Thanks, Al. Anytime!

 

Al Letson: Now, with more democrats in congress, President Trump's approach to climate change science could come under scrutiny. But Maria Caffrey, the climate change scientist who was silenced, is still worried for the planet.

 

Maria Caffrey: Climate change is happening so rapidly. You don't have eight years. You can't wait it out until it becomes more politically favorable for you to do your work.

 

Al Letson: Maria paid a heavy personal price. When her contract with the National Park Service expired, she lost her job, and a career with the government that meant a lot to her.

 

Maria Caffrey: It appears that I could be punished for this, going forward. For a long time.

 

Al Letson: If you want to see the maps of National Parks that Reveal made with Maria's data, text SEA, that's S-E-A, to 9032012123. Again, that's SEA to 9032012123. Standard texting rates apply. The National Park Service has maps, too, of future sea level rise at nps.gov.

 

Al Letson: Our lead producer for this week's show was Amy Walters. Deborah George was our editor. Thanks to Michael Corey, [Yan Woo 00:50:22], Kavya Sukumar for their data work. And [Tamar LaCone 00:50:25] and [Nagiv Ameni 00:50:25], who also helped with the show. Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Our sound design team is the dynamic duo, Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man yo, Arruda. They had help this week from [Joe Plaud 00:50:38] and Kaitlin Benz. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our Editor-in-Chief. Our Executive Producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by [Commorado 00:50:46], Lightning.

 

Al Letson: Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

 

Al Letson: Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.

 

Speaker 29: From PRX.