The USDA Prefers You Say "Weather Extremes" Rather Than "Climate Change"

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The Trump Administration's attempt to sideline the fight against climate change has rippled through government agencies and resulted in some censorship of language, The Guardian reported on Monday. Particularly terms and sayings like "climate change" or "reduce greenhouse gases" are gone and new conservative-friendly euphemisms are in, at least at the Department of Agriculture. Trump's people are erasing "climate change" from the conversation and government vernacular.

The new guidance was spread by email in February, though the content of those emails is just now being discovered. In the email sent out to USDA staff, the head of soil health at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Bianca Moebius-Clune, explained which terms were acceptable and which should be avoided when talking about climate change. She added that a colleague had advised the team to "tamp down on discretionary messaging right now" and that the agency should make an effort to use wording that is "tolerated if not appreciated by all."

It's important to note that it's not entirely clear if these changes were a direct order from the Trump administration. The NRCS's Kaveh Sadeghzadehhas told The Guardian it has "not received direction from USDA or the administration to modify its communications on climate change or any other topic." Yet the changes were sent out. Moebius-Clune wrote:

We won’t change the modeling, just how we talk about it – there are a lot of benefits to putting carbon back in the sail [sic], climate mitigation is just one of them.

The new terminology is "resilience to weather extremes" or "intense weather events" instead of "climate change adaptation." And instead of explaining ways to "reduce greenhouse gases," the USDA prefers that people emphasize the need to "build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency.” The NRCS specifically works with farmers' land conservation efforts, so framing things in ways that are pro-agriculture and non-partisan makes sense. Even former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack used to speak in such ways.

But it could be more than just an effort to improve outreach. When taken as a whole with other emails at the USDA from early in the Trump Administration, it looks like it could have to do more with the prevailing political winds in Washington than the agency's to do its job.

The top scientist at the USDA that Trump chose doesn't believe in climate change, for example. But even more telling is an email from January written by the deputy chief for programs at the NRCS, Jimmy Bramblett. He wrote:

It has become clear one of the previous administration’s priority is not consistent with that of the incoming administration. Namely, that priority is climate change. Please visit with your staff and make them aware of this shift in perspective within the executive branch.

That makes the push to alter climate change terminology pretty suspicious. To the NRCS's credit though, its climate change website is still live, unlike the USDA and the White House, whose pages were taken down after the inauguration. One of the sections on the main page is a list of frequently asked questions including, "What is the Difference between Weather and Climate?" Officially now, the answer is nothing.