The Trump Administration has made repeated attacks on climate science, frequently calling into question the validity of a consensus science that demonstrates global warming is a real phenomenon caused by human actions. These attacks have been wide in their breadth and reach, hitting scientists, policymakers, and the general public alike behind persistent claims that climate change is nothing but a hoax. Beyond their reach in public policy, these attacks have extended into the digital realm as well, perhaps manifest most vocally through the anti-climate rhetoric of President Trump's Twitter feed. But there is yet another less vocal space that has been the subject of these attacks, one that plays a quiet but important role in shaping and communicating the administration's official rhetoric around all things climate — federal websites.
Since 2017, the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) Website Monitoring Team has been monitoring web pages on federal domains for attacks of a much more subtle nature: the insertion and deletion of climate-related terms like climate, climate change, global warming, emissions, and air quality on federal websites. The results of their work have shown widespread elimination and replacement of critical climate-related language on key web pages that are accessible to the public, with specific words being added, removed, and substituted at the administration's discretion. Such mutations in the language of these pages collectively point to subtle changes in the larger topology of the administration's rhetoric, reshaping the landscape of discourse on the changing climate.
Here, we present one imagining of these changes, represented through DNA structures undergoing mutation and decay. Each biomolecule (of "DNA") represents all the pages for a single domain of federal websites, i.e., Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Energy (DOE), or Globalchange.gov. These domains were selected because they show the greatest number of changes across all monitored federal websites. Each pair of nodes ("base pair") represents before and after snapshots of a single web page in that domain, reflecting changes on that page from between January – June 2016 ("before") to between January – June 2018 ("after"). The extent of connectedness or decay between those pairs corresponds to greater insertion or deletion of the word or phrase of interest. Base pairs that are blue and more connected indicate high insertion of the term on the given web page; red and disconnected (or fragmented) base pairs indicate high deletion of the term on the page. In the same way that DNA encodes the information to create proteins, the workhorses of the cell, the language in these webpages encodes rhetoric — thus, any shifts in that language, just like the frameshifts that result from mutations in the code of DNA, have downstream consequences for the shape and function of the policy and rhetoric that language yields. As the language on these pages change, so do the ways they are read, interpreted, and consumed, shifting the products of knowledge and policy that enter the public sphere.
The currently rendered structure shows insertions and deletions of the term climate change on web pages on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website. Keep scrolling below to generate structures for more federal website domains for insertions and deletions of "climate change."
Department of Energy
Below you'll find snapshots of the structures for 5 federal website domains — EPA, NOAA, NASA, DOE, and Globalchange.gov — showing insertions and deletions of key terms "climate," "climate change," "global warming," "emissions," and "air quality."