Staff at the US Department of Agriculture have been told to avoid using the term climate change in their work, with the officials instructed to reference "weather extremes" instead.
A series of emails obtained by the Guardian between staff at the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a USDA unit that oversees farmers' land conservation, show that the incoming Trump administration has had a stark impact on the language used by some federal employees around climate change.
A missive from Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of soil health, lists terms that should be avoided by staff and those that should replace them. "Climate change" is in the "avoid" category, to be replaced by "weather extremes." Instead of "climate change adaption," staff are asked to use "resilience to weather extremes."
The primary cause of human-driven climate change is also targeted, with the term "reduce greenhouse gases" blacklisted in favor of "build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency." Meanwhile, "sequester carbon" is ruled out and replaced by "build soil organic matter."
In her email to staff, dated February 16 this year, Moebius-Clune said the new language was given to her staff and suggests it be passed on. She writes that "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," and that a colleague from USDA's public affairs team gave advice to "tamp down on discretionary messaging right now."
In contrast to these newly contentious climate terms, Moebius-Clune wrote that references to economic growth, emerging business opportunities in the rural US, agro-tourism and "improved aesthetics" should be "tolerated if not appreciated by all."
In a separate email to senior employees on January 24, just days after Trump's inauguration, Jimmy Bramblett, deputy chief for programs at the NRCS, said: "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."
Bramblett added that "prudence" should be used when discussing greenhouse gases and said the agency's work on air quality regarding these gases could be discontinued.
Other emails show the often agonized discussions between staff unsure of what is forbidden. On February 16, a staffer named Tim Hafner write to Bramblett: "I would like to know correct terms I should use instead of climate changes and anything to do with carbon ... I want to ensure to incorporate correct terminology that the agency has approved to use."
On April 5, Suzanne Baker, a New York-based NRCS employee, emailed a query as to whether staff are "allowed to publish work from outside the USDA that use 'climate change'." A colleague advises that the issue be determined in a phone call.
Some staff weren't enamored with the new regime, with one employee stating on an email on July 5 that "we would prefer to keep the language as is" and stressing the need to maintain the "scientific integrity of the work."
In a statement, USDA said that on January 23 it had issued "interim operating procedures outlining procedures to ensure the new policy team has an opportunity to review policy-related statements, legislation, budgets and regulations prior to issuance."