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Climate Scientists Turn To Canadian Organizations To Save Vulnerable Data From Trump

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Scientists, and others who fear Donald Trump's administration could spur the loss of crucial data, are turning to Canadian companies and academics to store their findings.

Trump has called global warming a hoax, and one of his top advisors says he plans to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, according to Reuters.

On Jan. 20, the day Trump became president of the U.S., the White House website's page on climate change suddenly read "Page Not Found."

Now, a search on the site turns up no mentions of the phrase "climate change" at all.

climate change white house website
A look at the White House climate change page before and after Trump's inauguration. (Screengrabs: WhiteHouse.gov)

David Doniger, director of the climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, is worried by the disappearing U.S. government pages.

“They are all saying, ‘The climate is changing, we just don’t know whether it is human influence or how much.' That still amounts to climate denial," Doniger told National Geographic.

DataRefuge is a public project that is working to safeguard, manage and distribute copies of climate and environmental data for researchers.

In December, the collective began hosting urgent DataRescue events, where volunteers rush to download pages off of government websites (mostly pages on climate change and environmental science) before the information might disappear.

DataRefuge explains the current plight of climate data on its website:

"Any data produced by the government, it turns out, belongs to the public — but access and survival are different issues. There's data that's available, even now, if you follow due process, but the quiet disappearance of data, either because of financial plug-pulling, or because of interference, is the worry now at the threshold between institutional science and the public."

A Vancouver archiving company offered its services to help DataRefuge with its mission, to make sure there would be a copy of the company's vulnerable data outside of the U.S.

"I reached out to them and told them we have this complete web crawling archive infrastructure in place, and I believe what you are doing is important, and I want to provide our platform," Page Freezer CEO Michael Riedijk told CBC Radio's "Spark."

"On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration ... it means preparing for a Web that may face greater restrictions."

DataRefuge isn't alone in hoping Canada will provide a safe digital space.

Archive.org, a library that indexes old versions of websites, is creating a backup copy of its entire collection that will be hosted on Canadian servers.

“On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change. … For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a Web that may face greater restrictions," the company wrote in a blog post.

In December, students at the University of Toronto met for a "Guerrilla Archiving" project, where they spent hours capturing data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and saving it to San Francisco-based company The Internet Archive. The event was able to save 3,142 pages to the archive, including 192 programs and datasets that were identified as vulnerable.

climate data backups
Volunteers hurry to back up U.S. climate data at the University of Toronto on Dec. 17, 2016, one month before Donald Trump was inaugurated. (Photo: Technoscience Salon and Research Unit‎/Facebook)

The University of Toronto is also one of the groups behind Climate Mirror, an online volunteer effort that allows anyone to help back up climate data.

The issue of disappearing data isn't a foreign one to Canadian researchers. DataRefuge writes in a blog post that its members "met with a group of researchers in Canada who witnessed first-hand how having a climate denier in office impacted accessibility to climate and environmental data."

In 2014, Canadian researchers watched in shock as environmental science libraries, forced to shut down by budget cuts from former prime minister Stephen Harper's government, filled dumpsters with books and periodicals, The Toronto Star reported.

Now, these organizations aren't just storing the data to protect it from budget cuts — they also want to look at what changes.

Page Freezer will be crawling government pages on a weekly basis, and volunteers at the University of Pennsylvania will be doing the same to compare any differences — changes made by Trump's administration — with the pre-Trump archived versions.

“We’ll be letting people know what the changes exactly are. We hope to produce a weekly report on changes,” said Bethany Wiggin, one of the data-rescuing organizers, to Quartz.

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