With just five weeks before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump assumes control of the White House, environmentalists and computer science academics from both sides of the border are scrambling to safeguard a massive amount of scientific data from an incoming administration that has made no secret its hostile views on climate change.
Organizers at the University of Toronto are calling it a “guerilla archiving event.” Armed with nothing more than laptops, a group of professors and volunteers from Canada and the U.S. are scouring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, copying data and storing it on independent servers.
Large stores of data from satellites, toxicity reports and research from small organizations are submitted to the EPA. Faculty of information professor Patrick Keilty wants to make sure it’s all protected so it can be used to form evidenced-based climate policies in the future.
“There are a massive number of documents. Today we only did a very small number,” he told CTV News Channel. “Today we fed 3,142 URLs into the Internet Archive web crawler, and we identified 192 more programs would like to tackle for future archiving.”
The Internet Archive is a digital library that preserves billions of webpages for historical record. The San Francisco-based non-profit announced it is building a backup archive in Canada after Trump’s U.S. election win.
“It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change. For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible,” wrote founder Brewster Kahle in a post-election statement. “It means preparing for a web that may face greater restrictions.”
The frenzied pace of data preservation isn’t without precedent. Donald Trump has been openly hostile towards the EPA, threatening on a number of occasions to scrap the department tasked with safeguarding human health and the environment.
Trump has also suggested global warming is part of a Chinese plot to undermine U.S. industrial competitiveness.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Trump recently tapped Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA when he takes office in January. Pruitt has spent years trying to weaken environmental regulations to garner favour with energy companies doing business in his state. His biography on the Oklahoma state website describes him as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
Keilty isn’t convinced Trump will mothball the organization on his first day in office. Rather, he expects a slow and steady defunding of key initiatives that don’t jibe with his take on climate change.
“Defunding those programs will mean losing a lot of data because it requires a lot of resources to maintain and curate the data to make it publically accessible,” he said.
While the amount of data salvaged by the group at the University of Toronto is miniscule at best, Keilty says it’s worthwhile so the group can produce a tool kit that will let environmental advocates around the world join them. Similar archiving events are planned in Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles.
“There has been a flood of interest from groups in many other American cities,” he said. “Every day there’s more groups coming in to say ‘What can we do to help.’”
With a report from CTV’s John Vennavally-Rao