The Verge, March 2021
AfterAfter hearing the news that then President-elect Donald Trump had appointed a notorious climate change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency transition team in 2016, Nicholas Shapiro, an environmental anthropologist, penned an urgent email to a dozen or so fellow scientists.
He was worried that the EPA was about to be torn apart from the inside under Trump’s leadership. Others on the email thread were concerned that vital environmental data would be taken down from federal websites and destroyed. They’d just seen brutal attacks on science in Canada — irreplaceable scientific records were dumped in the trash under conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper — and they feared that something similar could happen in the US. So Shapiro took a cue from his sister, an organizer for the Women’s March, and tried to bring researchers together to mount an offensive.
“Does anyone know of any social scientists inside the EPA that might be able to document its dismantling?” Shapiro, now an assistant professor at UCLA, wrote at the top of his note. “It seems like it could be a humble contribution of our craft — just one stopgap idea that came to mind.”
The effort sparked by the email eventually snowballed into a movement to rescue key environmental datasets and information about climate change from government websites. Shapiro and his colleagues succeeded in connecting with scientists within the EPA to document the agency’s transformation into an antagonist to environmental efforts in the US. And in some cases, the scientists were even able to mitigate the damage.