Top USDA Climate Scientist Quits, Saying Trump Administration Buried His Study

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) congratulates Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue before signing the the Agriculture Improvement Act during a ceremony in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building December 20, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

A top climate scientist is leaving the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claiming that the Trump administration has tried to suppress a report he wrote about global warming. Lewis Ziska spoke with Politico about his decision, saying that his study found that climate change is causing serious issues for feeding the global population, only to have the department bury coverage of his findings.

The 62-year-old plant physiologist told the news outlet that the climate at the USDA has changed from the environment it had when he started 20 years ago.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views,” he said. “That’s so sad. I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

Ziska’s resignation comes over a study that he completed that found rising carbon dioxide levels were causing rice to become less nutritious. This is devastating news for the 600 million people around the globe who rely on the staple for their caloric intake.

Ziska says that department officials not only questioned his findings but tried to bury any media coverage that the paper might have garnered.

The department denies the accusation, saying that their objections with the study had nothing to do with politics, and it was a decision made by all the scientists who lead the program to not do a press release for the findings.

But Ziska claims that the department is being led by people who are openly skeptical about climate change and that he isn’t the only scientist working for the department that has had their work minimized, which has reduced the ability of scientists to provide farmers and policymakers with essential information about the changing climate.

Loading...

As Politico reports, the USDA has been burying its own climate-related studies since Donald Trump took office. Ziska says it has reached a point where scientists have altered the language they use in order to get it past their supervisors.

“We were careful,” he said. “And then it got to the point where language started to change. No one wanted to say climate change, you would say ‘climate uncertainty’ or you would say ‘extreme events.’ Or you would use whatever euphemism was available to not draw attention.”

Trump and other administration officials have publicly criticized scientific evidence pointing to man-made climate change and its impacts.

Ziska says he fears that the political environment will threaten agriculture both in the U.S. and abroad.