Ag Policy Blog

In Search of Climate-Change Euphemisms at NRCS

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service pushed back Monday against a report from the British-based newspaper, the Guardian, that USDA was "censoring" the use of the term "climate change."

The report pointed to a series of emails earlier this year at NRCS that began when Jimmy Bramblett, deputy chief for programs at the NRCS, just days after the inauguration sent out an email to staff to highlight a shift in priorities from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. The email stated "Namely, that priority is climate change. Please visit with your staff and make them aware of this shift in perspective within the executive branch.”

Then came emails from the director of soil health at NRCS, Bianca Moebius-Clune, who suggested that staff should use terms such as "weather extremes" instead of "climate change." Staff should talk about "resilience to weather extremes" instead of "climate change adaptation."

There was a lot of focus from others at NRCS on topics such as "When discussing carbon sequestration, I recommend we use the verbage related to building organic matter in the soil to improve soil health."

That actually has been going on at NRCS since the carbon markets collapsed. The soil health initiative at USDA rolled out shortly after.…

I reached out to USDA's press office Monday about the Guardian article, seeking a response and asking just what changes have been made regarding climate work at USDA. I got an immediate response back from the agency. An NRCS spokesman responded with a statement,

"The Natural Resources Conservation Service has not received direction from USDA or the Administration to modify its communications on climate change or any other topic. The agency continuously evaluates its messaging to America's farmers, ranchers, and foresters as they work to implement voluntary conservation on their operations to improve the health of our soil, air, water, and habitat."

NRCS then pointed to the agency website on climate change, which highlights several program areas and agencies working in the climate arena:…

Following up, a spokesman told me "No one at any point has told us to change the way we are talking about climate change."

However, there were emails in which NRCS staff questioned whether USDA's climate hubs were "allowed" to publish work outside of USDA using the term "climate change." It was decided that would be OK, though there was some bouncing around of the emails on that topic.

At the same time, there's also an email from last spring detailing upcoming USDA conferences and webinars on issues such as sustainability. One webinar on April 20 was listed as "Climate Change and health in Indian Country - Resilience and the Health Consequences of Climate Change." The subject line went on: "Preparations are being made for the environmental impacts of climate change, but what about the health impacts? In this one-hour webinar, we will hear from subject matter experts and indigenous scholars to explore what the broad health impacts can be discuss the ideas of health and resilience in Tribal communities ..."

There was an April 26 webinar, "Climate Change Considerations When Developing Updated Seed Zones." The webinar had a climate specialist at USDA delivering a lecture "on the climate science factors that must be considered when developing seed zones for the southeastern United States."

Then there was a May 2-4 "Annual Climate Predication Applications Science Workshop" that had a theme "Understanding extreme events and decision-maker needs in the context of climate variability and change."

A May 4 webinar "Agricultural Decision Tools from the Cornell Climate Smart Farming Program and the Network for Environmental and Weather Applications."

So it seems NRCS hasn't actually eliminated or banished "climate change" from its lexicon, but NRCS leaders certainly do seem to be overly concerned over the past six months about finding euphemisms that appealed more to their farmer customers.

Chris Clayton can be reached at

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11/28/2017 | 6:12 AM CST
Hello everyone, was interesting to read your article. Usually im reading New York Times (it's here, if u want to check it out, but now i'll read your site too!
SD Farmer
8/10/2017 | 10:59 AM CDT
It seems crazy that the government along with a certain group of people believe that climate change is controllable. You cannot stop an unstoppable force. Many of these people and groups that are promoting these things are trying to profit from them. The objective should be adaptation which includes tools like drainage, irrigation, and fertilization and then you can move towards other things. It is comparable to building a house; you don't build it on a poor foundation, you have to improve the foundation thru drainage and soil improvement. This has not been a philosophy of the USDA and the NRCS in the past 30 years. Sense is no longer common which is becoming a big problem, most people now in these government jobs seek these positions out to push their own agenda.
8/9/2017 | 8:31 AM CDT
Finding the wording that resonates with farmers is probably appropriate. Finding words that reflect areas of agreement rather than negative reactions is a good thing. Many farmers see that climate is changing, but the argument is what role people have in that. But, there are many areas of agreement about steps to take to mitigate the impact of that change that also have a positive effect on offsetting human actions. An example is planting more trees and using cover crops, as well as, yes, building up organic matter. Farmers see ag benefits, scientists see environmental benefits. It can be a win-win, but the key is in how it is presented.