University of Toronto professors ‘race against time’ to save environmental data ahead of Donald Trump presidency

data event
Academics and volunteers at Saturday's 'guerrilla archiving' event at the University of Toronto. James Davidson/Global News

The concern is real say environmentalists and academics worried that decades of vital research will slip from public view when Donald Trump officially takes office in the new year.

On Saturday professors from the University of Toronto’s Technoscience Research Unit and academics from New York and Philadelphia came together for a “guerrilla archiving event” in Toronto aimed at saving some of that environmental data.

“This data is data that is about communities, it’s data about things that cross jurisdictions like rivers. It’s data about our air and our water,” said professor Michelle Murphy, with the University of Toronto.

Professor Patrick Keilty with volunteers at Saturday’s data archiving event
Professor Patrick Keilty with volunteers at Saturday’s data archiving event. James Davidson/Global News

She and a team of academics and volunteers selected and organized data for preservation by the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based nonprofit digital library.

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Its End of Term web archive preserves government websites that are at risk of disappearing when government administrations change.

The team was also developing systems and processes that would serve as a template allowing other universities to save important government data more easily moving forward.

Most scientists agree data around compliance with environmental regulations and environmental monitoring is crucial for human health.

“What I think is going to happen is that programs are going to be shuttered, and so when programs are shuttered we have the care and public accessibility of that data pulled back.” But the group doesn’t feel the data will be deleted altogether.

“It’s a race against time. It’s not necessarily like it’s going to happen on January 20, but I think we’re going to see changes by February 20,” said Murphy.

Many have expressed concerns after Trump selected Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

READ MORE: Trump team’s climate change witch hunt ignored by US Energy Department

Pruitt has said the debate on climate change “is far from settled” and he’s currently suing the agency he’s tasked with overseeing because he says its regulations are hindering economic progress.

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“[Canada] is a country that is really close to the United States and the EPA’s governance affects us directly,” said Matt Price, with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information.

“Science, and this evidence, is a common human heritage. And so it doesn’t just belong to the U.S.,” said Price.

Murphy added that Canadians learned a lesson from the years when the federal Conservatives were in power under Stephen Harper.

“We saw scientists muzzled, we saw data being pulled back from public access,” she said. “We’re expecting to see very similar things in the United States.”

Today’s event was the first “archive-a-thon” and will serve as a foundation for others in the U.S.