False information about climate change that’s spread either by mistake or with the intent to mislead represents an obstruction to climate action. As separating climate fact from climate fiction isn’t always easy, here are some tips on how to develop your critical thinking to fight climate misinformation.
A decade ago, spreaders of climate misinformation were more likely to outright deny climate change, intentionally rejecting the science of global warming altogether. Today, this shift has been the gradual transition from science denial to solutions denial.
This new version of denial still seeks to undermine and potentially delay climate action, but its false arguments are more subtle. They peddle lies that say climate policies are harmful to the economy or that you can’t trust climate scientists.
Climate misinformation can also take the form of greenwashed promises, which cloak polluting behavior in environmentally friendly language—think of misnomers like “clean coal”—and can be spread via online ads and social posts. Fossil fuel companies, for example, publicly set net-zero targets that give the appearance of dealing with climate change but, when scrutinized, show that these companies have taken negligible steps to reduce fossil fuel production, the single-greatest contributor to planet-warming emissions.
RECOGNIZE MISINFORMATION TACTICS
Climate misinformation can look like your cousin sharing a conspiracy-laden blog post on Facebook, thinking it’s accurate. But it can also come from a conservative think tank publishing an intentionally deceptive (and fossil fuel–sponsored) report about the cost of solar energy. In both cases, the climate falsehoods breed confusion, polarize, and can ultimately have the power to influence government policies.
One of the most effective ways to counter climate misinformation is to understand the five primary techniques used to spread it. This awareness allows you to “pre-bunk” misinformation—aka, inoculate yourself against it before coming across it.
- False expertise: Presenting an unqualified person or institution as a source of credible information.
- Logical fallacies: Arguments where the conclusions don’t logically follow from the premises.
- Impossible expectations: Demanding unrealistic standards of proof before acting on the science.
- Conspiracy theories: Proposing that a secret plan exists to implement a nefarious scheme, such as hiding a truth.
- Cherry-picking data: Carefully selecting data that appear to confirm one position while ignoring other data that contradicts that position.
Another way is to practice these techniques using Cranky Uncle game in order to better understand and better respond to climate deniers.
CRANKY UNCLE GAME TO FIGHT CLIMATE MISINFORMATION
Cranky Uncle game is the creation of scientist and cartoonist John Cook, who uses cartoons, humor, and critical thinking to expose the misleading techniques of science denial and build public resilience against misinformation. To explain why and how some people reject scientific evidence, Cook created the character Cranky Uncle, the family member we all have who thinks he knows better than the world’s scientists, in the book Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change.
The Cranky Uncle game uses cartoons and critical thinking to fight misinformation. The game was developed by Monash University scientist John Cook, in collaboration with creative agency Autonomy. The game is now available for free on iPhone and Android.
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