Both polarization and misinformation play a key role in how the public interprets climate science. Consequently, the language used by climate deniers focuses on 3 main techniques: Deny, mislead and delay! Another problem we face in climate change education is that the public has a very short memory, and anything people learn about climate science tends to be forgotten a week later.
The public perception and awareness of the climate crisis are, at least in part, driven by how we talk about it, Climate Deniers have used techniques and languages to create smoke and mirrors and false impressions around the facts.
A super example of how the fossil fuel industry and its allies are “appropriating and weaponizing” language for their own greenwashing, is the what American Petroleum Institute CEO and President, Mike Sommers said On a recent episode of the Fox Business show “Mornings with Maria :
Well, let me say something that might be controversial to some. I think that the most important environmental movement in the world is the American oil and gas industry. It is the reason why we’ve been able to cut greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the last decade because we’ve been able to discover more natural gas. And natural gas was able to compete with coal as the primary source of power in the United States. And as you said, natural gas is 50% more clean than coal.
In fact, Climate Deniers, spin doctors, and disinformation spreaders focus on using, in their communication, contents that:
- Undermine the existence or impacts of climate change, the unequivocal human influence on climate change, and the need for corresponding urgent action according to the IPCC scientific consensus and in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement;
- Misrepresent scientific data, including by omission or cherry-picking, in order to erode trust in climate science, climate-focused institutions, experts, and solutions; or
- Falsely publicize efforts as supportive of climate goals that in fact contribute to climate warming or contravene the scientific consensus on mitigation or adaptation.
Another issue we have is the social algorithm. As we all know, sensational content fuels the ‘outrage economy’, and therefore serves the current business model of most platforms, and climate is no exception. Whether outright denial or other forms of disinformation, this sensational content is generally high- engagement, which increases the value proposition for advertisers on social media.
Those working the outrage economy thanks to the fossil fuel industry’s support have certainly figured out how to game the social algorithms. One case study found that “In the period from October 25 to November 21, 2021, the tweets and quote tweets of just 16 Twitter accounts amassed a total of 507,000 likes and retweets (“interactions”) on climate narratives alone.”
Those super-spreaders are well-known names in the conspiracy world, including Holocaust denier Peter Sweden/Imanuelsen, Koch contractor John Stossel, Homeless harasser Michael Shellenberger, P.O. Box Bjorn Lomborg, Obama birther, and Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Tony Heller, and Round-up refuser Patrick Michaels.
Given their many non-climate interests, the case study noted that
“Repeat offenders have often spread mis- or disinformation on multiple topics . This is most clearly observed in the number of high-traction accounts sharing misleading claims on climate and COVID-19, but encompasses a wider range of issues – from anti-vaxx sentiment and genocide denial to conspiracies such as QAnon, the Great Reset and electoral fraud. This should provide an even greater incentive for platforms to act, since an effective response against such accounts could have a ‘force multiplier’ effect and mitigate harm in multiple areas.”
As we have already mentioned in a previous post ‘Anti-vaxxers/Anti-NATO: Same Audience, Same Narrative‘ people who lie about climate change are the same who lie about other public issues, which isn’t exactly a huge finding, but it is a huge reason why social media companies should remove users who habitually make their websites a toxic and disinformation-filled mess.
However, efforts like Facebook’s much-touted Climate Science Center become somewhat moot – while they report an average of 100,000 daily visitors, organic content from known ‘super-spreaders’ of disinformation gains vastly more reach and visibility.
Another recent example, a tweet from Canadian climate science denier Patrick Moore promoting a Sky News Australia segment where former host Alan Jones described youth climate activists as “selfish, badly educated virtue-signaling little turds” was retweeted 16,000 times.
In short, we are still far from concrete measures to tackle the climate change disinformation challenges.
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