In the age of technology, our access to information has increased with unprecedented momentum. Never before has breaking news reached us within minutes of it occurring. But ubiquitous and instantaneous access to information comes at a cost, we must weed through fake news, conspiracy theories, and mass suspicions on the truth. Accurate and trustworthy news is a modern-day equivalent to the idiom “a needle in a haystack.” Misinformation, or false information that is spread either by mistake, and disinformation, which is spread with the intent to mislead, pollutes societal understanding of essential topics from presidential election results, to public safety during the pandemic, and now more recently the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The climate crisis is not exempt from this phenomenon. Fossil fuel industries have long marketed themselves as helping society progress towards climate solutions, when in reality many of these companies work to undermine climate policies using a tactic known as greenwashing. The thin veil of concern for the climate they hide behind does unfortunately mislead some, but becomes readily transparent when we scratch below the surface.
On social media, individuals and organizations that discredit the realities of the climate crisis circulate suspicion and fear online in an attempt to convince readers that any climate action or regulations will result in the loss of their freedom. Much of this disinformation is intentionally created by a large ecosystem of actors that has been active for three decades. It includes fossil fuel corporations; conservative philanthropists, foundations, and think tanks; public relations firms, front groups and coalitions designed to look like grassroots efforts, conservative news outlets; and much of the Republican Party. Riley Dunlap and Rober Brulle describe the inner workings of this “climate change countermovement” and the tactics it successfully uses to muddy the waters of climate information. Like Donald Trump, climate change denialists intentionally ignore or misrepresent the scientific evidence that explains the causes and effects of climate change, and instead engage in a political blame-game. Common talking points among climate change skeptics include using the easily debunked argument that the radiative heat of the sun is causing the planet to warm, promoting the supposed “uncertainty” of the existence and causes of climate change, or arguing that historical temperature records are rigged or unreliable.