Climate Disinformation as a Repeat of a Scenario Already Seen

Klimatske dezinformacije kao repriza već viđenog scenarija

Climate Disinformation as a Repeat of a Scenario Already Seen

In the absence of pandemic topics, climate change has become a new gold mine for those who live off of disinformation.

photo: Pixabay

People's attention is focused on panic, danger, money, scandals, and disasters, so the amount of disinformation related to events such as the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the earthquake in Turkey and climate change is not surprising. 

"Where people's attention is, there is a lot of room for manipulation, and the implementing something as an agenda is easier," said Nataša Kilibarda, scientific journalist and associate of Istinomjer, in a guest appearance on N1 Serbia.

Manipulation of information also happens in societies much more resistant to disinformation than ours, but this cannot be a justification for spreading such content. In fact, it's easiest to get someone on the show who says weird things that incite panic and fear and bring in high ratings and clicks.

In the recent period, we could often see completely bizarre disinformation about the earthquake and climate change, for example, that the earthquake is "revenge" of the Western powers led by America.

The gold standard of disinformation: Twisting the facts and publishing falsehoods

In the absence of pandemic topics, energy transition, decarbonization and climate change have become a new gold mine for those who live off of disinformation. Common disinformation and malinformation discourses surrounding these topics inevitably involve the "deep state" and the powerful controlling the little people.

Some of that disinformation claims that climate change is not real, or that it is not caused by human activity and greenhouse gas emissions due to the enormous use of fossil fuels and economic activity. Also, that there is no energy crisis and no need for the transition of economies, but that it is an excuse to save money and restrain individuals.

One such piece of disinformation had the following headline: "FAKE CLIMATE CRISIS IS LEADING THE PLANET TO RUIN: Powerful Lobby Spreads Falsehoods About Alleged Disastrous Changes in the Atmosphere", and the article originating from the Novosti portal was also shared by several BiH portals.

The danger of climate change is very often downplayed in this type of malinformation, citing examples from the past that show that climate change has happened before and that it is not dangerous.

For example, Milankovitch cycles are often used as an explanation that the climate changes we are currently seeing are actually part of the natural state and order of things. Milankovitch cycles are quasi-periodic changes in the Earth's climate. The cycles were named after the Serbian scientist Milutin Milankovitch who discovered them, studying slow changes in the way the Earth rotates around the Sun on time scales of tens of thousands of years. However, climatologists agree that Milankovitch cycles cannot explain the warming of our planet that we are witnessing now. The warming we are currently observing and the current change in climate conditions is approximately one hundred times faster than the changes caused by the Milankovitch cycles. And not only that - the current state of the mentioned parameters should actually have the opposite effect, that is, the Earth should be colder.

Krešo Mišak, science fiction writer and presenter of the show "Na rubu pameti" (On Mind’s Edge), claimed that in the Viking age there was a period of global melting similar to today's, i.e., that everything is natural and perfectly fine, and that we should not worry about climate change. However, analyses show that, although the "Medieval Warm Period" existed, it was not global, but had a local character.

Another frequent manipulation is the incorrect display of climate change data on charts from which the period before the Industrial Revolution was cut out, so it seems that the rise in temperature due to CO2 emissions is "not that big". However, the truth is the share of CO2 has never been this high that in the last 650,000 years.

Source of chart: NASA:

“15-Minute City” as an inspiration to conspiracy theorists

Out of about 14,000 scientific papers published between 1991 and 2012, only 24 rejected the existence of climate change, according to Slate magazine in a 2013 article.

But that is simply not enough for climate sceptics. The group Not Our Future hit the headlines for putting leaflets in Oxfordshire residents' letterboxes calling them 'guinea pigs' in the UK's first 'climate lockdown', all linked to a conspiracy theory about an alleged government plan to curtail human freedoms.

False claims about Oxfordshire County Council's program to reduce traffic and pollution have gone viral on the internet, with one tweet by climate sceptic Jordan Peterson being viewed several million times. The claims, which led to local councillors receiving death threats, were investigated and exposed as misleading, with the council describing them as "harmful to public debate".

The movement to promote urban neighbourhoods with amenities within 15 minutes walking distance (#15MinuteCity) has enraged far-right activists, climate change deniers and extremists. In fact, these are cities similar to ours, where settlements are planned so that everything is at your fingertips - a health centre, a shopping centre, a supermarket, a school, a kindergarten, and you don't have to drive several kilometres for everything.

Researchers say the #15MinuteCity conspiracy theory has its roots in 2020, when activists linked to the fossil fuel lobby tried to push the idea of a looming "climate lockdown", in which governments would ban people from using cars, eating meat or traveling outside their assigned districts. The idea gained momentum after conspiracy theorists embraced a post-pandemic recovery initiative launched by a World Economic Forum think tank called the Great Reset. This, they concluded, is code for the creation of a tyrannical world government.

Polar bears are endangered

One prominent piece of disinformation is that polar bears are not endangered, but that there are actually more of them, as claimed by activist Patrick Moore and reported by the Epoha portal, otherwise an imitator of The Epoch Times, a right-wing media linked to the Chinese religious movement in the USA, Falun Gong, which also spread misinformation about the pandemic.

"The international treaty on polar bears, signed by all polar countries in 1973, which prohibits the unlimited hunting of polar bears, is never mentioned in the media. Greenpeace and politicians say that the polar bear will become extinct due to the melting of the Arctic ice. In fact, the polar bear population increased from 6,000 to 8,000 in 1973, and from 30,000 to 50,000 today. That is indisputable,” Moore said.

Experts explain that due to better techniques for monitoring the polar bear population, a larger number of these animals has been recorded, and that this is not a real increase in the population. The claims are based on various estimates of the global population that include unscientific estimates, extrapolation and insufficient data sets, according to fact-checking carried out by USA today.

Same groups of actors, just a different target

The actors of climate disinformation are mirrored disinformation actors from the era of the pandemic: the same people, circles of actors, and new experts who are beyond the scientific consensus. The way it works is exactly the same. At the same time, citizens' literacy and preparedness for crisis situations is the same, that is, there is widespread unpreparedness and lack of resistance to disinformation and malinformation. Pre-bunking systems and teaching digital and scientific literacy are still reduced to short-term projects carried out by non-governmental organizations while there are no systemic actions.

All this is reminiscent of an episode of the animated series Inside Job, which deals with the topic of conspiracy theories and "shadow governments" in a humorous way. Climate change has long been more than "just" climate change, but has triggered a new technological revolution and a change in the world economy. In other words, many parties are involved in the process of energy and economic transition to a low greenhouse gas emission system and there are many investments, because how would all this happen without investments? There is a lot of scrutiny over such processes, and as Nataša Kilibarda says – where there is public attention, there is also manipulation.

This story was produced with support from Free Press Unlimited and E3J.