The disinformation climate change -information that misrepresents or disregards the scientific consensus around the climate change– It has gone from spreading through “directly denier” positions to being reflected in “retardist discourses” especially present on social networks, and in ‘greenwashing’.
This is revealed by a study published by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), with authors from several countries, which points to the weight of digital platforms in disseminating arguments that delay climate action, diverting attention from the main cause of warming – fossil fuels – and resorting to hoaxes (fake news) and conspiracy theories, among others.
For the analysis, ISD, in collaboration with the Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) coalition, examined social media posts and interactions before, during and after the Glasgow climate summit (COP26) in late 2021.
Among his conclusions, he detected that the “retardists”, already far from denialism, have brought the climate crisis to the forefront of the “cultural war”, placing it between highly polarized issues -and highly politicized in countries like the United States- such as abortion, racial justice, LGTBIQ+ rights or vaccines against COVID-19.
Analysts detected that the peak of climate misinformation occurred in the first days of COP26, when presidents and prime ministers announced their commitments to contain warming below 1.5° Celsius by 2100 and avoid the worst consequences of the phenomenon, according to scientists recommend.
Main retardist speeches
According to the ISD and CAAD, four “retardist discourses” predominated in the period studied: that of “elitism and hypocrisy”, the “absolutist”, that of “renewables are not reliable” and the “anti-electric vehicles”.
Within the framework of the first (elitism), focused on issues of “wealth, power and legitimacy” and based on conspiracy theories and criticizing contradictions -for example, the ecological footprint of an event such as the climate summit-, they identified among October and November 2021 a total of 199,676 posts on Twitter and 4,377 on Facebook, shared at least 101,749 times.
In the second (absolutism), which “seeks to absolve a given country from taking any climate action by highlighting the perceived failings of another state” – notably China and India – the researchers detected 6,262 Facebook posts and 72,356 tweets.
In the third speech, which arouses skepticism about the capacity of renewable energies to supply the necessary electricity, the authors confirmed that the time frame of misinformation was broader, since hoaxes were already spread in February about the blackouts that a storm of snow caused in Texas (USA).
Between January and November 2021 – with a strong boost during the Texas phenomenon, in which Republican representatives accused windmills of not maintaining supply – these positions were manifested in 115,830 tweets and 15,443 Facebook posts.
Finally, the discourse that criticizes electric mobility “showed comparatively less activity in general, but frames the move to electric vehicles as part of a hoax or an elitist plot,” the report states.
The study also warns of the effect of ‘greenwashing’ -greenwashing of the image of companies-, whose scope “continues to increase” due to advertising paid by the fossil fuel sector and which, they argue, feeds at the same time the discourses retarders.
Thus, from the IDS they ask the media and the managers of social networks to assume responsibility for the climate misinformation that is disseminated in their spaces; and they recommend on the other hand to establish a “unified definition” of “climate disinformation” within “key” institutions such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change.