Conspiracy Theorists Spun a Web of Disinformation, from Election Fraud to Climate Change

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

The January 6th insurrection at the Capitol was the culmination of years of disinformation, conspiracy theories, and false narratives pushed by the GOP, the Trump administration, white supremacists, and the far-right — but these tactics are not a surprise to those who work in the climate movement. Indeed, experts like John Schwartz, a science writer for The New York Times, the lies and rhetoric that fueled the riots felt all too familiar. “A big part of our job is dealing with the disinformation that people and institutions spread to muddy the waters about climate change,” he wrote.

Why This Matters:  The fossil fuel industry employed the big tobacco disinformation playbook, a strategy that only became more effective with the onset of the internet age. With frightening speed, climate denialists gained large followings online by allying themselves with other far-right conspiracy theorists, and that further fueled their growth. In 2020, QAnon supporters online began claiming that the devastating wildfires engulfing California were started by Antifa activists. Now, it’s not just fossil fuel companies opposing climate action, but a bona fide online army, validated by the president’s own rhetoric.

 Combatting Climate Disinformation

Following Twitter’s recent ban of the president (and his subsequent ban from every major social network and streaming platform), false information about the election fraud dropped by 73% in just one week. The drop highlights the very real power social media companies have when it comes to controlling the spread of disinformation, a power they have denied having in the past. This revelation begs the question, should social media companies be doing more to combat disinformation about climate change?

To Fact Check…

Environmental organizations Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Greenpeace released a statement calling on Facebook and other platforms to regulate misinformation about climate change. “Climate deniers are an easy group to define — we gave Facebook the list. Just as Facebook has taken responsibility for its own carbon emissions, it must take responsibility to stop climate deniers from spreading disinformation on its platform,” they said. Michael Khoo, an advisor to Friends of the Earth says he’s scared of what climate change deniers will do with unchecked power. “My greatest fear is that if we have a rare moment to take real action on climate change, they could be the foot soldiers that stop that,” he said. “It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever encountered.”

…Or Not to Fact Check

The Times’ Schwartz isn’t so sure it matters. He noted that after Trump’s ban, White House officials stepped in to continue the spread of disinformation. David Legates, who served as the head of the United States Global Change Research Program, and Ryan Maue, a senior official at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, posted a series of debunked “scientific” reports spurring responses from other climate denialists online. “Efforts to limit disinformation just move the myths around. If history is any guide, it will pop up again elsewhere, virulent as ever,” wrote Schwartz.

Up Next

New UN Report Says It’s Crunch Time to Reach Climate Goals

New UN Report Says It’s Crunch Time to Reach Climate Goals

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer UN Climate Change has published the Initial NDC Synthesis Report, which evaluated information from 75 parties to the Paris agreement representing 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  The results: “governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the […]

Continue Reading 531 words
Global Carbon Pollution Reached Pre-Pandemic Levels Again by the End of 2020

Global Carbon Pollution Reached Pre-Pandemic Levels Again by the End of 2020

According to a report out on Tuesday from the International Energy Agency, while the pandemic allowed a brief reprieve from the uptick in global carbon dioxide emissions, global carbon pollution had returned to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2020.  Carbon emissions in Brazil, India, and China were all up over 2019 levels.

Why this Matters:  Under the Paris Agreement, nations agreed to prevent the rise in global temperature from reaching two degrees Celsius and keeping the rise under 1.5 degrees celsius, but that won’t be possible if our emissions start going up again.

Continue Reading 535 words
Climate Change Is Our Common Ground

Climate Change Is Our Common Ground

New public opinion research reveals a totally surprising level of agreement in America on the long-term national priorities that we need to focus on as a nation.

Why This Matters:  The Index’s authors describe the issue of climate change as a “collective illusion” because there are significant gaps between personal and perceived societal national aspirations. 

Continue Reading 211 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.