A new generation of climate activists are using increasingly controversial methods to alert people to climate catastrophe. But why does the truth need such high optics?
Just Stop Oil (JSO), established in April 2022, is a well-organized, high-optic, youth-led activist group that utilizes civil resistance as a form of protest. They are a step away, and a step up, from their predecessors Extinction Rebellion (XR), which, like JSO, was founded by the activist Roger Hallam. They have targeted the Metropolitan Police, high-end luxury goods retailers, the M25 motorway, and oil companies with aggressive, provocative tactics that risk prison sentences and the physical dangers involved in blocking oil tankers or scaling suspension bridges. They deem their actions a proportionate bid to force the government to stop new fossil fuel licenses and production. Throwing a can of soup over Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in the British Museum is an unusual, controversial stunt. Some have even claimed it was part of a psyop, though Logically debunked this.
Clearly, these activists are not looking to appeal to or persuade the public. Their tactics are divisive, at best; the press and public hate them. So, what inspires such a strategy? At least 97 percent of climate scientists agree our planet is doomed if we don’t reduce CO2 and methane emissions. Eighty-three percent of British people surveyed in 2021 responded that they are “extremely/very/fairly worried about climate change.” Surely, people should be on board, right?
Online misinformation no longer seeks to persuade us that man-made global heating is a lie. It wants us to think hope is lost.
Logically’s 2019 investigation into climate change misinformation online showed that climate change denial has evolved, splintering into several nuanced narratives. Traditional denialism is now a thing of the past. Online misinformation no longer seeks to persuade us that man-made global heating is a lie. It wants us to think hope is lost. Dr. Jacquelyn Gill, a climate scientist at the University of Maine, said: “2018 felt like a watershed moment in terms of climate discourse. A shift happened in the direction of “It’s too late. Nothing can be done. Just start building the bunkers.” Overcoming climate misinformation has been a huge challenge, but for Gill, there’s a new problem. “We were so focused on convincing people that [climate change] was real. We have not shifted our message towards inspiring action fast enough.”
These misinformation narratives include denialism relating to either the scale or the source of global heating; Great Reset and New World Order conspiracy theories; and doomerism, or defeatism. The doomerist narrative tells us that “climate change has progressed too far for human intervention to have a significant impact.” Our climate report data showed a consistently high volume of social media posts expressing this belief and that “the users associated with this narrative believe strongly that climate change is a problem and will seriously affect our way of life. This is in contrast with the user base of the other narratives, who believe that climate change is a hoax, or that its effects are being exaggerated.”
Gill’s findings also showed that high volumes of negative media coverage on climate change sustain this narrative. For example, “A high peak occurred on September 24, 2019, which coincided with Greta Thunberg’s speech at the U.N. Climate Action Summit. Here the doomer narrative was popular on Reddit as well as independent blogs and forums.” But what distinguished doomerism from other types of climate misinformation is that it “sparked countless articles and posts aiming to communicate that substantive action is still possible.” This response is markedly different from conspiracy and denialism narratives, “whose followers are often siloed off into isolated communities, with lower overlap with academics and communicators.”