In the case of climate change, propaganda is used to ignite a passionate response from the political right by whipping up fear and doubt:
- Fear of economic loss from climate policies – by politicians using sound bites such as “job-killer” and “hurting families and small businesses.”
- Doubt on climate science – often through the “authority” of contrarian scientists.
The propaganda circulates in mainstream media (MSM) and, especially, social media. The end result of this massive PR campaign – originating from Big Oil – is the spawning of climate deniers, many of whom have been duped into becoming zealous followers because of fear and doubt.
In dealing with the climate crisis, information comes from science and propaganda, with politics stuck in the middle of this battle. Science has already done all the hard lifting (with help from the IPCC) and has been a motivating factor for action on climate change with liberals, but less so with conservatives. At this point, it is unlikely that more evidence-based science can do anything to persuade conservatives, who have become addicted to emotional-based propaganda.
Social media has contributed to the problem, weaponizing the purveyors of climate denial by providing an unfettered, global soapbox for their propaganda. Climate deniers frolic freely in this virtual world, as keyboard outlaws who scour Google for blogs, memes, doctored graphs, and YouTube videos (pretending that these are authoritative sources), searching for whatever hints of criticism of the science.
The battlefield of my choice is the Twitter trenches, where arguments over science are “won” by bullying and toxic tweeting, or so climate deniers believe. Platforms such as Twitter have a huge influence on public opinion. The vast majority of users of Twitter are not climate deniers but are part of the silent majority. Silence, unfortunately, is an enabler of propaganda, as propaganda repeated again and again becomes the “truth” if not challenged; so, the hashtag #climatebrawl was introduced to encourage the participation of the silent majority and, over time, a community has emerged in the twitterverse – the “friends of #climatebrawl” – to challenge the lies and misinformation of climate deniers.
Twitter is the main breeding ground for the “infodemic” on climate change, which can be grouped into ten fallacies:
- Global warming does not exist
- Global warming is natural
- Global warming is good for you (and/or plants)
- There is too much doubt on the science (i.e., wait for more research)
- There is no scientific consensus (i.e., wait until there is one)
- Scientists/scientific organizations are corrupt/globalists/socialists
- Better solutions will be available in the future (i.e., wait for more research)
- Policies will hurt the poor more than climate change will
- There is no sense of urgency, as it won’t be that bad
- It is too late to stop climate change, so just adapt.
In every one of these cases, the underlining message is: fossil fuel consumption does not have to be curtailed. In the twitterverse, you see such tweets from climate-denier newbies, veteran climate deniers and trolls, and even the president of the United States. Obviously, the science of modern climate change is unambiguous about our need to take urgent action on the climate crisis which means accepting policies to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
My committed engagement on Twitter came about because, as a scientist, I found it appalling to witness the absurd denial of the science on climate change so prevalent on the platform. This personal crusade against the propaganda of climate deniers began in earnest during 2016, and soon I was challenging them on a daily basis. An exceptionally tension-filled episode for me took place with a high-profile climate denier who had a large group of followers, notably a troll army, and I was quickly overwhelmed fighting this horde. Anyone on Twitter who might have wanted to help was out of reach, so to speak, as I had no way of calling out to them. I had seen others challenging the propaganda on their own as well and knew that they would help if called upon.
After more engagements like these, in February 2019, I introduced a hashtag – #climatebrawl – as a “Bat-Signal” distress call for assistance against aggressive climate deniers. I had never introduced a new hashtag before and had no idea if it would work. To my surprise, it did – help arrived – and #climatebrawl has since morphed into an international community actively engaging on Twitter, under the motto be “active, civil and factual.”
Gone are the days of a solitary advocate of science being swarmed by followers of high-profile climate deniers, without others coming to their aid. More importantly, there appears to be a significant decline in climate-denial activity on Twitter since the introduction of #climatebrawl. No longer are there endless tweets promoting phoney science, with concocted graphs and data, from spurious sources.