FAKE NEWS & THE ENVIRONMENT
The environment is a favourite target of fake news, most of which is completely fabricated by the ‘climate sceptic’ movement. This movement of denialists rejects the reality of climate change, even though it was proven by the international scientific community over 20 years ago.
As a result, ecological scientific facts remain submerged in a ceaseless swell of fake news and conjecture. The viral spread of environmental fake news is considerable: it is estimated that half of the information on this topic shared online is wrong, misleading, or completely devoid of evidence (source: Stéphane Foucart, L’avenir du climat: enquête sur les climato-sceptiques, 2015).
The forces behind these environmental disinformation campaigns tend to be industry lobbies or the governments that defend them. The most powerful companies (oil and gas, automotive, agribusiness, etc.) resent the environmental movement because they see at is a damper on growth. These industrial forces therefore influence public debate by dressing up their climate-sceptic discourse to make it sound scientific. From their positions in influential circles, they supply the media and institutions with reports, comments, and graphics that call the scale of the ecological crisis and its human origin into question. These theories are spread with the intent to manipulate, and take hold in the minds of the public, who do not tend to be highly scientifically literate.
Climate scepticism has advocates in some of the world’s most powerful leaders. Russian president Vladimir Putin has stated that ‘nothing can prove that human activity is the cause of climate change’. His American counterpart, Donald Trump, has gone even further, saying climate change is nothing but a ‘hoax’.
This manipulation of information has drawn a ruthless response from Swedish activist Greta Thunberg: ‘The endless conspiracy theories and denial of facts. The lies, hate, and bullying of children who communicate and act on science. All because some adults – terrified of change – so desperately don’t want to talk about the climate crisis.’
CASE IN POINT: RUSSIAN FAKE NEWS ABOUT GRETA THUNBERG
Russia and pro-Kremlin media are spreading false allegations aimed at discrediting one of the figureheads of the environmental movement: Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.
One popular Russian tabloid, Argumenty i fakty, has publicised an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about her stating that ‘Thunberg’s activities are funded and supported by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and that the emissions-free yacht that sailed Thunberg to New York was built under the order of one of the representatives of the Rothschild clan’. The website RadioFreeEurope goes into more detail about the conspiracy theories targeting the young climate movement icon in their article ‘The Russian Bear Is Spooked by Greta the Eco-Activist’ (link).
HOW CLIMATE-SCEPTIC FAKE NEWS WORKS
Climate sceptics question the existence, causes, and consequences of global warming. Despite being accused of spreading fake news, they continue to infiltrate public debate (media, politics, education) and shape how the climate crisis is treated. They use a variety of types of environmental fake news:
- Fake news that undermines the credibility of a pro-environment representative or medium
- Fake news that attempts to disinform by hiding or interpreting the context of a climate event.
- Fake news that reframes facts to reduce their impact, for example, by only using one criterion to talk about the climate crisis, such as global warming, and not mentioning biodiversity and interdependencies (oceans, atmosphere, biodiversity, climate, water, etc).