Tackling climate mis/disinformation: ‘An urgent frontier for action’


Scientists agree that climate change is real and is caused by unsustainable human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels, yet certain actors continue to spread mis- and disinformation, creating harmful misperceptions that can stifle effective climate action.

Climate action is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

In a discussion Tackling mis/dis-information: An urgent frontier for action, the UN’s Senior Adviser on Information Integrity, Charlotte Scaddan, talked with three climate experts at the SDG Media Zone about why pushing back on misleading facts about climate is a priority.

She spoke to Vanessa Nakate, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEFGoodwill Ambassador and climate activist; Jake Dubbins, co-founder of Conscious Advertising Network and member of Climate Action Against Disinformation, and The Weather Channel meteorologist Paul Goodloe.

Scientists agree that climate change is being caused by human activity.

Jake Dubbins: We define climate mis- and disinformation in three broad buckets. Outright denial: we know that climate change is happening and we know it’s caused by humans, but that fact itself is being denied. There are climate scams and climate hoaxes, terms which are trending on social media platforms. The second area that we look at is emissions and cherry picking, so choosing data without giving the full picture to therefore mislead people. And then the third area is effectively false solutions, so suggesting actions that are not in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

We did some polling last year at COP 27 and we found that these messages are cutting through in multiple different countries. We asked questions in six different countries and found that 23 per cent of people in America believe that climate change is a hoax cooked up by the World Economic Forum. We found that over 20 per cent of people in all the six countries we surveyed believe that climate change is not caused by humans.

Vanessa Nakate: Moreover, fossil fuel companies knew that their actions were disrupting our climate and yet, they continued with those actions and they tried to hide that information from the public.

I see that as climate disinformation and greenwashing, as well. We’ve seen it in the fashion industry and how many corporations are doing so much to show the public that they are actually sustainable. And yet, when you look at their supply chain processes, you realize that they are actually non-sustainable. They’re still harming communities, they’re still harming people, they are exploiting labour.

Paul Goodloe: Climate change is not opinion. Unfortunately, there are news outlets that report the misinformation/disinformation about climate change and they veil it as news, but it’s truly opinion. At The Weather Channel, we don’t have a stance. Our mission is to educate, to inform. We talk about the science.

The burning of fossil fuels is driving climate change.

© Unsplash/Patrick Hendry

The burning of fossil fuels is driving climate change.

Jake Dubbins: There’s increasing information about this problem in English in North America and in Europe, but there are gaps. Most of the US social media platforms fund quite a lot of research into climate mis/disinformation in the US, but not as much in other parts of the world. So, in Africa, Asia and South America, the gap is big.

Vanessa Nakate: Personally, and I think also for the different young people within the activist movement, we find ourselves in situations where we have to give hope to people.

We have to give hope to leaders and to the whole world. It’s a huge responsibility as everyone expects us to provide so much hope and yet, no one is giving us the hope, even with the work that young people are doing within the climate movement.

We need our leaders, we need corporations, the public to give hope to young people as well because activism can be exhausting. Many have experienced burnouts struggling with their mental health because of climate change.

We’ve been speaking and we need the world to listen.

In Sudan, climate change is putting further pressure on the country's already scarce water resources.

UNEP/Yousif Babeker Eltayeb Bila

In Sudan, climate change is putting further pressure on the country’s already scarce water resources.

Jake Dubbins: A couple of years ago at COP26, we collected climate activists, climate leaders and businesses to effectively write a letter demanding that climate misinformation was dealt with by the UN, but also by social media platforms. Two years ago, there were no policies on climate misinformation on tech platforms. There are now climate misinformation policies across most of them, other than X, formerly known as Twitter.

Advertisers don’t want their adverts next to climate change denial, next to the harassment of activists or by hate speech. So, advertisers who invest their money and literally fund most of the media environment also have a choice. They can choose to invest their money in great climate science, great journalism or they can invest their money in climate denial and hate speech.

Paul Goodloe: It’s all about being on the right side of history. Fifty to 60 years ago, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was disapproved of by 75 per cent of Americans. Now, he’s viewed with 90 per cent approval 50 years after his death. So, just be on the right side of history. What’s going to happen 30, 40, 50 years from now? Just keep trying to push and I’m optimistic that more people will get on the right side of history.

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