It’s really confusing this climate change/Greta Thunberg situation.
On the one hand, Donald Trump says it’s a hoax and pours scorn on the teenage activist, but on the other hand, David Attenborough and the Dalai Lama says she’s legit and we are facing a crisis.
Who to trust?
Navigating social media can be bewildering due to the competing narrative torrents. On different occasions, different types of stories cut through.
Sometimes that can be a false story, like the narrative that ‘everything’s fine folks, it’s a plot by lying baddies out to limit your freedom’. After all, who hasn’t hoped that bad news isn’t true?
Other times, the simple message is the true one.
Thunberg is cutting through because her message is clear: we are in imminent danger due to the impending climate crisis, and governments are not doing enough to tackle this – despite understanding the scale of the issue.
As Thunberg becomes more prolific, there have been a growing number of posts calling her a puppet, and claiming that the climate crisis is a ‘globalist’ plot to restrict your freedom with green taxes.
But in my opinion, it’s pretty much the opposite. There is a conspiracy around the climate crisis. But it is the opposite to the memes hating on this passionate teen and ignoring the science she asks us to heed.
Big Oil has known that man is causing global warming for almost four decades.
Since that time, just as Big Tobacco paid corrupt doctors and faux scientists and created fake news denying that smoking causes lung cancer, Big Oil has funded climate change denial. The billionaire Koch Brothers have been amongst the worst offenders, according to reports.
‘Follow the money’
The adage ‘follow the money’ is true.
But it doesn’t lead to a sinister low-energy light bulb manufacturer. Or to proposals like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, a proposal to invest dramatically in green tech and reforestation as well as penalize behaviour which endangers life.
Proposed taxes on C02 would hit polluters and raise revenue to fund planting forests. The market would switch to producing greener products because consumers would demand cheaper products. It wouldn’t hit the pocket of the average person. That’s not the purpose. It’s to change our economy by targeting the manufacturer. And we’re making (slow) progress. Car manufacturers are already investing in electric (though public transport is much better of course).
Big Oil propaganda would have it that these taxes are an attack on ‘freedom’. This is bogus. It’s an attack on their freedom to pollute for profit. And their freedom to pollute affects our freedom to live on a sustainable planet.
Nothing scares big business, the financial elites, more than people recognising their power and curbing their exploitation for profits. So they attack science, claiming that scientists and those who promote their views are the true elites. And for some feeling intellectually excluded seems to hurt more than feeling financially excluded.
Big businesses attack international bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), set up by the UN to collate and publish the best climate data humanity has.
Big Oil propaganda claims such bodies represent a sinister ‘globalist’ plot. But they are simply the coming together of the men and women who are experts in their scientific field and who have mostly chosen the field of studying the environment because they love the earth and want to protect it.
Big business also attacks the idea of collectivism and of government which in even the worst democracies (and I believe the US is pretty bad) are elected by the people.
They want us to remain powerless, passive, individualistic consumers. Democratic government and international organizations are imperfect and sometimes very bad: but democracy is always better than unelected corporate power, which is the alternative.
The real conspiracy is the rise of corporate power. You can look at US politicians to see the crossover with business interest, for example, Rex Tillerson, formerly CEO of ExxonMobil was made Secretary of State, in charge of foreign affairs.
Corporations want to run the world and resent governmental limits on their power: hence the myth of ‘globalism’.
I believe Big Oil aims to invade our minds through misinformation via sources like memes, fake-news sites, and misleading stories that most people don’t have time to fact-check.
An example which has been circulating on Facebook recently is a piece headlined ‘Over 30,000 scientists say ‘Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming’ is a complete hoax and science lie’, published by Natural News.
According to third party news rating organization NewsGuard, Natural News ‘severely violates basic standards of credibility and transparency’. Readers are urged to ‘proceed with caution’.
NewsGuard further describes the outlet as ‘a network of sites promoting both medical and non-medical conspiracy theories, particularly the false claim that vaccines are linked to autism’.
This particular story originates from Heartland – a political think-tank specifically created to lobby for less regulation on big business, including regulation on polluting for profit. While the organization no longer discloses its funding, previous funders include the Kochs brothers.
Heartland ‘says’: “The claim that the debate about the severity and cause of global warming is ‘settled science’ has taken a beating with the release of the names of 31,072 American scientists who reject the assertion that global warming has reached a crisis stage and is caused by human activity.”
Let’s analyze this. Firstly the 31,0172 individuals who signed this petition would be a fraction compared to the international consensus – 97-99 percent of all climatologists agree climate change is happening and man is causing it.
Secondly, it’s from 1998, why is it reappearing this week? Thirdly, what’s the origin of the petition? It’s the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, which, unlike genuine academics, who are transparent and publicly accountable, does not reveal where its funding is from. It’s headed by a four-time Republican candidate for Congress.
Fourthly, what is the criteria for ‘scientist’? Unlike climatologists in the IPCC who have PhDs in their field, it is simply someone with a bachelor degree. It includes vets or astrophysicists and family doctors. It’s like listening to people with degrees in Art History on the subject of Economics. Only 12 percent, a few thousand, have any qualification in a relevant degree.
Out of date
And lastly, since this was in 1998 when we knew much less, many of the few whose opinion has any value may well have changed their minds.
In fact, in 2006 when Scientific American reached out to 30 at random, ‘six said they would not sign the petition today, three did not remember any such petition, one had died, and five did not answer’.
So irrelevant, insignificant, very misleading and out-of-date – yet spread this week to counter the threat posed by the publicity raised by a young girl who is frightened at what the future holds.
It’s obviously an exhausting process to fact-check everything. We can’t.
A rule-of-thumb is that sources you have never heard of may well be unreliable. A random person on social media is likely not a rogue genius, but someone who has fallen for these conspiracies – or is an active agent of them
Use news sources you know are by respected journalists and not for-profit clickbait. Sites ending .org or .ac are often better than .com as they are held to higher standards of accountability. For truly independent, serious journalism outside the mainstream, try Double Down News (which takes no advertising) or The Intercept.
We should be as least as conscious about what we take into our heads as our bodies. Avoid junk news on random sites – it’s the info-equivalent of buying a hotdog on the street and hoping it might be vegan.
Conspiracy theories spread because as humans we all like to feel knowledgeable. It makes us feel powerful. Especially in such a scary, chaotic world. And those who feel least personal power or confidence might be particularly attracted to feeling they know better than the ‘sheeple’.
Ironically of course in spreading corporate conspiracies they’re actually working for ‘the Man’ for free.
At the end of the day, we have to also simply use our heart’s wisdom as well as our critical-thinking. Many of us haven’t been educated on how to check source reliability. It’s usually not taught in school.
So let’s apply common sense. Trump pours scorn on Thunberg and denies climate change. David Attenborough has spoken alongside Greta and regularly voices his concerns about climate crisis and species extinction. The Dalai Lama also gives his support.
Who do you believe to have the most wisdom, honesty, integrity and intelligence? Who do you trust? Can you trust anyone? If we are not to live in a constant state of confusion and anxiety we have to trust some voices.
For me, mistaking Trump for the voice of reason and Attenborough and the Dalai Lama for the dishonest rubes or dupes would be like watching Lord of The Rings and thinking Sauron was the goody and Gandalf the baddy.
What do you feel?