This past week, an image shared on Twitter as a joke garnered 22,000 likes and some people took it seriously. The map, created in 2015 as a comparison of the size of the Mediterranean Sea and the United States, was posted as “scientists say this map represents the US in 30 years if we don’t reverse climate change.”
The internet is great for spreading misinformation.
The United States is the top producer of greenhouse gas emissions over time. We are one of the prime drivers of climate change. Yet whenever the president or congress makes an attempt to reduce emissions, the efforts have failed. There is a large and well-funded lobby that sows the seeds of doubt about climate change science.
This lobby includes the large oil and gas producers and the Koch brothers among others. The money funds anti-science think tanks and advocacy groups and campaigns to spread disinformation.
The international community, including oil companies, recognized that the world was heating up due to the emissions from burning fossil fuels in the 1980s. Government leaders agreed to measures designed to stabilize the climate. The oil companies and many other large corporations in the United States, formed the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) to push back against those efforts.
The GCC worked to convince the public, the media, and lawmakers that climate science was only a theory and there were probably other causes for global warming. They strongly advocated for inaction on the part of the government to regulate the industries. They succeeded in keeping the United States out of the actions that would have helped mitigate climate change.
At the same time that Exxon was active in GCC and pushing their climate science doubt strategy, internally they were including climate change projections into their planning and studying how to adapt their Arctic operations to the realities of a warming planet.
Move forward to the present day. President Biden is attempting to put the United States on a path to reduce carbon emissions by 2030. A senator from West Virginia, who made half a million dollars on fossil fuel investments last year, and is the beneficiary of the most campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies, is holding the climate hostage by refusing to vote for the incentive plan for clean energy proposed by the Biden administration. The plan would incentivize companies who produce clean energy and penalize the companies that don’t. Biden hopes to take that victory to COP 26 to encourage other world leaders to take action.
A recent study by Cornell University states that there is consensus in the scientific literature that the climate crisis is caused by human activity. Because of the successful lobbying by oil and gas companies, many in the general public don’t understand or believe the scientific consensus.
This brings us back to the internet. Facebook and Twitter are among the largest disseminators of climate change misinformation. Facebook does little to stop it, and also takes ad money from oil and gas companies.
In the past year and a half, we have seen how misinformation impacts people. Covid vaccine uptake is less than needed to keep the variants at bay because some people believe misinformation that the vaccines are unsafe. Our entire world could be in peril because people doubt the veracity of how we humans are causing the climate crisis and that we are the only ones who can stop it.