Misinformation is when people share false information or selectively present data about fossil fuel emissions or climate change that don't give the whole picture, which can influence how others think about the issue. It doesn't have to be intentional – some misinformation can be the result of a simple mistake or a misunderstanding of a complex matter.
One example is greenwashing, a way for businesses to make their environmental credentials appear more environmentally friendly than they actually are. For example, some fashion brands are using renewable, natural fibers and recyclable packaging, diverting from the myriad of fast, disposable fashion produced every week.
On the other hand, disinformation is when climate deniers and other groups or official organizations intentionally publicize false information or spread hoaxes to promote their own agenda against climate science and environmentally beneficial government policies.
How does misinformation affect efforts to tackle climate change?
Major fossil fuel companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil, BP and the Global Climate Coalition, a leading group of companies associated with the fossil fuel industry that disbanded in 2002, have been accused of discrediting climate science or masking their continued fossil fuel investments with lobbying. And good commercials from the late 1970s.
For example, groups like the Empowerment Coalition in the US or the Responsible Energy Citizens Coalition in Europe use a tactic known as astroturfing – to support fossil fuel-derived natural gas and discredit green policies. Funding from obscure sources.
Misinformation and lies are published by some media outlets or promoted by populist politicians. When more than 40 people died in floods caused by a hurricane in Brazil in September 2023, government opponents and a prominent journalist blamed the deaths on dam collapses in an attempt to divert attention from efforts to mitigate the serious effects of global warming.
Social media, with manipulated photos or videos, has made the spread of such misinformation even easier – especially when the sustainable urban planning trend is linked to conspiracy theories like the recent backlash against 15-minute cities.
Climate Action Against Misinformation, a global coalition that counters climate misinformation and misinformation, has seen a spike in climate denialist tweets with hashtags like #ClimateScam following Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter (now X).
In recent years, especially during Donald Trump's presidency, misinformation has infiltrated policymaking as well. He repeatedly criticized renewable energy and dismissed climate science before and after he took office, often calling global warming a hoax.
Trump will eventually pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, delaying American — and global — climate action for years.
Why is climate misinformation important?
With greenhouse gas emissions and global temperatures rising one after the other, time to address global warming is running out. Most scientists agree that we must act now, but climate misinformation casts doubt on proven climate science — that humanity has caused climate change — and solutions, undermining public support for the fight against climate change.
By 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognized for the first time that “[r]Historical and misinformation about climate change and the deliberate undermining of science have contributed to a misunderstanding of the scientific consensus, uncertainty, neglected risk and urgency, and disagreement.”
Advocacy groups such as Climate Action Against Misinformation, governments including the European Union, and global organizations such as the United Nations, the World Meteorological Organization and the World Health Organization, are speaking out and countering misinformation.
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