We are on the cusp of the collapse of civilization and yet a powerful minority of climate deniers continue to use their influence to resist climate action. The polls show that although most Americans support climate action, there is still a significant minority of people who are resistant to facts. As reported by The Guardian, Australian researcher Rebecca Huntley has found that science-based arguments are not getting through to some people. These are the people who vote for climate-denying governments in places like the US, Australia, and Brazil. According to Huntley, research shows that climate denial has increased since 2003. She explains that politicians have politicized climate change and helped to foment climate denial to serve their political ambitions.
Disinformation is a critical part of the mechanics of climate denial. Much of this disinformation is generated by the fossil fuel industry. They have a vested interest in undermining the facts about climate change. The reach of the fossil fuel industry is pervasive. They use front groups to do everything from lobby politicians to preventing kids from having access to the facts in schools. The fossil fuel industry buys politicians and political outcomes and API’s long history of disinformation and the dishonesty of the entire fossil fuel industry is a matter of public record.
The president of the United States is the fossil fuel industry’s most powerful advocate and a key source of disinformation. Trump may have promised to drain the swamp but his administration is full of fossil fuel advocates. Trump’s climate denial is part of his litany of lies. It is hard to refute the fact that he is the most corrupt and dishonest president in American history. As explained by his former economic adviser Gary Cohn facts don’t matter to this president. Trump is at war with fact-based traditional media because he is at war with truth.
The GOP were corrupt purveyors of disinformation long before Trump came on the scene. Republicans controlled by the fossil fuel industry, actively undermine the facts about climate change in exchange for funding from the fossil fuel industry.
Disinformation efforts have been helped tremendously by networks like Fox that seem more like state-run media than credible sources of information. Social media is also a primary driver of disinformation. While networks like Fox, the GOP, and the president make it easier for people to believe things that are not true, there is a psychological component that makes people more susceptible to disinformation.
Bias plays a pivotal role in maintaining the worldview of climate deniers. The three primary cognitive biases that make it possible for people to dismiss scientific evidence are confirmation bias, the Dunning-Kruger effect, and cognitive dissonance.
1. Confirmation bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. Those afflicted with confirmation bias focus on evidence that supports what they already believe and allows them to dismiss competing views. In the context of climate denial people ignore science in favor of their factually inaccurate beliefs.
2. Dunning–Kruger effect: This occurs when people overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability. Put simply this is about people overestimating what they think they know and their failure to recognize what they don’t know. People use flawed logic to deride climate science even though they have no scientific credentials, training, or understanding.
3. Cognitive dissonance: When people are confronted by contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values they explain away the competing evidence so that they can maintain their preexisting viewpoint. This enables them to avoid the discomfort of having to grapple with an alternate perspective no matter how well substantiated.
These biases helped to get Trump elected in 2016 but recent polls show that disinformation efforts are faltering. The coronavirus is driving people to seek out credible sources and embrace science which gives credence to the hope that science can be a bridge that unites us.
Science is but one of many issues that Trump gets wrong. His climate denial is among the concerns that are driving voters to seek an end to his presidency. One day in the near future Republicans will have to embrace the facts as a matter of political survival. In the interim, the Democrats have brought science back into the House of Representatives after they regained control of that chamber in the 2018 midterm elections. If they succeed in November 2020, Biden has promised to revive climate action and end the federal government’s climate denial.
- Disinformation: Deception that Delayed Climate Action
- Disinformation is the Most Global Sustainability Issue
- Fossil Fuel Pollution: Disinformation and Political Corruption
- Fueling Disinformation: How Big Oil Obstructs Climate Education
- Governance Arrangements to Combat Disinformation
- Top 100 Approaches to Bust Disinformation
- Conservative Climate Disinformation and the False Gods of Capitalism
- America’s Most Popular Purveyor of Climate Disinformation is Dead
- Polls Suggest the GOP’s Climate and Environment Disinformation Efforts are Faltering
- API’s Long History of Climate Denial and Disinformation
- Heartland Institute Targets Kids with Climate Disinformation
- Proof of Disinformation from Fossil Fuel Companies (Video)
- Resources to Combat Disinformation
- Glossary of Disinformation-Related Terminology
- How to Discern Truth from Falsehoods