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CLIMATE CHANGE DISINFORMATION KEEPS SPREADING

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Time is running out while the world is still wondering whether climate change is real or not.

818,000 posts of disinformation on climate change are displayed 1.36 million times a day.

7 years, 7 months. That’s the time we have left. Everyone in the world has heard of global warming at least once. It is an unprecedented event in human history that affects the entire world and all its citizens, without distinction. It is a phenomenon that is at the center of political discussions at international level. And yet, a phenomenon that is still marked by skepticism and confusion. The climate clock is one of the many strategies used to try to raise awareness about this issue. As research and various studies have proven – and as almost the entire scientific community has now concluded – climate change is a reality. And it is man-made. We caused it, and we need to fix it before it’s too late. But widespread misinformation is hampering this project. 

As John Oliver demonstrated in a funny sketch on his show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the existence of global warming should not be up for debate because it is a certain fact, scientifically proven. And yet, more and more people are questioning its veracity, believing that it is a fabrication made by governments to sow panic, or that global warming exists and is not caused by man but instead is a completely natural process. It begs the question: how is it possible that in 2021 many people still doubt the veracity of the climate emergency? It is certainly not a spontaneous phenomenon but, on the contrary, the result of a very sophisticated and detailed strategy.

According to a 2019 study by Influencemap, the 5 largest gas and oil companies have invested more than $1 billion in funding climate disinformation campaigns in the years following the Paris Agreement. Campaigns that in some cases have also been picked up by some prominent and authoritative newspapers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. And, in addition to the misinformation carried out through newspapers, there is also that spread via social media, the numbers of which are even more disturbing. Not to mention the positions of some leading political figures who use their influence and following to spread negationist theories. An emblematic example of this is Donald Trump, the former President of the United States, who in his four years in office enacted 176 acts that repeal or limit in various ways the actions taken by the US government to combat climate change, such as the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement (a decision that was later reversed by the current President of the United States of America, Joe Biden). Of particular interest from this perspective is a 2020 study by Brown University, which found that a quarter of climate tweets posted in the days leading up to and following President Trump’s decision were from bots. Trump’s denial campaign has had a powerful impact on US public opinion. According to a 2020 study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, only 58% of Americans believe that climate change is caused by human activity. In states that voted for Biden, the percentage was 59%, while in states that voted for Trump in the last election it dropped to 52%. These are percentages that have gone up in the last year, but it’s still not enough. 

And this is not just an American case, it happens worldwide, and sometimes the situation is even worse. An example is the poor, if not non-existent, management of media coverage of Cop26 in China, where we have only seen an increase in public awareness of the issue in recent years. Another emblematic example is Russia, where one of the main national newspapers recently published an article questioning whether it was really necessary to be afraid of global warming. The article concludes by listing the “positive consequences” of global warming for Russia, such as lower heating costs and faster shipping routes. It is also important to note that both the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, did not attend the conference. 

A similar situation can be observed also in Italy. Although various studies and surveys show that most Italians already feel affected by the climate crisis and are therefore aware of an unprecedented global emergency, Italy has not been exempt from strong disinformation campaigns. An example of this is Matteo Salvini, former Deputy Prime Minister and ex Minister of the Interior, who has repeatedly publicly expressed his skepticism about the existence of global warming. Indeed, between 2014 and 2018, the Italian party “Lega” voted against all EU energy and climate policies, including the Paris Agreement. But he’s not the only one. On February 13, 2020, the daily newspaper “Libero” published an article entitled “Thirty years ago it was hotter: so the statistics are denying Greta’s supporters”. In 2019, it published two more controversial articles, “Global Warming? But if it’s cold” and, on the occasion of Greta Thunberg’s visit to the Vatican, “Come forward, Gretina. The pain in the ass goes to the Pope”, a clear reference to the 1982 film “Come forward, moron”.

A similar situation can be observed also in Italy. Although various studies and surveys show that most Italians already feel affected by the climate crisis and are therefore aware of an unprecedented global emergency, Italy has not been exempt from strong disinformation campaigns. An example of this is Matteo Salvini, former Deputy Prime Minister and ex Minister of the Interior, who has repeatedly publicly expressed his skepticism about the existence of global warming. Indeed, between 2014 and 2018, the Italian party “Lega” voted against all EU energy and climate policies, including the Paris Agreement. But he’s not the only one. On February 13, 2020, the daily newspaper “Libero” published an article entitled “Thirty years ago it was hotter: so the statistics are denying Greta’s supporters”. In 2019, it published two more controversial articles, “Global Warming? But if it’s cold” and, on the occasion of Greta Thunberg’s visit to the Vatican, “Come forward, Gretina. The pain in the ass goes to the Pope”, a clear reference to the 1982 film “Come forward, moron”.

Greta Thunberg’s post on her Instagram on November 15, 2021.
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