Last week I was listening to the Faithless album – No Roots. Do you remember it? The first single was Mass Destruction:
With a long range weapon or suicide bomber
Wicked mind is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether your stowaway’s son or BBC 1
Dis-information is a weapon of mass destruction
You could a Caucasian or a poor Asian
Racism is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether inflation or globalization
Fear is a weapon of mass destruction
This song was released back in 2004 in response to the increasingly unpopular ‘war on terror’.
While I love this song, I was disheartened that over a decade and a half after its release, the same messages are as relevant today as they were back then.
The only difference is that today’s increasingly unpopular war is not one waged by people against other people. It is one waged by people against our planet. The battle is against climate change. And the weapons of the enemy are the same today as they were then – dis-information, fear, racism – all perpetrated by those of wicked mind.
The part that jumped out at me most was the line “dis-information is a weapon of mass destruction”. Today we call it something different: misinformation, fake news. But the result is the same.
The amount of dis-information that exists around climate change is staggering. And it isn’t by accident.
Do you recall when the world learned that tobacco companies concealed the truth about the negative health effects of cigarettes so they could protect their product and their profits?
Well, since the 1970s (perhaps earlier) the fossil fuel industry has been doing the exact same thing. They have been pushing a multi-million dollar dis-information campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change. This is not a secret. Numerous investigations and reports outline the role fossil fuel companies (particularly Exxon Mobil) have played in deceiving the public about the risks of climate change, the role of fossil fuels in contributing to climate change, and hindering the development of renewable energy sources.
The dis-information tactics being used in the climate change war have been summarised by researchers as:
Fake experts – Promoting dissenting non-experts as highly qualified while not having published any actual climate research and/or receiving any relevant education.
Logical fallacies – Logically flawed arguments that lead to false conclusions. Common logical fallacies are red herrings, non sequiturs (a statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement) and false dichotomies.
Impossible expectations – Demanding unrealistic standards of certainty before acting on the science. This has delayed climate action to the point environmental disasters are now common, are costing billions and costing lives.
Cherry Picking – Selectively choosing data that supports a desired point of view but differs from the conclusion arising from all the available data.
Conspiracy Theories – Proposing there is a secret plan among a number of people, such as conspiring to hide a truth or perpetuate misinformation.
In the face of all the cherry picked information, half-truths and blatant lies it is more important than ever that we, as a society, have the ability to think critically about the information we are being fed.
Why we take action
The climate change dis-information campaign is a sophisticated and well-funded machine. And this machine is costing lives and livelihoods.
It is crucial to expose dis-information for what it really is so we can move forward and take action to save our futures.
How we can take action
Research tells us that one way to combat climate dis-information and help people to see through the dis-information machine is by sharing the tactics used to mislead the public. When you know how you might be tricked, it is easier to be on guard against it.
It is also important to refute climate myths. When refuting climate myths it’s best to focus on facts, rather than focusing on the myth itself and inadvertently giving the falsity more air-time than it deserves.
We can also become more discerning about where we source our information. To be truly informed we should seek out independent evidence based information.
In Australia we are lucky to still have the ABC as an independent entity (despite the efforts of the conservative government to influence their content and limit their ability to undertake robust investigative research). We also have The Conversation – an independent website that provides news sourced from the academic and research community. Well worth reading and supporting.
Globally, United Nations organisations have a plethora of research and resources that provide information for children through to adults on high profile global issues such as climate change, food and agriculture, biodiversity and sustainable development to name just a few.
If you don’t know what the independent and evidence based sources of information are in your country, why not do a bit of research and find one you can trust.
Let’s fight back against dis-information and save ourselves from mass destruction.
Cook, J. (2019). Understanding and countering misinformation about climate change. In Chiluwa, I. & Samoilenko, S. (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Deception, Fake News, and Misinformation Online (pp. 281-306). Hershey, PA: IGI-Global.
Cook, J., Supran, G., Lewandowsky, S., Oreskes, N., & Maibach, E., (2019). America Misled: How the fossil fuel industry deliberately misled Americans about climate change. Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. Available at https://www.climatechangecommunication.org/america-misled/