The Rise of Climate Denialism: How Misinformation Is Impeding Renewable Energy Development in the Us

Climate misinformation is spreading rapidly

Blackbird.AI on January 12, 2023

Social media has become an increasingly powerful tool for disseminating misinformation about renewable energy. A growing number of Facebook groups, influencers, and various online forums are devoted to spreading false and misleading information about renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power.  

Misinformation is spreading rapidly through networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other outlets to sway public opinion and discourage progress on renewable energy initiatives. From trending tags and campaigns such as #ClimateScam from influencers attaching false scientific interpretations to their posts, several coordinated tactics are being employed in an attempt to discredit renewable energy sources, slowing down progress toward environmental sustainability.

A Guardian report recently highlighted this phenomenon, indicating an increase in climate change denial on the website. University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann, explained that “climate deniers who had been deactivated are making a reappearance” and that “climate denial was getting somewhat more traction.” An analysis of Climate Action Against Disinformation found that phrases such as “climate scam” had become more prominent since July of this year.

WHO’S INFLUENCING THE INFLUENCERS?

At its core, climate denialism relies on creating confusion within communities to prevent any real progress on environmental issues. This tactic works exceptionally well when combined with selective perspectives and skewed scientific evidence through the use of cherry-picked data or misinterpreted statistics to make their points more convincing. This malformation relies heavily upon fabricated anecdotes from individuals who claim to be experts on the subject—yet these experts often lack any credentials or experience in the field. It is becoming more critical to understand what online narratives and actors are “influencing the influencers,” often without their knowledge through repeated exposure to misinformation from their peer groups, online followings, and intentional targeting from special interest groups and even foreign adversaries. It is essential that everyone who consumes media takes extra measures to verify where their information is coming from and whether it is credible or not before forming any opinions or conclusions based on what they see online or elsewhere. The constant information stream can shape the opinions and reactions of politicians, clout chasers and the public making them more susceptible to misleading narratives and information regarding climate change.

One common tactic employed by these groups is the use of carefully crafted rage-inducing messages designed to stir public doubt and sow confusion about scientific evidence on climate change. For example, when North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) published a forecast that much of the country could see blackouts during peak summer demand, GOP elected officials and fossil fuel supporters used this report to falsely claim that “blackouts” would be the result of a push towards renewables. This was an intentional effort to misinform the public and create uncertainty about renewable energy sources as viable solutions for climate change.

Conversely, recent Stanford University studies, which analyzed grid stability under multiple scenarios, revealed that an energy system running entirely on wind, water, and solar with storage capabilities has the potential to actually avoid blackouts, lower energy requirements, and consumer costs.  

The blurred lines between science and politics have left many in the fight against climate change concerned, as prominent public figures have used their influence to spread false or misleading information about renewable energy sources.  NPR reviewed dozens of posts from anti-wind and anti-solar groups, discovering many that contained misleading information about renewable energy – but only some had been flagged for accuracy by Facebook. This shows how easily these ideological battles can become mainstream discourse, leading to misinformed beliefs and policy decisions that could negatively impact future generations.

Understanding who influences the influencers regarding renewable energy is essential because so much of the discussion online and in other media can be driven by misinformation. According to Josh Fergen, a researcher at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Facebook is one of the biggest drivers of misleading content about renewable energy. This is concerning because anyone using social media can fall victim to incorrect information and have their perceptions changed.

IMPACT ON BUSINESS AND CORPORATIONS

The modern business and corporate landscapes are changing, and so are the environmental perspectives that underpin them. In particular, the rise of new ecological studies and opinions, in combination with the media being flooded with disinformation, require that companies and corporations be more mindful of their sustainability decisions.

One of the areas to examine has been the rise of greenwashing. Greenwashing is a term used to describe when a company or individual misleads consumers into thinking they are being more eco-friendly than they are. Green advertising is deceptively used to persuade people that the organization’s products, aims, or policies are environmentally friendly. This may include a company’s use of deceptive labels, incorrect or misleading information about a product’s environmental benefits, or simply overstating the extent of its green credentials.  

This practice has come under fire in recent years as more and more companies are accused of appearing environmentally friendly without actually making any meaningful contributions toward climate change solutions. For example, BP recently announced plans to become a “net zero” company by 2050 or sooner; however, internal documents showed that their programs do not align with this public statement. Moreover, emails from company executives revealed that BP had adopted an obstructionist approach to climate regulations rather than looking for genuine solutions. The prevalence of greenwashing presents potential risks for businesses as consumers become more conscious about sustainability and have higher expectations for companies they purchase from or invest in. Businesses found to be misleading customers could face financial losses due to image damage, boycotts, legal action, and other forms of backlash if it’s discovered that their sustainability claims are false.

COMBAT THE SPREAD OF MISINFORMATION ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFORTS

Blackbird.AI can help combat the spread of misinformation surrounding climate change by providing powerful insights that can be used to counter misleading narratives. The platform uses sophisticated algorithms and data analysis to identify sources of harmful narratives, identifying patterns of manipulation and inauthentic behavior associated with climate change denial. Through machine-learning models, Blackbird can detect toxic and extremist content related to climate denial, allowing organizations to better track the evolution and spread of these narratives across social media.

These tools will enable organizations to identify potential manipulation tactics employed by malicious actors who seek to discredit credible research on the topic while promoting alternative and often fabricated narratives. With these insights, organizations are better able to respond quickly and accurately when faced with misleading claims or inaccurate depictions of scientific research.

About Blackbird.AI

BLACKBIRD.AI protects organizations from narrative attacks created by misinformation and disinformation that cause financial and reputational harm. Powered by our AI-driven proprietary technology, including the Constellation narrative intelligence platform, RAV3N Risk LMM, Narrative Feed, and our RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team, Blackbird.AI provides a disruptive shift in how organizations can protect themselves from what the World Economic Forum called the #1 global risk in 2024.

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