The New Climate Denial

As we have gained an increasingly better understanding of the mechanisms of Earth’s climate, its past and its future, it has become ever more clear that human activities are a growing disruptive influence. The only way in which a climate catastrophe can be averted is through ambitious government regulations restricting the production of greenhouse gases by companies1

Considering that 70% of all non-natural carbon emission originate from just 72 companies, these are financially motivated to delay the inevitable restrictions on their reckless production of greenhouse gases for as long as possible. In fact, we have seen them bury any in-house evidence of climate change and spend millions to spread doubt among leaders and working class. 

Exxon may be one of the better known examples of this. The company knew from internal reports about our changing climate since the early 1980s, but opted to keep their reports secret. The company has since then spent over 30 million dollars on think tanks promoting climate denial. These think tanks were previously engaged in spreading doubt on the health risks of tobacco smoke. 

This kind of denial has been familiar with me ever since I first dabbled in geo-sciences 15 years ago. The past few years though I noticed that I was confronted with fewer people spreading outright denial. At first I thought this would be a good thing, were it not for the increasing number of responses under nearly every imaginable news report on climate change containing “doomerism”. In other words, attitudes that the climate is not changing or that it is a natural process are gradually giving way to claims that proposed methods to reduce emissions are not effective, too late or even harmful. 

A new report by Center for Countering Digital Hate2 has noticed the same on a much larger scale. In an analysis of over 12.000 videos spreading climate denial on Youtube in the past 6 years, it has found that videos containing “old denial” have dropped from 65% to 30% while the new form of denial has risen from 35% to 70%. 

This remarkable change can be linked to the growing evidence of climate change in the world around us. The last nine years are worldwide the warmest recorded since measurements began3. Climate change has changed from something just talked about in the news and in publications to something that is observable in day to day weather and in its tangible results. With the denial of science becoming untenable, polluting companies are changing their strategy from outright denial to doomerism. 

I would argue this new form of capitalist propaganda is even more dangerous and more damaging. Unlike the old form of climate denial, this new form cannot be dispelled easily with personal experience alone. It is very hard for a person who is convinced that wind or solar farms are destroying the environment to come to a different conclusion by themselves. 

Similarly it can be very tempting to let go of all hope when one is confronted with the pressing releases from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

An interesting side note in the report remarks that YouTube makes up to 13.4 million US dollars a year from advertisements on climate denial videos, motivating them to continue pushing them in their algorithm. 

Down the line both forms of denial serve the exact same purpose: to delay and frustrate climate action in order to squeeze more profit from a dying world. It will not be the billionaires that will suffer from climate inaction. They will have their stockpiles, private security forces and gated villas. It will be the working class – especially in the global south – who have no means to adapt and who will be left to fend for themselves. 

Despite the very real threat the warming Earth brings to our near future, it remains far from hopeless. Yes, we will pass multiple temperature tipping points and biodiversity will suffer, but we can limit the damage and prevent it from running out of control and turning into a catastrophe. 

We now stand at a crossroads: will we continue to allow ourselves to be misled into manufactured pessimism, or will we take revolutionary action, end this betrayal and move towards a fairer, more liveable world?