Billions of entries appear on the Internet every day. Which of them are real? One of the victims of information chaos on the web is climate change. Scientists and journalists argue that groups that favor it are behind the majority of climate-skeptical posts.
The analyzes of the Public Opinion Research Center from 2009-2018 showed that at that time Poles were becoming more aware of the dangers of climate change (in 2009 it was 71% and in 2018 – 83%). It happened though changed. Recent studies show that the perceived severity of this problem has decreased somewhat. Currently, it is 77 percent. According to scientists, the decline could have been caused by, inter alia, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Climate crisis still remains one of the greatest threats and challenges of the modern world. It happens that it is discussed at family dinner, but the public debate has moved mainly to the Internet.
The Internet is not a medium in which you can talk about such matters, because it mainly plays out fears – admits Dr. Magdalena Budziszewska from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Warsaw. She is echoed by Szymon Bujalski, a freelance journalist who runs the Journalist for Climate profile on Facebook and Instagram. According to him the climate crisis is “a very bad story”.
Is very a lot of scaring and very little solution. At the same time, there is very little explanation that it is not only about protecting yourself from what is bad and terrible, but about creating a better place to live. – the journalist explains.
Added to this is the ubiquitous misinformation and fake news that follows. Almost every day in social media we read about extinction of species, deadly hurricanes, but also about questioning the results of research or mocking climate activism. Sometimes it is even hard to understand. This is why on the RMF24 portal we are launching a new series – Facts and myths about climate change. We create it in cooperation with the Nauka o klimacie portal. In a series of texts, we will check what we really know about global warming and what is just a myth. We start with the phenomenon climate-skepticism.
Climate skepticism, climate denialism is a phenomenon quite similar to the phenomena of denial or disagreement, displacement of various scientific achievements or new knowledge that we gain about the world in a situation when it is inconvenient either for everyone or for some – explains Dr. Magdalena Budziszewska. The researcher reminds that this issue has its tradition with a long beard and has passed several phases – from completely denying that climate change occurs at all, to undermining that it is caused by humans, to the point where climate denialism is out of style.
It has become very passe to deny scientific truths, both the reality of global warming and its anthropogenicity. It has become a bit impossible to argue that this (climate change – editor’s note) is not happening – says Dr. Budziszewska.
According to the first part of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in August, we are on a worrying path to global warming. Climate change is widespread, violent and increasing in intensity, and must be blamed first on humanity. Scientists estimate the current level of warming at approx. 1.1 ℃. According to the IPCC, it is no longer possible to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 ℃ without exceeding this threshold. It is still only possible to cross the threshold slightly and bring the temperature down again by the end of the century. We are currently on course at 2.7 ℃ to 2100.
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Climate denialism, however, has “worthy” successors.
Classic denialism turned into discourses (how we communicate – ed. ed.), whose aim is rather to attack climate policies or what is needed for change. This is called delaying action discourses – explains the researcher.
We have four delaying action discourses:
- spychological discourse, discarding responsibility – we are not to blame for climate change, it is, for example, China emits more greenhouse gases;
- discourse of non-transformative solutions – the so-called painting the lawn green, seemingly noble activities that distract from necessary things, e.g. collecting litter on the beach;
- discourse of threatening with solutions – solving the climate crisis is worse than the crisis itself;
- climate fatalism – nothing can be done, it is too late to change.
There is nothing wrong with collecting garbage in the forest or saving water. Dr. Magdalena Budziszewska points out, however, that these are only micro-actions, a an adequate response to climate change would have to mean very large transformations of entire sectors of the economy, in particular energy and food production.
When we say – let’s only do voluntary and kind actions, ones that look nice, e.g. collect rubbish, then give people something to take care of and distract from the fact that it would be appropriate not to color the world that is, but to take away too much transformational work. It is as if these non-transformative actions are downright enemies of the transformative ones, not because they are contradictory, but because they are doing very nicely as substitute solutions – believes the researcher.
This is also shoved into children who are supposed to go to the forest at school and pick up rubbish. Even from the level of children, it sometimes becomes such an irony, in the sense – why should we walk in the forest and collect garbage for someone, if we cannot do it so that we first organize it so that people do not litter, so e.g. effectively punish litter and even go further – do not produce so much of this rubbish, because that would help – he adds.
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A researcher from the University of Warsaw indicates that all the big movements that raise doubts about climate change are not self-generating.
People are sincerely fooled, sometimes they get caught up in some kind of wars, which can be viewed as social engineering. Today we can quite strongly suspect that much of the information acting on social polarization comes from artificial troll farms– believes Budziszewska.
Troll farms don’t just spread one version of the story that climate change doesn’t exist. Groups publish on the web all those messages that are able to deepen the divisions. On one profile, therefore, there may be posts that claim there is no global warming, and that it is too late to prevent a climate catastrophe.
The capital that is created on this, however, is political capital. On climate change, as in many other strands, the theme of political or ideological divisions plays a role. Probably them (divisions – editor’s note) there are some artificially fed or sustained. For example, content is intentionally uploaded onto the Internet, false experts are created, disinformation is sponsored, various techniques are used to spread disinformation because it serves to deplete popularity and political capital by various movements, and, that the very existence of a highly polarized conflict works in the interests of power – thinks Dr. Budziszewska.
One does not need to look far for examples. Szymon Bujalski tells that During the elections in the USA a few years ago, oil companies paid politicians about 15 times more than companies related to green energy. In this context, the journalist also points to the Polish political scene.
Politicians, at least those who have a little more knowledge, consciously manipulate, lie and mislead in order to defend the Polish status quo and coal, which gives a lot of money, both to companies and politicians. There is a big lobby here, a lot of pressure not to change anything – says Bujalski.
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Climate skepticism is also associated with the inner zone of man. Global warming is a difficult topic for us, related to threat and fearthat’s why we don’t want to know too much about it. The public sphere, overloaded with negative information, also does not help.
We are even afraid of changing for the better and prefer to stick to the status quo, which is worse, because simply changing us very often scares us – believes Szymon Bujalski and advises that the approach to combating climate change as to building a better future.
The story told in such a way is much more positive, more pleasant, you can build something more permanent on it – underlines.
According to Dr. Budziszewska, one must focus on rationalism.
That is why we need awareness of climate problems in order to be able to build support and a sensible space for building solutions. When there is a mess around climate change, deliberate confusion and a terrifying, emotional and heavy discussion, it is in some sense impossible to rationally talk about solutions. – the researcher concludes.
- use proven, reliable sources;
- look for confirmation of information in several sources;
- check the profiles from which the posts come from – whether they are kept regularly, what content is on them;
- do not combine the voices of science with the posts of family or friends on social media;
- remember that each person has limited knowledge and works on the basis of different patterns; they make it difficult for us to individually ascertain what the truth is.