For more than three decades, fossil fuel interests have waged a campaign to protect their businesses by undermining public trust in climate science and delaying action to forestall global warming. This misinformation has been especially successful in the United States, the country that has, historically, pumped the most climate-cooking carbon emissions into Earth’s atmosphere.
Researchers are increasingly looking into how to counter the misinformation being fed to the public, and a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change this month rounds up some of the key insights from this emerging field of research.
Justin Farrell, a professor of sociology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, led the research team behind the study. “Many people see these efforts to undermine science as an increasingly dangerous challenge and they feel paralyzed about what to do about it,” he said in a statement. “But there’s been a growing amount of research into this challenge over the past few years that will help us chart out some solutions.”
False information must be neutralized in real-time as it is produced and disseminated, Farrell said. He and his colleagues identified a number of crucial advancements in the social sciences and used them as the basis of a coordinated set of strategies for confronting the institutional network that enables the spread of climate science misinformation. The researchers grouped those strategies into four inter-connected issue areas — public inoculation, legal strategies, political mechanisms, and financial transparency.
Misinformation and of course “fake news” are very much part of the popular conversation today, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the public debate around climate change has improved, Farrell told Mongabay: “The rise of terms like ‘misinformation’ and ‘fake news’ in the American vernacular has certainly helped. But, that doesn’t mean that folks will step out of their echo chambers and seek out facts and information that is not thoroughly politicized. I’ve received numerous emails from some folks on the right since publishing this article that view established climate science itself as misinformation.”