If you’re a climate communicator, you know all too well that one of the biggest challenges is making sure your messaging doesn’t get drowned out or even turned against you by fossil fuel interests. The first step to tackling that challenge and creating effective climate comms is understanding the disinformation that you are up against!
Five Tips for Addressing Climate Disinformation
Here are five key tips for ensuring you and your team are prepared to navigate today’s complex climate information ecosystem.
- Don’t be afraid to use the “D” word (disinformation) when it fits. Sometimes, it can be confusing to know which words to use when talking about the misleading claims about climate change we encounter every day. “Misinformation” refers to any inaccurate or false information, while “disinformation” is inaccurate or false information that is deliberately intended to deceive or confuse. You can confidently use the word “disinformation” to refer to falsehoods disseminated by the fossil fuel industry, since the industry has a clear track record of spreading climate denial despite having understood the dangers of burning fossil fuels since at least 1959. For inaccurate information with unclear motivations, such as misleading social media posts from unfamiliar sources, it is better to use the broader term “misinformation.” Lastly, using the term “mis-/disinformation” can be helpful if you want to emphasize that you are broadly referring to both intentionally deceptive claims and falsehoods spread without ill intent.
- Notice the subtle threats, not just the obvious ones. Not all disinformation comes in the form of outright climate change denial; it is often much more subtle. Climate Action Against Disinformation, a coalition of more than 50 leading climate and anti-disinformation groups, has created a three-part, expert-informed definition of climate mis-/disinformation that covers the many different types of false claims about climate change science and solutions. Make sure you’re on the lookout for greenwashing, for example, which is the practice of making something seem to be more environmentally friendly than it actually is.
- Recognize the powerful players behind climate disinformation. Fossil fuel corporations aren’t the only ones involved in spreading climate disinformation; other types of actors like trade associations, public relations firms, and think tanks are also key parts of the problem. Therefore, recognizing which sources of information are reliable and which aren’t is critical. Additionally, opponents of climate action have billions of dollars at their fingertips that they can use to spread climate disinformation, so mobilizing funding for countering these dangerous falsehoods is not only useful — it is absolutely crucial for the success of climate communications.
- Make sure you know the opposition’s tactics. The fossil fuel industry and its allies are constantly developing new tactics to launder the industry’s reputation and prevent meaningful climate action. For example, fossil fuel corporations often “woke-wash” themselves by performatively using social justice language in an attempt to distract from the harm they cause to frontline communities. Climate communicators must be aware of these underhanded strategies so they can identify and counteract the many different types of polluter propaganda.
- Prebunk, debunk, and advocate for systemic change. Climate opponents produce constant floods of harmful disinformation, so to avoid ceding influence to polluters, climate communicators must take charge of the climate change conversation. Climate advocates must not only steadily disseminate solid, evidence-based information but also make sure to monitor and clearly refute false claims. When disinformation starts to spread, communicators can reveal the truth by using the best practices for debunking, and they can even get ahead of the game by “inoculating” people against common harmful narratives through strategic prebunks. Furthermore, in the long term, we need to advocate for systemic solutions; governments must require companies to take concrete measures to stop the spread of climate mis-/disinformation!
Confronting climate disinformation might seem overwhelming at first, but knowledge is power; the more you know about the problem, the more effectively you can solve it!
Are you interested in learning more? Read the Climate Action Against Disinformation coalition’s Climate Mis-/Disinformation Backgrounder to get a straightforward explanation of what climate mis-/disinformation is, where it comes from, what tactics the fossil fuel industry and its allies use, and what strategies we can utilize to combat climate mis-/disinformation.