Climate Change & Coronavirus: Misinformation & Skepticism in the Digital Age
Despite the growing consequences of human-produced Climate Change, many Americans continue not to believe the scientific community, indirectly preventing meaningful and sustainable political change. The political climate and distrust of news media has manifested in the prevalence of “climate change skeptics,” who manipulate existing scientific and social data to convince the public that climate change has no relation to human activities and is in fact beneficial to the health of the planet. As the continuation of a long-form, investigative article I wrote about how climate skeptics can affect local legislation, this summer I looked at the intersection of climate change and coronavirus misinformation. Though I originally began my project with the goal of viewing climate skepticism through the lens of the pandemic, I found the two to be inextricably intertwined. Climate experts started using coronavirus as a foothold to speak about climate change, as not only did carbon emissions generally decrease, but scientists believe ecosystem destruction will lead to more pandemic outbreaks. Additionally, while cataloging the growth of the climate skeptic movement during the pandemic it quickly became clear that climate skeptics were contributing to the spread of coronavirus misinformation as it related to their greater narrative against government control. As a result of reading not only the literature on climate skepticism, but climate skeptics work itself, I was able to identify patterns in their messages and draw connections to coronavirus fake news. The similarities between climate change and coronavirus has interesting implications for the future of censorship as social media platforms begin filtering conspiracy theories about the pandemic. Working on this project broadened my understanding of misinformation and engaged me with a topic relevant not only to the pandemic, but to my professional interest in environmental communication.