What you need to know:
- Debunking fake climate news with facts is an important endeavour that needs to be carried out consistently, to fill the knowledge gap and ensure misinformation does not thrive.
- It also slows down the spread of misinformation and stops the impact of potential harm to audiences.
Climate change has become one of the defining issues of our generation as the world races to protect the planet and its citizens from the disastrous effects of rising global temperatures.
However, in the race to reverse the effects of climate change, climate misinformation has reared its ugly head in an attempt to delay climate action. Climate misinformation thrives on social media, a space where accountability has been thrown to the dogs.
Climate Action Against Disinformation defines climate disinformation and misinformation as "deceptive or misleading content that undermines the existence or impacts of climate change, the clear human influence on climate change, and the need for urgent action; misrepresents scientific data, including by omission or cherry-picking, in order to undermine confidence in climate science, climate-related institutions, experts, and solutions; or falsely promotes efforts as supporting climate goals that actually contribute to climate warming or contradict the scientific consensus on mitigation or adaptation".
The National Resources and Defence Council notes that "at their worst, social platforms are ideological echo chambers where falsehoods cannot be corrected". It adds: "Every falsehood, distortion and conspiracy theory about climate change is an obstacle to meaningful climate action - which is a collective effort that requires our agreement on a set of basic facts."
Debunking fake climate news with facts is therefore an important endeavour that needs to be carried out consistently, to fill the knowledge gap and ensure misinformation does not thrive. It also slows down the spread of misinformation and stops the impact of potential harm to audiences.
Throughout the climate fact-checking programme, I found that climate misinformation is largely driven by a rush to break a story, misguided intentions where people spread fake news but with the intention of being helpful, religious and individual beliefs, and limited access to information.
Most of the claims I found were completely false, with only a few taken out of context. Of the 36 stories, more than 20 were based on false claims. See, for example, my first story, in which I debunked a claim that the sun is responsible for global warming.
I also came across claims denying the existence of a climate emergency, denying any link between climate change and human health, claims that the Earth has experienced global cooling and a claim that geoengineering is contributing to climate change.
Most importantly, however, was learning about the negative contribution of climate change to humans and plant and animal species. For example, in this story I learnt that climate change has increased zoonotic diseases. I also learnt how air pollution and rising temperatures increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and how heat waves can lead to deaths.
The story was prompted by a Twitter user who claimed that climate change will not wipe out humanity, and that climate change is a scam by the elite to gain control. This shows the devastating effects of ignorance and the constant need to fact-check such claims.
In this story, I tried to disprove a Twitter user who, like the first one, said that climate change was an attempt to control people. However, this user claimed that heart failure due to climate change was a joke. On the contrary, studies show that temperature extremes increase the risk of death in people with cardiovascular disease, and that one in 100 heart-related deaths may be due to extremely hot or cold days influenced by climate change.
A look at Google Trends shows that interest in climate change has increased over time, with users searching for: the natural causes of climate change, the effects of climate change, and the definition of global warming.
Looking to the future, I believe there is still an urgent need for fact-checkers to debunk fake climate news if progress is to be made on climate action. To combat and end misinformation, journalists and social media users alike should seek the truth, avoid repeating claims so as not to amplify them, use impartial language and sources, and ensure they use credible sources to combat climate lies.