The Climate Change Debate During Covid-19

Over the past few months, ISD analysts tracked the state of climate change debate across a selected network of Facebook and Twitter communities in the UK.

Analysts identified these communities as being bellwethers and/or key catalysts for climate disinformation and/or opposition to action on climate change in the British public sphere.

This article provides a top-line analysis of key topics discussed. ISD gathered data within these networks from 25 February 2021 to 3 March 2021. It examines the most widely shared posts and the most widely shared links.

The analysis highlights how anti-climate change actors adopted an anti-government narrative to push their own agenda. These actors converted broad interest topics such as COVID-19 lockdowns into narratives about climate policy.

Research methodology

Analysts monitored a network of accounts opposing climate change science and progressive climate policies in the UK. This network consists of 114 Twitter accounts and 85 Facebook accounts.

These accounts were selected using a combination of manual and automated techniques. Research covered key online actors in the UK who reject mainstream climate science and/or oppose measures designed to reduce emissions.

The initial, manual inputs were decided in consultation with climate sector organisations. A period of network discovery followed with the help of relevant keyword searches, to widen the frame of reference.

Accounts posted 27,435 times on Twitter and 3,180 times on Facebook during the period of study. Of these posts, 9% were climate-related. A total of 2,682 posts across the two platforms were focused on climate change debate.

Climate change debate topics

In our analysis of the top 100 climate-related tweets within the network, there were two main topics of discussion:

1. Climate science denial (16%):

Posts were widely circulated claiming that the existence of the “Little Ice Age” disproves the greenhouse effect. In addition, two older pieces of content resurfaced and appeared frequently in the dataset.

Firstly, a 6-year-old Forbes article rejecting the link between climate change and recent extreme weather events. Secondly, a 2009 video of former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom describing CO2 as a “life-giving natural gas” in the European Parliament.

2. “Climate lockdown” (15%):

Accounts opposed to climate action push a narrative that elites plan to replicate COVID-19 lockdowns to tackle climate change. In our analysis, two pieces of content were particularly prominent.

Firstly, the World Economic Forum deleted a tweet stating lockdowns are “quietly improving cities”. Secondly, a Guardian article headline claimed global lockdowns will be necessary every two years to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

The most widely shared posts

Top Twitter posts

On Twitter, the two most widely retweeted posts that originated in the network promoted the idea of a “climate lockdown”, which tied closely to a “Great Reset” narrative.

The World Economic Forum held a meeting in June 2020 with this title. Still, conspiracy theorists seized this opportunity to claim the session as evidence of an elite power grab, enabled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Twitter, the network tweeted almost twice as much about COVID-19 than climate issues: 4,106 and 2,230 times, respectively.

The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF) published the next two most popular tweets. GWPF is the campaign arm of a climate change sceptic think tank founded by former Chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson.

ISD featured GWPF in previous monitoring of these issues, suggesting that it plays a key role within communities opposed to climate science.

One tweet implied it is futile to take ambitious climate action in the West if Asian economies do not, a familiar argument used to drive opposition.

Top Facebook posts

On Facebook, the most shared post ridiculed Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. She still remains a key target for climate adversaries.

Danish commentator Bjorn Lomborg influenced the subsequent three most widely shared posts. In these posts, Lomborg criticised U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry for alleged hypocrisy.

Lomborg stated that investment in “green innovation” would be more cost-effective than current climate policies adopted by the U.S. and EU, and the Paris Agreement more broadly.

COVID-19 & Climate Change Denial

COVID-19 dominated the top links shared within the network of accounts we analysed. The World Economic Forum’s aforementioned deleted tweet occupied the top spot, while their subsequent clarification of the tweet came in fourth.

This is a sign of how widely this PR blunder circulated. It also indicates the willingness of actors who oppose climate science to seize on supposed evidence of an approaching climate-motivated lockdown, as a means of undermining efforts to promote a “green recovery” from the pandemic.

A vulnerability for the climate sector

Such efforts seem designed to pivot outrage about current government containment measures towards climate issues. Examples of this include using messages around civil liberties and curbed individual freedom.

This could pose a major vulnerability for the climate sector. It threatens to funnel new audiences into the movement of those opposed to climate change science, since COVID-19 is a near-universal topic online. Furthermore, it sparked grievances within different pockets of UK society.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue originally published this article on its Digital Dispatches blog. We republished this article on VisionofHumanity.org with permission.



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Vision of Humanity

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