A Powerful Tool To Fight Climate Denialism & Conspiracy Theories

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January 25th, 2021 by  

It’s getting weird out there, isn’t it? Most of us have at least one person in our lives who has bought in to climate change denialism, so I’m sure you know what I mean. Assuming most people reading on CleanTechnica are probably not climate change denialists, so I am sure I don’t have to spell it out. The data seems pretty clear, the logic seems pretty clear, the solutions seem pretty clear, the benefits of those solutions are pretty clear for all people…and yet…your uncle, cousin, anti-vax friend, even your yoga instructor…they all of a sudden are really questioning whether climate change is actually happening at all. Or worse, engaging in conspiracy theories that seem to be purely grassroots but that seem to target politicians who support clean energy and who believe climate change is real, man-made, and solveable if we act decisively to reduce our fossil fuel burning.

Image: NASA

Psychology is pretty clear on this: complexity in the information we process creates stress. Humans like simple answers since they help alleviate that stress. As humans, we are wired through millenia to react to immediate threats (a tiger stalking our tribe, or in modern days, a potential pink slip). We are not wired to prioritize longer term threats. It’s the classic frog in boiling water idea (a frog in a pot of water on the stove will sit there and think, mm, this feels actually kinda nice, like a hot tub, ahh…and then at some point it becomes a priority but by then…too late frog-for-dinner guy!). If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, on the other hand, they would have that immediate threat response, and do their best to get the heck out of there.

So it is with climate change. It’s complex. Understanding how carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases trap heat is not an easy thing to grasp on a global scale. Or understanding the heat produced by 7 billion people using internal combustion engines and the laws of thermodynamics…it’s complex. And since most people don’t study this stuff for a living like we at CT do, maybe they just kinda feel like it’s just kinda getting pretty warm out, but that maybe it’s something else besides climate change (because that is complicated and scary and hard for our brains to process). We’re right at that stage of the frog thinking he’s in a jacuzzi.

So how do we communicate with climate denialists, without attacking, which would just further entrench them in their beliefs or have them unfriend you and retreat further into their anti-science bubble? It’s helpful to have a tool that simplifies. Remember, people like simple.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor is a tool for your mental toolbox. It lets us think through things that are difficult to process, or where a 1000% clear answer may not exist.

Occam’s razor basically says that the simplest explanation is often the correct one.

So if you look at any argument and do your best to be logical, Occam’s razor is a great tool that can help you make a decision based on the odds. You’ve got better odds of being right if you use Occam’s razor correctly. It certainly doesn’t make you right, it just gives you the best odds of being right.

Back To That Climate Denialist

So there you are, your climate anxiety is pretty high, and you find yourself facepalming that one of the people you’ve liked/loved/respected in your life is putting up stuff on social media arguing that climate change isn’t happening or that there is no difference between our two Presidential candidates so we might as well sit this election out. You find yourself putting data out there — chronicling the rise in atmospheric CO2, the corresponding rise in global temperatures, the historic melting of ice caps, the written commitments one political party has made to move the clean energy needle forward…whatever it is. And yet–this person isn’t buying it. Maybe they’re putting up things you know are more than likely fake climate news (stuff from Fox News or Tucker Carlson, or Climate Change Dispatch dot com, for instance), or conspiracy theories like QAnon. You find yourself wondering how to possibly counter this without having the person simply unfriend you.

Occam’s Razor To The Rescue

Most people have at least heard of it, and most would say they think it would be a very nonpartisan tool for making the complex…simple. And remember, that person is looking for simple, because simple = less stress.

So let’s take QAnon for instance, which has spread through social media and seems to be really ramping up as we head into the home stretch of the 2020 election. QAnon, for those who have been fortunate enough not to hear about it yet, is, according to its proponents, just a purely grassroots effort with no leader, no organization, etc. Pure and clean information that rises above the noise of fake news. Among its theories are that the Coronavirus isn’t real, that hydroxychloroquine is a known cure, that it was a planned pandemic (a “plandemic”), that George Floyd is still alive, that George Floyd was drunk/on drugs/agitating/attacking the police, and, perhaps most outlandishly, that there is a global cadre of people who run a pedophile sex trafficking and child-adrenal-milking/drinking-as-a-fountain-of-youth ring. It’s not a new theory — “Pizzagate” was perhaps the first time I’d heard of it, and that was only post-2016 election, hearing that exit polls showed that more than 20% of Trump voters really believed that Hillary was running a child brothel out of a pizza place in DC. You want to laugh stuff like this off — why on earth would she do something so dumb, as a public figurehead trying to keep her nose clean and become the first female president of the United States, a historic honor that she missed by an inch.

But there it is — again — rearing its head now that the 2020 election is just a couple months away. QAnon’s theory is that it’s not just Hillary — it’s the entire Democratic establishment: Nancy, Barack, Joe, Kamala….even likeable old Uncle Schumer and the beautiful persona of Michelle Obama are, according to Q, deeply embedded. And it seems to be catching fire among certain circles (the extreme left in particular seems to be getting targeted by it). Facebook recently shut down a number of QAnon groups supporting the theories, which, of course, just emboldened QAnon followers who feel their voices are being silenced, and ultimately has shifted them to less scrupulous social media platforms like 4Chan, 8Chan, and others. Many on Facebook are still posting on their own pages, of course.

It’s unclear where the origin of QAnon is, or what evidence exists to support these claims. George Floyd’s body was clearly shown in video, a coroner’s report determined the cause of death as asphyxiation, and a trial is going to be held of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes. So while it is unclear why, what is clear is the outcome. The theory is making people very, very angry, an anger that seems to be directed at left wing people, politicians, and causes. Just for a brief example, CNET describes how the QAnon messages in these anonymous chat rooms are tied to mass shootings by people espousing right wing extremist views.

Social media influencers are spreading these types of conspiracies, which by itself is bad, but the even more troublesome aspect of that is that this appears to be part of the Dark Money influence peddling machine, with brand ambassadors taking money from QAnon to spread these theories to their followers. This stuff is known to be more believed by people who have been taught to not trust science, the “mainstream media” or “liberal media,” and seeing it come from a social media connection makes the theories appear organic, impartial even.

It’s not a new tactic. Mike Bloomberg was one of the more notable to employ the paid use of social media influencers in his primary campaign this spring. According to interviews with agencies who connect brands from industries like fashion with social media influencers, it’s pretty common. According to Reuters: “Several agencies who connect influencers with brands told Reuters they had been approached by political campaigns, though they would not name individual politicians or organizations.”

Apply the Razor

If your feeds on social media are anything like mine, you probably are at least seeing these conversations. Next time you see it, try to apply the razor. Here’s a sample script:

Hmm.., that is something I hadn’t considered. You know, I am no expert on any of this, so I like to think in terms of Occam’s Razor, which basically says that when you don’t know the answer to something, the simplest explanation is *probably* the right one. Gosh, these days anything’s possible, you know?? Haha. So Occam’s — it’s entirely possible that climate change is just the result of recent solar flares, natural cycles, the shifting of poles…after all, the world’s gone through ice ages in the past, before man was around, right? It’s possible that climate scientists who are yelling about climate change are wrong. It’s possible that the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not a result of us burning oil or coal, but rather a naturally occurring thing. It’s possible China made the whole thing up to hurt the US economy. So that’s all possible. On the other hand, there are a lot of companies like Exxon and countries like Russia that stand to lose a LOT of money if the world slows down oil, coal, gas, and plastic consumption, and it’s possible they’re spending money to confuse the issue so that meaningful climate change legislation and regulation won’t hurt their businesses (or in Russia’s case, their economy, which is largely built on the exporting of fossil fuels). Since climate scientists don’t make more money if they’re right, I just struggle to see why they’d lie. On the other hand, I see Exxon’s and Vladimir Putin’s motives as being something pretty easy for me to understand — I like money, too, you know?! Haha… So…I don’t know. What do you think?

And for QAnon: Hmm.., that is something I hadn’t considered. You know, I am no expert on any of this, so I like to think in terms of Occam’s Razor, which basically says that when you don’t know the answer to something, the simplest explanation is *probably* the right one. Gosh, these days anything’s possible, you know?? Haha. So Occam’s — it’s definitely feasible that there’s a group of people connected to power players in Washington that is involved in some nefarious things. I guess I’m curious about how hard something like a global pedophile human trafficking ring would be to keep under wraps. Just thinking about logistics…how is it organized? How many people are involved? And how do they recruit people to help with something so evil without anyone blowing the whistle on it all? And it may just be that mainstream media is silencing our First Amendment rights by closing down Facebook groups and such. Hmm. That doesn’t feel good. But it does seem pretty complicated. On the other, we know that people are paying social media influencers to promote their political campaigns (Mike Bloomberg and Corey Booker both did it, for instance). Is it possible someone with a political motive is paying social media influencers to spread these ideas, which are not directly tied to any particular political campaign, but that definitely help the Republican party? We know that the oil, coal, gas and plastics industries have spent a lot of money to keep climate change legislation from happening, and they’d be well rewarded financially for helping get Donald Trump re-elected. So I think it’s possible money from those industries is being used to pay social media influencers to cast doubt on the Democratic party. I don’t know… I think Occam’s Razor would suggest that that is maybe the simplest explanation for the Qanon theories, what do you think? 


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About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is a serial eco-entrepreneur hellbent on making the world a better place for all its residents. After starting and selling two mission driven companies, Scott started a third and lost his shirt. After that, he bought a new shirt at Goodwill and started this media company and once it was making enough, he was just smart enough to hire someone smarter than him to run it. He then started Pono Home, a service that greens homes, which has, by the end of 2020, performed efficiency retrofits on more than 13,000 homes and small businesses, saving customers more than $3.3 million a year on their utilities. Previously, Scott was an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai’i, green business startup coach, and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and Green Living Ideas.

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