• Maya Singapuri

Flat-earthers and Anthropogenic climate change deniers

Yes they exist in 2020, and yes, they walk among us

“Welcome, Sherlock”

Sherlock Bobby, a girthy, bearded man with an air of sleuthing authority characteristic of only someone with his first name, shot an immensely satisfied, knowing look around the dimly lit room. To the untrained eye, the metal stools and halting introductions might’ve given the impression of a support-group meeting, but this was no “alcoholics anonymous”... No. This congregation of revolutionary leaders would mark a pivotal moment in history.

“Howdy y'all!” growled a deep voice from the crowd. “I’m Woody Lowman and I’m a knowledge seeker, truth speaker, and Fake News uncoverer. I know that the Denver Airport stands above the headquarters for the New World Order, and I’m here to tell the public the truth.”

Applause erupted from the rest of the room. The words “government coverup,” “lies!” and, “Jessica! You’ve got to spray your WHOLE face with disinfectant if you wanna stay safe from that bioweapon coronavirus!” were audible above the noisy explosion.

The orange faced podgy man-boy at the back of the room now shifted uncomfortably in his chair, patting down his wispy wave of hair, like a once-famous, now-forgotten rockstar trying desperately to hold on to his fading youth. (It perched atop his head in a rather unnatural position, apparently levitating in the air just 2 inches above his skull.) It was his turn to introduce himself. Gathering himself, and mustering all the grandeur his small voice allowed, he said:

“My fellow citizens, I am Pincus Pustulodinkle, but my friends call me Potus.”

He took a deep breath, and continued portentously, “And I’m here to say that climate change,” his voice grew suddenly louder, “is a hoax.”


Flat-earthers and Anthropogenic climate change deniers: Yes they exist in 2020 and yes, they walk among us.

If you have never heard of the group, “Friends of Science,” the below photograph of its supporters in their natural habitat is pretty good snapshot of its essence as an organization:

Anti-carbon tax protesters at a Friends of Science protest in in Canberra, Photograph: Torsten [1]

Ahh, yes...A Karen and a cowboy Chad, basking in the sunlight with their herd, declaring their love for the carbon atom when it is covalently double bonded to two oxygen atoms. Just another day at the waterhole.

Like you, probably, my initial reaction to this photo was to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Why do these protesters so adamantly reject the established scientific consensus that humans’ greenhouse gas emissions are largely responsible for currently observed global warming? How can they so vociferously believe in a conspiracy theory that defies logic, Occam’s razor and the basic principles of science as a system of knowledge production?

How? Why? … Because the waterhole is poisoned.

Anthropogenic climate change denialism, i.e. the belief that man-made global warming is a hoax, is largely due to what has been described as a “denialist machine” organized by industrial, political and ideological interests and supported by conservative media to undermine public trust in climate science. Using a variety of persuasion techniques [2], it relies heavily on disinformation (the deliberate spreading of misinformation) via various “global warming skeptic” organisations that are funded by - surprise surprise - the fossil fuel industry[3].

Friends of Science is a somewhat (oxy)moronically-named example of one of the tentacles of this disinformation-pooping machine. Based in Alberta since 2002, the organization put pressure on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to withdraw Canada from the Kyoto Protocol, which he eventually did in December, 2011. Through its prominent social media presence and its website “friendsofscience.org” (only visit it if you want a good cry-laugh), Friends of Science primarily targets audiences in Canada, the U.S.A., and more recently, other countries like France and Poland. Unfortunately, through these platforms, it reaches as wide an audience as some reputed media sources, but adheres to few journalistic standards.

One peek at friendsofscience.org makes it clear that the organisation’s sole mission is to slow down environmental progress, and sadly, it is easy to understand why their efforts are so effective. Their campaign is a combination of skillfully crafted affronts right out of the plain old ‘manufacturing doubt’ handbook. I’ve drawn up a mini one based on their FaceBook posts, for your viewing pleasure:

How To Manufacture Unwarranted Doubt, For Dummies.

  1. Present your b.s. as authentic investigative journalism. Throw in some random numbers and copy-paste an ambiguous graph that is mysteriously missing units from a shady website. Do not cite your sources.

(From their facebook page. Advertisement contending that “solar flares” are evidently responsible for global warming instead of the greenhouse effect, because the sun is bigger than the earth.)

(“data” from their facebook page)

  1. Hire a broke college freshman, aunt Susie, and uncle Bob to dress up as scientists and stare profoundly at a camera. Caption the pictures with declarative statements. Boom. You got yourself your very own fake experts.

  1. Cherry-pick yo faccs

"My next question is this. Is CO2 really a poisonous, hazardous waste? We seem to talk about CO2 being hazardous. From my biology background, I have basically always thought of CO2 as being the basis of photosynthesis, necessary for all life on earth, and very valuable."

  1. Buzz buzz buzz. Throw in a few buzz words. Upper case letters always help.

  1. Don’t force your subscribers to read long passages of text; they aren’t used to it. Give them some pictures to look at instead. An irrational comic strip should do the trick.

  1. When in doubt for how to undermine science, ruminate over peoples’ undergarments.

  1. Present a false dichotomy: Either a booming economy or a sustainable world - we can’t have both, of course! (Nevermind what the environmental economists say.) Make your audience fear those evil eco-warriors who only want to destroy their livelihoods!

"What's the bigger threat to my well-being, a Marxist-run government, or that the Earth might warm by 1 degree C in about the lifespan of the Soviet Union?”

[Quote by a commenter weighing in on a Delingpole article that accuses NASA and NOAA scientists of manipulating temperature data.]

“Climate change is not an imminent threat, but the proposed solutions are.”

[One of their FB captions. An example of how they juxtapose economic and environmental issues to create an illusory relationship between them.]

  1. Every movement needs some new jargon. “#ClimateAlarmism” “#GretaIsDirtyAlarmist#SnoozeThatAlarm

Also, don’t introduce yourself as a denialist. Instead, say you’re a “skeptic.” It sounds so much less idiotic.

  1. Allude to your constitution. It’s your right to be a Dummie. #Freedom

  1. Emphasise that you are FOR THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE: Use language that the public can understand. Not those fancy words scientists use in their research so we can’t understand it and they can trick us! Repeat after me: It is us versus them, yes it’s us versus them! We’re a populist movement that helps rich white men.

[One of the arguments used to illustrate the theme of deceit by the scientific community, who are accused by FoS of using technical jargon to confuse the public.]

  1. Rhyme, pun, clickbait. Repeat.

“Polar bears & Solar Flares” Oof, that irresistible ABAB rhyme scheme.

  1. Use classic conspiracy theory triple structure for maximum efficiency: agent - actiontarget.

E.g. “The Government Spies Using Our Webcams

(Examples from the Friends of Science Campaign:

Alarmists…have to hide and tamper with data.”

Media stories are making people crazy!”)

  1. Think it’s time to get intimate? Ask them rhetorical questions that instil uncertainty in them directly.


Disclaimer: The last thing I wanted this “handbook” to do was to give their counterproductive shenanigans more screen time. The media already gives them more than they deserve, due to minority magnification, which is the tendency of journalists to paint minority perspectives as though they are equally popular (and consequently have as much authority) as majority perspectives, in order to craft a “balanced” narrative. Only a teensy percentage of the world’s population still believes climate change is a hoax (9% in 2018, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey of 27 countries) and this position was disproved by scientific consensus years ago.

Instead, Friends of Science is a lesson on calling out bullshit and a much-needed reminder that these belief systems do exist, because now, more than ever, this awareness is important. Seeing Karen and Cowboy Chad wave an “I love CO2” poster would seem trivial - and tbh be really funny - if it was just them doing it. But, when the P.O.T.U.S. publicly praises a conspiracy theorist like Alex Jones for “his noble work,” and the media is designed to trap individuals in echo chambers by default, and world powers withdraw themselves from international sustainability treaties that are designed to mitigate the devastation of a global existential threat, the successes of ‘Friends of Science give us a glimpse into the larger, completely unfunny crises at play. A crisis of culture, confidence, and credibility; the deterioration of trust in science, the decline of political accountability, a flawed education system, and a world where it is becoming more and more publicly acceptable to champion alternative facts as reality when the objective truth is too hard to look at.

Inspecting climate change denial is a step towards illuminating these larger issues and getting everyone on board...And the sooner that happens, the faster we move forward.