In a previous article, we referred to the deterioration of a series of grave problems regarding the disastrous degradation of the natural environment around the world, including climate change (or rather, climate crisis) and air pollution .
These problems are hard to deal with, but they become even harder due to the consistent efforts of big polluters to deny climate change and the effects of air pollution, but also due to the extensive spread of various conspiracy theories arguing that climate change isn’t real, or if it is real, it isn’t man-made.
The spread of these conspiracy theories, ranging from the pseudoscientific to the patently absurd and aiming to deny the overwhelming evidence of global scientific research, is consistently backed by big multinational fossil fuel companies and various political lobbies.
These theories fall on fertile ground among that section of public opinion which has lost its trust in the “established” or “official” institutions of society, government, politics, media, and science, because these institutions are suspected to act under the pressure of big economic interests. This kind of scepticism toward any form of “establishment” is not unfounded. For example, the invasion of Iraq was justified by the presence of weapons of mass destruction, but today we know that those weapons were never found because they weren’t there. Such grave incidents have shaken public trust internationally and are responsible for the aversion felt by a section of public opinion toward established media, politicians and authorities.
Combined with the broader social crisis, these developments have engendered a public that refuses to accept anything spoken or written “officially” and is eager to embrace everything that appears as “alternative truth”, even if it lacks any grain of truth. This public is usually suffused with a feeling of deep mistrust toward official truths and established narratives, even if it lacks the knowledge, ability and skills to submit them to scientific scrutiny. As a result, these people easily fall prey to erroneous (and often completely unhinged) theories. They pretend to be thoroughly “radical”, but they lack a strong foundation in the tradition of social politicization and social contestation. They cannot oppose to modern capitalism and its results a systematic contestation and counter-proposals.
Thirty years after the signing of the first global convention on climate change in Rio, there are many pundits, laymen, and even scientists who question the reality of this phenomenon, although hardly a week passes by without the publication of a new study and the occurrence of extreme weather incidents somewhere in the world, often breaking new records and costing thousands of lives and severe financial damages.
No single person, and even no single scientist, can form an opinion on his or her own on the matter of climate change, because it requires the possession of an understanding of many scientific fields, the ability to synthesize a vast range of scientific data and even the use of super-computers able to model extremely complex chaotic systems, such as the earth’s atmosphere. The reasonable thing to do is to trust the scientific community on this matter. There is an UN intergovernmental panel on climate change, which gathers thousands of scientists from all over the world. Is it possible that some “secret” or “conspiratorial” power has skillfully manipulated all these scientists and all the governments in the world that have recognized the problem of climate change and signed a series of agreements for preventing it? Which power has the ability to manipulate such countries as the USA and Russia, Israel and Iran, China and Taiwan, that is to say, countries that not only do not collaborate with each other but are ready to wage war against each other? Not even the Almighty Himself…
Some climate change deniers, who are reasonable enough not to attribute such manipulation to extraterrestrials or other dark powers, attribute it to the action of big players in renewable energies. Paradoxically enough, although they impute such powers to the companies that produce wind turbines, they are completely unconcerned with the vast and perfectly documented influence of the big multinational fossil fuel companies on global policy and the global economy. Even though these companies have been aware of the problem of climate change for decades, they have made every effort to downplay it by purposefully spreading lies, in order not to hurt their own interests.
For example, Exxon has spent 20 million dollars on organizations that question climate change. On October 2021, a US Congress committee requested the companies to stop financing climate change deniers, which they declined to do . According to a study by Harvard University, when it became evident that climate change denial alone doesn’t work, the activity of multinationals focused on softening and delaying the measures for preventing climate change. Another method used by fossil fuel companies is to fund (and influence) scientific studies on climate change, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, which deemed it a scandal and called for its termination.
This problem transcends the issue of climate change and extends to many others due to the aforementioned decline in the prestige of the establishment, as we recently witnessed during the coronavirus pandemic. In the past, the phrase “I read it on the newspaper” or “I saw it on television” functioned as an argument in favour of a theory or an opinion. Nowadays, many people are ready to embrace anything in circulation if they deem it sufficiently “anti-establishment”. Two major camps have formed that do not exchange arguments but insults and accusations in a climate of unprecedented anti-democratic and anti-scientific fanaticism.
This situation largely results in the erosion of serious social contestation, which strives to critically identify problems, change policies and avoid the slide to totalitarianism. It is worth noting that a section of the American far-right under the leadership of Steve Bannon, Trump’s strategist, also promotes the spread of nonsense in order to spread confusion and to “appropriate” social contestation in a way that is harmless and beneficial to the system, by not disputing the domination of big international financial capital and the United States internationally. Bannon himself, before becoming a putative “rebel against globalization”, he was an officer of the US Navey and worked also in Goldman Sachs. He has once summed up his communication strategy with the formula “let’s flood the internet with s…t”.
The erosion of social contestation also takes place in another way. Starting from the not implausible assumption that the global public is largely manipulated by invisible forces (in fact, they are not that invisible, they are the forces of Big Capital), these “sceptics”, instead of exposing the role of Big Capital and fighting against it, end up concluding that nothing can be done, withdrawing into their own private bubbles or supporting various demagogues.
Donald Trump has used the same method, combining climate change denial with anti-China bashing, when he argued that the Chinese have conspired to fabricate the theory of climate change (which was in fact formulated some decades ago in Western and not in Chinese universities). An alliance of fanatic supporters of the “minimal state”, ultraconservatives and far-right agitators, propagandists and representatives of industrial lobbies have all rallied behind him. Their aim is to undermine the global scientific consensus that one of the basic factors provoking global warming is the mass consumption of fossil fuels.
Witnessing these dangerous follies (which are hardly the only ones around), we could be tempted to exclaim “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad”, or to recall the words of the great anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, who wrote that, when faced with insurmountable dangers, some tribes choose to commit collective suicide…
Published previously on Defend Democracy Press here.