The Negative Impact of Misinformation
There are 7.7 billion people on Earth with different locations, statuses, and cultures, yet, everyone shares one home. The citizens of the United States need to understand the impact they are having on the world’s climate and that together, they must reduce their carbon footprint to work towards a carbon-neutral world. However, it is difficult for Americans to work towards an important goal when the news media and their government are in denial of its existence and are feeding them misinformation.
The Detrimental Effects of the "Fake News" Fallacy
Over the past several decades, many individuals have spread misinformation regarding climate change and global warming, including corporate executives, government officials, and even presidents. Perhaps none more than President Donald Trump. During this presidency, Trump continuously took steps to derail climate change reform through misguided policy decisions, including removing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, passing various anti-climate change legislation, and ultimate governmental ignorance toward the apparent signs of climate change. Nevertheless, arguably the most drastic and lasting effect of his anti-environment regime was the widespread dispersal of misinformation and fake news fed to the public regarding the state of our climate.
On multiple occasions, Trump has disregarded the importance of the changing climate, leading Americans who listen to this rhetoric to be less inclined to take action. For example, on CBS’s 60 minutes, when asked about the environment, Trump is quoted saying, “I do not know that it is man-made” and that the warming trend “could very well go back.” (CBS, 2018).
An Onslaught of Misinformation
To make matters worse, he regularly Tweeted misinformation without fact-checking or providing evidence. In one such instance, he Tweeted that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” which, according to the New York Times, was re-tweeted more than 104,000 times and ‘liked’ nearly 66,000 times.” Then, when the Northeast faced a cold front in November of 2018, Trump tweeted, “Whatever happened to Global Warming?” Again, calling into question the truth regarding the changing climate, spurring doubt, and de-rationalizing those who fight for climate change.
President Donald Trump’s incorrect rhetoric on the environment was not merely a misguided viewpoint but a calculated strategy to curry favor amongst voters. He realized that to boost his polls; he needed to address the issue of climate change. So Trump fed the public with false information.
On July 8, 2019, while trying to boast about his environmental record, he stated that America surpasses many other countries in eliminating greenhouse emissions. In addition, he claimed that “every single one of the signatories to the Paris Climate Accord lags behind America in overall emissions reductions.” (Nugent, 2019). In reality, various reports proved that emissions were rising. Still, the millions of Americans who have listened to and relied upon his statements are misguided into believing that the U.S is eliminating greenhouse emissions and that they do not have to work for a cleaner environment collectively.
With a misinformed public, achieving the goal of lowering greenhouse emissions is much more difficult. In working towards a more environmentally friendly Earth, every person has to play their part. However, when the leader of one of the world’s most powerful nations claims that no work needs to be done and that the climate change issue is under control, it negatively affects the world. In reality, there is still much work to be done.
Misinformation is a Bi-Partisan Problem
Donald Trump, through his divisive narrative, the wanton spread of misinformation, and failure to publicly support pro-environmental policy, has diminished the importance of striving for carbon neutrality in America. However, Trump is not the sole proprietor of misinformation in government. Other high-ranking government officials are spreading misinformation or downplaying the importance of fossil fuels relating to climate change.
Steve Koonin, the Under Secretary of Science in the Obama Administration, has authored publications questioning the validity of climate change, thus creating misinformation and spreading controversy about whether it is accurate. He used his connection to Obama to boost his legacy and name, trying to paint himself as a reliable source of information; however, Koonin’s book “Unsettled” (published on April 27, 2021) argues against the evident effects of climate change and stirs up uncertainty as to whether the effects are real. In reality, scientific findings regarding the impact of climate change have been stronger than ever and have been growing stronger for decades.
An Institutional Issue
The issue of government officials sowing the seeds of doubt concerning climate change is not limited to a handful of rogue executive branch members. The Center for American Progress cites that “according to a new analysis from the Center for American Progress, 139 officials in the 117th Congress [elected on November 3, 2020], including 109 representatives and 30 senators, refuse to acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change.” (Drennen, 2021). These climate change deniers use their status as elected officials to make public statements impeding the progress of halting climate change and denying the scientific fact that the globe is warming because of human activity through this spread of misinformation. The fact that this drastic number of the American congress does not support climate change is disheartening.
It is not surprising to hear that “these same climate-denying members have received $61 million in lifetime contributions from the coal, oil, and gas industries.” (Drennen, 2021) In making money through the sale and usage of fossil fuels, these companies will invest in misinforming Americans about the effects of their products on the environment.
Most misinformation about climate change is spread through social media, news media, and members of the American government. To effectively combat climate change, the American public must be able to see through these lies and grasp the actual issues the climate is facing to realize that change is necessary. However, that is only a singular battle in this war to combat an ever-warming climate.
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