Five Narratives Used in Climate Disinformation

The BBC’s disinformation reporter, Marianna Spring, discussed strategies used in climate crisis denial in an interview with climate scientist Professor Michael Mann. In it we hear that previous denial strategies are less effective now that the average person can see or experience the real-world impact of climate change, so new strategies have developed. The interview is great; you should listen to it:

There was a lot of great information about tactics used by threat actors when producing climate disinformation, and I wanted to extract that here for quick reference. These all fall under the Produce stage of the Disinformation Cycle; i.e. these are narratives used in the production of climate disinformation.

Relevant stage of the Disinformation Cycle

1) Delay – Timestamp; 07:03

Some narratives may try to convince you that while climate change is real, there is no need to make change; you’ll be able to adapt to it.

2) Divide – Timestamp; 07:39

Climate activists are less impactful if they aren’t working together, so disinformation will attempt to emphasise existing divisions within activist communities. Narratives may focus on lifestyle, eating habits, carbon shaming, e.t.c..

3) Deflect – Timestamp; 07:56

Those whose goal is to prevent policy change will deflect the narrative from the need for large-scale change enacted by policy makers, attempting to convince targets that small changes in individual behaviour is all that is needed. While these are useful, it is important to understand that this alone is not enough; policymakers must do their part to avoid catastrophe.

4) Doomism – Timestamp; 09:05

Doomism refers to the effort to convince us that it’s too late to do something about the climate crisis. It is possible for us to reduce the negative impact of climate change, but we need to act now on a large scale. This narrative takes people who would be on the front lines of activist efforts and leads them down the path of disengagement, reducing the number of people applying pressure on policymakers to make the changes required.

5) Harassment / Threats of Real-World Violence – Timestamp; 11:52

The final strategy type wasn’t called directly out by Marianna or Professor Mann, but was discussed in the context of attacks from “the forces of inaction” (climate deniers). Harassing / threatening someone is a successful strategy for reducing the probability that they will continue to participate in public discourse:

Chilling effect: Being attacked after speaking to the media affected scientists willingness to speak to the media in future.
Graph from the article “‘I hope you die’: how the COVID pandemic unleashed attacks on scientists”

Professor Mann told a story of being sent a letter containing white powder imitating poison (Timestamp: 04:54). Climate activist Theresa Rose Sebastian spoke of comments that dismissed her opinions for being too young, or attacked her racially. She also talked of friends receiving death and rape threats for their activism (Timestamp: 13:02). It’s understandable that people who are afraid of being killed or raped may be less inclined to speak up; an important aspect of maintaining pressure on policymakers to make the changes needed.


People are trying to manipulate you into believing that we should take no action to stop the climate crisis. To do this they may:

  • Try to convince you we should delay any large-scale policy deployment, as you’ll be able to adapt to the changes resulting from warming climate.
  • Try to stoke existing divisions in activist communities so they are less able to unite their efforts.
  • Try to deflect the responsibility away from large-scale policy change onto small personal changes, so you believe that we don’t need to regulate the biggest contributors to climate change.
  • Try to convince you that it’s too late to do anything to prevent the climate crisis, so it’s pointless for you to put effort into stopping it.
  • Harass or threaten people who try to better inform you, or who pressure policymakers to make change.

You should be aware that these narratives are in use by threat actors when you’re out and about on the internet. Don’t forget to have fun!