Meme Makes Misleading Comparison to Cast Doubt on Climate Change

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SciCheck Digest

The Earth is warming at the fastest rate seen in the last 10,000 years, according to NASA, and the consensus among climate scientists is that human activity is causing the change. But a meme on social media tries to undermine the reality of climate change by misrepresenting the views and media coverage of a climatologist popular among those who believe climate change is a “hoax.”


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As scientists and world leaders gathered in the United Arab Emirates for the COP28 climate summit, misleading claims about climate change circulated on social media.

One meme that’s been widely shared for months tries to cast doubt on the reality of climate change by suggesting that the Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg gets an unfair proportion of media coverage compared with Judith Curry, a climatologist who is popular among those who believe climate change is a “hoax.”

The social media post shows side-by-side photos of the two women and compares Thunberg’s credentials and message to Curry’s, noting that Curry has published scientific papers and claiming that she “says it’s all a hoax.” The meme says that Thunberg “gets 24/7 media coverage” while Curry “gets no media coverage” and concludes, “This is what media manipulation looks like.”

But the meme overstates Curry’s position on climate change and, more importantly, sets up a false comparison between the two in order to give the impression that climate change isn’t happening.

“Comparing media coverage of Greta Thunberg versus Judith Curry is like comparing apples to oranges,” John Cook, an expert in climate science communication, told us in an email. “Greta Thunberg is an environmentalist and typically media coverage about her focuses on the broader movement for climate action. Judith Curry is a scientist whose views are out of step with the mainstream climate science community.”

The evidence of climate change has led to consensus among climate scientists that the phenomenon is happening and is driven by human activity — primarily the burning of fossil fuels, which produce heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide that increase temperatures.

“The industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by nearly 50% since 1750,” NASA has explained on its website. “This increase is due to human activities, because scientists can see a distinctive isotopic fingerprint in the atmosphere.”

“What is the appropriate way for the media to cover contrarian scientists?” Cook said. “My research has found that it’s misleading for journalists to give equal weight between mainstream climate scientists and contrarian scientists because it gives the false impression of a 50:50 debate among the scientific community.

“Instead, we recommend in the Consensus Handbook that when airing contrarian viewpoints, they also communicate the weight of evidence or weight of experts,” said Cook, a co-author of the handbook with other researchers at the Center for Climate Change Communication.

So, any lack of coverage for Curry in the news isn’t evidence of a cover-up but, rather, in keeping with best practices for reporting on the issue. It’s also worth mentioning that she gets a fair bit of coverage from conservative media, including Fox News and the New York Post.

As for Curry’s position on climate change — she doesn’t deny that it’s happening. Or that humans have contributed. She argues that natural climate variability is also a major contributing factor and that measures to stanch climate change are likely to be ineffective, which is where she falls out of line with most other scientists.

“I have never said that climate change is a hoax,” Curry told us in an email. “The earth’s climate has been changing for the past 4.6 billion years.”

“Climate change is a geological fact. What is causing the change for the past century is a different issue.  Humans are contributing to the recent climate change, but there has also been natural climate variability/change,” Curry said.

But, as we said, that view is out of step with most other climate scientists, who have found that the temperature increases cannot be explained by natural climate fluctuations.

So, the meme is wrong about Curry’s position on the issue, and wrong in its implication that climate change isn’t happening, and the media is covering it up.


Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Cook, John. Senior research fellow with the Melbourne Centre for Behaviour Change at the University of Melbourne. Email exchange with FactCheck.org. 6 Dec 2023.

NASA. “Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate Is Warming.” Accessed 5 Dec 2023.

NASA. “The Causes of Climate Change.” Accessed 5 Dec 2023.

Curry, Judith. President of Climate Forecast Applications Network. Email exchange with FactCheck.org. 8 Dec 2023.

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