It was a tough May for Big Oil. During their respective AGMs, a majority of Chevron and Exxon shareholders voted to implement more climate-friendly strategies, rebuking management. Then, a few days later, a judge in the Netherlands ordered Royal Dutch Shell to slash its carbon footprint by 45 per cent by 2030, compared to 2019 levels. According to the ruling, the company’s plans weren’t in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement, which is a bold judicial decision, considering that the climate treaty was signed in Paris nearly six years ago by governments, not companies.
Justifying the move, Judge Larisa Alwin said: ‘Companies have an independent responsibility, aside from what states do. Even if states do nothing or only a little, companies have the responsibility to respect human rights.’ This is what the entire fossil fuel industry should fear the most – that tribunals around the world will start to consider carbon-intensive activities as dangerous to the future of humanity. It would mean finally accepting climate change as an indisputable reality and considering it legally significant.
However, that same reality keeps on being challenged by a regular stream of misinformation. The human rights group Aavaz recently published ‘Facebook’s Climate of Deception’, a study on social media’s contribution to reality warping. ‘The phenomenon of climate misinformation itself is nothing new,’ the paper reads, ‘but we have entered a new era where the very architecture of social media, which has become central to connecting the world, fuels its spread.’
Be it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, #climatehoax (to name just one problematic hashtag) links to a trove of misinformation, spanning from ‘climate change doesn’t exist’ to ‘yes, it exists but it’s simply about a natural cycle in solar radiation’. The theories examined by Aavaz include the claim that arson caused the bushfi res in Australia last year and that frozen wind turbines provoked the Texas power outages. Both have been debunked, yet they continue to spread through social media’s loudspeakers.
Occasionally, misinformation exploits real information. The fact that the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland grew in 2020 has been used to ‘prove’ that climate change is a hoax. Yet a simple Google search reveals that the island’s rate of ice loss in 2020 (a whopping 293 billion tonnes), while lower than 2019’s, was still above the decadal average.
You can still choose where you get your reality from.