Is Climate Dismissal The New Climate Denial?

Amongst IPCC reports, growing green initiatives, and climate transformations, there still seems to be an undercurrent of climate cynicism that is poisoning the well for the next generation.

Granted, it’s a far cry from the 1980s or 1990s, where climate change was seen as some ephemeral scientific myth or pretext for a piece of Science-Fiction writing. At the very least, the general public and the younger generations know that climate change is an issue… however, on many platforms it seems to be treated with at best, a casual dismissal, and at worst, outright cynicism.
Go to TikTok or YouTube Shorts and type in "climate change debate". It won't be long before you come across a number of clips, mostly at university campuses, with (usually conservative) political commentators "exposing" or "DESTROYING" climate change.
Right-wing internet personalities such as Michael Knowles, Matt Walsh, and Ben Shapiro are able to, in 60 seconds or less, supposedly undermine the notion that climate change is a problem.
Matt Walsh, a conservative commentator, has said, "Climate change is overblown. It's not the existential crisis they make it out to be.
Matt Walsh, a conservative commentator, has said, "Climate change is overblown. It's not the existential crisis they make it out to be.

While they have become somewhat progressive in their thinking; they don't outright say that man-made climate change is a hoax, for example, their rhetoric is often dismissive, politicized, and based more on "gotcha" intellectual wins than any actual data.
Their general consensus seems to be that while the climate is indeed changing, humans are either A: not responsible for it, or B: it's not a big deal.
They also tend to go one step further, especially when they're presented with actual data such as the reports from the IPCC, and will flat out deny the data's validity, because it comes from the left-wing, despite the fact that the latest report alone was based on 66,000 peer-reviewed studies and validated across 150 countries.
Dr Jordan Peterson is one big example and despite being a psychologist and scientist who prides himself on informed and data-driven opinions in a number of areas, argues that while climate change is real, the climate is, for one, always changing outside of human control, and for another, that the solutions are somehow part of a globalist conspiracy to manipulate society into a collectivist herd.
Speaking at the Cambridge Union in 2018, one of his initial comments when asked about climate change was that "it's very difficult to separate the science from the politics" and that switching to wind and solar are not going to work.
Image of post in post detailed view

Even more volatilely, he stated that in regards to climate data, “following the science is bullshit”.
As a climate scientist, Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, from the University of New South Wales Canberra pointed out swiftly after, “He sounds intelligent, but he’s completely wrong.”
But the fact is that he does sound intelligent, whether what he’s saying is or not. And narratives start with who says it and how well they spread it.
You can see the results for yourself online. Despite being debunked by actual scientists, comments like Dr. Peterson’s are still being repurposed today into 30 second video-bites that flood For You pages everywhere, gaining millions of views and hundreds of thousands of likes.
It seems that while climate denial is out, climate dismissal is in. And one of the big problems with this in 2023 is that these kinds of views are easier to sell than ever due to the state of modern social media.
One minute videos are now the norm, especially for the younger generations. Nuance is out. Speed is in. And if you're able to poke a hole in climate science fast enough without rebuttal, it can be quite easy to change narratives in your favour.
Of course, this is frustrating considering that every economic assessment of climate change suggests that it’s going to cost the world economy more than if we didn’t fix it.
But at the same time, it’s understandable. Why? Well, there are two big reasons, in my opinion.
For one, the current state of online media heavily favours short form content. Since TikTok went live in 2016, every “For You” page from YouTube to Instagram has adapted their format to conform to a younger, shorter attention span.
For another, authority beats data. Our collective perceptions of who is right or who is wrong is predicated fundamentally on who has the biggest presence and who we identify with.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition found, for example, that people tend to rely on short, easily digestible information when forming opinions, especially in fast-paced online environments.
And this plays right into the people whose currency is controversy and opinion-based echo chambers.
So, who’s voice is going to cut through the noise on the climate crisis?
The controversial media personality pumping out a dozen 60 second “debate” videos every week to his 2 million followers? Or the scientific report explained in detail in a two hour livestream lecture?
The reality is that climate change is complex, from the data curated by scientists, to the reports detailing what it means, to the solutions put in place to combat it.
Not to mention, it’s incredibly understandable why these opinions are so popular. Climate anxiety is on the rise and there’s no better way to remedy it than to have someone you perceive to have authority on the matter tell you that it’s not a big deal.
But the concerning reality is that it could easily lead to a generation that is as apathetic about the state of the planet as their grandparents in the 80s. A recent Hubhub study found that while “there is undoubtedly a large group of young people who are highly concerned and vocal about climate change… overall they are actually less concerned than the older generation (55% of 16-24 year olds compared with 66% of over 55s)”.
So, how do we combat this? By playing the narrative game better than those who dismiss the climate crisis.
This requires bridging the gap between scientific research and public understanding through engaging and accessible means of communication. The power of short-form content and the authority it carries in shaping public opinion cannot be ignored.
In other words, we need to make climate science and climate action Gen-Z friendly.
This requires advocacy from individuals who do not inherently conform to either ends of the political spectrum and to whom young people connect with authority and who are able to diversify their content beyond the long-form video or the written word.
You can see the impact this has even if only one of those conditions are fulfilled. Take for example the traction of David Attenborough with younger generations, or the advocacy done by Professor Brian Cox. These individuals aren’t necessarily TikTok celebrities, but their ability to command respect and advocate still attracts more attention for climate change and climate solutions.
But sadly their ability to influence will continually diminish unless advocates are able to adapt to the media consumption preferences of the younger generations.
With the lack of representation from individuals debunking climate dismissal both on the left and the right, it may be time for new advocates to take to the stage.
  • Johannes Luiga

    47 w

    A very important article. Thank you Bertie!

    • Nick Nuttall

      51 w

      Very good article Bertie. It took me longer than 30 seconds to read it, but read it to the end I did. When I was director of comms at UNEP, I always thought that somehow if we get the public behind us then governments would have to do the right thing, and then the cities and business in short order. Why? cause especially the current young and next generations have the most to lose. Then I realized that perhaps moving the public would not work, the public is too distracted not just by social media, but by staying alive in developing countries and the rich ones trying to hold down one or two jobs especially when they hit the marriage and kids stage. But there are others who have alot to lose. Companies who have now invested in the science, who fear extreme weather will trash their supply chains and so on. So I think they know what is at risk, and some have the power and the influence to force governments to ask if they choose too (knowing full well that on the other side are some big companies that do not want us to change cause they get and sell the shit that is causing climate change in the first place). I suppose, when it comes to the public maybe we need less to back climate action to change the world than we think.....the BBC reported that 3.5 per cent is need, another report from the world economic forum put it at 25 per cent....I think the issue is that has to happen in every country, everywhere in my opinion..and we are not there yet..but we could be nearer than we think. A great article, and excellent debate!

      • Markus Lutteman

        51 w

        Very interesting thoughts.

        • Lucinda Ramsay

          51 w

          Very well written and I agree with everything here- I can't believe how climate has become politicised and how much weight people attribute to the opinions of people who have no expertise other than being all over social media. Very frustrating..

          • Kevin

            51 w

            Climate change is really upon us

            • Munene Mugambi

              51 w

              People should not dismiss or ignore climate change

              • Ford Brodeur

                51 w

                Great article, Bertie!

                Welcome, let's solve the climate crisis together
                Post youtube preview with preloading
                youtube overlay

                Write or agree to climate reviews to make businesses and world leaders act. It’s easy and it works.

                Write a climate review

                Voice your opinion on how businesses and organizations impact the climate.
                0 trees planted

                One tree is planted for every climate review written to an organization that is Open for Climate Dialogue™.

                Download the app

                We plant a tree for every new user.