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EarthTalk - What is New Denialism?

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Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

Dear EarthTalk:

What is so-called New Denialism all about?

Paul C., Baltimore, MD

For years, human-induced climate change has been a controversial topic, despite heaps of scientific evidence proving its existence. In the past, climate change deniers have used the rhetoric of simply denying that climate change was happening. New denialism is different because instead of focusing on the existence of climate change, it attacks the policies meant to combat global warming, denies the benefits of clean energy, and targets scientists and advocates pushing for change.

Early in 2024, the Center for Countering Digital Hate, or the CCDH, published on YouTube an analysis of online discourse studying the frequency of different types of climate denial. The CCDH is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “protect human rights and civil liberties.” They do this by holding social media companies accountable for the content they publish. The CCDH’s study, The New Climate Denial, found evidence suggesting that the outright dismissal of climate change is no longer convincing, so deniers are instead shifting the argument away from blatantly denying climate change to denigrating solutions like the transition to clean energy.

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The CCDH study found that new denial content now makes up 70 percent of all climate denial claims that are posted on YouTube, a significant rise from the 35 percent in 2018. Claims that climate solutions won’t work have also risen a significant amount over the same time frame, from 9 percent to 30 percent. YouTube as a host for this new denialism is especially worrying as it targets younger ages who could impact climate action decisions for the future.

Google, YouTube’s parent company, has policies in place which are supposed to block advertising money from content that rejects scientific certainties about the existent and causes of climate change. This should prevent YouTube creators spreading disinformation from monetizing on their content. The CCDH report claims that these policies are ineffective and that YouTube is potentially making up to $13.4 million per year from ads on videos containing climate denial. This is an issue of company PR, because it’s doubtful that many companies would want their advertising linked to climate denialism. 

The fact is, scientists who study Earth systems have agreed for decades that the burning of fossil fuels creates an imbalance of heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere that are continually warming the world. The warming causes melting ice, which in turn causes sea levels to rise. It also creates a host of other problems. New denialism has only started to become prominent because of the overwhelming evidence of climate change. Instead of fighting against well-known evidence, new denialism turns to discredit lesser-known solutions. By picking at clean energy solutions that are less established, new denialism continues to create doubt and delay the decisive actions that need to be taken to combat climate change. 


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