Here’s a Look at the Memes That Climate Denialists Are Funding These Days

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


How does climate denial work? Who funds it? In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Justin Farrell used network analysis to take a detailed look at a massive corpus of 41,000 texts written between 1993 and 2013 and came up with an unsurprising answer to the second question: ExxonMobil and the Koch family foundations are the 800-pound gorillas here. But it’s not just direct contributions from these two that matter. They also act as a signal of approval for everyone else: “Donations from these corporate benefactors signals entry into a powerful network of influence,” Farrell says.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding, however, is that climate denial is faddish. Certain themes get hot for a while and then get replaced by others. For example, take a look at the chart on the right. Is CO2 good? Well, sure: without it all of Earth’s plants would die and then we’d die too. Duh. But around 2008 we saw a spurt of op-eds and videos telling us that since “CO2 is life,” then more CO2 must be a good thing, not a bad one. Remember those? But what prompted this idiocy? As the chart shows, organizations that received no funding from corporate denialists never adopted this meme. But among organizations that did receive funding, the “CO2 is life” meme skyrocketed.

You can see similar dynamics with other denialist memes, which have all had both fallow and active periods. Interestingly, though, the four memes Farrell studied are all in active periods right now. Hyperactive, even. And those memes all took off at the same time: around 2007-09. This might be related to the public embrace of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, or it might be related to the election of a Democratic president. Or both. Farrell’s research doesn’t tell us. Just for the record, though, here are the four memes he identified. I have taken the liberty of translating them into language we can all understand:

  • The great “global warming pause” based on using 1998 as a baseline.
  • Energy production means more jobs and more growth.
  • CO2: You call it pollution, we call it life.
  • Hey, global temperatures go up and down all the time throughout history.

According to Farrell’s data, all of these memes are still in full flower. This is surprising since I haven’t seen the “CO2 is life” nonsense lately. Maybe it’s just gone underground. In any case, now you know where it comes from.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate