Resolute Square

Down the Climate Rabbit Hole...

David Pepper found out this week that the bizarro reaction from "blue checks" on Twitter doesn't mean sea levels aren't rising, but does confirm that the swamp of right-wing disinformation and conspiracies on the social media platform is rising even faster. And yes, we know His Imperial Weirdness changed the name to X, but we're not calling it that because even wackadoodle-billionaire-fascist-huggers can't always get what they want.
Published:April 11, 2024

*Published with the generous permission of David Pepper. Read and watch his excellent work at Pepperspectives.

By David Pepper

Boy do I have a story to tell you!

After watching just how many Americans were traveling the country to get themselves into the predicted “zone of totality”….

Science getting it right!

.…I tweeted the following out on Saturday:So…our scientists can predict a total eclipse to the second. To the exact latitudes & longitudes.

We trust them so so much that people are traveling to the exact places the scientists tell us.

Question: so why do so many ignore scientists’ predictions about climate change?!!

Now I admit — I meant the question rhetorically.

But wow did I get my answer.

In fact, even though I ask and opine a lot on Twitter, this simple question triggered a response unlike any other in all my years on social media. Within hours, something about the way I worded it transported me directly into a world I had never encountered before.

To give you a sense of it, the tweet has now been viewed more than 1.1 million times.

On the positive side, it was “liked” more than 12,000 times. And was retweeted more than 3,500 times.

But it also generated more than 8,700 responses(!) (so my official ratio is still above 1, at least).

And in a way I hadn’t intended, those thousands of responses did answer my question.
Here’s a small taste of what came back:

The response was so intense, I decided to dig in further and study the totality of the answers as best I could. I’m sharing my findings here:The Answer to My Question…

Let me start off by acknowledging that when I asked the question (yes, a little flippantly), I certainly understood that the science that tracks the paths of the moon, sun and earth is a different field than the science that tracks our planet’s climate. (In fact, I took and enjoyed courses on both in college). A fraction of the answers pointed out those distinctions. Fair enough. But my point, of course, was about science more generally.

And a handful of folks who are troubled by a warming climate (and clearly believe man is contributing to it) speculated that years of corporate investment in climate denialism and junk science has convinced many people not to take climate change seriously, or worse. (What comes next may prove them right).

But those two types of answers were overwhelmed by the rest of the machine-gun fire of commentary (and insults) that came at me fast(ly) and furiously. They’re still coming three days later. A veritable avalanche. Thousands, complete with GIFs and charts and graphics and a good deal of hostility.

Like a good scientist would, let me categorize them for you, with examples, so you get a sense of the answers:

The first set of answers is that the theory of climate change is simply made up. False. A hoax. That’s it:

Hundreds of responses also were quick to charge that those studying the long-term climate of the earth aren’t scientists at all. And that the field itself isn’t science at all. It’s pseudo science. Or just “feelings.”

Climate science predictions are also driven by pure politics, many charged. Al Gore’s name came up. A lot:

A dominant theme was that that the problem with the study of our climate is that it’s corrupted. Unlike eclipses, those predicting that the earth’s temperature is rising are doing this to get rich…or because the government or billionaires tell them to…or because they’re evil scientists like Nazi Germany. Or some combination of all these:

(No, I didn't bother to ask if perhaps denying climate change was being done to keep people rich—that might have led to thousands more replies).

Another dominant response equated the science of tracking the long-term state of the earth’s climate to predicting tomorrow’s weather. So, y’know, just like we can’t forecast the weather perfectly next week, scientists are unable to predict what happens to the earth’s climate 10 or 20 or 30 years from now:

One post combined two themes from above into one explanation: corrupt former meteorologists!

Next, many charged that predictions of climate change have simply proven to be incorrect. Tweet after tweet claimed that not a single prediction about climate change has ever come true. 

Not one—ever!

Many shared the same list of all the wrong predictions about the climate over the past 50 years. Apparently this document gets around:

Next came the suggestion that the difference was clearly that while an eclipse is largely agreed upon by scientists, scientists have major disagreements about man-made climate change:

Many suggested it’s a 50-50 scientific split about whether climate change is real or not. Others think the scientists who believe humans are contributing to climate change are outnumbered by the scientists who don’t….

This also got us into the hot (pun intended) topic of natural versus man-made drivers of climate change,:

And as with the Copernicus reference above, some suggested that current climate scientists (it’s a “new science,” one tweet suggested) will be proven wrong like past scientists have been. And they mean, way wrong:

Many argued that the reason why the science is so divided is because the science and math of astronomy are simple. (I found astronomy challenging, but of course, as Curtis Smith said above, that may be because I’m a “dumbass”). Predictable. On the other hand, there are just too many variables to allow us to accurately track or predict the earth’s climate. It’s too chaotic. There’s simply no way to know who is right, or what the future holds. (Sort of like tomorrow’s weather.)

Unknowable, so why bother?

Others simply argued that the difference between scientists who correctly predicted the eclipse’s path correctly and climate change scientists is that the first are not trying to ruin our lives, or take over our government, or impose communism on us.

Many also suggested that elites—including celebrities—clearly don’t believe in the science of climate change, based on the lifestyles they lead and where they choose to live:

Which must mean it’s not happening at all. Where Oprah lives is definitely proof that scientists are wrong!

So those are the major themes of the the overwhelming number of the nearly 9,000 responses that have flooded my Twitter feed since I asked my question.Asking Again….

The reaction was so intense, I decided to retweet my question to learn even more. Yes, as part of my own research, I was willing to endure even more tweets calling me a moron and an idiot and “pedo” for even asking my question. Bold, I know:

One pattern that emerged (you’ll see it above) was that a far greater proportion of the answers came from Twitter accounts with blue checks on their account than I usually encounter. Meaning—these people are the ones that Twitter claims are “verified,” putting a stamp of credibility on all the views expressed.

Another striking pattern is how consistent many of the answers—even shared memes—were.

Also, the replies came mostly from men.

And as you can see above, many were angry.

Another pattern was that many of these tweets quickly (if unsurprisingly) pivoted to discussions of vaccines and the pandemic. Or debates about gender and sexual identity, or other political debates:

Trying to Replicate on Facebook and Threads

Feeling so outnumbered by Twitter accounts that reject the fact and science of climate change, I took one final step.

Like a good scientists, I wanted to test my results. See if they were replicable.

So I asked my question on other social media fora. I went to Facebook and posted it there. I went to Threads and posted it there.

The question again took off. Lots of shares and re-posts. Apparently it’s a question that generates conversation. But the reaction was noticeably different.

But…while I got a few of the responses along the lines of those above, it was a very small percentage. Far more simply said: “Good question.” Or postulated that big oil had spent millions to sow disinformation among the population. Or other such answers.

My Threads ratio was 5,000 likes and reposts versus 313 comments, which were mostly positive. In other words, these folks largely believed that the science of man-made climate change is real, and a concern. And they too wonder why it is not believed by people who take other science seriously.

My results on Facebook were similar.


So that was my question, and the answer I got. And it definitely was clarifying.

You’re welcome to draw your own conclusions from my dive into this world. But I’ll make two quick observations:

First, I tweeted my original question with a firm belief that man-made climate change is real; that recent spikes in temperature are particularly alarming; that events are generally following predictions we’ve heard about in the past; that we must act; and that the scientific community is in strong consensus about all this. But faced with that overwhelming response, it made me think about the basis of my own beliefs. Have I been missing out on all the countervailing data these people were all bringing up? Without time to read back through all the things that led to my own beliefs (going back to those college courses), I went to Perplexity, an AI search engine, to ask for a quick summary:

  1. Question 1“What is the scientific consensus of man made impact on climate change and global warming?”

Answer“The scientific consensus is that human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, are the dominant cause of global warming and climate change observed over the past century. Surveys of climate scientists and analyses of the scientific literature have found overwhelming agreement on this point:

  • Nearly all actively publishing climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change.
  • A 2019 review found the consensus on the human cause of climate change to be 100%.
  • A 2021 study concluded that over 99% of scientific papers agree on the human cause of climate change.

The evidence for human-caused climate change is considered "unequivocal" and "incontrovertible" by major scientific organizations worldwide, including the national science academies of all the major industrialized nations. There is no credible scientific body that disputes the overwhelming consensus on this issue. Human activities, especially the emission of greenhouse gases, are now recognized as the dominant driver of the rapid warming observed over the past several decades, which is unprecedented in the history of modern civilization. Human-caused climate change is considered an established scientific fact based on over a century of evidence and research.”

Question 2: “Are the scientific predictions of climate change and global warming proving to be accurate?”

Answer“The scientific predictions of climate change and global warming are proving to be largely accurate, according to the evidence presented in the search results:

  • Climate models have been able to accurately map past climate changes and predict future trends. Models developed as far back as the 1970s have been shown to closely match the observed temperature changes that have occurred since then.
  • A study evaluating 17 climate model projections from 1970 to 2007 found that 14 out of the 17 models accurately projected subsequent global temperature changes, especially when accounting for differences between modeled and actual changes in atmospheric CO2 and other climate drivers.
  • An analysis of internal research by ExxonMobil found that the company's own climate models and projections from the 1970s-2000s were remarkably accurate, often surpassing the skill of academic and government climate models at the time.
  • While there are still uncertainties in climate models, they have successfully predicted many observed phenomena like greater warming in the Arctic, stratospheric cooling, and sea level rise tracking at the upper end of model projections.

Overall, the search results indicate that mainstream climate models have demonstrated a strong track record of accurately projecting global temperature changes and other climate impacts, providing confidence in the reliability of climate science predictions
Phew. That's what I thought! (I can only imagine what those Twitter responses would have to say about my method here).

But then I imagine a whole lot of others, worried about what they’ve heard on the news about rising temperatures, asking a similar question about climate change as I did…then stumbling into the parade of highly consistent (verified!) blue check responses I got, the consistency of it all, the memes and specifics, and walking away thinking: at the very least, that climate change is highly contested. Unknowable. Corrupt. “Pseudo science.” Or just flat out wrong.
They might even think they were ignorant for even wondering, embarrassed for even asking the question. Maybe they’d never ask it again.

And think about this: if even one of the dozen or so arguments I summarized strikes them as credible, that’s possibly the end of their belief that man-made climate change is real, or something to be concerned about.

Or imagine people without a strong opinion of climate change, but who have other strong beliefs (about politics, cultural issues, etc.). Beliefs that regularly place them in the middle of that ocean of blue checks I swam through in recent days. It’s pretty clear what they will conclude about climate change after very little time, because people who share their beliefs on other issues are all saying the exact same thing about climate change.

Second, this is clearly bigger than climate change.

While I haven’t experienced it myself, it’s pretty clear that questions similar to the one I tweeted—phrased just the right way—would trigger an endless set of similar blue-check replies on other topics, from vaccines to whether Trump won in 2020 to whether January 6 insurrectionists are patriots to other voting controversies to Ukraine/Russia. Data, GIFs, graphics, consistency.

And that disturbing reality explains so much of what’s happening in our country today. It helps explain how Trump’s lie about winning 2020—which first started as an outrageous assertion believed by very few even in his party—could evolve into the strong majority opinion of GOP voters. Or how the appalling acts of January 6—ones McCarthy and Stefanik and Vivek and others called out at the time—can be converted four years later into acts of heroism that deserve pardons. Or how Trump himself evolved from pushing for the COVID vaccine in 2020 to now saying, if elected, he won’t fund schools that require any vaccines for kids.

Look ay my 9,000 replies, and it’s pretty clear how overwhelming the gaslighting can be on all of these matters. How effective.

And as we get closer to to this year’s election, we need to be prepared for ALL of it.
As I close, though, let me ask one last time:

So…our scientists can predict a total eclipse to the second. To the exact latitudes & longitudes.

We trust them so so much that people are traveling to the exact places the scientists tell us.

Question: so why do so many ignore scientists’ predictions about climate change?!!….

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