The consequences of climate change are noticeable. Even if not every forest fire and every flood can be traced back to climate change, researchers agree that extreme weather events are becoming more common overall due to man-made global warming.
Researchers agree that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent overall due to man-made global warming. "Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in all regions of the world," states the 2021 Sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
And: According to a study by Cornell University in New York kommen, 99.9 percent of all studies that have been reviewed by independent experts from the same field ("peer-reviewed") come to the conclusion that climate change is man-made.
Nevertheless, some people resist these scientific facts, deny or downplay climate change and its consequences, and try to use these positions to exert political influence.
Five strategies used to deny or downplay climate change
What strategies do climate change deniers use to sow doubts about the scientific fact of the man-made climate crisis? The #Faktenfuchs asked climate scientists and communication experts about this.
1st strategy: science mimicry
One key tactic is "mimicry," says Michael Brüggemann, professor of communication studies at the University of Hamburg in an interview with #Faktenfuchs. Brüggemann researches climate and science communication.
In zoology, mimicry refers to adaptation that serves to protect or deceive oneself. Those who play down the climate imitates scientific work, imitates the methods and rituals: "Science is characterized, among other things, by the fact that science makes conferences, that science publishes papers. That there are experts who show graphics." According to Brüggemann, all of this is copied.
2nd strategy: Correct data as a "grain of truth".
The texts of people or organizations that downplay climate change often cite reputable and trustworthy sources, such as data from the German Weather Service. This is also a tactic, says communications scientist Michael Brüggemann: "If you want to produce 'good' fake news, you always need a grain of truth." In this way, existing data are interpreted one-sidedly or taken out of context, so that they ultimately serve as supposed oroof of one's own representation.
The German Weather Service is aware of the problem, Andreas Becker, meteorologist and head of the climate monitoring department at the German Weather Service (DWD), tells #Faktenfuchs in an interview:
The strategy (…) is to try to establish a certain authenticity of the statements via the DWD and to get the data from the DWD. But then to knead them so that they fulfill their own statements.- Andreas Becker of the German Weather Service (DWD)
How climate change trivializer draws false conclusions via a selective choice of correct data and pseudo-scientific argumentation is explained by meteorologist Lukas Kluft, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, in an interview with the #Faktenfuchs.
3rd strategy: Straw man arguments
As an example, Kluft cites the so-called straw man argument: in this, climate change deniers only pretend to be concerned with the theory of climate change. In fact, however, they are arguing against a "straw man," that is, a fictitious, distorted version of the opponent's arguments.
This is often the “conclusion” of the trivializers: If the theory of CO2-induced climate change is true, it should be possible to measure the warming at any place in the world and at any time. The authors then refer to data series of individual weather stations or time points that do not fit. But the assumption is "simply wrong," says Lukas Kluft. The straw man is misleading:
The whole idea behind the greenhouse effect is just something global and is especially something that we see over longer periods of time, not at single points in time.
Kluft's analysis: "They first build up this straw man that's not really up for debate, and then they don't really refute it skillfully, but rather with what's called cherry picking." This tactic is the next step.
4th strategy: cherry picking
Cherry picking is a typical tactic of climate change deniers, but also of science deniers in general, says Toralf Staud, journalist, book author and editor at "Klimafakten.de": "You pick out specific data that suits you in order to support a thesis that has already been established. For example, data series from individual weather stations are selected, times of day or months that supposedly contradict the scientific fact of man-made climate change.
According to Andreas Becker from the DWD, it is also technically incorrect to compare data from different locations, such as the increase in CO2 in Hawaii, which Becker says is very representative of a global development, with the point measurements of individual weather stations, for example in Munich. "Spatial and temporal sections are chosen that are not comparable to a global statement." Data from a single weather station are always only representative to a limited extent and have a higher natural variability, says Becker.
In order to establish comparability, the German Weather Service grids all station data "so that local effects, which can sometimes point upwards and sometimes downwards or can influence a trend upwards or downwards, are balanced out".
With so many weather stations and so much data, cherry-picking is a "predictable success," says Toralf Staud. Proper research, however, works the other way around:
In fact, serious scientists are very, very careful to take the total amount of climate data available and draw conclusions from it. And these are indeed clearly worldwide for many different research groups. There is man-made global warming, and it also exists in Bavaria.- Toralf Staud
5th strategy: downplay and delay instead of deny
The denial of these physical facts and scientific facts no longer works so well and is becoming rarer, observes Brüggemann, a communications scientist. "Because most people just understood: Okay, there's a problem."
However, the new strategies are no less sophisticated and dangerous, he said. In current debates on climate protection, for example, the consequences of climate change are now being played down more frequently. Stakeholders try to find reasons why climate protection is not necessary or possible right now, says Brüggemann.
In an article from the University of Cambridge, the authors identify these "discourses of climate delay." "This includes, for example, saying, 'Oh, that's very expensive.' That's where jobs are lost," explains Brüggemann. Some of the arguments are just as false as claiming that there is no climate change, he said.
Another tactic, he said, is to raise hopes for technologies that do not (yet) exist. According to Brüggemann, the motto is: "We don't have to do anything now, but the German engineers will then already present us with a solution to this climate problem, the big CO2 vacuum cleaner that we hang up in the air and where we then suck it out again."
Or else the responsibility is shifted onto others: "People say that the Chinese are to blame. As Germans, we can't do anything, because they pollute the environment so much. So that you don't have to do anything yourself. This is the cognitively more convenient solution," says Brüggemann.
Why the narratives are connectable
The narratives are partially connectable, says Klimafakten editor Toralf Staud. The reason: Some people didn't want to acknowledge man-made global warming: "It's an unpleasant topic. It has unpleasant consequences. And when you then come across a text that says: 'Oh, it's not that bad.' Then at first you're quite receptive to it internally, because that offers an easy evasion." But that doesn't change the reality that climate change exists and that we are feeling its consequences.
People who reject facts about man-made global warming are trying to deny or downplay climate change. In doing so, they use various strategies, such as imitating scientific work and publishing pseudoscientific articles.
In their texts, climate change deniers often cite reputable sources, such as data from the German Weather Service, to legitimize their statements. However, when interpreting the data, they then proceed unscientifically, make false assumptions, construct straw man arguments or engage in cherry picking. The conclusion that man-made climate change does not exist is flawed.
An overwhelming majority of all climate researchers worldwide agree: global warming is caused by humans, and climate change is making extreme weather more frequent and more intense.
"Hier ist Bayern": Der BR24 Newsletter informiert Sie immer montags bis freitags zum Feierabend über das Wichtigste vom Tag auf einen Blick – kompakt und direkt in Ihrem privaten Postfach. Hier geht’s zur Anmeldung!