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The Coronavirus Crisis: The Dangerous Crossover Between Climate and COVID Denial

Mat Hope and Zak Derler from DeSmog expose how the groups trying to undermine environmental action are also most likely to call the global pandemic a hoax.

A man wears a face mask in Bristol on 31 March 2020 as the UK enters the second week of lockdown due to the Coronavirus
The Coronavirus Crisis
The Dangerous Crossover Between
Climate and COVID Denial

Mat Hope and Zak Derler from DeSmog expose how the groups trying to undermine environmental action are also most likely to call the global pandemic a hoax.

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COVID-19 is undoubtedly a disaster, but there are some positives already emerging from the rubble.

Communities are coming together to provide mutual aid. Previous ‘givens’ such as travelling to the office at rush hour and valuing work by wage rather than societal contribution are being challenged. And policy-makers are realising that there could be a chance to rebuild the world in a greener, cleaner, way.

But not everyone is happy with the idea of a new status quo, and those people are using the Coronavirus as an opportunity to continue to undermine causes they see as anathema to their interests. 

In a new investigation, DeSmog has found a remarkable crossover between those who have spent years casting aspersions on the reality of climate change and the appropriateness of global climate action, and those casting doubt on the seriousness of COVID-19 and the appropriateness of the Government’s response.

These people and organisations often make a version of one (or more) of three arguments:

  1. The restricted world of the Coronavirus lockdown is what the green movement always wanted
  2. COVID-19 is what a real threat looks like, unlike climate change
  3. Like climate change, this global pandemic is a conspiracy dreamed up to control us

Of course, none of this is true.

Perhaps the starkest example of the first argument came from Brendan O’Neill, editor of Koch-funded website Spiked, who argued that “this pandemic has shown us what life would be like if environmentalists got their way”. Jeremy Clarkson in The Times echoed this sentiment, arguing that for “hardcore environmentalists”, the Coronavirus lockdown is “their idea of a wet dream. Fewer people, no travel, no pollution and, as a smear of icing on the cake, no commerce”.

To be clear, no sensible environmentalist sees the situation in this way. For decades, climate campaigners and scientists have been suggesting policy solutions, such as a carbon tax or fee-and-dividend system, that would allow policy-makers to address the climate crisis in a way which supports commerce and means that restrictive measures would not need to be resorted to.

It seems remarkable to have to state it but the last thing environmentalists want is for people to die. The second-to-last thing that most environmentalists want is massive restrictions on liberty to address the looming climate and ecological crisis. It’s just that, yes, actually dealing with the climate crisis as well would be great.

But that, of course, isn’t really the point of polemics such as Clarkson and O’Neill’s. The point is to ensure that the current evidence that governments can nimbly address damaging global events isn’t translated into action in other areas – like the climate crisis.

War on Experts

That’s where the second argument comes in, one of which the UK’s principal climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), is particularly fond. 

Despite repeated and loud warnings from thousands of scientists across the globe, the GWPF and others with a vested interest in protecting the high-carbon status quo are determined that climate change should not be seen as a crisis. And, for weeks now, the group has been sharing content that tries to downplay the climate crisis in the face of what some writers claim is the ‘more real’ threat of COVID-19. 

The GWPF’s European counterpart, the Climate Intelligence Foundation (CLINTEL), last week wrote an ‘open letter’ to world leaders, which boldly stated: “Your Excellencies, compared to COVID-19, climate change is a non-problem!” 

Telegraph columnist Sherelle Jacobs even went so far as to call for funding to be stripped from climate modelling and put towards dealing with the more “uncontested” field of pandemics.

That is despite decades of evidence showing the significant economic harm and death toll of runaway emissions.

The GWPF, CLINTEL and others do this as part of a broader war on experts. After all, if people don’t know who to trust, then they tend to trust no one at all and just carry on as they were – burning fossil fuels with abandon and making profit for big oil.

Finally, on top of various calls from climate science deniers for the pandemic to catalyse further immigration restrictions and demonise China, there are some suggesting that COVID-19 isn’t even worth worrying about. For them, it’s all a big government plot to control citizens. Fewer people seem to be making this argument in the UK than across the Atlantic, where some climate science deniers are allegedly using the Coronavirus as an excuse to hawk hack remedies. But, of that small number, there are some familiar faces – from ‘weatherman’ Piers Corbyn to CLINTEL founder Marcel Crok.

Why are climate science deniers doing this? Because from climate to COVID-19, crisis response requires people working together. You don’t need to persuade everyone that something is a hoax to prevent action, you just need to persuade enough people to ensure that the response isn’t effective. 

These talking heads implore people to ‘look at how evil the opposition is’, to ‘not trust experts’ and to see the situation as ‘a hoax’. This worldview will be familiar to anyone that has tracked climate disinformation over the past two decades. COVID-19 has simply provided these purveyors of disinformation with a new cloak.

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