I watched in January Australia is on fire from afar, gripped by fear and sadness. Just a few months after moving to Norway, the most terrible firestorms the country has ever encountered tore the country apart.
The sky turned blood red. The pollution broken by particles records. Cities were destroyed, houses and lives lost. Every single person in Australia was affected in some way, many in deeply tragic and irreversible ways. The place where I was married was burned to a crispy. It was climate change pushed the familiar phenomenon of bushfires in shockingly new territory.
There is an oddly strong immune system in the Australian media and politics that can automatically detect the presence of a threat to the fossil fuel industry. This immune response is quite unique. Someone tried to get a price on carbon once. Ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott (now a UK trade Consultant) claimed that an entire city was dependent on the steel industry deleted. In 2019, the center-left opposition proposed an emissions standard for vehicles. current Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned That would be the “end of the weekend” because people are not allowed to drive off-road.
C.limate-intensified forest fires that changed the realities of life for a large majority of Australians dreadful and unforgettable paths sparked an unprecedented immune response to deny reality and a chance for serious climate change. American Conservatives have been largely silent about the forest fires so far, but the Australian experience suggests there is a risk of misinformation flaring up to downplay climate change. ‘s role in the carnage and blame elsewhere.
The first, most straightforward response to Australia obvious climate catastrophe came from politicians. Current leader of the rural right-wing party, the Nationals, Michael McCormack, called climate activists “downtown madmen” Link Bushfire on climate change. Australian government politician Craig Kelly (regularly someone with the greatest Individually to reach on Facebook in the Australian Parliament, far bigger than the Prime Minister) ran heavy and fast with old school climate denial. An old line – “Australia always had bushfires” (Pioneering work done by a former environment minister who claimed to have seen it on Wikipedia) –repeated from Prime Minister Scott Morrison to the Party.
With this in mind, a deluge of misinformation formed and it spread at an incredible rate across traditional and social media platforms in Australia and around the world.
Two ideas gained real legs. The first was the theory that the fires were so intense because environmentalists and greenies resisted hazard-reduction burns, which involve burning dry fuel outside of the bushfire season. It’s old; in 2009 News Corp columnist Miranda Devine wrote that “it’s not arsonists who should hang on lampposts, it’s greenies.” It was a lie in 2009 and it was a lie in 2020: hazard reduction had not decreased and the Greens, Australia’s most liberal party, wholeheartedly support this activity.
The second, more prominent claim was that the fire crisis was so severe because an unprecedented number of fires were deliberately set by arsonists. Several iterations of this theory specified climate activists deliberately lighting the fires to simulate a climate crisis. This resulted from the misleading reporting in the masthead of News Corp., tThe Australian and commercial television station Channel Seven:
It spread around the world and was retweeted by Donald Trump Jr. and BBC conservative journalist Andrew Neil. It even made it onto Fox News, hosted by Tomi Lahren screamed, “I hate breaking the world’s Greta Thunbergs … The fact is, Australia has an arson problem that can’t be linked to global warming, climate change, or the title it’s given an environmental boogeyman in these days. “
The source of the confusion came from botched Numbers that mixed up random fires like badly disposed of cigarettes and fires that were deliberately lit. When it became clear, it was too late. Australian politicians just started making up numbers and inflating them every time:
The meaning of the meme was quick exaggerated With automated Twitter accounts. These are multiple accounts kept by real people with the intent to spread the lie further and to give it a veneer of support that didn’t exist.
When we leave this disaster far behind, we will begin to see how bad the misinformation was. For the state of New South Wales, Australia’s largest, a subsequently inquiry It was found that no major fires were started by arson. If you look at all 11,7444 fires, only 11 were started by arsonists trying to start bush fires. The fact-checking, both during and after the crisis, did not achieve the same meaning as the myth.
The other common rhetorical tactical politicians and others who have downplayed climate change Purposely confused the reasons forest fires ignite with the factors why they spread quickly and destructively. Climate change is worsening the conditions for fires to spread, measured in Australia as the Forest Fire Danger Index deterioration for decades. Therefore, the arsonists’ meme is both false and misleading: T.The main impact of climate change is to exacerbate, not trigger, this disaster.
Annoyingly the climate change does worsen the ignition; Power lines sag in the heat and can cause fatal fires (as in) 2009, in Australia and as California White too good). Climate-intensified forest fires themselves can trigger their own weather, creating huge clouds of smoke that create lightning bolts that cause even more fires.
It is clear that the recent California wildfires have seen a similar pattern. If there is such a thing as Australia’s misinformation firestorm, it has the following characteristics:
- An attempt to hold a prominent group responsible for deliberately starting fires
- A confusion between what started the fires and catalyzing factors like high temperatures and dry amounts of fuel that allowed them to spread
- TV and print media – especially News Corp branches like Fox News or the Wall Street Journal – present themselves by giving much more time for smaller, unchanging factors while downplaying climate factors
- Political and media commentators help spread it through both repetition and change
- Social media as a tool for disseminating these theories through right-wing groups, automated accounts and the viral publishing of traditional media reports
At the time of writing, it has only been a few hours since San Francisco’s sky Blade runner turned orange. But there are early indications of conspiracy theories that do “Antifa” deliberately light fires. A Republican Senate candidate appeared to be one of them firstand the claim has now gone viral Facebook. A couple who traveled to an Oregon city to snap photos of fires (tip: don’t do this under any circumstances) but locals thought this was the case Antifa arsonistsand there were calls to “send people out with guns”. This type of misinformation, combined with the US gun problem, could have dire consequences. In the city of Mollalla, Oregon, unidentified men armed with AR-15 machine guns coerced three journalists leave City, amid rumors of “Antifa raids”.
Ultimately, the immune response to misinformation created enough doubt and confusion in Australian political and media circles about the link between climate and forest fires to cause real damage. It is worth advising friends and family members who may be prone to this type of misinformation that all of this has happened before in Australia and that these viral memes have been critically proven false. By preparing people to await this devastating fire of misinformation, you can better control outbreaks. Given the importance of widespread public awareness of the link between fossil fuel burning and forest fires, it pays to prepare well for a misinformation firestorm.
Ketan Joshi is an Australian clean energy analyst currently writing on climate, energy and media in Oslo, Norway. He is the author of Windfall: opening up a fossil-free future with NewSouth Publishing.