Climate Disinformation Study ‘Garbage,' Critics Say, And Part Of Left Campaign To Silence Debate

A new study by Climate Action Against Disinformation warns that YouTube is profiting from videos presenting “climate disinformation,” but critics say the group is broadly defining disinformation to silence debate.

May 05, 20237 min read

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A new study by Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) claims YouTube is profiting from ads on videos containing “climate disinformation.”

The authors claim that “researchers” have identified 200 YouTube videos that contain “climate misinformation and disinformation” and that by running ads on these videos, YouTube is violating its own policies. 

“The videos have all featured ads, and contained either outright denial of climate science, that violates YouTube’s existing policies or other forms of climate disinformation,” the study states

Critics of the study told Cowboy State Daily it’s driven by ideological concerns and lacks any scientific merit. 

“While they say the funding of others is somehow suspect, what matters is the quality of your work. And the quality of this work is garbage,” said Jim Lakely, director of communications for the Heartland Institute, which has a video listed in the study as an example of disinformation. 

Broad Definition

The YouTube policy that the study refers to states that ads are not permitted on videos that challenge the scientific consensus on the existence of and causes behind climate change. 

The authors of the study, however, define climate misinformation and disinformation as “deceptive or misleading content,” which includes ideological perspectives unrelated to the scientific consensus on man-made global warming. 

Anything that “erodes trust in climate science, experts or solutions” is included in the definition, as is anything that disputes the “scientific consensus on mitigation or adaptation.” 

Studies on the scientific consensus on man-made global warming, such as Cook et al (2016), measure researchers’ support for an observable warming trend and if that trend is caused primarily by carbon dioxide emissions.

The future impacts of that warming trend and methods by which it can be mitigated are not measured by the study’s methodology. 

The footnote in the CAAD study on this “scientific consensus on mitigation and adaptation” refers to a page on the CAAD website that doesn’t link to any peer-reviewed research demonstrating a consensus exists among researchers on how to mitigate or adapt to climate change. 

Example Videos

Cowboy State Daily reached out to CAAD for a list of the 200 videos referred to in the study, as well as questions on the study’s methodology. The organization did not reply to multiple requests. 

Among the examples provided in the study of allegedly deceptive videos is a video by energy expert Alex Epstein, author of “The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels” and “Fossil Future.”

In the video, Epstein discusses the greening effect of carbon dioxide, which is documented in multiple peer-reviewedstudies. For example, Piao et al (2019) states that carbon dioxide is the “main driver of greening on the global scale” and that “modeling indicates that greening could mitigate global warming.” 

The CAAD study doesn’t explain why discussing this science is misinformation. 

Factual Statements

Another example in the study is a video by libertarian journalist John Stossel, which disputes the widely reported claim that hurricanes are getting worse. 

Stossel’s claim is supported by the International Panel On Climate Change, a consortium of the world’s leading scientists. 

“[T]here is still no consensus on the relative magnitude of human and natural influences on past changes in Atlantic hurricane activity … and it remains uncertain whether past changes in Atlantic [hurricane] activity are outside the range of natural variability,” the IPCC states in its latest report. 

University of Colorado Boulder professor of environmental studies Roger Pielke Jr. cites multiple peer-reviewed studies on a Substack article concerning misinformation about hurricanes in the media. Pielke demonstrates that there is no scientific evidence hurricane frequency or intensity is being observed or attributed to climate change. 

The CAAD study doesn’t explain why these scientific valid positions are misinformation. 

Jane Fonda Is Appalled 

A New York Times article on the study doesn’t scrutinize its methodology or its very broad definition of what constitutes misinformation. 

The article quotes actress and left-wing activist Jane Fonda saying it’s “abhorrent that YouTube would violate its own policy.” 

Lakely said the article had him “rolling his eyes out of his skull.” 

“I am not surprised at all that The New York Times took this up. It’s an ideological publication. It is not a newspaper anymore, if it really ever was for the last 20 years,” he said.

Lakely said The Heartland Institute’s YouTube channel has seen extensive growth recently. It had one of the highest views in a month in April, and has recently been allowed to monetize again. 

“The latest videos just blew up in the last couple of weeks, and the comments have been terrific,” he said. 

Lakely said he’s concerned that YouTube will take the CAAD study seriously, despite a lack of scientific rigor, and start cracking down on political positions that climate activist decide are misinformation. 

“It’s part of a long strategy to narrowly define what the truth is, in terms of leftist dogma,” Lakely said. 

Growing Popularity

It’s possible the growth in popularity of YouTube channels and Twitter accounts in the past year is generating opposition to what CAAD calls misinformation. 

Tony Heller, Cheyenne author, geologist, engineer, computer scientist, educator and self-described environmentalist, is a well-known climate change skeptic. He has two accounts on Twitter, because his original one, created in December 2011, was suspended around December 2021. He created a second account in November 2019, and it has more than 41,000 followers. 

His YouTube account has 120,000 subscribers. Heller told Cowboy State Daily he’s had a rocky relationship with the platform. 

“YouTube is pretty awful for the most part. I was almost close to abandoning them,” he said. 

Heller said it would engage in a lot of “dirty tricks,” which includes shadow banning. This is where the platform doesn’t notify subscribers of new videos and places videos lower in search results. Heller said he’s seen average video views declining from where they used to be. 

YouTube also places banner warnings on his videos. The banner links to a United Nation website promoting the wind and solar industries as the only means to respond to climate change and that fossil fuels “need to be kept in the ground.”

The New York Times article suggests these banners demonstrate YouTube knows the videos contained information the United Nation disputes. It doesn’t explain why this is a problem. 

“They’ve created this whole story that anyone who disagrees with them is evil and corrupt and being paid off by fossil fuel companies. That’s their way of avoiding debate,” Heller said. 

Removing Content 

YouTube hasn’t removed the videos listed as examples of misinformation in the CAAD study, but other content does get removed. 

Tom Nelson, who describes himself as a “climate realist,” runs a podcast where he’s interviewed such figures as climate scientist Judith Curry, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore and CO2 Coalition Chair William Happer. 

He told Cowboy State Daily that YouTube deleted a podcast he did with Steve Milloy, an adjunct analyst with Competitive Enterprise Institute who served on the EPA transition team for the Trump administration. 

In the video, Milloy raised skepticism about the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. 

Other platforms have been less welcoming. Google, which owns YouTube, removed a blog post critical of claims such as the Earth is too hot, we are experiencing a climate crisis and the weather is getting worse. 

“My mind was blown,” Nelson said. 

Kevin Killough can be reached at:

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