Commentators known to spread disinformation on climate change are using the COVID-19 pandemic to downplay the threat of environmental crises and undermine action, DeSmog analysis has found.
The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared that the COVID-19 outbreak was a pandemic on 11 March 2020. The virus has affected hundreds of countries and territories worldwide, and has so far led to tens of thousands of deaths.
Its arrival in the UK spawned thousands of words of commentary, with many writers who have previously used their platforms to undermine mainstream climate science or attack climate action turning their attention to the pandemic. Their attacks normally take one of three forms.
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“The Dystopia Greens Want Us to Live In…”
Environmentalists have been quick to point out that the drop in carbon emissions and air pollution due to the COVID-19 outbreak is unlikely to have a long-term impact, and that policies they have long promoted do not require any great loss of liberty or need to sacrifice quality of life. But libertarian voices and free-market advocates nonetheless claim the government-implemented lockdown measures represent an outcome that environmental activists have been fighting for all along.
Brendan O’Neill, editor of Koch-funded website Spiked, argued that “this pandemic has shown us what life would be like if environmentalists got their way”. In a column titled “COVID-19: a glimpse of the dystopia greens want us to live in,” O’Neill claimed government responses to the virus represent a “warped dystopia” that environmentalists like George Monbiot have been calling for.
O’Neill regularly speaks out against what he describes as “climate change alarmism” and is highly critical of Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and other environmental activists, who he says are the “enemies of liberty”. Political blog Guido Fawkes also used the crisis to regularly attack Extinction Rebellion, claiming that the group had “hijacked” COVID-19 for its own ends.
Previously, O’Neill referred to the COVID-19 outbreak as a “fashionable apocalypse” similar to those supposedly constructed by environmentalists and those wanting the UK to stay in the EU.
Motor show host Jeremy Clarkson made a similar argument in The Times, describing the COVID-19 pandemic as a scenario “our eco friends have been dreaming about.” For “hardcore environmentalists”, he argued, 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.”
Clarkson has questioned the validity of anthropogenic climate change for years, though he recently appeared to soften his stance.
Former UKIP and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage meanwhile accused environmentalists of failing to stand up to repressive regimes in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, claiming “the Green lobby is happy to inflict chaos on our society any time it chooses”. Specifically, he said environmentalists were not doing enough to challenge China, which he blames for the global pandemic. Farage has previously said he “hasn’t got a clue” whether carbon dioxide drives climate change.
‘Compared to COVID-19, Climate Change is a Non-Problem…’
Other commentators have used the COVID-19 pandemic to downplay the threat of climate change.
The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s most prominent climate science denial group, has regularly shared material promoting this argument over the past two weeks.
The group recently reposted an article written by Jeff Jacoby that said the “horrors of pandemics have been documented and depicted often. Yet while climate activists have been forecasting world-ending doomsday scenarios since the 1960s, the apocalypse never seems to materialize.” Jacoby, who has previously claimed global warming “brings positives”, was at pains to point out that, in contrast to climate change, “plagues are real”.
Jeff Jacoby: I’m Skeptical About Climate Alarmism, But I Take Coronavirus Fears Seriously https://t.co/N5PVLKXb74
— GWPF (@thegwpfcom) March 17, 2020
The GWPF also shared an article by Lorrie Goldstein, originally published in the Toronto Sun, who argued that the world had “gambled on the wrong threat – climate change.” Goldstein argued that COVID-19 “shows us what the world will be like if we abandon fossil fuels prematurely,” claiming that without high-carbon fuels, “hospitals could not maintain sterile conditions”.
The group demanded that the EU’s Green New Deal be abandoned because “compared to COVID-19 climate change is a non-problem.” The letter was signed by high-profile climate science deniers including Viv Forbes, Fritz Vahrenholt, and Richard Lindzen.
Likewise, Rupert Darwall, a policy consultant and GWPF report writer, contrasted the threat of climate change and COVID-19 in an article for The Hill saying the pandemic “shows what a genuine crisis looks like”.
Read about US COVID-19 misinformation — Meet the Climate Science Deniers Who Downplayed COVID-19 Risks
Sherelle Jacobs, writing in the Telegraph, for which Darwall has also regularly written, argued that “we need to redirect university financing away from climate change predictive modelling, into the scientifically uncontested problem of pandemics.” Jacobs has regularly used her platform to cast doubt on the veracity of mainstream climate science.
Tom Welsh, the Telegraph’s comment editor, also claimed that coronavirus has made environmental projects look “extraordinarily decadent”. In the same vein, controversial media personality Katie Hopkins expressed her delight that in the face of the pandemic, “climate weirdos have shut up”.
“This Coronavirus Pandemic Could Be a Big Hoax…”
There are some climate science deniers that consider COVID-19 to be a conspiracy or that disregard it as a threat; though these are fewer in the UK than the US.
Piers Corbyn, a self-styled ‘weatherman’ whose work Boris Johnson has previously promoted, recently claimed the pandemic is a “world population cull” created by “mega-rich control freaks” Bill Gates and George Soros to deal with carbon dioxide emissions.
THE CV PANDEMIC WAS SIMULATED OCT 2019 BY MEGA–RICH CONTROL FREAKS BILL GATES, GEORGE SOROS +CRONIES.
NOW IT‘S FOR REAL.
THE AIM IS A WORLD POPULATION CULL (“PEOPLE cause #CO2 problem”) by THEIR mass VACCINATION PLAN CONTAINING POISON.
— Piers Corbyn (@Piers_Corbyn) March 16, 2020
Corbyn, who has previously said that “globalist elites” are using climate science as a cover to deindustrialise the West, also falsely claimed that Soros owns a company in Wuhan, and urged his Twitter followers to “refuse the vaccine”.
Godfrey Bloom, former UKIP MEP, echoed these sentiments when he tweeted about “the coronavirus hoax”, linking to an article that questioned whether the pandemic could be a “big hoax” by those “who seek to profit – financially or politically – from the ensuing panic.” Former UKIP researcher Ben Pile also took to Twitter to suggest people were “being played” by the media coverage of both the risks of COVID-19 and climate change.
Some climate science deniers have even claimed they have found a cure for COVID-19. Breitbart columnist James Delingpole has shared his interest in hearing from funders after claiming he fought through a COVID-19 infection with “a high powered zinc formula” ; a theory a University of Reading professor in cellular microbiology has called “absolute garbage.” Alt-right talk show radio host Alex Jones also allegedly marketed ineffective treatments and cures for COVID-19 on his show – a charge he denies.
Main image: Center for Disease Control and Prevention / Public Domain