Elon Musk’s Climate Denialism Cannot Be Ignored

by | Dec 14, 2022 | Commentary

Today, if you were to type the word ‘climate’ into Twitter’s search bar, you would likely have the hashtag #ClimateScam suggested as the very first option.

On October 27, Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk acquired Twitter in a highly followed controversial deal that has since resulted in massive layoffs and resignations of employees of the platform.

Since Musk’s takeover, climate change disinformation has flourished on the site. Several big-name climate deniers and misinformation spreaders like Jordan Peterson and Steven Goddard (who goes by Tony Heller), whose accounts were banned under Twitter’s previous ownership, have been reinstated and are now racking up hundreds of new followers.

Reinstated accounts aren’t the only ones that appear to be benefiting under Musk. According to Media Matters, “prominent climate change skeptics — some of whom have been identified as ‘superspreaders’ of climate and energy-related delay rhetoric and disinformation — have enjoyed a large boost in followers. Using Social Blade, Media Matters found that the following climate change skeptic accounts experienced significant growth during November compared to the rest of the year.”

Micheal Shellenberger, an author and wannabe governor of California whose writing on climate change has been heavily criticized by experts, has gained nearly 17,900 followers in November, “about 1,000 more than his average monthly increase in 2022.”

Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish political scientist and author who downplays the threat of a warming climate “gained over 20,700 followers in November, more than five times his monthly average increase in 2022.”

Speaking with Mother Jones, Twila Moon, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center said, “Folks noticing a rise in climate denialism and disinformation is particularly worrying and I am concerned that it could slow climate action in ways that are devastating to economies, communities, and health.”

Mainstream media outlets are still hesitant to blatantly call Musk out for his damaging actions and continue to provide leeway for the billionaire (and billionaires in general).

On December 10, the New York Times published a piece claiming that Musk’s politics were “tricky to pin down” and “what he stands for remains largely unclear.” Rather than referring to Musk as a supporter of the right, it opted for “spiritedly anti-left.”

This article exemplifies how mainstream media refuses to take Musk’s increasingly right-wing tweets and actions at face value. In November, he called on “independent-minded voters” to vote Republican to curb a Democratic majority. Encouraging one’s following of over 121 million people to vote for the party of the right does not sound very “independent.”

“I think he’s intentionally empowering right-wing extremists,” J.M. Berger, a researcher on extremism on social media like Twitter, told Insider. “Any argument that he’s trying to empower the center is patently bullshit and should be treated as such.”

A recent article by the Washington Post titled “For better or worse, billionaires now guide climate policy” lauded the work of unelected private citizens using their unethically vast wealth to influence climate policy. Although the article almost exclusively criticized Musk among the named super-rich, it still made sure to paint billionaires influence over public policy as an overall positive.

Musk’s abundant “free-speech” declarations are emboldening newer climate misinformation superspreaders, and climate scientists, writers, policymakers, and activists are losing the communities they’ve built as some active users move to alternative sites.


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