On Twitter, fossil fuel companies’ climate misinformation is subtle – here’s what I’m seeing during COP26

Young activists used ‘blah, blah, blah’ as their refrain for criticizing governments’ and industries’ slow actions on climate change. AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

by Jill Hopke, DePaul University

When oil and gas companies took to Twitter during the first half of the U.N.’s Glasgow climate conference, they often presented themselves as part of the solution to climate change and talked about energy security.

In many ways, their messaging on social media provides a window into how these companies want the public to see the future.

For example, while policymakers talk about a “low-carbon economy” – indicating that while there will be carbon in our lives, it will be as low as it can be – the tweets from some oil and gas accounts instead use the phrase “lower carbon.” A “lower carbon” economy is a far more nebulous goal that can involve continuing significant levels of fossil fuel use well into the future.

Social media is just the public face for these companies, many of which have lobbyists at the climate conference. Behind the scenes, the industry continues to invest in extracting fossil fuels that are driving climate change, and its CEOs have made clear that fossil fuel production will continue for decades to come.

Fossil fuel industry misdirection

In 2015, when a colleague and I first researched what key fossil fuel trade groups were saying on Twitter about climate solutions during the landmark COP21 summit in Paris, we found they were largely promoting a narrative that the Obama administration’s climate policies lacked domestic support – despite public opinion research indicating otherwise.

This time around, using the consumer insights software Brandwatch, I studied recent English-language tweets from top oil, gas and coal producers globally during COP26, as well as from the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Executives from four oil companies, API and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had been grilled by members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Oct. 28, 2021, about their roles in the spread of misinformation about climate change.

Chart showing keywords
The most common themes in Twitter posts by fossil fuel companies and trade groups from Oct. 31 to Nov. 8, 2021, were focused on the energy they provide. Jill Hopke, CC BY-ND
Chart of keywords
In comparison to the fossil fuels industry, companies and business leaders that have signed onto net-zero campaigns, like the Climate Pledge and Race to Zero, talked in COP26 tweets from Oct. 31 to Nov. 8 largely about commitments to take action on climate change. Jill Hopke, CC BY-ND

The corporate accounts today present themselves as part of the solution – for example, talking about renewable energy and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Low-carbon projects are only a small part of the oil companies’ portfolios, though. And the same companies fueled the problem while knowing the risks.

This subtle form of misinformation, which scholars have called “fossil fuel solutionism,” involves cherry-picking data and talking points.

For example, a BP tweet saying that reducing methane emissions is key to “slowing the rate of warming” omits an important point. While addressing methane leaks from fossil fuel infrastructure is an important step, a fundamental shift away from fossil fuels is considered crucial.

The International Energy Agency predicts upstream oil and gas investment will increase by about 10% this year, though not to pre-pandemic levels, while clean energy investments remain “far short of what will be required to avoid severe impacts from climate change.”

The American Petroleum Institute in particular has been posting on themes of affordable, reliable, American-made energy and concern over gas prices while also claiming that restricting oil and gas drilling on federal land “would be counterproductive to our shared goal of reducing emissions.” API’s argument is that restrictions would increase use of coal and foreign imports.

Several posts employ a subtle shift in language to talk about technological innovation and energy transition in terms of “lower carbon,” rather than the more commonly heard discourse on “low carbon.” This shift appears to be recent. In the past, the theme appeared in discussions of natural gas as a “bridge fuel.”

The black box of digital advertising

These accounts are only one piece of the industry’s social media ecosystem. The paid advertising footprint of oil and gas is much larger. It is also harder to track, especially on Twitter.

According to research by the nonprofit think tank InfluenceMap, the industry deploys Facebook ads at key political moments. For example, during Oct. 16-22, 2021, in the lead-up to the Congressional hearing with the oil CEOs and the recent elections, ExxonMobil spent $565,099 on Facebook ads targeting U.S. users.

Climate journalists Emily Atkin and Molly Taft found the lower-carbon theme in fossil fuel advertising within recent political newsletters.

For example, related to the U.N. climate conference, ExxonMobil is sponsoring the political news site The Hill’s energy and environment newsletter, along with the American Petroleum Institute. Some researchers refer to that as “fossil fuel corporate propaganda.” This amounts to a strategy to enhance corporate legitimacy while at the same time downplay the need for government regulation.

Part of a wider problem

The structure of online social networks is characterized by polarization and echo chambers that allow misleading climate change content to spread.

An example is a tweet that got a lot of impressions at the start of COP26. It was a post from conservative commentator Ben Shapiro containing a logical fallacy in attempting to discredit the U.N.‘s climate work. Shapiro came in third for average reach during week one of the summit within a sample of climate change tweets, following only President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama.

Social media companies have been under scrutiny for facilitating the wide spread of misinformation on several topics, including climate change.

In one analysis of Facebook pages, the environmental group Stop Funding Heat found nearly 39,000 posts with misinformation over eight months on 195 pages known for blatant climate misinformation. It also found a 76.7% increase in people interacting with those pages compared to the previous year, suggesting Facebook’s algorithm was sharing the content widely.

Taking a cue from climate disinformation researchers, Twitter launched what it calls “pre-bunks” – sending accurate messages out in search, explore and trends lists. But it didn’t plan to stop people and bots posting climate misinformation or label it as such. In the first 10 months of 2021, Twitter says climate change was mentioned 40 million times on its channels.

Jill Hopke, Associate professor, DePaul University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Plastic’s GHG emissions could outpace those from coal by 2030: report

Read the full story at Waste Dive.

report published Thursday from Beyond Plastics, a nonprofit working to end single-use plastic pollution, finds that the U.S. plastics industry is the source of 232 million tons of greenhouse gases per year, 15 million tons of which comes from burning plastics in municipal waste.

“We are in a climate crisis,” said Judith Enck, founder and president of Beyond Plastics. “If we have any hope of effectively driving down greenhouse gas emissions, the production and use and disposal of plastics has to be on the agenda.”

The authors compare the rapid buildout of U.S. plastics production infrastructure with the gradual phaseout of coal power plants, finding that the emissions from plastics could exceed those from coal in the United States by 2030.

Scientists part of team that points to strong connection between climate change, plastics pollution

Read the full story from the University of Rhode Island.

At the root of global climate change and the worldwide plastics problem are two related carbon-based fuels — oil and natural gas. Not only are the two among the key drivers of climate change, they are instrumental in the manufacturing of plastics. As storms intensify and become more frequent, the movement of trash from land to our oceans and, and vice versa, is only going to get worse.

Nestlé stands firm on climate investment despite cost squeeze: ‘This is something that we want to ring-fence’

Read the full story at Food Navigator.

Nestlé has insisted that planned investments in climate and ESG will not be sacrificed to protect margins in the face of rising input costs.

Don’t throw away your old bras — donate them to these organizations

Read the full story at Green Matters.

About 85 percent of textiles produced in the U.S. end up in landfills on an annual basis, and one of the more ubiquitous landfill finds happen to be bras. Oftentimes, people feel uncomfortable donating such private pieces of clothing for someone else to wear; however, most bras are made of synthetic fibers, and could take tens to hundreds of years to fully biodegrade. Therefore, finding a proper bra disposal method is absolutely crucial.

Tossing bras in the trash or recycling bin definitely isn’t the way to go, but luckily, there are several organizations that take old brassieres for reuse and recycling purposes. You can donate your bras to the following awesome organizations.

Detecting ‘forever chemicals’ like PFAS is costly and difficult

Read the full story from Blue Ridge Public Radio.

The federal government says it will soon tighten regulations around a family of chemicals linked to cancer called “PFAS”. PFAS are in so many things we use every day from drinking water to cookware, sunscreen, even clothes. But as Patrick Skahill from member station Connecticut Public Radio reports, tracking down these contaminants is costly and difficult.

More than 99.9% of studies agree: Humans caused climate change

Read the full story from Cornell University.

More than 99.9% of peer-reviewed scientific papers agree that climate change is mainly caused by humans, according to a new survey of 88,125 climate-related studies.

U.S. Department of Energy announces investment to further develop carbon capture technology via FEED study

Read the news release.

On October 6, 2021, the United States Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE-NETL) selected the University of Illinois for $4 million in federal funding, in addition to cost share contributions by LafargeHolcim and Air Liquide, for research and development to support the Front-End Engineering Design (FEED) study. This commercial-scale carbon-capture study, based in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, is a partnership of the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute, LafargeHolcim in the US and Air Liquide Engineering & Construction.

Designing Safer Solvents to Replace Methylene Chloride for Liquid Chromatography Applications Using Thin-Layer Chromatography as a Screening Tool

Sharma A, Yu E, Morose G, Nguyen DT, Chen W-T (2021). “Designing Safer Solvents to Replace Methylene Chloride for Liquid Chromatography Applications Using Thin-Layer Chromatography as a Screening Tool.” Separations 8(10):172. https://doi.org/10.3390/separations8100172

Abstract: Methylene chloride, commonly known as dichloromethane (DCM), is a widely used chemical for chromatography separation within the polymer, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. With the ability to effectively solvate heterocyclic compounds, and properties including a low boiling point, high density, and low cost, DCM has become the solvent of choice for many different applications. However, DCM has high neurotoxicity and is carcinogenic, with exposure linked to damage to the brain and the central nervous system, even at low exposure levels. This research focuses on sustainability and works towards finding safer alternative solvents to replace DCM in pharmaceutical manufacturing. The research was conducted with three active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) widely used in the pharmaceutical industry: acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. Thin-layer chromatography (TLC) was used to investigate if an alternative solvent or solvent blend could show comparable separation performance to DCM. The use of the Hansen Solubility Parameter (HSP) theory and solubility testing allowed for the identification of potential alternative solvents or solvent blends to replace DCM. HSP values for the three APIs were experimentally determined and used to identify safer solvents and blends that could potentially replace DCM. Safer solvents or binary solvent blends were down-selected based on their dissolution power, safety, and price. The down-selected solvents (e.g., ethyl acetate) and solvent blends were further evaluated using three chemical hazard classification approaches to find the best fitting nonhazardous replacement to DCM. Several safer solvent blends (e.g., mixtures composed of methyl acetate and ethyl acetate) with adequate TLC performance were identified. Results from this study are expected to provide guidance for identifying and evaluating safer solvents to separate APIs using chromatography.

National Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program – Basic Training

This training module, developed by U.S. EPA, is designed to provide a high-level overview of the Clean Water Act Section (CWA) 319 Nonpoint Source (NPS) program for State and Territory NPS Programs.

The Section 319 program is an essential source of support for state, territorial and tribal efforts to control NPS pollution, the prevailing cause of the nation’s water quality problems. The course contains four sections and will take about two hours to complete. This module is recommended for the Watershed Academy Certificate Program