Recently in an interview with The Guardian, Ellen Stofan, NASA’s former chief scientist, discussed how America is “under siege” from disinformation about climate change. It’s no secret that fake news exists. Especially in recent months, most citizens have become increasingly aware of the misinformation that permeates through social media, sometimes even through news sources that superficially appear to be trustworthy. But, while many of us are now aware that this issue exists, it hasn’t gone away.
Specifically referring to oil and coal companies, Stofan said:
“We are under siege by fake information that’s being put forward by people who have a profit motive. Fake news is so harmful because once people take on a concept it’s very hard to dislodge it. The harder part is this active disinformation campaign. I’m always wondering if these people honestly believe the nonsense they put forward. When they say ‘It could be volcanoes’ or ‘the climate always changes’… to obfuscate and to confuse people, it frankly makes me angry.”
Stofan asserted that this “erosion of people’s ability to scrutinize information” is not something limited to those leaning either to the right or left. This is a problem that we all face, and climate change isn’t going anywhere. Populations are increasing, as are the emissions that we are pumping into the atmosphere. Whether or not fake news sites spread misinformation, climate change is real and threatening life on planet Earth.
The effects of climate change aren’t mythical either. Towns are sinking, the Great Barrier Reef is doomed, the “doomsday” seed bunker has been threatened, sea levels are rising faster than we ever expected, and species are going extinct at alarming rates. The repercussions of climate change are varied, only going to increase in severity, and absolutely, undeniably real.
It can be difficult to distinguish between what’s real and fake when it comes to information online. But, when it comes to science, alternative facts do not exist. Any credible scientific topic covered should be able to be verified by multiple sources and true beyond a doubt. It might take us a little bit of extra time to be sure about the information that we absorb, share, and believe, but that extra time is what will make the difference. The important thing is, in Stofan’s words, “Job one is to keep this planet habitable. I’d hate us to lose focus on that.”