The 10 Most Popular Climate Change Conspiracy Theories

There's such a fine line between paranoid and stupid.

Getty Images / David McNew

Just over a year has passed since 150 countries sent representatives to Paris to figure out a way to work together to slow down global climate change. Since then, climate change deniers have continued to churn out conspiracy theories, and one denier has been elected President of the United States. The movement to stop man-made climate change and the movement to deny its existence in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence are now growing in parallel. The former is supported by traditional scientific organizations and outlets as well as environmental advocates, big-budget humanitarians, and the Pope. The latter is supported largely by scientifically illiterate political operatives funded either directly or indirectly by fossil fuel companies. Because of the sharp divide in credibility, deniers have come to lean on public gullibility by offering up a variety of conspiracy theories as explanations for scientific consensus.

Fascinatingly, the anti-science lobby has failed to settle on any one narrative even as it has congealed, thanks to the global rise of far-right politics. Theories run the gamut from interesting to totally insane. The only thing they all share in common is the premise that scientists would willingly work in concert to misrepresent the truth, which would be without post-Enlightenment historical precedent. These are the ten stickiest ideas. While there is no reason to believe any of these are accurate, they do offer a window into the sort of thinking that has already decoupled knowledge creation from policy and planning.

10. Tesla Cars Pollute More Than Gas-Consuming Cars

Tesla's solar roof will provide electric cars with clean power.


The thinking behind this theory is that the electricity powering all the Teslas out on the road comes from sources that pollute more than gasoline-powered cars. While the electricity may come from plants that run on coal or natural gas, which both emit carbon, the emissions are a fraction of the emissions from a gasoline vehicle. This theory intentionally misunderstands how electrical grids work and ignores the fact that Elon Musk is actively building out clean energy systems that use rooftop solar panels to provide electricity one home at a time. Even if this were true — and it isn’t — it wouldn’t be a coherent argument against the potential value of electric vehicles.

9. Ocean acidification isn’t real

A shell would dissolve in 45 days in 2100 if the current ocean acidification trend continues.

NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory (EVL)

According to the white nationalist outlet Breitbart, the science behind ocean acidification isn’t science at all, but rather a grab for federal research dollars. In fact, there are several decades worth of data and observations to back up the severity of ocean acidification’s threat. Ocean acidification isn’t happening uniformly around the world, but some regions are already seeing financial impacts. In Washington, for example, declining oyster populations have kneecapped an entire industry. Beyond that, there’s the simple chemistry of the thing: As the ocean absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere, more hydrogen ions are created and the water’s pH drops.

8. Climate Change is Natural

This conspiracy theory doesn’t necessarily deny that climate change is happening, it just says we aren’t the ones responsible. Whether it’s the excuse that there were higher levels of CO2 before humans existed, or that our CO2 measurements are suspect, there’s a strong desire to avoid blame. Too bad we are definitely the ones who burned all those fossil fuels over the years.

7. Deniers Are Going to be Put in Jail

The New York Attorney General is considering prosecuting Exxon Mobil for withholding information from their shareholders on climate change. The oil company has spent decades researching the effects of CO2 from fossil fuels on the atmosphere, but keeping that information from their shareholders would mean they intentionally misled them. Of course, some fake news sites have twisted this to suggest that anyone who doesn’t think climate change is real might be prosecuted by the government.

6. It’s a Chinese Hoax

Trump denied ever making the assertion that climate change was “created” by the Chinese, but, well, he definitely tweeted it back in 2012.

While China is the world’s largest carbon emitter, the country was also instrumental in getting everyone else to everyone else to sign the Paris climate change agreement last year.

5. Population Will Be Forced Into Cities

According to some people, this bike lane is an attack on the American middle class.

Flickr/Robert Ashworth

A United Nations agreement called Agenda 21 was voluntarily adopted by over 170 countries back in 1992. Since then, climate change deniers and conspiracy theorists have pointed to the agreement as an attempt to infringe on American sovereignty and control land use with bike lanes and multi-unit apartment buildings that fight city sprawl. In reality, Agenda 21 is a non-binding suggestion that countries be responsible and sustainable with urban development.

4. It’s a Grab for Taxpayer Dollars

The Government Accountability Office, which tracks federal spending, says the federal government spent $11.6 billion on “climate change research, technology, international assistance, and adaptation” in 2014. That’s quite a bit of money, and some argue that climate change is the perfect excuse for the government to tax the daylights out of its citizens. Nevermind that money went to developing technology, assisting foreign countries that are dealing with devastating sea level rise, and important research.

3. It’s Anti-Russia Propaganda

A Russian oil well.

Getty Images / Oleg Nikishin

Russia is a big energy exporter, providing Europe with about 30 percent of its natural gas and oil. But according to Infowars, Putin and his advisers see climate change as a hoax that targets Russia’s energy sector. If Europeans need less gas and oil, and there are more restrictions on emissions, Russia’s energy industry could take a hit. Just like every other country’s energy sector.

2. It’s All a United Nations Power Play

Apparently, the United Nations is desperate for a way to overpower member nations, and climate change is just the way to do that. All the U.N. needs to do, says Infowars, is convince countries that climate change isn’t a problem they can solve on their own, so they must work with other countries and compromise their sovereignty and their economy. The fact that we all share an atmosphere is irrelevant.

1. 97 Percent of Scientists Are Lying

Some leaked emails have some people convinced that 97 percent of climate scientists are lying about climate change. These emails, called “Climategate,” supposedly point to an orchestrated cover up, and falsified data to make it look like climate change was caused by humans. But every scientist involved was cleared by independent panels. Like every other theory on this list, ambiguity was twisted to fit a political viewpoint.

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