Conspiracy of Denial – COVID-19 and Climate Science

Some would not be surprised with the doubts and confusion being created round the COVID-19 crisis, especially by those wanting all economic activity to continue and ignore the human costs.  


However, much of this agitprop, astro-turfing and junk science used by non experts has much in common with the information, media and political techniques used by radical right libertarian think tanks funded by the fossil fuel sector and related media, to influence society on climate science to avoid constraints and preserve income streams, with some eugenics in the background.


The following article from DeSmog explains the tactics in the UK, which also replicate those of elsewhere, especially the US and to a lesser extent Australia:


How the UK’s Climate Science Deniers Turned Their Attention to COVID-19


By Zak Derler Monday, August 10, 2020


On December 31, 2019 many of us were reflecting on the past year and thinking about what opportunities lay ahead. Few were paying close attention to early reports of unexplained cases of pneumonia thousands of miles away in Wuhan, the large capital city of China’s Hubei Province.


But less than three months later, on March 23, Boris Johnson was ordering a national lockdown to try and stop that virus, by then known worldwide as COVID-19, from raging across the UK. This came 52 days after the chief medical officer of England had confirmed the nation’s first two cases.


The coronavirus crisis once again saw the UK divided — between those putting their trust in public health experts and their recommendations, and those quick to question the science on which the government claimed to base its decisions for controlling the pandemic. For those who have watched the decades-long efforts to slow climate action, this was a familiar phenomenon. And the coronavirus pandemic seemed to give fresh ammunition to some familiar faces.


A close look at commentary on both COVID-19 and climate change reveals significant crossover between unqualified voices casting doubt on experts recommending action.




“There’s nothing mysterious about this,” says Stephan Lewandowsky, a professor of cognitive science, who studies the persistence of misinformation in society at the University of Bristol.


“I think COVID is just climate change on steroids in a particle accelerator,” he says. “The same forces are happening: you have the inevitability of a virus which is the same as the inevitability of the physics. And opposing that you have politics which motivates some people to deny the inevitables and instead resort to bizarre claims.”


‘No need to panic’


Commentators with a history of casting doubt on established climate science first turned their attention to COVID in the days just after Chinese authorities ordered the 11 million residents of Wuhan, a city the size of London, into lockdown.


On January 24, Ross Clark, a columnist for The Spectator who has lamented “hysteria” around COVID-19, said there was “no need to panic about coronavirus” despite warnings from leading epidemiologists about the potential spread of the outbreak.


On January 29, British economist Roger Bate similarly argued on the website of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a climate science denying free-market lobby group, that news reports around COVID-19 were unnecessarily sparking a major political reaction.


“A contagion will happen at some point, and it’s important we recognize it and react. Unless the coronavirus mutates into something far more dangerous, this isn’t it,” he wrote.


The idea that governments and the media were overreacting to the coronavirus threat was echoed by libertarian online magazine Spiked, which has taken funding from notorious backers of climate science denial the Koch family, and has included Bate and other AEI scholars among its contributors. It published an article as early as January 30 saying there was “mass hysteria in the newsrooms” around COVID.


By mid-February, the World Health Organization had declared that the threat of COVID-19 spreading across the world was “high” — yet a relaxed attitude continued to prevail among some commentators.


On February 19, centre-right blog ConservativeHome published an article by Daniel Hannan, a columnist and former Tory MEP, claiming that COVID-19 was unlikely to be as lethal as the common flu.


Hannan, a leading figure in the UK’s campaign to leave the EU, has links to various American lobby groups that have spread misinformation on climate change including the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. He encouraged ConservativeHome readers to “cheer up” and discouraged “panic” over the virus. That message was taken up by Clark in another Spectator article, arguing that “coronavirus hysteria” was “the latest phenomenon to fulfil our weird and growing appetite for doom.”


Miracle cures and conspiracy theories


These commentators’ contributions to the debate haven’t been without consequence. Some have spread conspiracy theories that have had real-world impact, while others have admitted to ignoring official safety guidelines, putting the public at risk of catching the disease…..


…..Theories about miracle cures can take hold partly as a result of personal politics, Lewandowsky argues. Under lockdown, “you’re asked to stay at home and to look after other people by not doing what you’d like to do, and that is very challenging if you’re a believer in personal freedom and autonomy,” he says.


The same can be said of the motivations for spreading misinformation on climate change: “A lot of climate denial is very high-pitched, frenetic, emotional, angry, toxic – and that’s all triggered because people’s identity is at stake.”


The desire to reach for conspiracy theories may also stem from a need to feel that individuals still retain some control, says Evita March, a senior lecturer of psychology at Federation University Australia. “Conspiracy theories offer the believer some comfort in that there is still behavioural predictability,” she says.


And there were plenty of conspiracy theories flying around, pushed by long-time climate science deniers….


Distrusting modellers


Many commentators directed their fire at a familiar foe — scientific models.


On April 1, the same day the United Nations announced the postponement of the annual UN climate change conference, two prominent UK climate science deniers argued in The Wall Street Journal that the pandemic had “dramatically demonstrated the limits of scientific modelling to predict the future.”…


Attacking environmentalists


As well as attacking coronavirus experts on their response recommendations, many commentators who oppose climate action also attacked those looking further ahead by putting forward proposals to ensure recovery plans were consistent with governments’ environmental pledges.


For months, commentators who regularly question the veracity of mainstream climate science denounced environmental activists for supposedly distracting the world with climate change amid the threat of pandemics……


Political impact


Unlike in the EU referendum or Trump’s presidential campaign, pushing anti-expert rhetoric may no longer be a winning strategy in the wake of COVID-19. Polling shows that despite worry about the pandemic and its impacts, the public still wants governments to tackle climate change. And politicians attaching themselves to the anti-science bandwagon are now struggling in the polls.


For the Centre for Countering Digital Hate’s Imran Ahmed, attacking the concept of expertise around COVID-19 is “the first truly great strategic mistake by those who espouse this radical world view.”


For more related blogs and articles on climate change, COVID-19, critical thinking, environment, fossil fuel pollution, libertarian economics, media, political strategy, populist politics, science literacy and statistical analysis.


6 thoughts on “Conspiracy of Denial – COVID-19 and Climate Science

  1. Growth in Conspiracy Theories Risks Undermining Democracy in Balkans. The explosion of conspiracy theories in the region during the pandemic is fuelling a kind of collective paranoia that can only damage institutional trust – and democracy.

    Conspiracy Theories” are social phenomena that leave no one indifferent. Their popularity grows, especially in times of great crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

    As an unwritten rule, in such times of crisis, people become more mistrustful and paranoid, and then collective anxiety can be expected around the globe, including in the Western Balkans.

    There are two opposite views on the validity of “conspiracy theories”. One approaches them uncritically, considering them absolute truths.

    Contrary to this, all “conspiracy theories” are dismissed as a product of human imagination. Is the “truth is still out there” between these two options, as in the famous science fiction TV series, “The X-Files”?

    In the Western Balkans region, events have opened up many opportunities for manipulation. Some so-called conspiracy theories, combined with fake news, lead to collective paranoia. It all contributes to a lack of trust in existing institutions, directly undermining the already fragile democracy in the region.

    Conspiracy as a phenomenon is ingrained in the human race from the earliest days of its existence. A secret connects the actors in any conspiracy; it also makes them vulnerable.

    Hence, keeping the secret is the priority in a conspiracy group. As mentioned, the aim of every conspiracy is two-fold: to either harm or help someone. Conspiracy is part and parcel of many political phenomena, such as terrorism, assassinations, wars, and more.

    Therefore, the existence of conspiracies should not be doubted, as conspiratorial actions lie at the core of human nature. This is best evidenced by the nature of political activity, which is mostly covert in nature – it is widely estimated that at least 80 per cent of political decisions are made “behind closed doors”.

    The problem arises with the “conspiracy theory” phenomenon, which is mainly pejorative in nature. Explanations of phenomena in an unconventional way or by means of extraordinary evidence – including the role of “evil people” who seek to harm others in order to pursue some interests of their own – is how “conspiracy theories” might be briefly defined.

    Even before the coronavirus pandemic, we were familiar with the ideas that Earth is flat, that the world is ruled by people-reptiles, that Hitler is still alive and that there are aliens among us. There are even theories about the origins of “conspiracy theories”, or, as philosophers would say, conspiracy meta-theories.


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