Climate Change Denial, Polar Bears & Internet Blogs

Credits: Lars van de Goor

Almost all scientists agree that the warming observed since the Industrial Revolution is largely explained by rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, and as a result, the frequency of extremely warm years and the harmful effects of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) on ecosystems will continue to increase in the future. However, much of the public remains unconvinced of the human influence on climate and believes scientists continue to debate AGW causes and processes. This chasm between public opinion and scientific agreement is commonly referred to as the consensus gap.

Several factors contribute to it, including media outlets that misrepresent our fundamental understanding of AGW and elected politicians that confuse the public by expressing skepticism. Furthermore, internet blogs and social media have also strongly contributed to the consensus gap by fomenting misunderstandings of AGW causes and consequences. Indeed, the internet is open to public use, and individuals and organizations can promote their perspectives, regardless of their societal importance or validity.

Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) have become iconic symbols for AGW, especially because credible estimates suggest that the entire Arctic may be ice-free during summer within a few decades, a process that will drastically reduce polar-bear populations. Thus, on the basis of scientific research, polar bears are officially classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and threatened under the US Endangered Species Act.

In a recent article, European researchers showed that blogs that deny AGW disregard the overwhelming scientific evidence of Arctic sea-ice loss and polar bear vulnerability. Specifically, by denying the impacts of AGW on polar bears, such bloggers aim to cast doubt on other established ecological consequences of AGW, thus aggravating the consensus gap.

The authors identified the positions of bloggers on Arctic ice extent and polar-bear status, among others. They found a clear separation between 45 science-based blogs and 45 science-denier blogs, with science-based blogs using the frame of established scientific certainties and supported arguments with published literature, while denier blogs mainly focused on the uncertainties regarding the effects of AGW, suggesting that such uncertainties cast doubt on the demographic trends of polar bears. Moreover, while scientific blogs provided context and associated evidence, denier blogs often removed context or misinterpret examples with the intention of influencing how content is interpreted.

The authors suggest that to counter misinformation and reduce the gap, scientists should venture beyond the confines of their labs to directly engage with the public and policymakers, thereby strongly confronting and resisting the well-funded and organized network of AGW denial.


Source: Harvey JA, Van Den Berg D, Ellers J, et al (2018) Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy. Bioscience 68:281–287. doi:10.1093/biosci/bix133

Author: Guilherme Jeremias


Leave a Reply