Climate communication: A PR stunt backfires and leads to skepticism on climate issues

Climate communication: A PR stunt backfires and leads to skepticism on climate issues

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Nikki Henderson, 26, flew to the US from Britain to sail the 48-foot catamaran. The journey was meant to save about two or three tons of CO2 emissions, but her flight likely produced that amount.

Source: Yacht skipper wiped out carbon emissions saved by Greta Thunberg’s sail across the Atlantic | Daily Mail Online

Previously: At least two crew members flew across the Atlantic to support her yacht travel to North America.

Greta Thunberg’s carbon footprint, traveling throughout the world on multi-million $ crewed yachts, and rail, is extremely large. She seems oblivious to her world of privilege while asserting “people are already dying”. Many say it is wrong to correct her because she is a youth and her messaging is for a good cause. Consequently, most of her efforts go unchallenged by the adults in the room. Those that question are dismissed as misogynistic, colonial, patriarchal, racist deniers (her own words).

When the propaganda target sees obvious errors in communications, they turn off the entire subject of climate change. Hysterical, untrue, dystopian, apocalyptic climate scenarios promoted by the media are a turn off and cause the target to ignore the messages.  It is the equivalent of Never Cry Wolf. When advocates for climate action act hypocritically, this leads to skepticism.

The response from climate change activists has been to engage in more hysterical claims even though, empirically, that strategy is not working.

More posts on the use of dystopian and hysterical climate communications are coming soon – including from an environmental activist, and from a leader in global health, who point to the communication mistakes made by climate activists (I am not the only one noticing the climate communications problem).


From the Copenhagen Consensus Center deaths from climate related catastrophes reached an all time low in 2017 with data from the International Disaster Database. Also see this but read the footnotes (definitions changed).

News report on the crossing from Europe to North America (lost the link to this):

Carbon Offsets

Take a look online at buying carbon offsets. It’s a an activity subject to scams, unfortunately, and many are not producing verifiable results. Some, for example, pay land owners not to cut down trees – that they were probably not going to cut down anyway. Some have paid to plant trees (but see this), and some pay to install solar PV or take other positive steps. Carbon offsets have become a way for the elite to fly around the world excessively while virtuously saying they have zero impact (if they didn’t fly and bought carbon offsets, they would have a positive impact).

Thunberg traveled to the U.S. by boat, and then by train and vehicles to South America. Because this travel took months, she had to depart early for her destination in Chile. In the interim, riots in Chile resulted in the cancellation of the COP25 summit and relocating it to Spain. She now had to reverse course and travel back to Europe. Because of her mode of travel, she was not able to wait for confirmation that the summit meeting would occur, and made a wasted trip, generating much CO2 emissions from her ground travel, all of which was unnecessary. She could have just flown and bought carbon credits – in fact, that is supposedly what the various crew members did since many of them flew. The unnecessary traveling by boat was an orchestrated public relations stunt.

Thunberg tells us “the climate crisis is not” about the environment. It is a social movement with elements having nothing to do with climate or science:

After all, the climate crisis is not just about the environment. It is a crisis of human rights, of justice, and of political will. Colonial, racist, and patriarchal systems of oppression have created and fueled it. We need to dismantle them all. Our political leaders can no longer shirk their responsibilities.

This dilutes the message, rather significantly and may cause opposition by those who have been labeled (probably incorrectly).

She believes only government can solve the “climate crisis”, likely unaware that U.S. electric utilities have cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 40% since 2005, or that private sector entrepreneurs like Elon Musk are developing actual solutions, plus many more examples.

If you disagree with her, you are a misogynist, a denier (using the propaganda methods of name calling) or merely an old white guy. Facts and logic are the constructs of the white patriarchy. There is no possibility of discussion; rational thinking is a form of oppression. If you mention this, you are a denier, misogynist and a Nazi.

This is basically a Kafka Trap. Any questioning of their thesis is confirmation that you are guilty as charged. There is no possible defense.

As we will see in a future post, this argumentative approach leads to adopting policies that are ineffective and can make the situation worse (for example, the U.S. government issued nutrition guidelines in 1980, widely promoted and adopted, that made the problems worse. You can see what Thunberg would have been outraged about in the 1970s because of what the scientists were then saying.)

Standard Disclaimer Applies: How to Do Climate Communications – Never Cry Wolf

As I previously wrote

The Nature Conservancy should focus on facts of atmospheric CO2 levels rising, land and sea surface temperature anomalies, ice pack changes, ocean Ph and sea level change (IPCC Synthesis Report, Figure SPM.1) – as reported by reputable scientific bodies, but they did not. Instead they went straight for hyperbole and making untrue claims to promote fear and hysteria.


Stick with the facts of CO2 rising, sea level ice and temperature changes, ice mass changes or risk tuning all of us out. Shrill terminology designed to create emotional outrage and responses is a total turn off.


The facts are sufficient. The impacts of untrue propaganda hysteria, on the other hand, are to turn off the target completely. We have learned nothing from the parable of the boy who repeatedly cried Wolf!

The propaganda messaging methods in use are leading to public opinions that are not based in facts, logic or evidence. In the U.S. 51% of those aged 18-34 believe humanity may become extinct within 10-15 years, even though there is zero evidence to support such a conclusion. This disconnect between belief and reality risks the potential for major backlash against taking action to reduce CO2-equivalent effects on climate.

Some suggest focusing on solutions and opportunities – instead of unrealistic, dystopian catastrophes designed primarily as click-bait – would be a more effective and positive way forward for climate communications. Instead, we get intense negativity – and falsehoods – that have led to children and adults to seek mental health treatment for induced anxiety.

Personal Notes on Climate Realism

We are taking direct actions to reduce our CO2-equivalent emissions. In late 2019, we are spending $18,000 (before credits) to install a solar PV array that will reduce our home’s annual grid-provided electricity to net zero (likely less). Our utility generates 56% of its electricity by burning coal and 14% by burning natural gas (about half the emissions of coal). Solar PV directly cuts those GHG emissions.

We are spending over $5,000 to upgrade 40 year old R-19 attic insulation (which has settled such that it is less than that) to R-49 building code standards. For an all electric house, we currently use 1/3d the amount of electricity of similar homes. We heat using locally sourced wood pellets and our home is cold most every winter day. I drive a Honda Fit averaging about 42 mpg. While spending an amount similar to a low end electric vehicle, our solar and attic upgrades we will have a far greater reduction in CO2 emissions than buying an EV. About half of an EV’s lifetime CO2 emissions occur during its manufacturing and if you live where your electricity is generated by burning coal, your overall CO2 emissions reductions are small. While EVs will generally reduce CO2 emissions, for many they are primarily a virtue signaling device (a survey by Volvo found about 75% of purchasers said this, and selected an EV because paradoxically it “helps them to feel better about making less environmentally conscious decisions in “other areas of life.”.)

Because of unseen energy use during manufacturing, your most environmentally friendly step is to keep driving your existing fuel efficient, gas-powered vehicle, as along as possible.

I post this at the end of each climate communications post because merely asking any questions about climate change results in being called a climate denier or a Nazi.

Call me a climate realist but don’t call me a denier or a Nazi.

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