Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication. The 15th biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE). June 17-21, 2019, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Scams, hoaxes, and liberal fraud as climate change denier commonplaces: Conspiracy topoi and far-right ideologies in the digital rhetoric of Watts Up With That

Emma Bloomfield's picture
Tillery, Denise
Bloomfield, Emma Frances
Category of presentation: 
Scholarly papers

Climate change deniers are increasingly turning to online spaces in order to connect with others who share their beliefs and to critique scientific information about climate change. Recent studies have examined the role of digital communication and affordances in tracing the activities and rhetorics of climate change deniers. This study continues this important research into how climate change denial is disseminated, shared, and performed online through a multi-methodological analysis. Examining comments on the Facebook page of Watts Up With That (WUWT), we analyze the rhetorical deployment of conspiracy theories and far-right ideologies as inventional resources for spreading climate change denial. We also ran concordance and collocate analysis to analyze the most frequent words used by commenters and what words modified important scientific terms such as “data.” Our findings show that in response to the science of environmentalism, WUWT members employ ideological arguments rooted in economics, national autonomy, opposition to immigration, and gun rights as extensions of anti-government and anti-science conspiracy. For WUWT members, conservative values and ideologies seem inextricably connected to their denial of climate change and their association of climate change with liberal fraud and government hoaxes. Both our quantitative and rhetorical analyses located appeals to “hyperrationality” as inventional resources to discredit mainstream climate science and claim the rational higher ground for skeptics. By locating common features and terms within climate change denial discourse, we can better understand the most frequent practices of these groups and also the variety of resources they use to make sense of the environment, environmentalists, and climate scientists. In addition, we can draw conclusions about the specific characteristics of far-right U.S. discourses on climate change as constellations of conservative ideologies.