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Climate change, despair and misinformation: the fight goes on

In this month's climate change press review, we look at fear, doubt and 'climate doomerism', and how to keep fighting for the environment when all seems lost.

Can fear prevent us from fighting climate change? In The Guardian, Damian Carrington asked 380 top scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) how they felt about the future: the results revealed that they were terrified, but determined to keep fighting.

“Sometimes it is almost impossible not to feel hopeless and broken,” said the climate scientist Ruth Cerezo-Mota. However, two things help Henri Waisman, researcher at the IDDRI policy research institute in France: “Remembering how much progress has happened since I started to work on the topic in 2005 and that every tenth of a degree matters a lot – this means it is still useful to continue the fight”.

Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate change convention from 2010 to 2016, replied to them a few days later. “A sense of despair is understandable, but it robs us of our agency, makes us vulnerable to mis- and disinformation, and prevents the radical collaboration we need,” Figueres wrote. “Doubt holds us back from taking bold action.”

The IPCC scientists may not be climate doomers, but their answers to the survey expose the risks of “climate doomerism”. So what is to be done? On SustainableViewsMichael Mann and Katharine Hayhoe write that “the antidote to doom is doing”. The authors of the article make it sound easy-peasy: “We have what we need to reduce emissions. Our barriers are entirely political and economic, and such obstacles can be overcome”.

Having said that, are you ready to vote? EU elections will be held all across the 27 member states in less than two weeks (if you’re in need of information on the matter, don’t worry – we got you covered).

As in all election campaigns, information plays a key role. Fueled by the fossil fuel industry, right-wing groups, and state actors such as Russia, intense disinformation attacks have been spreading on social media against the EU Green Deal, the package for achieving climate neutrality by 2050. False claims include suggestions that the EU is imposing “carbon passports” and banning repairs on older cars. Experts interviewed by Euractiv advocate for re-politicising the discourse to combat misinformation effectively.

With the rise of right-wing and far-right influence in European politics threatening progress made in the areas like climate action and environmental protection, a debate among French left-wing MEPs Manon Aubry, Aurore Lalucq, and Marie Toussaint explores strategies for countering this trend. They discuss with Alternatives Economiques how “the left” can unify and expand its influence without compromising on its social and environmental goals.

Toussaint, who is also the Greens’ lead candidate, in a chat with Justine Guitton-Boussion for Reporterre, highlights significant environmental setbacks in Brussels. As a trained lawyer and incumbent politician, she declares herself ready for the “fight of the century”: ecology.

It’s also time to take stock of what has been done in the past legislature, too. 

For example, EU regulations aimed at curbing nutrient pollution are criticised as inadequate. Despite strategies such as Biodiversity and Farm to Fork under the Green Deal, which aim to reduce nutrient losses by 50% and fertiliser use by 20% by 2030, experts heard by Marcello Rossi and Davide Mancini at EUObserverargue that these goals are unachievable without stricter policies and better enforcement. In fact, nutrient pollution, primarily from intensive agriculture, is already threatening European water bodies with issues like algae blooms and eutrophication, affecting both ecosystems and human health.

But big industrial bodies are generally unhappy when it comes to changing the way they do business. That’s why, to defend their voters’ interests, groups like centre-right EPP and liberal Renew Europe are advocating for an entirely different mindset after June. They want a “Green Industrial Deal”, they highlight economic and social concerns over environmental strategies, and they demand less regulation from Brussels. The EPP in particular has been strongly opposing climate and environmental policies since last year, an example being the EU bill to restore ecosystems known as Nature Restoration Law. Right-wing members of the European Parliament said it represented a threat to the economy and EU international competitiveness. On the other hand, left and green groups are trying to highlight the benefits of protecting nature, including for sectors like agriculture. EUNews compared the different political programmes, and looked at what a competitive Europe could look like.

Finally, the Dutch Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB, right-wing populism) entering government with Geert Wilders marks a pivotal change, potentially impacting EU policies. Wilders is the kind of person who speaks about “climate hysteria” and says the root of all problems is asylum seekers. If you want to get a better idea of the character, read this ironic (yet worrying) column by Thijs Broer for Vn.

On another note, some interesting journalism on the state of the EU environment was published in May.

Elisabetta Tola, from Padova University, combined scientific literature, satellite data, and field reporting to identify some of the most degraded or yet unknown Italian wetlands.

Jairo Marcos and Ana Muñoz travelled, for, to the Spanish town of Montánchez, where citizens knocked down a wind energy megaproject and now democratise their own energy.

Ioana Moldoveanu and Daniel Bojin investigated, for Romanian portal Rise Project, mafia-laundered funds involving underworld clans, two Romanian energy companies, and micro-hydro plants.

Tom Brown and Christina Last, on Follow the Money, shed light on how oil and gas companies are hiding their true emissions, with new technology that could make tracking more difficult.

Georgia Anagnou for Salomon met with people in Palamas, Greece, who are legally challenging the sequestering of their highly productive land for solar parks, fearing adverse effects on agriculture.

Finally, some self-promotion: Mimesis has published A Fuoco (On Fire), a book collecting contributions from 18 journalists (including myself) who first participated in the A Fuoco newsletter, with the help of the Italian collaborative projects Pagella and Slow News. Covering various topics ranging from food chains to migration, we tried to debunk fake news and myths about climate change and the politics surrounding it.

Emanuela Barbiroglio

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