How to Stop Lies About Climate Change?

The SLACC (Stop Lies About Climate Change) project aims to increase critical thinking skills in young people and provide the necessary communication skills to debunk fake news on climate change thus equipping young people for the role of climate ambassadors. The project partnership consists of 7 partner organizations from Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia. To make sure that the educational needs of both target groups (young people and youth workers) are best met by the project offer, the partners conducted transnational research on the existing approaches to climate education and the situation regarding fake news about climate issues in their countries. In addition, they analyzed the ways to improve climate education through non-formal methods and the best strategies to fight misinformation.

The research shows that people in all partner countries are aware of the seriousness that climate change and the related issues entail. There are, however, some clearer differences, when it comes to the level of attention climate topics receive from media and national governments. The perceived lack of enough information is not to be underestimated, as it can lead to a lack of position among young people, which means they are potentially more prone to the threats of misinformation campaigns. Nevertheless, their level of awareness about the impact of climate change on their everyday lives is quite high. The general interest in the topic, especially from more active, well-educated youth is also ever-growing, which is proved by the high number of climate awareness projects and initiatives launched in the recent years as well as youth organisations committed to fight climate change. This shows great potential in young people for becoming climate ambassadors.

The research also shows that state and non-governmental actors are quite active in developing training materials and providing trainings on climate-related topics. As a result, climate education seems to be mandatory part of school curricula in almost all partner countries, albeit being rather fragmented. While non-governmental organizations seem to be an active motor of change everywhere, truth is that general educational standards appear to be incomplete and a universal framework for education in climate change and environmental protection is still lacking.

According to the conducted research, apart from school, the main sources young people use to get information about climate issues are online platforms such as social media channels and in the case of more conscious audience – foreign media websites or even climate related webpages. Offline, (a smaller portion of) young people tend to still trust TV and traditional print media. The general tendency is towards shorter texts, video content and lesser volume of information. However, there is little awareness that information needs to be further checked, that despite appearing so, some sources might not be reliable or that diversifying the sources adds value to forming an informed opinion on complex issues. For this reason, the most effective ways of informing and engaging young people on the topic of climate change would follow their needs and interests – using different games and challenges, short informative videos, accessible and engaging content published on social media, bringing the topic closer to their everyday lives through relatable examples, giving them responsibility by developing their own projects/initiatives (learning by doing), interactivity (discussing rather than lecturing). While it can be difficult for educators and youth workers to keep up with all newly emerging communication channels, it is important to use them to reach young people and speak their language. It is also important to understand the fact that even if allowing for more fake news due to the free access and lack of control, the online platforms have contributed to developing young people’s critical sense, however fragile it may be.

The potential is there but what about the motivation and interest in becoming a climate ambassador? The research shows that young people do care about climate change and are aware of the fake news related to it, even if it can be difficult for them to orient in the available resources providing all sorts of information. According to youth, older people are perceived to be more susceptible to fake news due to a number of reasons: they are less familiar with social media (where fake news are mostly published) and its traps, they tend to believe more in what they find on the internet, as they do not have the same digital skills and climate education as young people, and therefore are less likely to identify fake news. So, young people agree it is vital to educate others (and themselves) about fake news to avoid wrong beliefs and perceptions that could be translated into harmful behaviours. At the same time, they also admit that vulnerability to fake news is not about age but other factors such as economic situation, radicalisation, and lack of critical thinking.

What one needs to understand to successfully fight misinformation, is the logic behind it – how fake news are spread and who is interested in spreading them. The report shows that the main actors stretch beyond the traditional business and political interests or simply conspiracy theories fans, and find more and more innovative ways to spread disinformation, shape opinions and create artificial debates in the public space. So, it is crucial to develop critical thinking skills as early as possible, to educate and sensitize society, and especially young people, that fake news exist as a part of our reality today, and that misinformation can take many forms.

But how to recognize fake news in the vast ocean of information? There are plenty of engaging exercises, using reverse strategies, debunking contests, internet research tasks, open discussions, interactive media literacy trainings that ideally would be adequately integrated into the formal education. In addition, there are many online tools that can help in the fight against misinformation and need to be promoted among young people, including fact-checking websites and social media accounts publishing synthesized and accessible scientific information, educational podcasts, digital tools, online courses etc. Above all, the main learning need remains critical thinking skills, including developing awareness for the problem of misinformation in a first place, followed or accompanied by developing methods to distinguish credible from fake information as well as transversal soft skills such as communication skills, proactivity, flexibility, perseverance - all useful on the way to becoming ambassador.

The SLACC project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.