On YouTube, a Shift from Denying Science to Dismissing Solutions


An analysis of thousands of YouTube videos posted over the last five years finds a decline in videos that outright deny climate change but an uptick in those that question the practicality of shifting to renewable energy or impugn the credibility of climate experts.

“Scientists have won the battle to inform the public about climate change and its causes, which is why those opposed to climate action have cynically switched focus to undermining confidence in solutions and in science itself,” said Imran Ahmed, head of the London-based Center for Countering Digital Hate, which undertook the research.

For the analysis, researchers used artificial intelligence to analyze transcripts of more than 12,000 videos shared by climate contrarians between 2018 and 2023. While nearly half of videos posted in 2018 denied the planet was warming at all, by 2023 that portion had fallen to just 14 percent. Videos denying humans are causing climate change also dropped, but just slightly.

By contrast, the portion of videos that cast doubt on the severity of climate change grew somewhat. At the same time, the share of videos that exaggerated the costs or potential harms of moving away from fossil fuels rose from 9 percent to 30 percent, while the share of videos arguing that scientists and advocates cannot be trusted grew from 23 to 35 percent.

Center for Countering Digital Hate

It is the policy of Google, which owns YouTube, not to run ads on videos that deny human-caused climate change, meaning creators cannot earn money from those videos. But ads, including from brand-name companies such as Hilton and nonprofits such as Save the Children, do run alongside videos that downplay the impact of climate change or make misleading claims about climate policies or renewable energy.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate is calling on Google not to run ads on videos that contradict the scientific consensus on the “causes, impacts, and solutions” to climate change.


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