Renewable Matter # 15 / March-April

A Compass against Misinformation

by Roberto Giovannini

If it did non exist, it would have to be invented. We are talking about Climalteranti, the website created and coordinated by Stefano Caserini dispensing information on climate change. This section is usually devoted to media dealing with the environment, but on this occasion we will describe an information medium telling how media deal with the environment and climate change; too often, as it turns out, with shallowness, approximation and confusion and sometimes with misinformation spirit that leads straight to false and deceptive claims. In Climalteranti’s articles, conclusions are mercilessly exposed with subtle and vitriolic humour. This discredits and dishonours – naming and shaming – the far too many commentators and journalists who, to this day, make scientifically unproven, inexact or wrong statements at times verging on blatant climate change denialism. 

Climalteranti carries through valuable work since the battle to curb global warming is far from over, quite the opposite. It is essential to do our utmost to guarantee a “limited” or “mitigated” climate change for future generations. Valuable work, a fortiori, in times such as these, characterised by the unstoppable advance of hoaxes and fake news as well as of nonchalantly reiterated “alternative facts.” Actually, it is a war to get rid of tall stories. A war that must be led with determination, without fear of making important enemies, which are the top newspapers, TV news and the “influential” signatures that, when it is convenient, are jeered and sneered at, as they deserve. 

But this is not Climalteranti’s only core business, which with good reason can be regarded as one of the most authoritative interdisciplinary initiatives by Italian climatologists. They employ a peer-review system for the publication of their articles: a scientific committee is asked to read the potential publications that are assessed and modified for accuracy and legibility. Then they discuss some aspects on the Web, where people can even comment. In most posts of Caserini & C.’s website, they analyse the trend of data of global temperature or glaciers or they study the results of conferences on climate issues. Often, though, they find out small/big hoaxes on the media and debunk them. As mentioned before, the inventor and founder of the website is Stefano Caserini, an environmental engineer, who holds a course on Climate Change Mitigation at the Polytechnic University of Milan, which has been researching into air pollution, emission inventories and the reduction of emission into the atmosphere for quite some time. Also, thanks to the many exposed absurdities, he published various books on the challenge of communicating the issue of climate change. He started from the fact that the information on climate change is faced with a dangerous split: on the one hand, almost all scientists agree on the fact that human activities are the main cause of CO2 increase; on the other, on the media, claims with little scientific backup deny any value to the accumulating substantial body of evidence.

The mechanism through which mystifiers try to defend the legitimacy of certain theories with no value is similar to that examined over the last few months when talking about hoaxes and fake news. There are conspiracy theorists who, with a lesser or greater degree of obsession claim that “all that you know is false.” But these are few and far between on newspapers. On the media one finds mainly three categories of climate deniers: those saying “it’s already too late,” according to whom “a few more degrees won’t do anybody any harm and we’ll find a solution anyway;” those claiming “it is too expensive, though,” who explain that it is not worth penalizing certain economic sectors, with the risk of losing jobs and paying more tax. Last but not least – the majority – those all for “we need to be unbiased,” i.e. those that in the name of an alleged equality compare human-induced global warming theories – agreed upon by 99.7% of the scientific community – with “alternative” theories with no scientific value.

This happens quite often. In the past, on some occasions La Stampa – my newspaper – fell for it too. Corriere della Sera falls for it even more often. Last 26th February it published two pages entitled “Credetemi, il clima non è surriscaldato” (“Believe me, there is no global warming”), quoting wrong data and crazy claims. Had they talked – with the same surreal “impartiality” – about vaccines or, even worse, the holocaust, in the editorial office it would have caused bedlam. 




Stefano Caserini published with Edizioni Ambiente: Il clima è (già) cambiato (2016), Guida alle leggende sul clima che cambia (2009) and A qualcuno piace caldo (2008).