Don't Go Looking for Geoengineering Info on YouTube—It's Mostly Lies, Study Finds

Gif: YouTube Screenshot

If you’re trying to understand geoengineering, don’t go looking for answers on YouTube. A new study suggests that conspiracy theorists dominate the site when it comes to certain scientific terms.

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Published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Communication, the study found that fewer than half of videos found on the site when searching terms related to climate science and climate engineering represented scientific consensus. It’s no wonder so many loonies actually believe in chemtrails and the like.

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Study author Joachim Allgaier, a senior researcher of science communication at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany, plugged 10 search terms into YouTube: “climate,”climate change,”climate engineering,”climate manipulation,”climate modification,”climate science,”geoengineering,”global warming,”chemtrails,” and “climate hacking.” All but the last two of these terms are scientific terms, but Allgaier also searched for “chemtrails” and “climate hacking” as a control to see if these would wind up showing different results than the rest of the terms and to learn if the results would debunk climate myths.

Looking at the first 20 videos that were served for each search, his findings varied depending on the search term. “Climate,” “climate change,” “climate science,” and “global warming” resulted in videos that stuck almost entirely to scientific consensus, the study found. They tended to be news programs or documentaries based in fact. Only 9 out of the 80 videos that popped up from these terms challenged mainstream science.

However, when it came to “geoengineering,” “climate manipulation,” “climate hacking,” “climate modification,” and “chemtrails,” almost all of the videos spread misinformation. Only about 19 percent of the videos here were grounded in science. The rest were mostly all about conspiracies. Few videos dove into the actual science behind geoengineering, which some believe will solve our planet’s environmental crises. There are ideas of blocking the sun’s rays and creating rain to clear air pollution. Instead, video makers opted to rant about chemtrails, which aren’t even real, dude.

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The good news is that the videos in the study that supported science had slightly more total views than those that denied climate science or went on about conspiracy theories—16,941,949 versus 16,939,655. So at least more people are hearing the truth on YouTube. Still, that doesn’t diminish the more than 16 million views that conspiracy theory videos on these topics have accrued.

“It’s alarming to find that the majority of videos propagate conspiracy theories about climate science and technology,” said Allgaier in a statement.

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When I tried searching for these terms on YouTube out of curiosity, most videos seemed to communicate the issue at hand. There was, however, a stupid Fox News video at the top of the feed preaching about “climate hysteria.” STFU, Fox. When I searched “geoengineering,” I saw a lot of legitimate videos on the topic—like TED talks!—but I quickly found myself in chemtrails wonderland, as the study author found himself.

Look, YouTube is not a place to go for education. It’s a place for entertainment. Still, many people see these videos and take them as fact. They take them to be credible, reputable sources. A random video on YouTube is not a strong source, friends. Academic journals, universities, and federal agencies (OK, except maybe the Environmental Protection Agency these days) can offer truths on the topic of climate change. That’s where people should direct their questions and wonders. Not goddamn YouTube.

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So open a book. And leave YouTube for music videos or funny TikTok compilations. Please.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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This is good stuff. Whenever remediation is the topic be it the more mundane remediation of hazardous waste sites or geoengineering of the climate system, always approach a sales pitch with skepticism. Not cynicism per se, just remember sales and marketing have moved into science, engineering and technology like never before with the internet and social media. Or assume tech is 95% sales and marketing and 5% science and engineering. 

We’ll be seeing an ungodly amount of geoengineering shit being slung in future. Lots of newsfeeds and videos of “professor X” telling us that mainstream science and engineering is hiding the truth. “if you don’t fund my geoengineering scheme, we’re all going to die!”

On the topic of geoengineering and/or climate change mitigation other than rapidly cutting emissions. Here’s an article from the blog RealClimate, which has been around for a long time and run be actual climate scientists. On carbon sequestration schemes, one in particular:

Can planting trees save our climate?

The media impact of the new study was mainly based on the statement in the ETH press release that planting trees could offset two thirds of the man-made CO2 increase in the atmosphere to date. To be able to largely compensate for the consequences of more than two centuries of industrial development with such a simple and hardly controversial measure – that sounds like a dream! And it was immediately welcomed by those who still dream of climate mitigation that doesn’t hurt anyone.

Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true.

There was another recent review on atmospheric CO2 capture machines. The gist was that it would take an enormous amount of energy (and lifecycle emissions from construction and deployment) to be effective. I’ll try to find the article.