Record-breaking heat changes the climate discourse online
A roundup of the climate conversation across social media this week
Welcome to Climate Monitor, a weekly, data-driven report on the digital strategies polluters and pro-Climate groups are using to shift public opinion and move legislation. Here’s what we found:
Several Instagram posts about the global record-breaking heat this month went viral – and they exemplify a key issue that the climate world is facing: how do we talk about the climate crisis without making people feel too doomed or helpless in the face of it?
Seventh Generation, an eco-friendly paper, cleaning, and personal care product corporation, is running ads in favor of the Green New Deal.
Presidential candidate and conspiracy theorist RFK Jr. is a staunch believer in climate change… but he also thinks it’s being used to impose totalitarian control, according to social media posts.
The FTC is reviewing its “Green Guides” for the first time in nearly a decade.
Digital Advertising Roundup
Facebook + Instagram 👍
For starters, here were the top 25 climate and energy-related advertisers on Facebook and Instagram last week:
The top two spenders in the climate and energy space continue to be oil giant Shell and the American Petroleum Institute, which is the largest trade association for the oil and natural gas industry.
A new and notable ad campaign came from Seventh Generation, an eco-friendly cleaning, paper, and personal care company based in the US. Their ads, which ran nationwide on Facebook and Instagram, stay true to their brand mission – to protect the Earth for the next seven generations and beyond – by urging people to contact their representatives and ask them to support the Green New Deal.
Similarly, the Potential Energy Coalition aka Science Moms began running ads on Facebook and Instagram that respond to the extreme heat in Arizona this past week – and how we must take action to protect future generations from even worse heat waves. The ads ran in Arizona and North Carolina.
And finally, there is another new top advertiser in the climate and energy space on Meta platforms: the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board. The board is funded by natural gas and oil producers in Oklahoma and aims to restore abandoned and unused natural gas and oil well sites. They are running ads on Facebook and Instagram in Oklahoma to get companies to sign up for the Oklahoma Natural Oil & Gas Expo in October 2023.
Google & YouTube 🎞️
There was one new or noteworthy climate or energy advertiser archived by Google last week: Conservation MN Voter Center ($7,700), which continued to run ads thanking state legislators for supporting clean energy.
There were no new climate-related ads on Snapchat this week.
🔦 Spotlight: Record-breaking heat changes the climate discourse online
When it comes to the climate and energy conversation on Instagram, there has been one topic that has been absolutely dominating this space this month: the record-breaking heat that our planet is experiencing.
Of the top 20 most-engaged climate-related Instagram posts in July 2023, seven posts are about the extreme heat – for context, other trending climate topics, like Greta Thunberg’s police troubles in Sweden, only accounted for two posts out of the top twenty.
These posts largely feature stressful images of the planet burning or people and places under a scorching sun… and they clearly have caught people’s attention. In total, they’ve amassed over 2,500,000 interactions. Here’s a look at some of them:
And while the performance of these posts – which mostly came from current events and pop culture accounts like @rap, @pubity, and @thehoodsfinest, not traditional news and media sources – is notable, so are the comments sections. There is, of course, a healthy dose of climate denial and misinformation, followed by good Samaritans dropping article links to combat it. But there is also a tremendous amount of sadness and feelings of helplessness being expressed.
Some of the most-liked comments on these posts include: “We get it. We’re all gonna die,” “We're actually gonna die by 2040,” and “we finna go extinct by 2050 ☠️.”
These comments point to a really important consideration about these viral posts: that news about record-breaking, dangerous heat – especially when paired with stressful images and alarming titles like these posts have – drums up a whole lot of fear and anxiety. And it plays into the ever-growing “Climate Doomer” movement online.
A quick refresher on the climate doomers: they are people from across the globe who have absorbed all the negative headlines and terrifying reports about climate change and believe that we will not be able to solve our climate problems in time to stop societal collapse. They span generations and nations: around the globe, the climate doomer movement encompasses everyone from Gen Z TikTokkers to tenured university professors. They are also very online – here are some of the most popular recent “climate doomer” posts:
And climate doomers are growing in number and in influence as climate forecasts become more dire: most recently, a poll from the American Psychiatric Society in May 2023 found that nearly two-thirds of American adults are anxious about climate change.
This growing movement – when paired with this month’s extremely viral posts about extreme heat and the dangers it poses to humankind – raises an incredibly important question about the climate discourse online: how do people share important information about the climate crisis… without creating viral headlines that make people feel helplessness and doomed?
What’s Trending on Social Media
How are climate and energy issues being discussed by Americans on social media? Every week, we conduct a robust keyword search using CrowdTangle for general terms like “climate change,” “global warming,” “fossil fuels,” and over 40 more specific topics (like “electric vehicles,” “gas stoves” and “pipelines”). Here were the 15 top-performing public posts (by # of interactions) related to climate and energy on Facebook last week:
Last week, over 11,600 public Facebook posts mentioned climate or energy issues, and they earned a cumulative 901,000 interactions.
The theme of this week on Facebook seemed to be high-profile conservatives going after clean energy initiatives to score some political points. And EVs were one of the main targets. The top-performing post about climate and energy this week was a clip of Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) “grilling” Joe Goffman, President Biden’s nominee to lead the EPA Air Office, on EVs. And in a similar fashion, two of the other top-performing posts came from Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), who also took issue with EVs and the EPA.
Republicans also had a lot to say about President Biden’s green energy policies this week on Facebook. The Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma shouted out Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK) for “taking a stand against the Biden administration” on natural gas, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy posted a graph (with some fascinating font choices) about the US’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
And finally, RFK Jr. said he’s “been tracking the leaves” and knows that climate change is real… but he also agrees that the climate crisis is “being used as a pretext for totalitarian control.” The whole video is a wild ride…
Here were the top-performing feed posts (excluding Reels and Stories) related to climate and energy on Instagram last week:
Last week, over 6,000 public Instagram feed posts mentioned climate or energy issues, and they earned a cumulative 6.1 million interactions.
This week, the top three posts on Instagram (in order) came from @greenpeace about the extreme floods that happened around the world this week, @leonardodicaprio about the climate education program that he is funding at his former school, and @reductress with their take on the record-breaking heat last week.
Want to go deeper? Here’s a quick roundup of news from the past week at the intersection of climate, digital strategy, and advocacy.
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Tucker Carlson thinks Biden’s offshore wind projects are killing whales (POLITICO, 7/19)
How the international media reacted to the global record-breaking heat last week (Carbon Brief, 7/18)
The FTC is reviewing its “Green Guides” as pressure grows to crack down on greenwashing (Politifact, 7/17)
Spanish climate activists spray painted a superyacht in Ibiza and then put it on Twitter (CBS, 7/17)
That’s it for this week! If you enjoyed reading this week’s issue, feel free to forward it to a friend or colleague.