In 1995, a leading group of scientists convened by the United Nations declared that they had detected a “human influence” on global temperatures with “effectively irreversible” consequences. In the coming decades, 99.9 percent of scientists would come to agree that burning fossil fuels had disrupted the Earth’s climate.

Yet almost 30 years after that warning, during the hottest year on Earth in 125,000 years, people are still arguing that the science is unreliable, or that the threat is real but we shouldn’t do anything about climate change. Conspiracies are thriving online, according to a report by the coalition Climate Action Against Disinformation released last month, in time for the U.N. climate conference in Dubai. Over the past year, posts with the hashtag #climatescam have gotten more likes and retweets on the platform known as X than ones with #climatecrisis or #climateemergency.

By now, anyone looking out the window can see flowers blooming earlier and lakes freezing later. Why, after all this time, do 15 percent of Americans fall for the lie that global warming isn’t happening? And is there anything that can be done to bring them around to reality? New research suggests that understanding why fake news is compelling to people can tell us something about how to defend ourselves against it.

People buy into bad information for different reasons, said Andy Norman, an author and philosopher who co-founded the Mental Immunity Project, which aims to protect people from manipulative information. Due to quirks of psychology, people can end up overlooking inconvenient facts when confronted with arguments that support their beliefs. “The more you rely on useful beliefs at the expense of true beliefs, the more unhinged your thinking becomes,” Norman said. Another reason people are drawn to conspiracies is that they feel like they’re in on a big, world-transforming secret: Flat Earthers think they’re seeing past the illusions that the vast majority don’t.

The annual U.N. climate summits often coincide with a surge in misleading information on social media. As COP28 ramped up in late November, conspiracy theories circulated claiming that governments were trying to cause food shortages by seizing land from farmers, supposedly using climate change as an excuse. Spreading lies about global warming like these can further social divisions and undermine public and political support for action to reduce emissions, according to the Climate Action Against Disinformation’s report. It can also lead to harassment: Some 73 percent of climate scientists who regularly appear in the media have experienced online abuse.

Read the full article about fake news about climate change by Kate Yoder at Grist.