How Climate Science Deniers Manufacture Quotes to Convince You the United Nations Is One Big Socialist Plot

Read time: 6 mins
United Nations climate negotiators

We’re at that time of year when delegations from countries around the world gather for the latest round of United Nations climate negotiations — this time in Bonn, Germany.

For climate science deniers, this is also the time of year to polish up their dodgy climate science talking points and those mythical conspiracy theories about the UN, new world orders, secretive global government plans, and other such illuminati activities.

One recurring feature of these efforts is what's known as quote mining, where lines are taken out of context to try and discredit people associated with climate science or the UN. If that doesn't work, then just make up words that people never said.

Here’s how it usually works. The “source” for a particular quote will invariably lead you down a rabbit hole, echoing with the sounds of other climate science deniers quoting the same material. If a misrepresentation occurs in two different places, this does not suddenly make it real.

Rarely, if ever, will the quote be linked to a primary source that might give you some idea of the context, relevance, or the actual date when the quote was supposedly delivered.

At other times, the claimed “quote” turns out not to have been a quote at all, but a piece of reported speech or a headline that someone stuck quote marks around to turn it into a quote. This is not how quoting people works.

But let’s have a look at some of the worst cases. 

'We redistribute de facto the world's wealth by climate policy.'

In the run-up to the COP23 (as in, the 23rd Conference of the Parties) climate talks taking place in Bonn, the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (EELI) used a quote from German climate policy expert Professor Ottmar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research to suggest a sinister motive for the United Nations Paris climate deal.

EELI, which backs President Trump’s attempts to withdraw from the deal, wrote that Edenhofer had “affirmed” the Paris agreement, saying in a press release:

Ottmar Edenhofer, a recent co-chair of the U.N.s IPCC Working Group IIIaffirmed the scheme: “One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy…We redistribute de facto the world's wealth by climate policy.”

If you search for the phrase “we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy,” you’ll find it repeated over and over on climate science denial blogs and sympathetic conservative media outlets. The link given by EELI goes to a page that also claims Edenhofer had “spilled the movement's dirty secret.”

So where did the quote come from, did Edenhofer say it, and was he really admitting a sinister plan to redistribute the world’s wealth?

The quote originates from this 2010 interview, written in German. Have you spotted the first problem? 

How could Edenhofer have “affirmed the scheme” from the Paris accord, when the Paris deal didn’t even exist in 2010 (it was only signed in 2015)? It’s OK. You don’t need to answer. By the way, EELI's Christopher Horner wasn't so keen to answer questions about his coal funding in Paris.

All the outlets using the Edenhofer quote have relied on Google Translate to tell them what Edenhofer might have said, as the original interview was in German.

A spokesperson for Edenhofer told me the quote was used “to imply that Prof. Edenhofer ‘admits’ that there is some kind of ‘hidden agenda’ behind climate policy.“

The spokesperson added: “Of course, this is not what he was saying. These quotes are taken out of context to be misused. The devaluation of fossil fuel reserves of course leads in a way to wealth redistribution — but this is rather a consequence of the necessity to stop using fossil fuels, and not the actual goal of climate policy.”

'Isn’t the only hope for this planet that the industrialized civilization collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?'

Canadian Maurice Strong was a driving force behind the United Nations establishing its environment program, which he led as its inaugural head.

But in the eyes of climate science deniers and conspiracy theorists, Strong is much more than that. Strong, who died in 2015, is imagined as a key conspirator in the UN’s plot for a socialist global government.

One quote from Strong litters the pages of climate science deniers and even the policy positions of fringe political parties.

According to denier lore, Strong made a speech at the opening of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, in which he “revealed the real goal” behind the United Nations. 

Strong apparently said: “Isn’t the only hope for this planet that the industrialized civilization collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?”

Notorious conspiracy website InfoWars also claims Strong made this statement at the 1992 conference.

Firstly, you won’t find that quote in the actual published speech Strong made to the 1992 conference. It wasn’t in the speech.

Strong did say those words, but they actually came from an interview two years earlier to Daniel Wood, then a journalist at the Canadian Globe and Mail

Strong was not talking about his secret plans for the UN but, instead, was musing about the plot of a novel he wanted to write. Wrote Wood at the time:

The desert slides by. Strong tells me he has often wished he could write. He has a novel he'd like to do. lt's something he has been thinking about for a decade. It would be a cautionary tale about the future.

Here's the quote, as it appeared in the original magazine article.

'Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past'

In 2000, the UK’s Independent newspaper published an interview with scientist David Viner, who at the time was working at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

The headline read: Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past.

Over the years, climate science “contrarians” have taken the article’s definitive headline, written by a sub-editor, as evidence that scientists' predictions on global warming are all wrong, and should be mocked.

Aside from stating the obvious (a headline is different than a newspaper story, which is also different than a scientific paper), some climate science deniers such as Breitbart’s James Delingpole have previously spread the myth that Viner actually uttered the words “snowfalls are now just a thing of the past” when he never actually said it.

Journalists cheering the Paris deal?

In the run-up to the 2016 climate negotiations in Morocco, conservative media outlet The Rebel was campaigning furiously to be allowed press credentials to the talks.

As part of that campaign, Rebel founder and climate science denier Ezra Levant repeatedly used a clip from the 2015 talks in Paris which, he said, showed “journalists in the press room cheering.”

This was proof, claimed Levant, that the journalists at the UN conferences were just cheerleaders, rather than acting as reporters. The problem?

As DeSmog discovered, the clip wasn’t taken in the pressroom and the people cheering in the clip were not journalists. Otherwise, great work!

Rebel media was eventually given a pass to the talks and, despite being snubbed once more, the outlet has said it will send a team anyway.  

Main image: The Paris Agreement is adopted at a United Nations meeting in Paris, France, in 2015. Credit: UNFCCC, CC BY 2.0

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