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ANN ARBOR, MI/CHICAGO, IL: A study by the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) has concluded 12-26 percent of Americans, depending on location, deny the reality of climate change.

The researchers used Twitter (now X) data from 2017-2019 and AI techniques to understand how key influencers on social media, including Donald Trump, have spread climate change denialism.

Employing ChatGPT’s Large Language Model, the study classified more than 7.4 million geocoded tweets posted by 1.3 million unique users as ‘for’ or ‘against’ climate change and mapped the results at state and county levels to discover an overall 49.6 million Americans deny the reality.

Analysis of the geocoded tweets revealed that belief in climate change is highest along the West and East Coasts, and that denialism is highest in the Central and Southern parts of the country, with more than 20 percent of the populations of Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama and North Dakota not believing in climate change.

According to the data, political affiliation plays the most influential role in determining whether a person believes in climate change or not, with a high percentage of Republican voters having the strongest correlation with deniers.

In addition, the researchers saw a significant connection between denialism and low COVID-19 vaccination rates, education, income level and the degree to which the regional economy is reliant on fossil fuels to produce energy.

The research concluded Trump as the biggest influencer as well as re-tweets from The Daily Wire, Breitbart, Climate Depot and right wing political commentators.

Between 2017-2019, the most heavily re-tweeted post included one by Trump that questioned climate change due to unusually cold weather in the U.S. and another where he cast doubt on a UN climate report just prior to COP24, the 2018 UN Climate Change Conference held in Poland.

In almost half of the tweets analysed, the most common refrain was that climate change was not real, humans are not the primary cause and climate change experts are unreliable according to senior author Joshua Newell, professor and co-director of the Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS) at SEAS.

“People tend to selectively credit or discredit evidence based on their beliefs, which is how fake experts come to serve as credible messengers,” Newell continued. “This is the basis of the theory of identity-protective cognition, which helps explain, for example, why Republican voters are more likely to believe tweets from Trump on climate change rather than other, more reliable sources—it is identity-affirming.”

In a related action Chicago has filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66, and the American Petroleum Institute for knowingly fuelling the climate crisis.

The city has joined communities across the U.S. arguing the fossil fuel industry must pay for a decades-long campaign of disinformation that has delayed the transition to lower-carbon energy sources. According to the Center for Climate Integrity, nearly 25 percent of the nation’s population lives in states and municipalities now suing oil companies “over their climate lies”.

“These companies knowingly deceived Chicago consumers in their endless pursuit of profits,” commented Chicago Alderman Matt Martin. “As a result of their conduct, Chicago is enduring extreme heat and precipitation, flooding, sewage flows into Lake Michigan, damage to city infrastructure and more, with enormous costs.”

The lawsuit is calling on the oil companies to pay for the damages Chicago is experiencing because of climate change, including adaptation projects to make the city more resilient in the face of it.
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