An interview with Matteo Bergamini from Shout Out UK about climate literacy, greenwashing, misinformation and how to tackle it.
AimHi Earth exists to provide everyone with the essential tools, systems thinking and holistic environmental understanding needed to overcome the climate and nature crisis.
Public understanding of climate change can only be achieved if readers, watchers and sharers worldwide have the skills they need to recognise false claims, misused statistics and malicious misinformation.
Being able to cut through the layers of untruths enables us to identify greenwashing campaigns, or advertising based on unfounded ‘sustainable’ credentials. It makes us productively critical, as we know what to question and when to push for more meaningful promises or commitments.
A high level of media literacy is the difference between taking a government or corporation at their word and allowing them to get away with sub-sufficient action, and spotting the shortfalls and campaigning for more.
Basically, knowing your climate from your schlimate makes you an invaluable member of Planet Earth’s Truth Team, which is one of AimHi Earth’s fundamental objectives.
Another organisation in this ecosystem working to increase public media literacy is Shout Out UK, whose invaluable work brings young people together to talk and learn how to think critically and cut through misinformation. We hunted down their founder, Matteo Bergamini, for a catch up and asked him a few mainly marvellous and musty questions…
What exactly is an 'infodemic'?
Just like a virus outbreak, an infodemic is an excessive amount of information, often inaccurate or misleading, that spreads among a population, usually through the medium of the internet. Infodemics can make it really difficult to identify a solution to a problem or to figure out what is truthful and what is not, who to trust, and what is happening. This creates confusion and can spread distrust across the globe.
How does this relate to greenwashing?
Greenwashing is when a business or company spends more time, money and effort on promoting itself as green than actually implementing sustainable or "green" efforts.
Infodemics facilitate this, as many companies realise that young people care about the planet, so rather than making conscious, genuine efforts to be sustainable, they opt for the easier (and cheaper) choice of just promoting themselves as being 'green'.
Companies spread disinformation by telling consumers marginal falsehoods, by using non-factual emotional appeals to persuade, or even by telling outright lies about their environmentally sustainable credentials.
Greenwashing is a particularly bad strain of the infodemic, as it diminishes the level of knowledge consumers have to identify products that are sustainable or environmentally okay, which causes issues relating to climate change and long term sustainability.
What do you consider to be the most significant role in public understanding?
Internal bias. It’s the hardest aspect of media literacy to grasp. Most people you speak to will confirm that what they see online or on social media is subject to misinformation; people aren't ignorant of the problem. That said, knowing misinformation exists is very different from identifying what it looks like.
It's one thing knowing there are mushrooms in a forest; it's, however, a completely different skill-set in understanding which ones to pick and eat. Many would have no idea which mushrooms to pick, so we default to our base biases of colour and texture, which can lead to dire consequences as we get sick and make our family ill from inedible mushrooms.
In a similar vein, we know misinformation exists; the public, for the most part, however, has no idea how to identify what is safe and what is toxic to 'consume', so we default to our biases on what we want to believe to be true. We need to train ourselves to understand what is healthy and what isn't.
Do you feel progress is being made? / What makes you hopeful?
Yes. Many governments and NGOs are starting to link teaching political and media literacy to strengthening democracy and national security. This is a good thing as we now realise that if we want to preserve the freedoms and rights we as a society have gathered over the years, we need to protect our minds from toxic disinformation.
What can people do in their everyday lives to help tackle issues of misinformation?
Research how to fact-check information; plenty of organisations highlighted by the EU, NATO and UN showcase how any person can do basic checks.
Our REVIEW video is a great place to start. Check your own biases; we all have them; make sure you research and read material that doesn’t adhere to your bias.
Finally, ensure you come from a place of support for those that show they are being influenced by disinformation. The idea that 'all opinions are valid' for me is a fallacy. Some opinions are factually wrong and do not deserve debate. We must support those that express such views in the same way one would attempt to help a family member who has bad body odour! We wouldn't shame them, but we would aim to help them understand that showering regularly ensures good hygiene.
Similarly, we must push those that practice bad information hygiene to work on cleaning their thoughts and social media timelines to ensure their opinions don't 'stink' in future!
As a current and pertinent example, Roe v. Wade is both an attack on women's rights and a clear warning that if we don't arm people with the tools they need to understand information better now, our rights will be under threat.
A huge thank you to Matteo for these answers! Body odour and mushrooms shall now be the only two metaphors we employ for everything ever. If this information has inspired you and you are keen to get involved:
Our climate and nature sprints and training sessions enable everyone to fully understand the most complex concepts and how to connect the dots between them. With a strategic map of the whole, everyone is able to cut through the misinformation and make better-informed decisions to manage risks and safeguard our future. Find out more here.
Meanwhile, find out more about and support Shout Out UK via their website here.