Extreme Temperature Diary- Sunday February 21st, 2020/ Main Topic: Google Is About To Become A Major Source Of Climate Misinformation

The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉

Main Topic: Google Is About To Become A Major Source Of Climate Misinformation

Dear Diary. In this modern age we have found that big tech and social media companies wield a two edge sword, both allowing users to disseminate great information and truly advance awful falsehoods. The ghost of the age of Trump, in which he and his ilk presented so much horrendously bad social media messages, or “alternative facts,” will be with us for many years to come. I display Twitter messages all the time on this blog to get some of the most recent climate and news out to my readers, for example, but I have to be very careful. Just yesterday I wasn’t careful enough, posting a tweet concerning Ted Cruz, which was utterly false, that I took off my blog. We must never be overly exuberant to expose huxters:

As usual, your best source of news and information cones from highly regarded publications such as The New York Times, Washington Post, and magazine articles from the Smithsonian. Tweets are great to link articles from these sources, though.

Nevertheless, very recently we have seen many proponents of fossil fuel come out of the old proverbial woodwork to attack renewables because of the Texas deep freeze crisis. A new article, which was brought to my attention, indicates that disinformation hasn’t been confined to Texas this winter. Apparently a new web of lies is being spun by many groups, and there is a new threat to climate truth coming from of all places Google. We should see much more of this as the walls of truth close in on climate deniers. Cornered animals can be very desperate and dangerous. This article, which is today’s main subject, will make your blood boil:

Google’s Sky News Australia team-up will make it a climate misinformation powerhouse

Ketan Joshi 19 February 2021

It’s probably been the busiest week for renewable energy misinformers in recent years. In Texas, a blackout caused by a supply crunch of gas paired with freezing power plants and pipelines has been blamed on a sliver of wind power that may have been impacted by freezing turbines, but has otherwise performed as the grid operator has forecasted it to. An ancient meme of a wind turbine being de-iced in Sweden with a helicopter – a test – was shared as if it was a picture of Texas’ turbines, including by Australian Senator Matt Canavan.

Lost in the haze but just as significant was a meme that spread rapidly suggesting that Germany’s wind and solar output had been cut down to zero by wild winter weather. It struck the same notes – ‘how ironic that cold weather shuts down the unreliables!’. One prominent version features a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel floating directly above a bank of snow-covered solar panels, looking very worried about the whole thing:

Despite a fact check warning on the post added by Facebook, it has been shared more than 8,000 times. As you can tell by now, it’s absolute garbage. Wind and solar have been producing power as expected in German winter, with solar lower than summer (turns out it’s darker in winter), and wind varying between peaks and troughs of output as it has done every winter prior. Nothing is “broken”, there aren’t 30,000 idle turbines, and of course fossil fuels are still present in Germany’s energy system.

Data provided by Ember Climate show Germany’s hourly generation up to the end of January, and it’s clear that there were no stretches of “idle turbines” or offline solar – generation was above zero for every day, for both technologies. Wind power contributed between 5% and 55%, across January.

German think tank AgoraEnergiewende told the Lead Stories fact checking site that for February, the story is much the same. The data show periods of high and low wind – exactly what we expect from wind speeds as they vary through winter. And 2020 was a stunning year for German renewables and a moment where coal power began to seriously decline, as I wrote earlier.

On the scale of things, this particular morsel of misinformation was pretty clumsy, and probably won’t have any major influence on policy or perception. But it exposes an ecosystem of targeted lying designed to protect the fossil fuel industry and fulfil ideological aims, and there are signs things will get worse soon.

The lie came from a well known source

So where did this claim come from? It’s tricky to trace, because it has mostly spread without links to a central source. Images were copied, adjusted and tweaked, and claims morphed as they moved through social media sites. One common element was a tweet from an account named ‘Disclose.tv’. US news lists the site on their page of ‘fake news’ pages, under ‘Propaganda’. US fake news and fact checking site Politifact lists it under “Fake News”, highlighting its origin in Passau, Germany. Problem solved, right?

Well, no. In a follow up tweet, the fake news site actually links to their source: msn.com. Yes, the fifth most highly ranked news website in the entire world – higher than CNN, the BBC, Google News, the New York Times – basically, everyone.

That page is actually a republished post from News Corp’s Sky News Australia channel:

So what was the source of the claim? There are only a few brief snippets of text, but the first paragraph reads: “Germany is held up as the world’s solar and wind capital by “renewables luvvies” but Germans are freezing through winter due to “millions of solar panels blanketed in snow” and turbines sitting idle, according to Rowan Dean”. The entire post numbers 104 words. The video attached features literally not a single reference to the source of the claim; it’s mostly the hosts talking about other things. Two days prior, on the 12th, Sky News host Cory Bernardi had repeated the same claim.

There’s a good chance it is based off an article that was published on another fake news site, ‘World News Era’. The photo of snow-covered panels are, of course, a stock photo from at least four years ago. There’s no information on where the photo is taken but the photographer, Alexey Murzin, is Russian. The article features quotes from Professor Harald Schwarz complaining about German variations in output in winter, but has no information about “frozen turbines” or snow-covered panels. The entire article is also various similar-looking fake news sites, like ‘techstartup.com’.

There’s basically no chance this faked information would have spread quite so widely unless it was boosted by two mainstream media companies. The first is News Corporation, whose Sky News Australia channel is growing extremely fast as a major supplier of misinformation around the world. Climate denial, attacks on renewables, and generalised right-wing propaganda dominate the channel. Their social media reach is bigger than any Australian media organisation, and their most viral content comes from their wildest fabrications. The second is the republication by msn.com.

Google is about to become a major force of climate misinformation

This piece of fabricated news comes at a very significant moment. News Corp has been arguing that links to their sites posted on either Google or Facebook should not be posted without paying a large fee to the company. Facebook has responded by blowing up a bomb underneath all news sites (including RenewEconomy). But Google has struck a deal with News Corp, because they face a greater threat as they rely more heavily on hyperlinks to news sites.

“News Corp announced today that it has agreed to an historic multi-year partnership with Google to provide trusted journalism from its news sites around the world in return for significant payments by Google”, wrote News Corp. Joining the program will be “The Australian, news.com.au, Sky News, and multiple metropolitan and local titles”. Robert Thomson, Chief Executive of News Corp, said it would have “a positive impact on journalism around the globe as we have firmly established that there should be a premium for premium journalism”.

It is an incredible situation: Google, a company that prides itself on sustainability and climate issues, is about to commence paying money to News Corp in exchange for packages of misinformation, denialism, hate, bigotry and fabricated news items. Sky News Australia misinformation – such as made up story about Germany’s grid – already appears prominently in Google News results for renewable energy:

Searching “Germany solar” in Google News also returns the Sky News Australia link as the first result!

The idea that Facebook will become any more or less of a cesspit after banning news in Australia is a strange point when the corporation that dominates Australian news is behind one of the country’s worst, most prominent content farms for misinformation. Facebook’s moves have essentially entirely distracted from this extremely alarming development, in which it seems Google are going to ramp up their spreading of Sky News Australia misinformation, and will stunningly be paying for the privilege to do so.

Meanwhile, specialist sites like RenewEconomy will continue to be battered by the waves of these giants fighting each other for who gets to pocket the biggest share of the profits of climate and energy bullshit. Countering the incredible power of these lies will only get harder. Much of it doesn’t depend on hyperlinks back to news sites anyway; as we can see with the meme that Sky News Australia created – so Facebook’s ban won’t do much to counter misinformation.

← PreviousRenewEconomy and sister sites blocked on Facebook, along with other media

Next →WA miner joins hydrogen rush, plans 1GW of wind and solar

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I applause the author of this article and many others who are trying to discern what is true and what is false and let the public know about any blatant falsehoods. This is where we will be in the “Climate War” for at least most of this decade, battling false narratives so that there won’t be any energy and infrastructure transitional compromise. It’s a war we cannot afford to lose.

Very much related:

Here are some overseas “ET’s” reported on this Sunday:

Here is more climate and weather news from Sunday:

(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)

Now here are some of today’s articles and notes on the horrid COVID-19 pandemic:

(If you like these posts and my work please contribute via the PayPal widget, which has recently been added to this site. Thanks in advance for any support.) 

Guy Walton “The Climate Guy”

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