If you encountered climate change denial on the internet, how confident are you that you could recognize it for what it was?

This story is part of CNET Zero, a series that chronicles the impact of climate change and explores what’s being done about the problem.

You might think you have a good idea of what climate misinformation and disinformation look like, but a report published on Tuesday by the Center for Countering Digital Hate serves as a warning to us to be vigilant about the shapeshifting nature of climate denial.

The CCDH has been monitoring the presence of climate denial on YouTube and has seen a collapse in many of the old narratives that used to dominate on the platform. But, over the past five years, newer denial narratives have taken hold and now make up 70% of all climate denial on the platform — up from 35% in 2018.

Climate scientists around the world are unanimous in their verdicts, both when it comes to the causes of climate change and its solutions. We’re also increasingly feeling the effects of climate change in our lives in the form of extreme weather, from heatwaves to hard-hitting storms, forest fires and floods. But no matter how much progress is made by scientists or how much the realities of the climate crisis hit home, there have always been, and likely always will be, many who seek to undermine the truth for financial or political reasons.

In the past, climate denial largely focused on invalidating the existence and causes of climate change. You might have heard arguments saying that climate change doesn’t exist, with people arguing it’s a conspiracy or that the unpredictable and extreme weather being experienced around the world can be explained away as natural fluctuations in our planet’s weather patterns.

Scientists have proven these narratives false, and the use of them as denial narratives is, thankfully, increasingly rare. In its report, the CCDH quotes climate skeptiscm researcher John Cook as saying this is because “science denial has become untenable” in light of people experiencing climate impacts for themselves.

Using AI to scan transcripts from over 12,000 climate-related videos, the CCDH found that mentions of one of the key false narratives – that global warming doesn’t exist – dropped from 48% in 2018 to 14% last year.

But filling the void, new forms of climate denial are on the rise. Rather than arguing against the existence of climate change and its causes, new climate denial aims to undermine solutions and the work of the global climate movement.

The prevalence of the narrative that climate solutions don’t work is up from 9% to 30%, meanwhile there’s been a 23% to 35% jump in suggestions that climate science, policy and the climate movement are unreliable.

Just as scientists are clear about the causes of climate change, they’re also clear about what the solutions are and that they work. Over and over again, they’ve reiterated that the main thing we need to do is stop burning fossil fuels that emit harmful greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Green energy alternatives — including solar, wind and hydro — work. They’re reliable, cost efficient and take up the same or even less space than current energy infrastructure.

“The bad guys have moved the battleground from the realities of anthropogenic climate change to trying to disrupt another part in the chain that leads to action,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the CCDH in a briefing ahead of the report’s publication.

How to identify new climate denial

Climate denial has long relied on a mix of pseudoscientific claims and politically motivated propaganda. In the past, multiple investigations have found that it was largely funded and propagated, both overtly and covertly, by the fossil fuel lobby. Climate denial may look different from the way it has in the past, but in its newer forms it can be equally insidious.

This is all worth bearing in mind when you’re spending time on social media platforms such as YouTube, which allows the discussion of denial narratives, but demonetizes them. 

“Our climate change policy prohibits ads from running on content that contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change,” said a YouTube spokesperson in a statement. “We also display information panels under relevant videos to provide additional information on climate change and context from third parties.”

In spite of this, the CCDH found adverts running on videos including newer forms of climate denial. After raising these cases with YouTube, some videos were demonetized but the majority were found to not contravene YouTube’s policies, suggesting that the evolution of climate denial narratives is creating ambiguity.

The CCDH recommends that Google and other social platforms update their policies to reflect the presence of new forms of climate denial. But as we use these platforms, it’s also important for us to be wary that these narratives are out there. And they’re looking for new audiences.

Where might you find such new forms of climate denial? In its report, the CCDH points to several YouTube channels with follower counts in their millions, including Jordan Peterson, BlazeTV and PragerU. But there are just a handful of sources included among the 96 channels studied by the CCDH.

As well as the fossil fuel lobby, controversial creators on digital platforms are incentivized to keep spinning these new denial narratives as they’re rewarded with clicks, views and money, said Ahmed.

What are the red flags? Look out for content that includes what climate scientist and University of Pennsylvania Professor Michael Mann has identified as the five Ds: deflection, delay, division, despair and doomism. 

If you’ve stumbled across a narrative that’s attempting to deflect the conversation away from scientifically approved climate solutions or delay their adoption, that can be a warning sign. Likewise, denial content could be attempting to sow discord between climate experts or experts. 

Finally, don’t subscribe to doom and gloom narratives. The truth is there is plenty that can be done about climate change, and there is plenty that is being done.