Energy & Environment

White House climate adviser says misinformation ‘absolutely’ a public health issue

Aaron Schwartz

White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy on Thursday said that the spread of false information about climate change is “absolutely” a threat to public health. 

McCarthy made the comments as part of an interview for Axios’s event “The Infodemic Age” on Thursday.

Asked whether climate misinformation disseminated on social media represents a public health threat, McCarthy responded, “Absolutely,” adding “it’s not just an island, there’s also greenwashing,” referencing the practice of companies or institutions misrepresenting their work as environmentally friendly. 

“The public health issue [is] one of the big challenges that we face, fossil fuel companies and climate change, posing a significant threat to public health,” McCarthy added. “Fossil fuels have actually created significant health challenges on our country, not just climate change, but we’re talking about pollution that’s impacting people’s lives. … We are talking about, really, risks that no longer need to be tolerated in our communities.” 

The World Health Organization estimates ambient air pollution is linked to about 4.2 million premature deaths per year, while indoor air pollution is a factor in about 3.8 million deaths. The Air Quality Life Index estimates billions of people lose up to six years of their lives due to air quality issues.  

McCarthy, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, added that the dissemination of climate misinformation “continues to make my job difficult.” 

“What we saw in the ’70s and ’80s when we were working on these challenges, and in particular in the ’80s, we saw that the fossil fuel companies were actually using dark money and playing off the playbook of the tobacco industry to figure out how they could seed denial of the challenge of climate as the tobacco companies did,” she said. Since then, she said, outright denial of climate change has become a far more fringe view, “but the dark money is still there.” 

“The fossil fuel companies are still basically trying their best to make sure that people don’t understand the challenge of climate, but now it’s not so much about denying the problem,” she said. “Now the challenge, really, is how do we accelerate the solutions we have available to us, the technology improvements that we’ve seen that are most cost effective?” 

Tags Climate change Gina McCarthy misinformation White House climate adviser
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