How The Debate on Climate is Polarising Norway Online

Two strongholds are being built with a heated relationship

Just as the tide itself, the debate on climate change is on the rise. There has been a tremendous focus on climate in Norway the last 10 years and Oslo is proud to be the «European Green Capital of the World» in 2019 (link to the homepage of green capital)

Norwegians care about our country and we like to think that we care about everyone else as well. We have the resources to be at the top when it comes to technology and research and we are willing to invest in the future even though we are a small dot on the world map.

What is going on in Norway now then since we are on the alert?

A photo of a calm setting on a beach with a stranded boat. Mountains in the background
Photo by Joe Waddell from Pexels

It all boils down to a couple of Facebook Groups. «The Front Against Climate Hysteria» and «The Front Against The Front Against Climate Hysteria».

The latter group has a humorous twist to it. It was created as satire, but it has an overbearing tone to it and a lot of posts are simply created just to point at the opposing group as less intelligent. A classic “them vs. us” situation where a formal and respectful discussion has left the building a long time ago.

The UN Sustainability Goals

The UN has defined a set of sustainability goals. Goal nr. 13 is “Climate Action”. Norway is committed to reaching these goals. (Link to UN Sustainability Goals)

As an example, a standard family car, like the VW Passat, is around 50.000USD here, almost half of the price of the car is usually taxes. If you purchase an electric car, like the Tesla, you don’t have to pay this tax. Because of this, a Tesla Model S is 40.000USD cheaper than it would be with these taxes added to the price. Needless to say, there are a lot of electric cars in Norway. In February, 49.7% of all cars sold in Norway were electric! We have several other incentives to choose the environment-friendly way of life as well.

Many people in the Front against Climate Hysteria feel what Norway is doing is pointless when you look at the other countries, like China, who has enormous pollution issues. Why should we bother when they are going to keep polluting?

We might be small, but our way of life can affect the global situation. Think about why there is such a high production in China. This is just one example. If you look at how the Coronavirus has paralyzed parts of production in China, and NASA’s satellite images on the current pollutant drop, you can see for yourself how limiting production has a direct impact on the environment.

A picture of NASA’s graphics on the pollution drop in China
Copyright “NASA’s Global Climate Change website”

(link to NASA Earth Observatory)

If you don’t believe in the big picture, at least locally they must have a better breathing experience. After all, a lot of our global production to fulfill our “needs” are produced in China.

In this article, I want to direct our attention to another serious aspect of it all. The debate on climate online.

The Digital Platform

Our debate platform has migrated to the web. This means we are dealing with human behavior we saw less of just 15–20 years ago. When you are face to face with another person, you tend to be more polite and respectful. When you are hammering on your keyboard and live behind a wall of binary digits, the trolls emerge.

It is not pretty and I am surprised how adults can behave in a way that would embarrass their 6-year-old kid. During the election debates before an election, I am baffled by how disrespectful and straight-up rude our country’s leaders are. It is a fraction of what you see in the US debates, but it is extremely bad here in Norway as well.

Sometimes it is tempting to tell my kids the following:

«hey… listen… remember how we taught you to be nice to all the people around you, solve problems together and show respect to one another? Just forget all that, if you act like a disrespectful bully, you can run an entire country.»

If you just show them one televised debate, 10 years of raising a kid would go down the drain…

The Toxic Polarisation

A photo of a child screaming into a microphone
Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Aren’t people critical enough to know that they should validate their sources, listen to all the arguments and lead a civil conversation with as much information as possible on the subject?

Espen Grendahl Sivertsen, a former officer in psychological operations, wrote an article about how the polarization we see between the two fronts in Norway, is a gift to Russian interests. Can they use this to steer the population in a direction in their desired direction? A local separation in the population is perfect to create imbalance and chaos. We all remember Cambridge Analytica and the involvement in the US election. Several reports have stated that there was an involvement from the Russians before the election. (Link to Wikipedia on the 2016 Election and the reports on Russian involvement)

The more heated the relationship is between the groups, the better it is for you if you intend to maintain hostility and chaos.

The article is in Norwegian, but Google translate might help you out:

“Conflicting Fronts on Climate is a Gift to Russian Influence” — Espen Grendahl Sivertsen

This brings us to the next important part of the puzzle. Why is it dangerous that there are two conflicting groups on Facebook? Aren’t people critical enough to know that they should validate their sources, listen to all the arguments and lead a civil conversation with as much information as possible on the subject?

One would think so, but there are many factors to this puzzle and the machinery behind it all has some… how should we put it? Computer problems.

Facebook’s Role in the Polarisation

A photo of a screen with facebook open
Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash

Facebook isn’t curated by humans anymore. Your Facebook wall contains posts the Facebook algorithm thinks you want to see.

Try it. If you scroll down on your wall, how many posts do you see that you strongly disagree with? If it is related to something you strongly disagree with, is it a post boosting your side of the story? How many posts contain a different view on something you are very interested in? If you scroll for a while, does it just start over again?

If you have seen the documentary “The Facebook Dilemma” (link to The Facebook Dilemma IMDB) directed by James Jacoby, you might remember how a whole society in Egypt was split politically. A Facebook group was created, protesting Mubarak’s regime and it’s violent behavior. The group united over 100.000 members in only three days.

Wael Ghonim, who worked for Google — Middle East at the time, had no idea it would have such an impact when he arranged an event to take to the streets. 18 days later the regime stepped down. A call to action on a social platform was able to make an enormous impact on society. World leaders could only dream of having the same power as Facebook possess in these cases.

Confirmation Bias and Facebook’s Curation Algorithm

What happened next was a bit of a surprise.

After the revolution, things took an unforeseen turn. Egypt experienced a solid separation between several parts of society. If you expressed a sharp tone against the other parts, that post would be boosted and get more traction. The news algorithm was now pouring fuel on the fire.

This algorithm was now leading the camps in both directions to the extreme. When this happens we experience confirmation bias. We are never challenged by the other opinion and that feeds this bias. The only confirmation we get is from the likeminded and all sides are dragged further apart.

When Facebook is used as people’s main, or only, news source, we are facing a threat to society as we know it. When you are never presented with other views to your beliefs, how are you going to make a well-thought conclusions on your current information?

Change Your Mind to the Better if You Can.

If you look back on your entire life, how many times have you been sure about something, to later become convinced you were wrong later? I know I have, but that is because I have been presented other views and maybe discussed the matter with other persons who obtain more information or insight on the subject. If you are never challenged, your view, right or wrong, will just get fueled with more of the same. I don’t see how that can be healthy in any way.

During the last couple of weeks, I have witnessed several posts where adults have written posts pointing to another post in the other group with no means to discuss the content in any way. There have been several examples where one could have reached out and presented another view, but since the “this side, that side” is so strong, the will to do so is not exactly strong.

Internally in one of the groups, I have witnessed someone saying “That is interesting. I am going to sit down and think about what you just said before I get back to you”. There is hope.

What you say on Facebook, stays there. You might delete it, but a general rule is that if it is on the web once, it is there forever. If your presence online is about mocking other fellow citizens it will create a dent in your facade. It doesn’t matter if the view is absurd. Yes, some people believe the earth is flat. How about linking to all the science that proves them wrong instead of just calling them an idiot and move along?

If you are ever in a job interview situation and you are equally qualified with your nearest opponent, your online presence might give you an advantage or a disadvantage. I assume most HR representatives research your online presence before hiring. Who do you think will get the job? The adult or the “4-year-old”?

If you don’t care about any of this, could you please make sure you keep the discussion civilized? It will not be fun for your child to get bullied in school because the other kids saw a post their parents made online 10 years ago. The next generation will find your posts and it is your online responsibility to make sure we don’t all look like 4-year-olds arguing about colors on a lego brick!

Thanks for sticking with me to the end. Stay civilized.

Sources:

UN Sustainable Development:
www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/

European Green Capital 2019:
https://www.greencapital2019.com

NASA Earth Observatory:
https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146362/airborne-nitrogen-dioxide-plummets-over-china?utm=carousel

The Facebook Dilemma 2019, James Jacoby:
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9207216/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Wikipedia on the 2016 US election:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_interference_in_the_2016_United_States_elections

Espen Grendahl Sivertsen — Climate Debate is a Gift to Russian Influence:
https://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/kronikk/i/70wM3o/folkeopproerene-om-klima-er-en-gavepakke-til-russisk-paavirkning-eskil-grendahl-sivertsen

Written by

CG supervisor with 17 years of experience in the Animation- and VFX industry. Studying Design, Use and Interaction (UX) at the University of Oslo

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