Conspiracy spillovers are shaping public attitudes towards climate technologies

October 18, 2023

October 18th at noon (12 PM EST)

In person at MIT: E15-384; + lunch!
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Prof. Ramit Debnath (University of Cambridge)

Public perception of emerging climate technologies, such as greenhouse gas removal (GGR) and solar radiation management (SRM), will strongly influence their future development and deployment. Our large-scale, comparative study of 1.5 million tweets covers 15 GGR and SRM technologies and uses state-of-the-art deep learning models to show how attention and expressions of sentiment and emotion developed between 2006 and 2021. We find that in recent years, attention has shifted from general geoengineering themes to specific GGR methods. On the other hand, there is little attention paid to specific SRM technologies, and they often coincide with conspiracy narratives. Probing deeper into the online narratives using network theory, we find that specific conspiracy theories influence public reactions toward geoengineering, especially regarding "chemtrails" (where airplanes allegedly spray poison or modify weather through contrails). Furthermore, conspiracies tend to spillover, shaping regional debates in the UK, USA, India, and Sweden and connecting with broader political considerations. We also find that positive emotions rise on both the global and country scales following events related to SRM governance, and negative and neutral emotions increase following SRM projects and announcements of experiments. Finally, we also find that online toxicity shapes the breadth of spillover effects, further influencing anti-SRM views.

Speaker's Bio:
Dr. Ramit Debnath is a university assistant professor and Cambridge Zero fellow (major climate initiative) at the University of Cambridge. Ramit leads the Cambridge Collective Intelligence and Design Group which leverages computational social science and responsible AI for climate action. He is also a visiting faculty associate at Caltech and is on the steering committee member of Cambridge’s new Centre for Human Inspired Artificial Intelligence. Ramit has a background in electrical engineering and a PhD in energy policy as a Gates Cambridge Scholar from Cambridge.

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