Former Arkansas governor, frequent Fox News commentator, and Trinity Broadcast Network host Mike Huckabee — who once joked that the threat of climate change to Americans amounted to “a sunburn” — is now marketing climate denial to children through ads airing across Fox News programming and social media.
Through his EverBright Media venture, Huckabee promotes an educational series targeted at children called The Kids Guide, which includes lessons on “Fighting Socialism,” “Cancel Culture and Free Speech,” and “Media Bias and Fake News.” The series of booklets is based on the premise that American children are vulnerable to biased and agenda-driven public school textbooks and liberal media reports, leading them to oppose “faith in God,” “lower taxes,” “smaller government,” and “the right to bear arms.”
The Kids Guide series is now promoting a new title that Huckabee claims “will help your kids break free from news-induced panic” and learn “the truth” about climate change.
Huckabee’s materials targeted at children have long been called out for their blatant misinformation; a Huffington Post article from 2013 criticized his Learn Our History video series for distributing “Christian nationalist revisionism and right-wing political propaganda.” More recently, a Kids Guide to former President Donald Trump’s accomplishments from 2022 was widely mocked by online critics, who pointed out the glaring hypocrisy of books with such a clear right-wing political agenda and “cult”-like indoctrination being marketed to children at the same time Republican leaders are calling for eradicating access to books that reference any ideas they deem “woke.”
Now, Huckabee’s latest Kids Guide pushes long-debunked narratives and misinformation to downplay, dismiss, or deny the threat of climate change at a time when communities across the globe are already experiencing catastrophic climate impacts and the scientific community is urging immediate action to address the climate crisis.
Fox News has long primed its audience to distrust teachers and the mainstream media, and to believe that climate change is a manufactured crisis to achieve a progressive agenda. And Huckabee's Kids Guide ad hawking a book to teach kids “the truth about climate change” seems tailor-made for the Fox audience:
MIKE HUCKABEE: Parents, you may have heard from your kids that the Earth is soon going to be an uninhabitable hellscape. Well, that's because some of their teachers and the media have an agenda. But is it really what kids should actually be learning? It's why my team created the new Kids Guide to the Truth About Climate Change. It answers your child's toughest climate questions, and you can have it for free.
Ads for The Kids Guide to the Truth About Climate Change began running during Fox News programming in mid-May. Ads for other entries in the series, including The Kids Guide to Fighting Indoctrination and The Kids Guide to Fighting Socialism, appeared on Fox throughout May. In 2023 alone, Kids Guide ads have appeared hundreds of times across Fox programming.
Similarly, according to a Media Matters review of data from Sensor Tower, Kids Guide has spent $83,300 running ads on Facebook from January 1 to June 6, 2023, garnering over 11 million impressions. Kids Guide has also been running Google search ads that appear when users enter the phrase “climate change for kids.”
While the ads only hint at climate denial and misinformation, the guide itself is a primer in some of the most oft-repeated and long-debunked arguments used to cast doubt about anthropogenic climate change and delay climate action.
The Kids Guide to the Truth About Climate Change is climate denial propaganda disguised as education
The Kids Guide to the Truth About Climate Change acknowledges that the climate is changing and that “human pollution has made things worse. No one disagrees with either of those concepts.” However, these acknowledgments are undermined by oft-repeated climate denial talking points and arguments that are intended to downplay the crisis and maintain the status quo.
In fact, the book goes to great lengths to suggest that even while climate change is happening, the U.S. response has been more than sufficient and “made significant progress toward Earth’s recovery.” To support this claim, it encourages readers to “recycle what we can, turn off lights, buy more pre-owned items, not waste our food, make better use of what we have, and support sensible programs to protect the planet and its life.” While these are worthy endeavors, they are nowhere near the level of action scientists urge is needed to ward off the worst climate impacts – rather, they neatly align with the fossil fuels industry’s campaign to individualize climate action and sidestep the need for systemic change.
Here is a sample of common climate denial tactics and arguments laundered through The Kids Guide to the Truth About Climate Change.
The Kids Guide falsely argues that the causes of climate change are still being debated among experts: “Well, what you may not know is that thousands of renowned scientists and weather experts worldwide have some very different opinions on climate change. They point to the powerful effects of the natural cycles of the sun and changes that happen in earth’s magnetic field.”
In fact, there is overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming our planet. For nearly a decade, it was reported that 97% of scientists endorsed anthropogenic climate change. In 2021, a new study by U.S. researchers “examined the peer-reviewed literature and found more than 99% of climate scientists now endorse the evidence for human-induced climate change.”
It claims the climate is always changing: “The climate has always changed — long before humans walked the earth — and it continues to change!”
Climate communications expert and professor John Cook counts “the climate has always changed” among the most-used arguments by bad actors to mislead the public about the climate crisis. On his website Skeptical Science, which catalogs and debunks climate denial claims, he writes:
Climate has indeed changed in the past with various impacts depending on the speed and type of that change. Such results have included everything from slow changes to ecosystems over millions of years - through to sudden mass-extinctions. Rapid climate change, of the type we're causing through our enormous carbon dioxide emissions, falls into the very dangerous camp. That's because the faster the change, the harder it is for nature to cope. We are part of nature so if it goes down, it takes us with it.
So anyone who dismissively tells you, “the climate has always changed”, either does not know what they are talking about or they are deliberately trying to mislead you.
The book asserts that climate scientists’ predictions have never come true: “As you can see from the decades of headlines above, well-known and trusted scientists and experts have long predicted ice ages, killer floods, giant storms, and planetary catastrophes. By now, they said, we should have starved, frozen to death, or drowned!”
In fact, not only have scientists accurately predicted global warming for over half a century, but the consequences of a changing climate in the form of “killer floods,” “giant storms,” and “planetary catastrophes” that climate scientists have warned about are increasingly causing devastation and death across the globe.
The Kids Guide promotes the false argument that natural phenomena, not CO2, are responsible for changes in the climate: “Looking back in time, carbon dioxide levels have always gone up and down,” even before industrial activity. “The Sun’s natural lifecycles and Earth’s ‘wobble’ have helped drive ice ages and hot periods like the time of the dinosaurs.”
Akin to the claim that “climate has always changed,” the argument that natural phenomena are causing the climate to change also seeks to dismiss the role that CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels plays in warming the planet. Looking specifically at the argument that the sun is to blame, Cook writes that those perpetuating this claim use cherry-picked data:
From the early 1970s until today, the Solar radiation reaching the top of Earth's atmosphere has in fact shown a very slight decline. Through that same period, global temperatures have continued to increase. The two data records, incoming Solar energy and global temperature, have diverged.
Attempts to blame the sun for the rise in global temperatures have had to involve taking the data but selecting only the time periods that support such an argument. The remaining parts of the information - showing that divergence - have had to be ditched. Proper science study requires that all the available data be considered, not just a part of it.
While the Kids Guide book uses common climate denial arguments to undermine the science of climate change, it also employs other narratives that are frequently used to attack climate action.
The book makes the argument that renewable energy is not clean: “While protecting our home planet is certainly a noble cause, quickly switching off our primary energy sources is already costing people their jobs, deeply damaging supply chains and creating painful shortages of energy and food. Also, these new technologies have their own issues and environmental costs.”
It is true that all forms of energy development have environmental impacts, but the Kids Guide’s environmental-focused attacks on electric vehicles, solar panels, and wind turbines are highly disingenuous considering that their effects pale in comparison to the collective damage fossil fuels have wrought on our environment and climate. In addition to their role in driving climate change, a new study put a price tag on one of the human costs of domestic oil and gas activity: “Air pollution from U.S. oil and natural gas production causes roughly $77 billion in health impacts nationwide every year, while also contributing to thousands of early deaths and health flare-ups,” including “7,500 excess deaths, 410,000 asthma attacks, and 2,200 new cases of childhood asthma across the U.S. in 2016.”
It pushes the argument that climate action hurts the U.S. and is useless because big polluters like China and India are not taking action to curb their emissions: “While the United States and Western Europe sacrifice our economies and quality of life to cut carbon emissions, huge industrial nations like China and India continue to emit massive amounts of carbon dioxide by comparison, as well as tons of other pollutants.”
These are long-held climate denier talking points. Climate change, not climate action, will devastate our economy because the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action. In 2022, the White House Office of Management and Budget provided the first accounting of how much unchecked global warming could impact the U.S. federal government alone and concluded that failure to act would cost $2 trillion annually in lost revenue. Pretending that U.S. action is futile if other big polluters don’t curb their carbon emissions is another way to give license to industry and policymakers to kick the can down the road on fighting climate change.
The Kids Guide to the Truth About Climate Change champions the dangerous idea that “things are getting better”
The Kids Guide highlights four examples to suggest that the current level of climate action is sufficiently reversing our impacts and “we are already making progress toward protecting the Earth for future generations to enjoy.” In fact, the examples used in the guide are anomalies that don’t disprove the larger warming trend:
“Throughout the winter of 2021, the British Antarctic Survey recorded the lowest Antarctic temperatures in over 60 years.” As The Washington Post wrote in October 2021, “Scientists stressed that the record cold over the South Pole in no way refutes or lessens the seriousness of global warming. Antarctica is notorious for its wild swings in weather and climate, which can run counter to global trends.” The Post cited a range of experts including Eric Steig, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, who said, “One cold winter is interesting but doesn’t change the long term trend, which is warming.”
“According to NASA, Greenland’s largest and most important glacier, Jakobshavn, has been gaining ice for several years.” This example is also intended to suggest that warming is either not happening or not having serious consequences, but as CNN reported in March 2019, “the melting from that single glacier alone contributed to global oceans rising an average of 1 millimeter between 2000 and 2010. And even though Jakobshavn has gained ice at lowest levels where it enters the sea, it has still been contributing to sea level rise because the rate it is melting into the ocean is still greater than the rate that ice is accumulating higher up on the glacier, according to the researchers.”
“While some claim the change is temporary, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that global warming has slowed.” The origin of this claim is unclear. The IPCC has repeatedly warned that we are increasing warming at an alarming rate. In an email exchange with Media Matters, climate scientist Michael E. Mann called the claim “absurd and dishonest,” adding: “The assertion that the IPCC ‘noted that global warming has slowed’ is simply a lie. The IPCC has made no such assertion. The planet continues to warm at a rate of roughly 0.2C per decade and the WMO (World Meteorological Organization) recently predicted that global surface temperatures will (briefly) cross the 1.5C warming threshold for the first time in history within the next couple years.”
“Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, predicted to be dead by now, recently recorded its most significant growth ever.” The news in 2021 that the Great Barrier Reef was in recovery was weaponized by bad actors to claim that those urging climate action were alarmists. But as ABC News reported, the recovery in 2021 was aided by a break in climate-related disturbance and experts believe the progress to be short-lived.
Kids are the obvious next front in climate deniers' misinformation campaign
Today’s climate movement is primarily youth-driven — in the last several years, young climate activists have demanded greater action from global leaders by getting out to the streets, online, and into the voting booth. In part, they are the face of the movement because they have the most to lose, and the relentless mockery and attacks by right-wing media in response to the wave of youth activism has not been a strategy aiming to recruit a new generation of climate deniers. Disinformation disguised as educational material on climate change for children is, however.
The Kids Guide’s efforts to push climate denial on children may not undermine the momentum of today’s climate activists, but it certainly appears designed to stunt the next would-be wave of young people ready to demand a livable future.