Major climate conferences, such as the upcoming Conferences of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), are often the subject of right-wing media's ire. During last year's COP26, right-wing media was rife with climate change denial, mockery, and claims that climate action is a ploy to control the citizenry. While we can expect to see these same talking points during COP27 in Egypt from November 6-18, another idea that the right has weaponized and may deploy during the event is the Great Reset conspiracy theory.
Although the concept of a Great Reset has spawned a number of conspiracy theories, the common premise among them all is that a cabal of global elites are conspiring to abolish personal freedoms in order to install a tyrannical, one-world government. According to the Great Reset’s adherents, climate policies (among other issues) are a pretext being used by said global elites to implement this global government.
While conspiracy theories related to the Great Reset as a whole are not new, issues of climate denial associated with the Great Reset have been gaining momentum across right-wing media in recent months, fueled by the global energy crisis and a summer of climate-fueled weather disasters. A key driver of the climate components of the Great Reset conspiracy theory is longtime right-wing media darling and climate denier Marc Morano. Other far-right media personalities including Charlie Kirk, Jack Posobiec, and Peter Sweden have alluded to or directly referenced the Great Reset conspiracy theory.
At a time when more global dialogue on climate action is crucial in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, prominent right-wing media figures espousing unhinged Great Reset conspiracies is a worrying prospect.
What is the Great Reset?
The Great Reset, as envisioned by World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab in June 2020, is a plan for what the world should look like after the coronavirus pandemic ends. Schwab stated “the pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world to create a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous future.” In essence, the Great Reset asks the question of how to prepare for a more sustainable future, and it promotes more global governmental and corporate cooperation in order to solve the world’s most pressing problems, including poverty, income inequality, and climate change.
A June 2021 BBC deep dive into Great Reset conspiracy theories detailed some of the problems related to the plan. They called it “a vague set of proposals,” before stating that “this lack of clarity, combined with the plan being launched by an influential organisation, provided fertile ground for conspiracy theories to grow.” Among the first and most popular of the Great Reset conspiracy theories dealt with coronavirus. BBC noted, “In this narrative, lockdown restrictions were introduced not to curb the spread of the virus, but to deliberately bring about economic collapse and a socialist world government, albeit run for the benefit of powerful capitalists.”
Indeed, early right-wing criticisms of the Great Reset focused on the idea of a radical transformation of the world economy. In June 2020, Justin Haskins of the libertarian, climate-denying Heartland Institute wrote op-eds insinuating this on both the Fox News and Fox Business websites. Two segments on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle in November 2020 also addressed the idea of an overthrow of the world economy, with host Laura Ingraham stating on November 13, “Well, with the coronavirus, that idea went global. And since last spring, powerful people began to use this pandemic as a way to force radical social and economic change across the continents.”
In his June 2020 Fox Business op-ed, Haskins also pushed the idea that climate policies would be used as a pretext to advance the Great Reset agenda. This idea was also mirrored by former Breitbart writer James Delingpole, who wrote in November 2020 that climate change is “really just a pretext for the kind of globalist takeover now being conducted by our governments.” Fast forward to 2022, and this is one of the main tenets of the Great Reset conspiracy theory.
Key climate denial talking points within the Great Reset conspiracy theory
There are several themes related to climate change within the Great Reset conspiracy theory that have been pushed by right-wing media figures.
“Climate lockdowns are coming”
As the aforementioned BBC deep dive piece noted, adherents to the Great Reset conspiracy theory believe that there are more sinister motives to coronavirus lockdowns than just protecting public health. Now, the theory’s adherents believe the same about climate action. Adherents push the idea that “climate lockdowns” are being planned by world governments in order to set off recessions and rapidly restrict economic growth.
Notorious climate denier Marc Morano was pushing this idea as early as 2020, when he stated on the December 21 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight that the Biden administration will “go from COVID lockdowns to climate lockdowns.” Morano returned to it on the June 19, 2022, edition of Newsmax’s Gorka Reality Check, where he railed against Green New Deal policies and stated that Bill Gates and George Soros “love this idea of lockdowns. …That is their path to the Great Reset, emergency declaration gives them more power.”
Popular alt-right commentator and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec also echoed this line of thinking, tweeting to his more than 1 million followers on September 20 that “Davos launching new push for permanent ‘climate change’ lockdowns: ’The lockdowns aren't for them, the lockdowns are for YOU.’" On the September 21 edition of Newsmax’s Eric Bolling The Balance, host Eric Bolling stated, “The same reasons given for the COVID lockdowns will be the same reasons for creating climate change lockdowns.” He led with this by showing pictures of internment camps, insinuating to his viewers that this is the end goal that climate action will lead to.
“Climate change is about control”
This claim is based on the lie that climate change is a manufactured crisis which wealthy individuals and powerful governments are using to implement policies that police peoples’ movement and ultimately end basic freedoms.
On the July 15 and 16 editions of Fox & Friends, co-host Will Cain made this claim, stating that there’s “protests against the Great Reset” all around the world, and claimed, “All of this goes back to a global plan to attempt to control the climate no matter the cost.”
Bolling also pushed this idea, telling his audience on the September 12 edition of Eric Bolling The Balance that climate change is a hoax being used “in order to make people fear the end of the world and convince us to change everything. They want to control us forever and ever.” (In fact, the entire 16 minutes of his monologue was focused on climate denial.) Speaking about the Great Reset on the September 20 edition of OAN News, climate denier guest Bonner Cohen insinuated that the “environmental movement” recognized that “scaring people to death about ‘climate change’” is a way to control them. He then continued:
Once you control energy, you also control the people who use and need energy. This is a way of forcing them to do exactly what you want to do, and will enable unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., and for that matter, around the world to determine how you spend your life, how you spend your money, how you use your energy to the benefit of a tiny percentage of the population.
Controlling agriculture and meat
Another climate-related tenet of the Great Reset conspiracy theory is the idea that those in power want to control food production and police what people eat.
In reference to the Dutch farmers' protests, The Post Millennial tweeted out a quote from Posobiec on July 7, which said, “The government of the Netherlands perhaps should be listening to their farmers ... instead of listening to the WEF and pushing the Great Reset green agenda upon them.”
In a discussion on general problems facing the U.S. on the September 3 edition of Newsmax’s Wendy Bell Common Sense, right-wing radio host Jeff Kuhner stated, “It's the Great Reset. … Many of these left wing global – they want food shortages. They want energy rationing. They want to break the back of the middle and working class of this country.”
Great Reset conspiracy theorists also imply that people will be forced to eat insects. In July, pseudo-journalist and Holocaust denier Peter Sweden got over 12,000 likes on a tweet saying, “In Belgium there are now talks about an ‘environment tax’ on meat. They want you to eat bugs and be happy. Are you enjoying The Great Reset?”
Dog whistling about the Great Reset
Oftentimes, the term Great Reset won’t be directly referenced, but certain keywords and allusions are used as dog whistles. In September, Peter Sweden and Morano baselessly claimed people will be forced to eat bugs.
Another example comes from right-wing writer Joel Kotkin in Newsweek, who, on September 19, suggested that coronavirus lockdowns are a test run for coming climate lockdowns, and both are “top-down edicts over how people live.”
Fox News star Tucker Carlson also alluded to the Great Reset conspiracy theory on the September 9 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle. Discussing the energy crisis, Carlson suggested that transitioning away from fossil fuels is about control. He claimed, “Energy is civilization. … People don’t understand how threatening this is and how close we are to being under the complete and total control of people who wish us ill.”
Additionally, if a speaker references “globalists,” Klaus Schwab, Davos, or the World Economic Forum within a climate denial context, that’s generally a sign they are referring to the Great Reset. For example, on the September 9 edition of Newsmax’s Real America, Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-GA) suggested that global elites are pushing climate policies to make money at the expense of the poor. She said, “They want the climate crisis to continue because they make money off of it. … They're so disconnected. And they truly are globalists and they're more interested in the World Economic Forum and what Klaus Schwab has to offer.”
Key drivers of the Great Reset conspiracy theory are popular figures within the right-wing media ecosystem
One such narrative-shaper is Morano, a longtime climate denier and frequent Fox News guest who recently wrote a book titled “The Great Reset: Global Elites and the Permanent Lockdown.” In addition to various Newsmax appearances, Morano appeared on two separate OAN shows on September 16 to discuss the Great Reset. In July, his book was promoted on Tucker Carlson Tonight. On October 8, he appeared on Fox News’ Unfiltered with Dan Bongino and said the Great Reset is about “collapsing our energy, food, transportation, and our free speech rights.” He’s also been doing right-wing radio interviews promoting his Great Reset conspiracy theory book.
Hosts on Newsmax are also promoting the Great Reset conspiracy theory. Bolling has devoted several segments to climate denial and the Great Reset in recent months. On the October 13 edition of his program, Bolling lied about President “Joebama” waging a “war on our own oil independence,” and that he is making people “suffer for the Great Reset. Control us for the Great Reset.” He said this all alongside a chyron that stated, “You shall eat no meat.”
Newsmax anchor Rob Schmitt also pushed this idea on the September 29 edition of his show Rob Schmitt Tonight, stating, “In 50 years we will still be burning fossil fuels on this planet. … No person is actually going to gut their quality of life to help John Kerry implement a Great Reset that will do nothing to save the climate and insidious plan that really just rapidly socializes our country and the world, which is what they really want.” Newsmax anchor Chris Salcedo also mentioned the Great Reset on his show on September 15.
Popular alt-right media personalities are also driving much of the Great Reset chatter. One example is Peter Sweden, whose regular tweets about climate denial and the Great Reset receive significant engagement. One tweet, which racked up tens of thousands of likes, stated, “The Great Reset is another word for Global Communism.” Two other tweets with significant engagement also exhibit climate denial and link the Great Reset to “global communism.”
Jack Posobiec is another right-wing figure pushing Great Reset talking points. In September, Turning Point USA (TPUSA) hosted an event in Phoenix called “Defeating the Great Reset.” Notable speakers included Posobiec, Charlie Kirk, and Steve Bannon. The description of the event lied about the WEF’s plan, saying they want people to “own nothing and be happy” (a Reuters fact check from early 2021 disputed this claim). Conference speaker James Lindsey invoked this phrase and insinuated that powerful elites will come after our modes of transportation. Additionally, Charlie Kirk interviewed guest attendee Alex Jones about banning meat, with Jones saying that meat is a “symbol of freedom” and that “globalists” want to ban it.
What’s worse, the September 22 of Kirk’s podcast was entirely devoted to climate denial, using the title “Exposing the Great Climate Change Hoax.” The Great Reset was mentioned multiple times in this episode. He also alluded to climate lockdowns, stating, “How do you stop a virus? You lock down everything. How do you stop climate change? You lock down everything.” He also claimed that dictators use crises “to get their tyranny, their power, their control implemented.” He then called climate change “the next crisis and the perfect one.” He also suggested that the transition to clean energy is all about a transition to more global government and less freedom. Finally, Kirk used violent rhetoric to describe climate activists, noting that the “enviro-fascist movement” is “the greatest threat to civilization.”
Tenets of the Great Reset conspiracy theory have also popped up on Fox News, which is the most-watched cable news network in the United States. In addition to the examples above, the September 7 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight featured a segment on the growing threat of climate lockdowns. Ingraham also mentioned lockdowns on the October 30 edition of The Ingraham Angle, where she insinuated that the climate crisis, much like the pandemic, is made up, and that it will be an excuse for elites to “extend emergency powers” over the population.
This conspiracy theory will only get worse from here – news outlets should pay attention
Given the growing proliferation of the Great Reset conspiracy theory in right-wing media, it’s worth noting that there are legitimate critiques of the WEF’s vague proposal outside of unhinged conspiracy theories. The BBC deep dive referenced earlier found that the lack of clarity around Schwab’s screed provided fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories to grow. Writing in The Intercept in late 2020, climate writer Naomi Klein argued that people have a right to be skeptical of wealthy and powerful figures introducing bold new ideas, stating that the Great Reset “is an attempt to create a plausible impression that the huge winners in this system are on the verge of voluntarily setting greed aside to get serious about solving the raging crises that are radically destabilizing our world.” Finally, writer Ivan Wecke argues the real issue with the Great Reset idea is that it gives corporations, and not democratic institutions, more control over our lives.
The lack of clarity around the original Great Reset idea and the real problems associated with it make the right-wing conspiracy theories related to it all the more worrying. Given the threats posed by climate change, we do need to envision a way to create a more sustainable future. Global dialogue on climate action is necessary to do this, and it’s why conferences like the upcoming COP27 are crucial: We need forums to discuss ways to phase out our deadly addiction to fossil fuels and introduce cleaner sources of energy that will allow those at the bottom to live more just and equitable lives.
The right’s Great Reset conspiracy theory flips all of this on its head: By calling climate change a hoax to advance a tyrannical agenda, Great Reset conspiracy adherents are advocating for a future with more fossil fuels which will lead to more devastating climate impacts that will disproportionately affect those at the bottom.
The Cambridge Extinction Rebellion Twitter account did an excellent job of explaining why this conspiracy theory should be taken seriously, noting that adherents “will frame fossil fuels around notions of freedom, claiming pro climate and anti fossil fuel policies harm freedom. They will heavily capitalize on the energy crisis this winter to advance this narrative. It is likely to be persuasive to many.” Given the rapid spread of conspiracy theories like QAnon and the belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump, people need to understand the danger behind climate denial and the right-wing Great Reset conspiracy theory. They can start by keeping an eye on it around COP27 discussions.