As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, right-wing media has unified in decrying President Joe Biden’s climate policies and demanding that the U.S. drill for more oil and gas to offset the Russian energy industry. As part of this campaign against climate action, conservative media figures have launched unhinged attacks on climate activists – including Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, of course – blaming them for the domestic and global policies that supposedly emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine. Right-wing media personalities are even going so far, in some cases, as to suggest climate activists have been funded by the Russian government. These arguments are chock-full of climate misinformation and denial, intentionally misplacing blame for the invasion and furthering the right-wing media’s efforts to vilify climate activists.
This isn’t the first time that the right-wing media ecosystem has exploited breaking news to launch absurd attacks on climate activists. For example, in the early days of the pandemic, Fox and other outlets ran with the false notion that climate activists were somehow “celebrating” over the coronavirus lockdowns. When youth climate activism made global headlines in 2019, right-wing media outlets used the opportunity to compare them to Stephen King's “Children of the Corn.” It’s not just recent news, either; as far back as 2010, right-wing media was blaming the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on environmental activists.
Here are some of the most shameless examples from the past two weeks of right-wing media figures attempting to scapegoat climate activists for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine:
- Discussing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Dennis Prager stated, “To a large extent, I do believe that the environmentalist lobby made this invasion possible.” [PragerU, Will & Amala Live, 2/24/22]
- Fox News host Tucker Carlson blamed climate activists and “zealots like John Kerry” for Russia's dominance in energy production, claiming the “climate people gave [Putin] the power” to threaten Europe. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 2/24/22]
- Fox News contributor Lara Trump said, “The climate change-obsessed folks are also part of the reason maybe that we're in this because places like Germany said we’ll shut down our own power plants and now they are fully reliant on Russian oil, which led to part of this situation.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 2/25/22]
- Over a chyron claiming “Russian invasion exposes Biden’s weak diplomacy and the failures of Western deterrence,” Fox News host Sean Hannity stated, ”Joe Biden, he won’t even stand up to the climate change alarmists in his own party and expand American oil and American gas exploration, drilling, all the things that we could do to ease the pressure on our NATO allies and our Western European partners." [Fox News, Hannity, 2/25/22]
- Fox commentator Rachel Campos-Duffy said, “I don't think that the media, the other networks are holding the left, and specifically the climate extremists, to account for what has happened in Europe. … We’re doing the same thing, we’re listening to the same extremists, you know, whether it’s John Kerry or AOC, these people are responsible in large part for this war.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 2/27/22]
- Criticizing Biden’s approach to the Ukraine crisis on Newsmax, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie stated, “This administration is enthralled to the radical environmental wing of its party. It is not going to reopen American oil fields and natural gas fields to return us to those days when we were the world's supplier of energy.” [Newsmax, Rob Carson's What in the World, 2/27/22]
- In a segment on “countering Russia’s energy dominance”, industry shill and frequent Fox guest Daniel Turner claimed, “America has definitely enough fossil fuel capacity to power itself and to power its allies, and simultaneously, it would bankrupt our enemies if no one was buying their products. … The obstacles we run into bringing it to market are radical environmental groups, radical environmental politicians.” [Fox News, The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, 2/27/22]
- Appearing on Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Larry Kudlow stated, “This climate change radical stuff is responsible for the U.S. losing power and giving it to Putin.” Co-host Ainsley Earhardt agreed, saying, “Biden’s giving in to this Green New Deal and all these socialists.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 2/28/22]
- Discussing sanctions and other measures being taken against Russia, Fox News host Pete Hegseth stated, “Of course there's more we could be doing at home if we didn't have the White House captured by climate zealots. I mean, it is climate zealotry that ultimately prevents them from doing the common sense things that happened under the Trump administration, like the Keystone XL pipeline, like further exploration, like fracking." [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 2/28/22]
- Newsmax anchor Rob Schmitt said “Biden’s failed energy policies” toward Russia had been “a nice favor to an evil man,” adding, “We have every single reason to just open up the spigots and start producing [oil and gas.] … They're so afraid to even do that, even in this moment, they're just mortified of the environmentalists on the far left of that party. It's amazing.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 2/28/22]
- Discussing Biden’s energy policy on Fox, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) declared, “The path they're on right now has been dictated by, you know, the climate czars in their party, sort of the extreme left, who seem to misunderstand that electric vehicles is not a solution the problems we face in the here and now, particularly with Ukraine and Russia.” [Fox News, Your World With Neil Cavuto, 3/1/22]
- The Hoover Institute’s Victor Davis Hanson agreed with Fox News host Jesse Watters that the work of climate activists “makes them complicit in what’s going on right now” in Ukraine. [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 3/3/22]
- Former Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore blamed Putin's invasion of Ukraine on “a radical green energy policy by the Biden administration.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 3/6/22]
- Appearing on Fox’s America Reports, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) said, “Obviously, the Biden administration and Democrats are pandering to the radical environmentalists in their party who are using this moment, this conflict in Ukraine to pass their radical climate change, Green New Deal agenda. And that's the sad reality of it.” [Fox News, America Reports, 3/7/22]
Right-wing media has zeroed in on one climate activist in particular, suggesting Greta Thunberg is to blame for hamstringing a response to the crisis
Teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has long been viciously targeted by right-wing media, despite having climate science and public opinion on her side. Some have even gone so far as to bash her autism. It’s no surprise to see these outlets now use the war in Ukraine to renew their attacks on her:
- Far-right commentator Ian Miles Cheong: “Germany cannot afford electricity, and it decommissioned all its nuclear power plants to build next-to-useless solar plants at the advice of Greta Thunberg, so it came to rely on Russia for its energy needs through Nord Stream 2, which it has canceled over Ukraine. So, what now?” [Twitter, 2/22/22]
- The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh: “I’m so glad that the west gave up on energy independence because Greta Thunberg yelled at us. That’s really looking like a smart move today.” [Twitter, 2/24/22]
- In a thread about what “could have been done to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine,” climate “contrarian” Michael Shellenberger wrote: “Europe could have kept operating and expanded its nuclear power plants but instead, under pressure from climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, shut them down.” [Twitter, 2/25/22]
- Former Trump strategist (and Media Matters' 2021 Misinformer of the Year) Steve Bannon’s podcast War Room featured an “International Editor” who said that Thunberg’s “climate fanaticism” is “a direct causal link” for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. [War Room, 2/27/22]
- Fox host Greg Gutfeld stated, “This is the irony of letting children like Greta Thunberg take up shelf space in your brain. Think about all of the adults that took her opinion over the – over the progress made in fracking or drilling or the necessity of coal in nearly every country. … Maybe she'll drop solar panels down into Kyiv to save people. It's not going to happen.” [Fox News, The Five, 2/28/22]
- Former Trump official Jason Meister said Biden’s energy policy had “helped contribute to the current crisis in Ukraine” because “he's listening to people like Greta Thunberg and these climate radicals instead of making us regain energy independence, which is what we need to do right now.” [Fox Business, Kennedy, 3/1/22]
Right-wing media even revived the conspiracy theory that climate activists are being funded by Russia
The claim that Russia is funding climate activists in the U.S is also a well-worn tactic – it’s been going around conservative media circles for the past several years – but it is also without merit. In 2018, Republican lawmakers claimed that Russia was backing Dakota Access pipeline protesters. The Guardian, however, noted that “evidence is thin.” Politico also covered Republicans' efforts to tie Russia to climate groups in 2017, noting that “there’s little but innuendo to base them on.” Now, right-wing outlets are using the crisis in Ukraine to once again claim that Russia is secretly backing climate activists in Europe and the U.S:
- Responding to Putin’s attack on Ukraine, The Federalist published a piece headlined “Stop Letting Environmental Groups Funded By Russia Dictate America’s Energy Policy.” [The Federalist, 3/1/22]
- Daniel Turner: “Remember- the eco left is funded by Russia / china for the sole purpose of weakening American energy using #ClimateChange hysteria and children like Greta. They fund politicians like Bernie and AOC who are too clueless to see the 30 year strategy working. #EnergyIndependence.” [Twitter, 3/3/22]
- Michael Shellenberger: “People think Europe depends on Russia for energy because it lacks its own, but 15 years ago Europe exported more natural gas than Russia does today. Now, Russia exports 3x more gas than Europe produces. Why? Because climate activists, partly funded by Russia, blocked fracking.” [Twitter, 3/3/22]
- Fox host Jesse Watters suggested that Russia is funding green energy campaigns in order to “scare Americans out of fracking and energy exploration.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 3/3/22]
- Right-wing commentator Charlie Kirk: “If the government wanted to investigate Real ‘Russian Collusion,’ it should look into the Russian funding of Green Energy initiatives in the United States.” [Twitter, 3/7/22]
These attacks blaming climate activists for Russian aggression are absurd. Decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels is the only way to move forward.
It’s shameless to blame climate activists when one looks at the reality of the situation on the ground.
Russia derives much of its power by being a major exporter of fossil fuels, and keeping regions like Europe reliant on its product. The best way to curb its power and become truly energy independent is to decarbonize our economies. As Erin Sikorsky, director of the Center for Climate and Security, told the Los Angeles Times: “There’s been a lot of concern about dependence on Russian [natural] gas, and whether that inhibits countries’ ability to stand up to Russia. … The more that countries can wean themselves off oil and gas and move toward renewables, the more independence they have in terms of action.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch explained:
In the present crisis, Putin’s leverage on the West would amount to a hill of beans if Europe had started earlier and more aggressively to move away from fossil fuels. Thus, building infrastructure that would lock us into oil and gas for another generation seems the height of madness.
What makes no sense at all is giving into right-wing bullying aimed at locking in long-term projects such as permanent pipelines that pretend that science like Monday’s IPCC report doesn’t even exist. In fact, I’m wondering what would be dumber — watching cities like New Orleans or Miami sink into oblivion because we didn’t listen to the world’s experts, or dealing with the next madman with a giant army funded by windfall oil profits threatening to use his economic clout to launch World War IV in the year 2035?
With this in mind, it’s time to shun right-wing media’s calls for expanding fossil fuel production in the face of a mounting climate crisis. Rather than climate activists being the problem for the Ukraine crisis, they can be the solution – but only if leaders heed their calls for decarbonization and end our addiction to fossil fuels.