On back-to-back nights last week, Fox prime-time host Laura Ingraham warned her viewers that COVID-19 lockdowns were conditioning the public for even more stringent mandates in the name of climate change. It wasn’t the first time this claim was made on her show, nor is she the only one on Fox News message-testing this idea, which is fast becoming a favorite of prolific conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones.
To be clear, the idea that the power-hungry radical left has manufactured the climate crisis to seize control over every aspect of American life is not a new conspiracy theory; rather, it is one that takes on many forms, whether fearmongering about the Green New Deal or insisting that President Joe Biden is going to take away your hamburgers. Climate lockdowns is just another iteration.
Laura Ingraham is driving the climate lockdowns conspiracy theory on Fox, but she’s not alone in the car
On the May 18 and May 19 episodes of The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham pushed the idea that the “climate agenda isn’t really about saving the planet; it's about controlling the people,” which she suggested could be achieved through COVID-19-style climate lockdowns.
Prompting this two-day rant was a new landmark report published by the International Energy Agency, which is far from “radical” or “left.” The IEA concluded that nations need to rapidly phase out oil and gas production in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. The report suggests systemic changes to the way we incentivize energy production, such as ending subsidies for fossil fuels and putting a price on carbon to help drive the transition to a clean economy. What Ingraham selected to cherry-pick (and decontextualize), during the May 18 episode, as proof that climate lockdowns are coming is an innocuous passage from the report that discusses the role behavioral changes like making your home more energy-efficient — not staying at home — can play in reducing demand.
During the May 19 episode, Ingraham pivots away from the idea that climate lockdowns will mean being mandated to stay home and suggests that even without stay-at-home orders, “there are a lot of ways for the left to effectively lock you down.” Ingrahm then goes on to invoke the gasoline shortages and high fuel prices that resulted from the recent cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline, before rolling an “IEA wishlist of climate controls” across the screen which contained policy recommendations and consumer-based solutions like appliance standards that would in no way “lock down” individuals. In fact, many of these recommendations, along with assisting in the transition to a clean energy economy, would result in reduced energy costs for families.
Ultimately, Ingraham’s takeaway from the IEA report -- “Can’t say that we didn’t warn you that this was coming. COVID gave them the playbook for how to bring society to its knees, and in fear, and now they have a new crisis, perhaps, to weaponize” -- is widely out of step with the response from other outlets and journalists that covered this report, and with reality.
Before the two-night stint on Ingraham’s show last week, the idea had come up on the December 21 episodes of her show, and it popped up that same night on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, notorious climate denier Marc Morano told Carlson that the Biden administration’s plan to address the climate includes using the “COVID lockdown model for the climate emergency model,” which would allow them to go from “COVID lockdowns to climate lockdowns.” Morano suggested that the declaration of a climate emergency would allow the president to “bypass democracy” in order to mandate lockdowns.
On The Ingraham Angle, Steve Milloy, also a renowned climate denier and frequent Fox guest, told guest host Jesse Watters that “since the coronavirus pandemic started they’ve been talking about how we can go from a coronavirus lockdown to a climate lockdown.” Milloy went on to claim that the goal of the lockdowns would be to re-create every year the emissions reductions that were achieved during the pandemic, which he claimed could be accomplished through emergency executive powers.
Like Morano and Milloy, Ingraham also suggested that the mechanism to achieve a state of “lockdown” is a climate emergency declaration, which Hawaii has already declared and which Ingraham notes Biden is being pressured to do on the national level. The push by some climate groups and congressional champs for use of emergency powers to address the climate crisis has arisen because we have reached that level of urgency, and because there is little sign that Congress will act at the scale needed to address the crisis, if at all. In a Washington Post op-ed, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) outlined some of what could be accomplished through executive emergency powers:
Declaring the climate crisis a national emergency under the NEA would not only send a powerful signal about the urgency of bold action, it would unlock powers that allow our nation to take significant, concrete actions regardless of congressional gridlock. Examples include redirecting spending to build out renewable energy systems, implementing large-scale clean transportation solutions and financing distributed energy projects to boost climate resiliency — all of which would help safeguard our communities and slash harmful pollution.
“Climate lockdowns” have entered the pantheon of conspiracy theories espoused by Alex Jones and others
Like many bonkers ideas floated by Fox News hosts, climate lockdowns did not originate on the network -- and the IEA report is not the genesis of the conspiracy theory. But Fox has played an ongoing role in laying the groundwork for the idea. In the early months of the pandemic in 2020, Fox personalities and other right-wing media figures weaponized reports that the stay-at-home orders were producing significant reductions in global carbon emissions. Laura Ingraham and others claimed that climate activists were celebrating the pandemic — and began suggesting that locking down the economy is how climate proposals like the Green New Deal would achieve their goals. The climate lockdowns conspiracy theory was just a short jump from there.
As early as September, a National Review article asked, “Is a ‘Climate Lockdown’ Next?” Since the idea of climate lockdowns landed on The Ingraham Angle and Tucker Carlson Tonight in December, a handful of far-right and conservative actors have also pushed the bogus idea, including Alex Jones, The Federalist, and far-right personality Paul Joseph Watson.
It picked up traction across social media and right-wing platforms in January and February, seemingly in part in response to proposed legislation that would direct the president to declare a national climate emergency. That right-wing social media influencers would use calls for a climate emergency to claim that executive powers would be used to reinstate lockdowns tracks with Mark Morano and Steve Milloy’s fearmongering in December — and Laura Ingraham’s recent segments.
Why the climate lockdown conspiracy theory is dangerous — and a perfect fit for Fox News
Implicit in the climate lockdown narrative is the intentionally false assumption that great personal sacrifice will be not just required, but mandated, in order to drastically reduce carbon emissions.
What makes this tinfoil hat worthy is that the conspiracy theory also assumes that these sacrifices will be mandated to address a crisis that doesn’t actually exist.
The climate crisis is real, it is happening now, and it is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. The reality is we need to shift to a clean energy economy — and fast — to avoid the greatest sacrifice of all: a livable planet. But doing so doesn’t mean locking down; it means reimagining the way we power our economy. Scientists are warning that the window to accomplish this goal, before whole areas of the U.S. and other parts of the globe are uninhabitable, is closing. Fox’s denial of science and reality, in an effort to erode support for necessary and lifesaving action, is both the norm for Fox — and incredibly dangerous.