Climate change conspiracy theory about cataclysmic changes in Earth’s magnetic field goes viral on TikTok
Revitalized by an appearance on “The Joe Rogan Experience,” “The Adam and Eve Story” is being used to falsely attribute climate change to shifts in Earth’s poles
Joe Rogan’s podcast is fueling a bizarre TikTok conspiracy theory that falsely attributes climate change impacts to cyclical changes in Earth’s magnetic field, seemingly violating the app’s new climate misinformation policy.
The conspiracy theory’s viral spread on the platform highlights TikTok’s persistent climate misinformation problem, even as it has begun implementing a new policy banning content that “undermines well-established scientific consensus, such as denying the existence of climate change or the factors that contribute to it.”
Inspired by the January 18 episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, content creators have latched onto claims made in a pseudoscientific book called The Adam and Eve Story: The History of Cataclysms. (Along with pushing the cataclysmic pole hypothesis, the book claims that Jesus Christ lived in India for nearly 18 years and was abducted by aliens in a “space vehicle” after his crucifixion.)
Between January and April, Media Matters identified seven viral clips from the Joe Rogan Experience episode discussing the conspiracy theory, which garnered over 20 million cumulative views on TikTok. The videos feature clips of Rogan discussing the book with “independent researcher” Jimmy Corsetti, who runs the YouTube channel Bright Insight, and Ben van Kerkwyk, who runs the channel UnchartedX.
Joe Rogan keeps platforming conspiracy theorists and skeptics of human-caused climate change, driving misinformation
In the January 18 episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, the host brought up “the Adam and Eve” theory and asked Corsetti, “How much of that is agreed upon, that there could be a time where the magnetic poles actually shift?”
Corsetti replied that “This is science,” explaining, “The Adam and Eve Story", the theory on that is that it happens in cycles of 6,500 years and that it’s a 90-degree flip, but six days later, around the seventh day, it corrects itself.” He continued to describe “a planet flip, 90 degrees, and that because of it the Earth essentially does a standstill, the sun will be direct — will basically stay in the same spot, causing heating like we’ve never experienced — and that the wind and the waters continue with their momentum, because essentially the wind travels at approximately 1,000 miles an hour at the equator, so the theory is that when that event happens it’s going to be cataclysmic.”
Corsetti’s nonsensical explanation was widely shared on TikTok, with one viral clip receiving nearly 11 million views.
In reality, NASA reports that pole reversals, when Earth’s North and South Poles swap locations — which “take place over hundreds to thousands of years,” not a mere seven days — have occurred “183 times in the last 83 million years, and at least several hundred times in the past 160 million years.” Notably:
Plant and animal fossils from the period of the last major pole reversal don’t show any big changes. Deep ocean sediment samples indicate glacial activity was stable. In fact, geologic and fossil records from previous reversals show nothing remarkable, such as doomsday events or major extinctions.
Additionally, there's “no evidence” that any magnetic excursion event (periods of “shorter-lived but significant changes in the magnetic field’s intensity”) has impacted the Earth’s climate within the last 2.8 million years. Scientists aren’t sure when the next pole reversal will occur, but a recent study suggests that won’t be anytime soon. And if it is, a doomsday scenario is unlikely.
Corsetti acknowledged this but claimed that scientists “don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Rogan has previously drawn criticism for leveraging his massive reach and influence to amplify climate denial, and his podcast has catered to guests such as Michael Shellenberger and Bjorn Lomborg, who use cherry-picked and decontextualized talking points to downplay the devastating impacts of climate change and to attack climate solutions. He has also hosted figures who downright deny the fact that fossil fuel consumption is driving climate change, such as Steve Koonin, Jordan Peterson, and Randall Carlson, who has appeared on the podcast at least six times and said that carbon dioxide is not driving global warming and that “natural factors” are more responsible than human actions.
In their discussion of The Adam and Eve Story, Rogan and his guests also downplayed the impacts of climate change that millions of people are experiencing and praised Donald Trump for suggesting that the Earth is actually cooling.
“Right now we should be grateful that it’s nice and cozy because we can live when it’s warm,” Corsetti said.
Rogan then cited Carlson, saying, “Global warming’s not scary. It’s global cooling, that’s what’s really scary.” The host further suggested that climate change is “ this narrative that just gets repeated over and over and over and this fearmongering and everyone gets freaked out. It’s not to say that we aren’t polluting, we certainly are, and it’s not to say that we shouldn’t improve, we certainly should, but if the fucking magnetic poles might shift and we might get hit by a giant rock from space, we might have bigger problems. If we’re going to be concentrating on nonsense, which is really par for the course with human beings, we’re going to be concentrating on these things we’re really not going to fix over the short-term, when something might happen that makes all of it a moot point.”
Media Matters also identified two viral clips of this exchange on TikTok with 2 million and 2.6 million views, respectively.
What is The Adam and Eve Story?
The book was written in 1965 by Chan Thomas, who worked in the aerospace industry and claimed to be a psychic. The book was not available to the public until 2013, however, when 57 pages were released by the CIA, and this censorship has captured the imaginations of conspiracy theorists. Since its declassification, The Adam and Eve Story has worked its way into the broader conspiracy theory ecosystem.
Thomas argued that the Earth’s magnetic poles shift every several thousand years, causing cataclysmic events such as tsunamis that destroy civilizations and drastically alter Earth’s geology — one example he used was the flood in the Noah’s Ark narrative in the Bible’s Book of Genesis. Chan predicted that such an event would occur in the near future, and some are now framing increasingly extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts as evidence that the next cataclysm is approaching.
A TikTok account for a podcast called No Regulars posted a March 1 video that has been viewed nearly 18 million times in which host Darris Watkins says that the book’s explanation of cataclysmic magnetic pole shifts actually “makes sense” in describing climate change and “explains a lot” because “the Sahara desert used to be green and like Antarctica used to have forests … So now like some places turn cold, some places turn hot.”
The popularity of these conspiracy theories among TikTok users may indicate one way that climate misinformation is evolving to reach young people.
Climate misinformation disguised as ancient civilization conspiracy theories
At the time Thomas wrote The Adam and Eve Story, the public at large was not informed of the consequences of anthropogenic climate change. Despite fossil fuel companies being aware of the potential for human-caused global warming as early as the 1950s, people weren’t yet experiencing the ecological effects of increasing temperatures. But when the book was declassified in 2013, it was released into a world grappling with the dire effects of climate change.
While it was not written to provide an alternative explanation for climate change, The Adam and Eve Story provides a framework for interpreting its effects outside of an anthropogenic explanation. This narrative, which shifts blame away from our fossil fuel economy onto planetary forces beyond human control, can serve as climate misinformation.
Rogan’s guests and other proponents of this conspiracy theory purport to be interested in its ramifications for scientific understanding of ancient civilizations, but climate misinformation often serves as a backdrop for their discussions. At one point in their interview, Rogan suggested “that there was incredibly sophisticated technology that existed and … was wiped out. And that we’re talking about a really advanced civilization that lived a long time ago that’s more advanced than we are today but moved in a different direction, like we moved in the direction of combustion engines and electronics and they moved in some other direction but achieved maybe many thousands of years more sophistication in that direction than we have with our internal combustion engines.”
While climate change may not take center stage in these speculations, the implications that humans are not having any influence over our warming planet and that near-apocalyptic events are always inevitable as a result of natural cycles in the Earth’s magnetic field are nonetheless harmful misinformation that lets politicians and fossil fuel companies off the hook for their role in the climate crisis. (Meanwhile, the world’s biggest oil and gas companies just raked in record first-quarter profits.)
Cataclysm narratives as climate sedatives
Narratives that frame climate change as an inevitable disaster caused by forces beyond our control are a key argument of climate denial: If climate change is caused by changes in the Earth’s magnetic field, then there is no point in implementing sweeping action to curtail fossil fuel emissions. In the past, the Earth’s orbit, the sun, and cosmic rays have all similarly been used to provide alternative explanations for climate change.
There is overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels. The only way to avert increasing social, political, and ecological effects of climate change is by transitioning away from a fossil fuel economy.
Despite its appearance as a conspiracy theory about ancient civilizations, The Adam and Eve Story is being used to undermine the scientific consensus regarding the cause of climate change. As TikTok ramps up the enforcement of its new climate misinformation policy, the platform should account for the ways climate denial is often incorporated into seemingly harmless conspiracy theories.
Finally, Spotify still has no clear policy regarding the promotion of climate misinformation on its platform. Spotify reportedly paid $200 million for exclusive rights to Rogan’s show, which was the top podcast on its platform in 2022. As Rogan’s contract is expected to expire in 2023, Spotify will have to decide whether platforming his misinformation and hate speech is worth the profit.