‘Climate Lockdown’ and the Culture Wars

As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, a dangerous new strain of disinformation emerged. It is one that relates the unprecedented rules enforced during the lockdown period with measures required to tackle climate change.

This report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) details the growth and evolution of this ‘climate lockdown’ conspiracy theory.

The report is divided into two sections. The first explains how the narrative emerged and was employed and repurposed by malign actors, making its way onto social media platforms.

The second shows how liberal media blunders in 2021 reinvigorated the narrative, causing it to unify with other established conspiracies, and become centred in wider anti-elite culture war discourse.

The report finds that committed climate denialists had been attempting to generate hype around ‘climate lockdown’ from as early as March 2020 but received little attention on social media.

The narrative only gained traction after a series of ill-thought headlines and posts from mainstream outlets, including The Guardian and the World Economic Forum, which provided momentum for a reactionary media ecosystem.

Once it had secured attention, the narrative meshed into the established ‘culture war’ framework. This was not so much driven by fringe bloggers, but by high-visibility outlets such as Fox News.

The report concludes with some lessons for climate change communications. These include:

  • The narrative was borne out of commentary from mainstream media sources and trickled down into smaller communities. Continuous efforts by climate denialists to push ‘climate lockdown’ failed to gain any traction preceding these incidents.
  • The establishment of ‘climate lockdown’ is a case study in how any message can be seized upon by reactionary media and adapted to serve an existing political framework.
  • As populations recover from the trauma of the pandemic, there is greater fear and grievance to capitalise upon, and a broader group who could be turned against climate action.

You can read the report in full here.