Why the Conspiracy Theory About the Great Reset Could Stall Action on Climate Change
The Great Reset is a series of economic and political initiatives launched by the World Economic Forum in June 2020. The idea was to promote sustainable development in the wake of the pandemic. But a conspiracy theory that takes it as a starting point can create opposition to sustainable practices, green energy, changes in farming practice – and even violence.
What is the conspiracy theory about the Great Reset?
The conspiracy theory about the Great Reset takes the idea of a real set of economic policies and transforms it into an all-encompassing global plot. Rather than a conspiracy theory with one specific idea – like Bigfoot, or aliens – the “Great Reset” is an umbrella that nearly anything can fit under.
A Logically report found that traditional denialist narratives such as humans not being responsible for climate change or climate change not occurring are a negligible proportion of online conversations. Instead, there is skepticism about the cost or necessity of political action. Often, social media users falsely claim the risks of global warming are exaggerated or not what they seem. Sometimes, users blend climate change misinformation with the features of other conspiracy narratives.
In the conspiracy theory about the Great Reset, global elites seek to control the population through finance, technology, and politics. Every action to combat climate change gets construed as a mere pretext for sinister elites to dominate the world. The idea’s flexibility allows it to stick to just about any current event.
Recent narratives linked to the Great Reset
The recent trucker protests in the US were in part motivated by false claims linked to the Great Reset conspiracy theory. Protesters in the convoy claimed that elites were trying to control food, farmlands and fuel, and drove around the DC Beltway for several days, blocking traffic and causing several altercations with police and other onlookers.
There have also recently been protests by Great Reset conspiracists in Europe. For example, when the Dutch government introduced a policy to limit the use of nitrogen fertilizers, farmers began a protest, complaining that it would affect their livelihoods. Great Resetters online seized on this protest and claimed that the farmers were resisting an elite attempt to control food production and ban small-scale farming entirely.
Other Great Resetters have claimed that Bill Gates is trying to buy up all the farmland in the US and make people eat bugs instead of meat. They’ve claimed that a rash of fires at industrial facilities are all part of a scheme to control the energy and agricultural industries. And that forest fires caused by climate change are actually acts of arson by Extinction Rebellion, an environmentalist group they falsely claim is controlled by George Soros.
The critique of power and global elites
“Great Reset” conspiracy theorists intend all of this as a critique of power. It’s easy to understand how billionaires proposing policy solutions can come off as tone deaf or even offensive. But while it can start from a legitimate concern, the framing is the real problem. Great Reset conspiracists are often explicitly antisemitic and believe not just that wealthy people control the world, but that it’s a Jewish conspiracy. These spaces often tip into violent fantasies.
Things like eating less meat, creating sustainable transportation solutions, and switching to green energy all form part of the greater struggle against climate change, but they also require a degree of sacrifice. If people are radicalized against these solutions as part of a fictional plot concocted by global elites, then its understandable they are less willing to want to help.
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APCO Worldwide and Logically undertook a collaborative research project focused on identifying and understanding the most prominent climate misinformation narratives ahead of COP26.