Posts distort 2018 Greta Thunberg tweet on climate danger
CLAIM: Greta Thunberg recently deleted a tweet she posted in 2018 in which she said that the world will end in 2023.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. While Thunberg did delete a 2018 tweet about the urgency of addressing climate change, she did not say the world would end in 2023. Her tweet included a quote from an article that said an influential scientist warned climate change “will wipe out all humanity” unless fossil fuel use was ended “over the next five years.” Further complicating the issue, that article incorrectly summarized the scientist’s speech. He never made such comments.
THE FACTS: Social media users and conservative commentators are taking the climate activist’s 2018 tweet out of context to push the claim that Thunberg is backtracking on a previous stance.
“Greta Thunberg deletes 2018 tweet saying the world will end in 2023 after the world does not end,” one user wrote in a tweet that was shared more than tens of thousands of times across both Twitter and Instagram.
A number of conservative blogs also shared posts with similar headlines and claims.
But Thunberg never said the world was set to end in 2023. The young activist was quoting an article that was paraphrasing a speech by a Harvard University professor of atmospheric chemistry. The scientist said the world had limited time to act to reverse the disappearance of floating ice volume in the Arctic or there would be drastic consequences, not that the world would end in five years.
The article Thunberg was quoting has since been deleted, but it was published by the site Grit Post in February 2018 with the headline: “Top Climate Scientist: Humans Will Go Extinct if We Don’t Fix Climate Change by 2023,” according to an archived version of the web page. The first line of the story stated: “A top climate scientist is warning that climate change will wipe out all of humanity unless we stop using fossil fuels over the next five years.”
Thunberg tweeted a link to the article on June 21, 2018, with the first line in quotes, according to an archived version of the tweet. The post could be found on Thunberg’s Twitter profile up until at least March 7, according to the archive. However, it has since been removed.
Representatives for Thunberg based in Germany did not provide comment.
The article Thunberg quoted went on to contextualize remarks made by the scientist, James Anderson, during a January 2018 speech at the University of Chicago. His speech, which was covered by Forbes magazine, was about how carbon levels in the atmosphere were causing Earth’s polar ice caps to rapidly disappear to a point at which reducing emissions wouldn’t be enough to stop or reverse it.
“Anderson is calling for a Marshall Plan-style endeavor in which all of the world takes extreme measures to transition off of fossil fuels completely within the next five years,” the Grit Post article said, citing the Forbes story for most of its information.
The Forbes article said Anderson called for an acceleration of the effort to halt and remove carbon pollution, and a new effort to reflect sunlight away from the earth’s poles within five years, after which point he warned that “recovery” would no longer be possible.
Forbes quoted Anderson as saying: “The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero.” The article makes no mention of Anderson having said humanity would be wiped out by 2023. Rather, he said the world must stop using fossil fuels by 2023, or the effect on the polar ice caps would be irreversible.
Anderson also confirmed in an email to The Associated Press that he never made any such statement during his address.
“That is a complete fabrication of what I said,” Anderson wrote, referring to the claims he said humanity would be wiped out in five years.
He said that during the seminar, he was displaying the most recent observations of Arctic sea ice volume — specifically the ice floating on the Arctic Ocean — and made the statement that “the current observed rate of floating ice loss volume, there will be no floating ice remaining by 2022.”
The focus of the statement was on the floating ice volume and the observed rate of disappearance at that time, he said.
“Thus the statement was clear to those in attendance that the reference was to floating ice volume in the data shown on the slide, not arctic ice in general,” Anderson clarified, adding, “so, the ‘wiping out of humanity by 2022’ is a total distortion of what I said or meant at the University of Chicago colloquium in 2018. I would never make such a statement.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.