Robert Del Naja: why we need a Massive Attack on climate misinformation

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Dark, elusive and dystopian frontman of an English electronic band Massive attack is one of the last people to be expected to “break the stick on regulation.” But the climate crisis forced musician and artist Robert Del Naj to do just that.

The networks of misinformation and green blunder are damaging public understanding of the climate problem. Earlier this month, the CEO of oil giant Exxon Mobil denied in his U.S. speech Congressional Hearings that the company is spreading climate misinformation. But just a few days before, when Del Naja discovered in his new Eco-Bot.Net As part of a climate disinformation project, Exxon ran ads on Facebook with misleading statements.

Faced with the threat of misinformation, 56-year-old Del Naja believes that action is needed now.

“What we really need is the holy trinity of innovation and standardization. [and regulation]… Nobody likes to be regulated, but [given] because of the instability we face, we need to act faster, ”he told me from his home in Bristol.

Earlier this week, November 9, an open letter signed by more than 250 representatives from climate organizations, NGOs and businesses urged Cop26’s technology platforms and decision makers to adopt a universal definition of climate disinformation to help address the issue.

Climate misinformation and misinformation can take many forms, according to the letter, which was sponsored by the Conscious Advertising Network and informed by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank on the fight against extremism. These range from challenging the existence of climate change or the need for action, to distorting data and misleading reporting of harmful activities.

Timely intervention. In August study it found that major brands send about $ 2.6 billion to climate disinformation sites every year. Meanwhile, analysis posted during Cop, found that the practice of posting disinformation on Facebook is “substantially” growing.

Del Naja’s Eco-Bot campaign to expose green water during Cop26 in Glasgow came from conversations with a green industrialist. Dale Vince and artist Bill Posters (known for his “deepfake“Works of art).

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The poster explains that the goal of the Eco-Bot artificial intelligence system is “to create a new way of looking at things that can help identify some of these hard-to-understand issues.” His system analyzes social media data for potential disinformation phrases for a team of in-house journalists to analyze.

“With the data we have now, we can challenge the authorities in new ways and hold them accountable,” Posters said. “We’re going to celebrate the several thousand advertisements we find during Cop, which is only a token find in relation to the scale of what is out there. This is the tip of the iceberg. “

“Massive Attack has been studying the difference between truth and falsehood, information and manipulation for years,” says Del Naja, who is attracted by the statistics of their “imperviousness to opinion”. While he was not surprised by Eco-Bot’s discoveries, he is “bewildered by the scale of it all.”

“We go to Facebook and ask:“ Can you answer why this information was posted on the platform? “And they say,” Well, you know, we rely on our fact-checking tools. ”

But relying on people without a one-size-fits-all system leaves room for error: “We are in a climate emergency and we need to listen to scientific evidence. Likewise, we cannot all be experts, we cannot have curated experts and personalized science. We need to work in a standardized situation. “

Del Naja and Massive Attack have spent years trying to determine how the music industry can best respond to climate change.

In 2019 after their Mezzanine XXI tour in the US, the band realized that simply “offsetting” tour emissions by paying to support green projects was actually an excuse to continue touring as usual. Instead, they ordered Tyndall Center for Climate Change See how to reduce emissions for the entire music sector, from audience transportation to energy use at concerts.

The result is an open resource “The roadmap to ultra-low carbon music”, Which details how the industry can achieve the climate target of 1.5 ° C, and which was officially recognized by the UNFCCC at Cop26 as part of its Race to Zero Initiative

Without a single set of rules, Del Naja fears a situation in which individual sustainability experts work on venues and in musical groups, leading to a “dystopian world of personalized science.”

Some climate activists have rejected the Cop26 talks. like “blah, blah, blah” – rhetoric without action. Could such criticism undermine the credibility of expert voices and climate decisions?

“I admire the protesters for constantly challenging the authorities, this is an important part of how we achieve results,” Del Naja replies. “I firmly believe that without tactical intervention and massive protests, the cop would be purely cosmetic and nothing would change.”

“[But in] many protest movements, when an argument becomes oversimplified, I think it loses its strength and effectiveness. You don’t want it to get too tribal; it loses its power when it is rejected as a tribal or demographic group. “

I believe Del Naja has to deal with misinformation, given the rumors that he is an anonymous Banksy street artist (which he denies). The parallel makes him laugh, adding that his interest in the subject is “more a symptom of the time in which we live than a personal situation.”

The solution to the climate crisis requires collaboration, which Massive Attack knows a thing or two about. Their EP “Eutopia”, released last year, features voice acting for the first track provided by a leading climate diplomat Christiana Figueres, who emphasized that “everyone can play their part, individually or collectively.”

Is the future “in our hands,” as Figueres suggests? Del Naja is optimistic: “You have as much free will as you have passion to change something.”

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