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Billionaire brothers bankroll education programs to feed misinformation to students: 'The goal ... is to gain control of levers of power'

The spread of misinformation is especially concerning in classrooms.

The spread of misinformation is especially concerning in classrooms.

Photo Credit: iStock

"Money talks," or so they say. Unfortunately, in the United States, a pair of billionaires have been sending money to some media outlets to talk about the supposed benefits of oil and gas and deny the existence of human-caused global heating.

What's happening?

According to the Guardian, Farris and Dan Wilks have been sending millions of dollars to pro-dirty-energy and evangelical organizations.

The Wilks brothers, who made their fortune from oil and gas fracking, are trying to promote the narrative that the world is not experiencing a climate crisis.

Among the media entities to have received funding from the Wilks brothers is PragerU, an unaccredited university that provides "edutainment" videos for classroom use. The Guardian cited Texas financial records that show the Wilks have handed over at least $8 million to PragerU. 

"The goal of [the] Wilks and those that share their ideology is to gain control of levers of power and control information," Texas-based campaign finance analyst Chris Tackett told the outlet. "That's why they invest heavily into politicians, agenda-driven nonprofits and media organizations like PragerU and the Daily Wire. It is all connected."

Why is this concerning?

Spreading misinformation that global heating doesn't exist will only make efforts to slow the rate of rising temperatures much harder. With the message that oil and gas have little impact on thermometer readings rising, citizens will be far less inclined to reduce pollution in their day-to-day lives.

It's especially concerning in classrooms, as influencing children to believe that global warming is a natural cycle of life makes it less likely that the next generation will take positive climate action — even though they will be among those who will be most affected by the climate crisis.

"The Wilks brothers aren't the only ones with oil and gas ties to question climate change science from a position of self-interest; with so much invested in hydrocarbon society, their pro-fossil-fuel, anti-climate-crisis-science position only makes sense," history professor at the University of Notre Dame Darren Dochuk told the Guardian.

"Where the Wilks take things further, however, is their articulation of climate change denialism in theological terms, as if we are all destined by God for a future of environmental ruin we have no responsibility for and can't control."

Whereas outright denial is one problem, so is greenwashing. To encourage sales among climate-positive consumers, some companies will claim to be taking affirmative action. However, these businesses might be making overblown statements about how they are cutting waste or pollution, or they simply might not be doing anything at all. 

What can be done about misinformation?

Changing people's minds isn't easy, and sometimes putting your point across can be seen as hostile or antagonizing. But calling out misinformation when you see it is so important, whether it's about the climate crisis or any other hot-button issue. 

Staying informed, relying on science, and looking at the world around you can help to understand what's happening. Being aware of where your news and information is coming from and why is essential, too.

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