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Meet the Activist Who Is Starting a War Against Climate Disinformation

Industrial companies spend millions pushing misinformation. A new Black-led campaign hopes to combat it.

Communications strategist Andre Banks is using digital campaigns such as this one to combat misinformation regarding climate change and clean energy efforts. (Courtesy of Black Fahrenheit)

Ahead of the 2022 midterms, Capital B is talking to newsmakers across the country who want to reshape American politics or galvanize Black voices in government. Our “Voices of Change” series will update periodically with insights from the candidates, activists, lawmakers, and political insiders whom you should know.

Voting apathy is real for America’s youngest demographic, especially Black adults who have come of age during the Trump presidency and coronavirus pandemic. But Andre Banks, a communications strategist who uses digital campaigns to combat misinformation, believes he has a cure. 

While many young Americans have been turned off by the lack of policy results from the electoral process, Banks thinks they can be engaged through the most “pressing challenge” of our lifetime: climate change. 

Banks is launching his newest campaign, Black Fahrenheit, this week to provide advocacy groups with strategic help to “combat the climate disinformation corporate polluters spread to voters of color.” The campaign will develop protest artwork, infographics, and research packets to mobilize young, politically wary Black and brown voters around environmental issues.

“There are millions of dollars spent, and hundreds of campaigns all orchestrated to make us feel cynical and opt out,” Banks said of industry advertising and public disinformation efforts. “For me, this work is always about people. The brain trick is ensuring that you don’t tune out.”

Black Fahrenheit is the latest endeavor born out of Banks’s creative storytelling studio A—B.

Ahead of the 2020 election, he co-founded the Win Black / Pa’lante campaign to combat false information aimed at Black and brown communities that circulated on social media. 

Black Fahrenheit has received more than $1.5 million in funding from climate-focused charitable organizations, Banks said, and he plans to redistribute the funds to grassroots climate groups in 13 states before the November election.

Black people, who have experienced an outsized share of the climate crisis from hurricanes to water contamination to industrial pollution, are a major target for climate disinformation. Oil, coal, and utility companies have targeted Black communities, co-opting community leaders and organizations while praising “false solutions,” a recent NAACP report found

According to the report, fossil fuel companies have funded and even created fake community organizations to support polluting practices while publicly presenting themselves as proponents of clean energy. From 2013 to 2017, utility companies poured roughly $1 billion into churches and community organizations, which touted anti-clean energy tropes and used their community influence to block renewable projects. 

Andre Banks is the founder of Black Fahrenheit, a new campaign counter climate disinformation in Black communities. (Courtesy of Black Fahrenheit)

A 2021 report found that climate misinformation, including climate change denial, is viewed by Americans roughly 1.4 million times per day on Facebook. Black Fahrenheit members say the work is more important than ever as Black communities this summer have experienced record-breaking heatwaves, floods, and infrastructure crises. 

“Black and brown communities are labeled as low-information voters, but we know exactly what is happening in our communities and how we’re being targeted,” said Destinee Bates, a Gen-Z member of Black Fahrenheit who grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, a community overburdened with hazardous waste. “This project is about empowering communities with strategies to understand how they’re being tricked and gaslit.” 

In addition to his most recent effort, Banks has worked with the racial justice organization Color of Change and human rights group Amnesty International. Capital B recently caught up with him to learn more about Black Fahrenheit’s effort to weaken the fossil fuel industry’s control of the narrative around climate change. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Capital B: What are the biggest disinformation pushes you’re seeing in the climate justice space, and how are they disproportionately impacting Black communities?

Andre Banks: In terms of numbers, 16 of the world’s biggest polluters placed more than 1,700 ads that were a mix of greenwashing and intentionally misrepresenting their policies on Facebook in 2021. Those ads garnered around 150 million impressions. That is just an overwhelming amount of content that’s going toward shaping our environment. 

We’re already disproportionately shouldering the burden of climate change. On top of that, we’re disproportionately facing the burden of misinformation campaigns. How do we get in between both of those to lift up the folks who are being spied on, ensuring they get the attention and resources they deserve, and also push back and counter the worst of that mis- and disinformation?

A lot of this work combating disinformation can be done online, but how are you planning to reach folks who may be spending more time offline than online?

Our project is a partnership, where Black Fahrenheit works closely with organizations across 13 states in these communities. We get to complement the groundwork. They’re running all kinds of campaigns, they’re knocking on doors, they’re holding community meetings. A lot of our work is to help them reinforce that work through narratives and stories that will show up on the same people’s feeds. So after they leave an organizing meeting, we’re making sure people are surrounded by this information and able to continue learning and spreading it outside of these spaces. 

What would you say to the many young folks who might already be uniquely aware of climate injustices and are also turned off by the results from the electoral process in terms of solving climate issues?

There are plenty of reasons to be frustrated and to be concerned. But my caution is that just because you haven’t seen things work in the way they should work doesn’t mean they can’t work in the way they should. It just means that the people who have power, influence, and resources to shape how our politics are working don’t share your values.

It’s a hard system to change, but it’s not impossible. And if you really look, you’ll see that it changes all the time. Actually, there are critical shifts all the time, the most recent being the Inflation Recovery Act. There are huge opportunities that seemed totally off for one moment, like nothing was going to happen for years, and now it’s the law of the land.

What are some specific impacts you hope to see from Black Fahrenheit? 

I want to ensure that every person of color understands the climate crisis as not just about an abstract number of degrees and temperatures, but actually understanding it’s about displacement in our communities. It’s about who gets to stay in their homes and who leaves. It’s about whose kids have asthma and whose don’t. It’s about who will have jobs in the next economy and whether those jobs will be safe.

The people who already know and get that and care about it? I want them to feel like they have a home where they can share their ideas, where their energy, resources, and time is welcome and needed. To apply their values and put them in the center of a fight for a version of our country and the world where we’re addressing some of the worst impacts of the climate crisis. I believe there are all kinds of positive things that will happen when we change our politics.

When we think about climate change, it’s a lot of doom and gloom. What gives you the hope and faith to continue to immerse yourself in this work? 

I would say, specifically, for me, this work is always about people. I’ve really been lucky on this weird path and career that I’ve taken, to meet and be in network with these groups in these 13 states spending all of their days fighting and winning in our communities on these issues against really formidable enemies.

So, I know that these battles can be won and are actually being won by people like us in many places without support. I know that if we build these projects, there are people out there who care and have enormous creative energy. Together, we’re just going to lift off and break through.

And also, I’m competitive. I’m not going to fall for the tricks these companies and polluters are playing on us.