By Janna Frenzel and Quinn Valencourt
Climate change and environmental policy has been a central issue in the campaign. After the Climate March on September 27, 2019, we wanted to know how meme groups capture the attention to the environment amongst partisans on Facebook.
Liberal leaning memes tend to focus their point of critique mostly on Scheer’s or the Conservative Party’s complete lack of a climate change platform. Some memes reference former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government and frame voting for the conservative party as a step backward. Other memes present alleged climate change denial by the conservatives as part of a broader, allegedly discriminatory platform on social issues that includes the cutting of social services, for example.
Memes tends to attack Scheer’s policy than to amplify Trudeau’s own attempts to make climate action memes. Trudeau’s tweet to plant 2 billion trees — an iteration of the “That’s It. That’s the Tweet” meme — did not inspire any memes or positive reactions in our sample.
Conservative-leaning memes tend to attack political opponents directly, pointing out hypocrisy or naivety. In these situations, conservative leaning memes mock people for changing consumer habits (like not using plastic straws) and highlight apparent contradictions, such as Justin Trudeau’s participation in the Climate March in Montreal.
Another popular attack is against the Liberal’s use of two campaign planes. In these memes, Justin Trudeau is accused of hypocrisy for travelling between political debates and rallies during the election campaign.
While not directly referencing climate change, several conservative-leaning memes represent the Trudeau government’s carbon tax as theft from taxpayers, or as a policy that allegedly shuts down conversation and dissenting voices by being presented as a matter of life or death.
Some memes go as far as to cast doubt on the existence of climate change, for example by making seemingly common-sense inferences about the connection between melting ice and rising sea levels.
Like others in the right-wing media system, some groups share more hostile memes, especially towards Greta Thunberg. These memes seek to undermine Greta’s role as a climate change activist by calling attention to her age and invisible disability (autism). In doing so, this content mocks, trivializes, and ridicules not only Greta but people with disabilities and climate change activists alike – especially young ones.
Memes that are left-leaning or NDP-supporting take up both the alleged liberal hypocrisy regarding climate change and the conservative lack of a climate change platform and policy proposals. Here, Trudeau is attacked for the identified contradiction between portraying himself as a climate leader and counteracting his own promises, i.e. through buying the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The conservatives are criticised for their alleged ignorance and climate change denial. Both former conservative and the current liberal government are denounced for supporting the oil industry.
Singh, of all leaders, seems to benefit the most from climate change memes, suggesting that memes might be another part of his campaign’s perceived success on social media. Otherwise, memes reinforce the deep partisan divides over responses to the climate emergency. And the tone, especially amongst Liberal and Conservative leaning memes, remains hostile, with little evidence of common ground between partisans.