By Scott Waldman
Excerpts: People being forced to eat bugs. Confiscated cars. Cities going dark as electric lights are turned off. Climate lockdowns.
Welcome to the conspiratorial world of the “Great Reset” theory.
Its followers claim that government officials want to impose draconian lockdowns similar to the worst days of Covid-19 in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The conspiracy theory holds that a global elite is planning to shut down society and restrict personal freedoms, such as eating meat and driving gas-powered cars in their zeal to address climate change.
The Great Reset has been boosted by climate deniers, right-wing media and conservative think tanks that oppose regulations on fossil fuels.
It all began in June 2020 during the depths of Covid-19 lockdowns. Car traffic and industrial activity worldwide fell sharply, leading to lower levels of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Then-Prince Charles described that moment in time as a new beginning for the planet. The world had seen what was possible for the environment, and now renewable energy, clean cars and altered methods of commuting could help make those changes permanent.
It was called the Great Reset.
Before long it was turned into a rallying cry against Covid-19 lockdowns and, then, as a warning against climate action. Conservative activists used it to claim that environmental laws and regulations were an attack on their personal freedoms, said John Cook, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University in Australia and an expert on climate disinformation.
“Combining the claim ‘climate policy limits freedom’ with ‘climate change is a conspiracy’ is a potent combination as it combines conservative ideology with the conspiratorial mindset of a science denier,” he said. “So the climate lockdown conspiracy theory has the potential to resonate with climate deniers and spread further.”
Now, increasingly, the Great Reset is being introduced to Americans who watch Fox News, or who follow Republicans like Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona or Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who have promoted the conspiracy theory’s shifting claims.
The Great Reset could come to the halls of Congress next year, when Republicans take control of the House. Party leaders have threatened to launch a series of investigations, including into President Joe Biden’s energy policies.
‘Collapse the current system’
Many of those who have worked to push the theory are affiliated with groups that fight energy regulations or that have received funding from fossil fuel companies. That includes the Heartland Institute; E&E Legal; and the Committee For a Constructive Tomorrow, whose employee, Marc Morano, has promoted the conspiracy theory for two years. He wrote a book called “The Great Reset: Global Elites and the Permanent Lockdown.”
C-SPAN recently aired a talk with Morano in which he told viewers that elites want to use climate policy to “collapse” American society so they can expand their control over it.
“The idea here is that in order to reset, build back better, you have to essentially collapse the current system,” he said.
Lawmakers and far-right influencers are talking about it, too.
The Great Reset is unique among conspiracy theories in that it sprung from a public campaign to explore carbon reductions from Covid-19 lockdowns. It was then twisted into a dark narrative, according to a comprehensive report from the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. The group concluded that “climate lockdowns” is a case study of how “a message can be seized upon by reactionary media actors and adapted to serve existing agendas.”
“‘Climate Lockdown’ is not a story of outsider threats to popular discourse, but a lesson in how any message can be weaponised by those intent on harm — whether to profit from disinformation and manufactured outrage, to fuel mistrust in institutions, or to confirm existing biases about certain groups and causes,” the group concluded.