‘Conspirituality’ and climate: How wellness and new age influencers are serving anti-climate narratives to their audiences

15 November 2023

By: Cécile Simmons


At the height of COVID-19, Wellness and New Age influencers were prominent in sharing anti-vaccine content, with many straying explicitly into conspiracies such as QAnon and becoming key conduits for “conspirituality” – defined by academics Charlotte Ward and David Voas as a “broad politico-spiritual philosophy based on two core convictions […] 1) a secret group covertly controls, or is trying to control, the political and social order, and 2) humanity is undergoing a ‘paradigm shift’ in consciousness.” As wellness influencers embraced anti-vaccine and QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theories, researcher Marc-André Argentino coined the term “Pastel QAnon” to describe the Instagram-friendly aesthetic used by wellness influencers across social media to share and spread conspiratorial narratives.  

With the pandemic subsiding, conspirituality has not waned and Wellness and New Age influencers are increasingly turning to divisive issues, including gender and climate, to promote their brand of conspiratorial content. In this Digital Dispatch, ISD investigates how Wellness and New Age influencers on Instagram are talking about climate to shine a light on how related issues are shaped by distinct online communities where influencers can command trust and shape their audiences’ beliefs.  

Key Findings

  • Many Wellness and New Age influencers post outright misinformation or denial about climate change, including narratives similar to those highlighted in ISD’s previous research.
  • Arguments are diverse and often contradict one another. For example, some treat climate change as a hoax or conspiracy, while others claim it is evidence of “esoteric forces”.
  • Content adopts language highly specific to the community. This increases the resonance for dedicated followers and results in some unique framing on topics such as geoengineering and meat consumption.
  • Climate is inextricably linked to discussions around health and vaccines, with an emphasis on bodily autonomy and personal wellbeing. 

Method

CAAD analysts compiled a list of 154 lifestyle and wellness influencers on Instagram who endorse or promote ‘conspirituality, taking steers from academic literature on the movement. To be included in the study, accounts had to explicitly offer advice on health, lifestyle and wellness; sell related products (e.g. coaching, supplements); and/or promote some form of health-related misinformation or conspiracy theory (e.g. anti-vaxx content, QAnon). This includes:  

  • Esoteric accounts, such as those focusing on crystal healing, tarot reading, hypnotism or astrology, and self-styled “star seed” accounts. 
  • Lifestyle and fitness influencers, such as bodybuilders, yoga instructors and chiropractors. 
  • ‘Alternative’ health practitioners, such as nutritional therapists, health coaches, herbalists and wellness bloggers. 
  • Natural parenting influencers, such as free-birthers, “natural motherhood” accounts or anti-vaxxers.  

While the majority of influencers had between 10k and 100k followers, some accounts with a smaller audience (nano-influencers) were included if relevant. Over a 12-month period from October 2022 to October 2023, we surfaced 140 timeline posts mentioning keywords related to climate change and/or the environment. This approach may have missed content using unexpected terminology or subtler, roundabout references to such issues, but provides enough evidence for a qualitative snapshot. 

Exploiting the anti-climate playbook

Wellness influencers are using narratives around climate change strikingly similar to those highlighted in previous research on mis– and disinformation. This spans everything from outright denial that temperatures are rising, to accusations of elite hypocrisy and falsehoods regarding renewable energies or Electric Vehicles. 

Figures 1 & 2: Indicative posts shared by: Azeem Ali (@foundconsciousness, 209k followers) and Seraphim Starseed (84.6k followers)

Amplifying climate deniers

In addition, various posts amplified figures known for spreading climate misinformation or conspiracies beyond the Wellness community, including Peter Imanuelsen (known online as Peter Sweden) and Bjorn Lomborg. Others engaged in the ‘memeification’ of climate denial through a counter-cultural frame. (Note: Lomborg’s role in the ecosystem of climate change misinformation has been covered previously in CAAD’s ‘Deny, Deceive, Delayreports and by organisations like DeSmog).

Figure 3 & 4: Indicative posts shared by: Freedom and Wellness (@freedom_and_wellness, 77.9k followers) and Russell Brand (3.8 million followers).

Core ideas include:

  • Outright rejection of the existence of, or human influence on, climate change;
  • Scepticism around the impact of climate change on natural disasters;
  • Attacking policy interventions for mitigation, adaptation or decarbonisation;
  • Conspiratorial content concerning “elites”, the World Economic Forum and so on.

Weaponising New Age language and health concerns

The influencers in our dataset often adopted unique framing for their pushback on climate science or solutions, tapping into their audiences’ presumed concerns about health and wellbeing. This includes claims that:

  1. Climate change is a result of disconnection with nature or other powerful forces in the universe. (This is often steeped in New Age beliefs around nature being ‘whole and perfect’ and was especially promoted by accounts describing themselves as ‘starseeds’[1]).
  2. Vegetarianism or veganism are “unhealthy”, while meat eating is “healthy”, “natural” or “sustainable”. (This was primarily spread by ‘carnivore influencers’ such as @CarnivoreAurelius, 722k followers).
  3. Climate change is a product of “geoengineering” or attempts to “block out the sun”.
  4. Climate change is a cover for health problems caused by vaccines and other (elite-driven) public mandates.

Figures 5, 6, 7 & 8: Posts (clockwise from top left) shared Ginelle Sendsen (@aguidetoawakening, 10.9k followers), Dr Joseph Mercola (@drmercola, 500k followers), Ian Smith (@iansmithfitness, 414k followers), and Hillary Linnea (@thefreehillary, 8.5k followers) highlighting key themes within our dataset.

‘Everything is connected’: Tying climate to broad-tent conspiracy theories and other topics like vaccination

Conspiracies tend to rely on the premise that “everything is connected, nothing is at it seems and everything happens for a reason”. This framework is central to the messaging of wellness and New Age influencers, who link climate change to broader claims about government overreach and attacks on the ‘divine sovereignty’ of the individual. Arguments are intimately linked to concerns around bodily integrity, including a common accusation that climate policies is a pretext to make people unhealthy.

Figure 9: Post by user Bradley Campbell (@drbradleycampbell, 322k followers), whose bio includes “Robin Hood-ing healthcare back to the masses” and includes a number followers can text for “personal help”.

As a result, many posts connect climate change to broad-tent conspiracy theories surrounding the World Economic Forum (WEF), billionaire philanthropists and ‘Satanic elites’. Climate policies are frequently compared to vaccination, as influencers exploit health-related fears and concerns that resonate with their audience. For example, self-styled creator of ‘biohacking’ Dave Asprey, who boasts 818k followers on Instagram, claimed that a reported rise in cardiovascular disease would be blamed on ‘global warming and excess freedom’, rather than the COVID vaccine.

Figure 10: Post by Dave Asprey (@dave.asprey, 821.k followers)

Equally, natural disasters such as wildfires are presented as part of a globalist plot for control, with posts claiming them to be one or more of the following: a deliberate attempt to enforce mass surveillance; a ploy to deter people from having children; a pretext for spraying harmful chemicals on the land; the exclusive result of arson, not climate change.

Figure 11: Post by Yolande Norris-Clark (@bauhauswife, 67.6k followers).

Attacking environmentally conscious lifestyle choices

The weaponisation of health concerns was a key feature of pro-meat arguments and narratives undermining vegan and vegetarian diets as unhealthy. Pro-meat arguments sometimes went hand in hand with anti-WEF talking points surrounding ‘eating bugs’ (various climate scientists and institutions have touted insect protein as an alternative or complement to meat to meet the world population’s dietary needs while reducing carbon emissions), with some posts equating eating insects other allegedly unhealthy products, e.g. seed oils, which have been the subject of misinformation and conspiracy theories in wellness communities.

Figure 12: Post by Magnified Consciousness (@magnifiedconsciousness, 15.7k followers)

Accusations levelled at institutions and experts recommending a reduction in meat consumption range from hypocrisy-related claims – the idea that elites do not have citizens’ health at heart – to more sinister claims that they are deliberately poisoning people.

Figures 13 & 14: Posts by Carnivore Aurelius (@CarnivoreAurelius, 722k followers) and Lauren Johnson (@naturalnursemomma 343k followers).

While promoting these views, some wellness influencers are also weaponizing the language of sustainability and the climate movement. ISD found posts depicting meat consumption as sustainable, frequently citing “permaculture” and grass-fed meat as an environmentally friendly option, despite evidence to the contrary. Some influencers who promoted misinformation and conspiracy theories around climate in some posts used hashtags associated with the climate movements in other posts to present their services as eco-friendly.

Post by Carly Rose (@rewildcarlyrose, 109k followers).

Implications

Experts on wellness influencers and their online communication tactics, such as Stephanie A. Baker have shown how “wellness influencers employ micro-celebrity practices of authenticity, accessibility and autonomy” to build trust with followers. As such, the potential influence of these accounts on their audience should not be underestimated, even if communities occupy a fringe or relatively distinct space online.

Although merely a snapshot, this Digital Dispatch shows how ‘conspiritualists’ could be influencing views on climate change in novel ways, framing denialism within wider emotional, metaphysical or even religious belief systems. Such accounts are adept at couching harmful or unsubstantiated ideas in visually appealing content with mass appeal. Moreover, by centring the individual in much of their rhetoric, it may resonate at a deeper personal level than wider public discourse on climate science, impacts and potential solutions.

Our findings expose a risk that, as the impacts of climate change become more visible, people will turn to ‘alternate’ explanations over verified data. That impulse may be driven by fear, overwhelm or a sense of impotence rather than an inherent scepticism – the Wellness community often frames its worldview through proactive advice based on notions of agency and reclaiming one’s own power; a powerful counterpoise to wider trends of ‘climate dread’ and ‘doomerism’ which appear on the rise in many countries. As such, knowing how to inoculate and debunk against conspiratorial content becomes ever more important, as does positive messaging on how people can tackle the climate crisis.

The specificity of language and narratives highlights how automated content moderation may be insufficient, or broadly ill-equipped, to tackle climate change misinformation at a platform level. However, without meaningful transparency  on how companies identify and respond to such harms, it is impossible to know the true extent of the problem or the best approaches for mitigating its impact (e.g. algorithmic recommender systems; community engagement; ‘pre-bunking’ and public education).

[1] Starseeds are individuals who believe they are entities who have come from other planets and dimensions to heal the Earth: Starseeds: psychologists on why some people think they’re aliens living on Earth (theconversation.com)

 

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