A fake climate change theory is going viral on TikTok after Joe Rogan talked about it

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A made-up global warming theory discussed in the Joe Rogan Experience podcast is spreading on TikTok despite the platform’s new policy against climate disinformation, a new report shared exclusively with The Verge finds.

Seven TikTok videos promoting the so-called “Adam and Eve” theory — which spuriously claims Earth’s magnetic fields will shift and cause catastrophic effects across the planet — garnered more than 20 million views between January and April, according to the report by the nonprofit organization Media Matters for America. The videos include clips from a January 18th episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, amplifying statements Rogan and his guests made that contradict mainstream science.

The videos’ popularity shows how misinformation buried in a three-hour-long podcast episode can easily be plucked out and dispersed widely on TikTok. It’s also a test of TikTok’s recent commitment to “ramp up enforcement” of its new climate change misinformation policy.

“It’s just unfortunate that these things are being put out there,” says Martin Mlynczak, a senior research scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center, in an interview. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. And there’s no proof and no science and no physics behind any of the claims about the magnetic field change being associated with climate change.”

The viral videos attempt to explain the so-called “Adam and Eve” theory about a reversal of Earth’s magnetic poles. A guest on Rogan’s show, YouTuber Jimmy Corsetti, says the theory is that the planet “flips” roughly every 6,500 years. “It’s a 90-degree flip, but six days later, or on the seventh day, it corrects itself,” he says. “Because of it, the Earth essentially does a standstill — the sun will basically stay in the same spot, causing heating like we’ve never experienced,” Corsetti says in a clip.

There’s no evidence that the planet has or ever will make that kind of 90-degree flip — where the Arctic would be where the Antarctic is and vice versa — Mlynczak tells The Verge. “That is total bogus. If that’s what happened every 6,500 years, we would certainly see it; it would be in all the records … The amount of energy to bring that about is tremendous. And you know, there’s nothing to initiate it,” he says.

Earth’s magnetic poles are shifting, just not in the way that’s discussed in the podcast and TikTok videos. NASA has a helpful explanation of what’s happening on its website. But in a nutshell: Earth’s magnetic field is constantly changing. Our planet’s magnetic north pole is on the move, shifting toward the Siberian Arctic from Arctic Canada. Earth’s magnetic poles (not the planet itself) have even reversed 183 times over the last 83 million years, paleomagnetic records show.

In a pole reversal, Earth’s magnetic field gradually weakens and then grows in strength in the opposite orientation. That process takes place very slowly — likely spanning over a couple thousand years, according to Brendan Reilly, an assistant research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “It’s very possible that if one was happening in our lifetime, we wouldn’t even know it because the whole process would take many, many generations,” Reilly says. “It’s not just this dramatic thing.”

But there’s plenty of drama in Rogan’s podcast and the TikTok videos it spawned. The TikTok videos feature Corsetti saying we’re “over 200,000 years overdue” for a “cataclysmic” pole shift, according to the unsupported Adam and Eve theory. On top of causing global heating, he says the theory is that equatorial winds traveling “approximately 1,000 miles an hour” will continue their momentum as the planet turns.

“1,000-mile-an-hour winds are past supersonic. Just right there, I mean, the person has no idea what they’re talking about,” Mlynczak tells The Verge. Even the strongest hurricane winds reach only 150 to 160 miles per hour.

The world is not “overdue” for a pole reversal, according to Reilly. That would be like flipping a coin, getting two heads in a row, and saying you’re overdue for tails even though the odds haven’t changed, he says. And even though Earth’s magnetic North pole has begun to shift a little faster — a point Corsetti makes in the podcast — Reilly says that it’s not out of line for what’s typical of Earth’s magnetic field.

In an email to The Verge, Corsetti says the TikTok videos took some of his statements out of context. “Keep in mind that those various TikTok clips are edited portions of my conversation on the Joe Rogan Podcast where I am explaining the difference between ‘mainstream scientific view’ of Pole Shifts, in comparison to the ‘Adam & Eve Story’ — which is certainly not considered accepted Science,” he writes.

The Adam and Eve theory stems from a 1965 book by Chan Thomas, written before there was wide research on climate science. The book caused a stir in conspiracy theory circles after the CIA declassified it in 2013. (Among other things, the book claims that Jesus was abducted by aliens in a “space vehicle.”) The theory today is often framed to imply that climate change is caused by natural forces instead of burning fossil fuels and isn’t as big of a risk compared to other threats.

Corsetti also walked back some of his statements on climate change in his email to The Verge. In one of the viral videos that came out of the podcast, with more than 352,000 likes, Corsetti says, “I think that the true data on Earth is that the Earth is cold most of the time. That right now we should be grateful that it’s nice and cozy.”

The mountain of evidence shows that the planet is warming as greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels trap heat. The last eight years have been the eight hottest on the books, the World Meteorological Organization reported in January. The most extreme summer heatwave ever recorded in North America buckled roads and triggered a spike in emergency department visits in the Pacific Northwest US in 2021, in just one example of recent record-smashing heatwaves around the world.

“It seems to me that anyone who has eyes to see should understand that we are trashing and negatively changing our environment … Personally, I drive an electric vehicle,” Corsetti says.

The popularity of the TikTok videos Corsetti is featured in, which cherry-pick misinformation from Rogan’s podcast and package it with dramatic music and images, shows how easy it is to false information on the platform through emotive shortform videos. It’s also telling of how well the platform is enforcing its own policies.

In April, the social media platform committed to “ramp up enforcement of a new climate change misinformation policy which removes climate change misinformation that undermines well-established scientific consensus, such as content denying the existence of climate change or the factors that contribute to it.”

And yet, the seven videos that Media Matters flagged in its report are still garnering likes and shares on TikTok. TikTok did not immediately provide a response to The Verge when it reached out for comment.

Spotify lags behind other platforms in failing to instill a clear policy on climate misinformation in its content, says Abbie Richards, one of the authors of the Media Matters report. “Spotify has long-standing policies that help us balance creator expression and listener preferences while minimizing the risk of offline harm. We have multiple measures to ensure that content on Spotify is in keeping with our policies,” Spotify spokesperson Rosa Oh says in an email to The Verge. She declined to comment on the Joe Rogan podcast, and Joe Rogan did not respond to a request for comment.

Rogan has been called out in the past for inviting guests like Randall Carlson who reject widely accepted climate science. “What Randall Carlson said that really freaked me out, he goes, ‘Global warming’s not scary. Global cooling, that’s what’s really scary,’” Rogan says in another one of the misleading clips from his podcast that made its way into a viral TikTok video. While Rogan’s podcast already has a huge reach, the episodes are hours long, and statements like that might have been buried were it not for TikTok users editing it down into more easily shareable content.

“He’s reaching huge audiences with fringe ideas and conspiracy theories [on his podcast]. And then they’re spilling over into these other platforms,” says Media Matters climate and energy program director Allison Fisher.

And that worries scientists like Mlynczak. “I’m concerned because people are misled by these things, and they vote,” he says. “I have two kids, and all of our kids are going to have to deal with the consequences of decisions we make or don’t make about how to deal with climate change.”

Recent Articles

Related Stories