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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Debunked: An old image of Leo Varadkar has been altered to promote a climate change conspiracy

The original image featured a sign saying “Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All”.

A PHOTO OF Leo Varadkar from 2017, when he was Minister for Social Protection, has been altered to promote an anti-climate change conspiracy theory.

The image shows Varadkar standing near the CHQ building north of the Liffey in Dublin, holding a sign that says: “You are the carbon we want to reduce.”

However, this photo is altered. The original image is from a 2017 campaign to encourage the public to report welfare benefit fraud, and the sign initially said: “Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All”.

wellfare fraud Sam Boal Sam Boal

That campaign was heavily criticised and its slogan would be called a “mistake” later that year by the Department of Social Welfare secretary general.

An original image from the campaign can be seen in a previous FactCheck, which found that Government claims about savings from reported benefit fraud were false.

The phrase “You are the carbon we want to reduce” and other variations are commonly used by adherents of climate change depopulation theories, which assert that the ultimate aim of environmentalists is to kill millions or otherwise depopulate the human race.

Sometimes it is asserted that they will do this to stop climate change, but often it is also theorised that climate change is a hoax to justify their depopulation plans. There is no evidence for this theory.

There is also debate whether such depopulation would even be an effective way to reduce climate change if it were to happen. While the average person does currently cause a huge amount of carbon dioxide to be emitted in their lifetimes, this is not inevitable and is largely driven by lifestyle – a person with a private jet may produce many times the pollutants than a vegetarian who cycles everywhere.

According to data collated by WorldOMeter, in 2016 Qatar had more than 1,200 times the CO2 emissions per capita than Greenland.

As such, ditching the jet would be more effective at reducing greenhouse gasses than not having children, provided those children would have grown up to be environmentally friendly.

Moving from environmentally damaging lifestyles, as well as changing the infrastructure and economics that support these, it is argued, is an easier solution to greenhouse gas emissions than depopulation.

In countries that achieve net zero emissions, the average greenhouse gas contribution per person should theoretically be zero, and therefore there would be no benefit to having fewer children from a climate change perspective.

Ireland is legally bound to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.


False. A photo that appears to show Varadkar holding a sign that says “You are the carbon we want to reduce” is a manipulated image.

The image was originally used as part of a campaign against welfare fraud.

The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.