Opinion: all fossil fuel advertising should be banned
I think we should ban all advertising about fossil fuels, outright. I know it sounds extreme, but it is imperative for the future of our planet.
On October 28, 2021, ExxonMobil, BP America, Chevron, Shell Oil, American Petroleum Institute and the President and CEO of the United States Chamber of Commerce testified before Congress to denounce Big Oil’s intentional and calculated spread of the misinformation about climate change. Executives were asked directly if their company had ever endorsed a disinformation campaign on climate change. Despite being under oath, each executive, one after another, has claimed that they had not done so – a bold lie.
Over 99.9% of peer-reviewed scientific papers conclude: Climate change is caused by humans, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. But what’s worse is that fossil fuel companies have known about and minimized the impact of fossil fuel combustion on the environment for decades, much like how the tobacco industry has denied the connection. between smoking and cancer.
In 2015, a series of internal documents known as the ‘Climate Deception Files’ were released by the Union of Concerned Scientists, revealing that as early as 1981, fossil fuel companies knew their products were contributing to global warming. These documents shed light on how Big Oil denied this truth and encouraged doubt: paying scientists to publish research and opposing climatologists, and using deceptive advertising to mislead the general public.
These tactics have had enormous success. To this day, there is no comprehensive US federal policy to combat climate change, and the fossil fuel industry continues to deceive.
But Big Oil is smart. Today, instead of fostering doubt about climate change, a sentiment the majority of Americans disagree with, they’ve shifted their marketing toward something more nuanced: greenwashing.
Greenwashing is an advertising tactic that misleads the public into believing that a business is environmentally friendly when in reality it is not. And the fossil fuel industry is a big culprit. Between 2008 and 2017, oil companies spent $ 1.4 billion on advertising, two-thirds of which implemented green laundering tactics like promoting wind and solar. Yet only 1.3% of their combined 2018 budget was spent on renewable energy sources.
The consequences of greenwashing, like those of denial and doubt, are dire: shifting the blame onto fossil fuel companies and delaying needed climate action. Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and author of the Paris Climate Agreement says: âGreenwashing is the new climate denial.
We cannot trust the big oil companies to represent themselves honestly, because they never have, and certainty is not now. A complete ban on fossil fuel advertising is the solution. And we know it can work because it has done it before with the tobacco industry.
Cigarette consumption in the United States peaked in 1954, with 45% of Americans smoking at least once a week. The same year, an article in the British Medical Journal confirmed the link between smoking and lung cancer. And after a landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s report confirmed this, laws were passed to enforce health warnings on tobacco products. But these limited regulations had little impact on tobacco use, in large part because the tobacco industry worked hard and quickly to cast doubt on the very scientific consensus that supported these actions.
It was not until the 1971 ban on cigarette advertising on television and radio came into effect that a marked decline in cigarette consumption was reported among Americans.
But once again, the tobacco industry responded quickly by shifting much of its advertising to print and prioritizing enticing young people and women to use tobacco. Fortunately, the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the four largest U.S. tobacco companies and 46 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories nipped this in the bud, banning tobacco advertising in cartoons. , public transport, billboards, as well as targeted marketing for minors.
Today, only 16% of Americans report smoking at least once a week. And research confirms that advertising bans – coupled with taxes on cigarettes, public smoking bans, and anti-smoking campaigns – played a concrete role in the downward trend in tobacco use during the 1970s. last years.
Obviously, advertising bans have worked to regulate tobacco, and they can work for fossil fuels as well – they just need to be comprehensive. Limited bans or health warnings leave too much room for the industry to reallocate its marketing funds to other avenues of persuasion. We cannot give the fossil fuel industry another chance to adapt to lackluster regulations. This is why the ban all fossil fuel advertising is key.
Despite campaigns of doubt, the key to the success of tobacco advertising bans lay simply in the truth: Smoking posed a public health crisis for Americans. When it comes to Big Oil, the scientific consensus confirms an even more powerful truth: climate change will cause an estimated 250,000 additional deaths per year and force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.
The fossil fuel industry is largely responsible for these human deaths and suffering, as 70% of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions – the main driver of climate change – are produced by the industry and its products. Eco-whitewashed ads generate public sympathy for the fossil fuel industry, making it seem like they are doing a lot more than they actually are doing to protect our planet. It threatens desperately needed climate action by easing public opposition to the very activities that are causing global warming.
At the end of the Oct. 28 hearing on fossil fuel disinformation, it was announced that subpoenas would be issued for a series of internal documents that the fossil fuel organizations in attendance initially refused to provide. Such documents are likely to shed even more light on Big Oil’s lies.
And as more and more information comes out of these audiences, we as a society gain in power, momentum and truth to finally end deception and ensure the future health of people and society. planet. The first step: a complete ban on advertising on fossil fuels.
Alexandra Grant-Hudd is a student in Columbia Climate School’s master’s program in Climate and society.