Hanging By A Thread

“We are at the moment of truth… The truth is, the target of limiting long-term global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is hanging by a thread.”

On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivered to the world yet another stark warning and offered a comprehensive plan to bring the world back from the brink. His televised address begins at 21:20 and we urge you to watch the entire speech or read the transcript.

One of his prescriptions in particular caught the attention of the news media and led to a collective head slap by the climate movement: Ban fossil fuel advertisingDuh!

Glossy advertisements by the fossil fuel industry touting their commitment to clean energy have one purpose and one purpose only: to delay urgently needed action and let the industry keep wrecking the planet for their short-term profit. Deception isn’t just a common feature of fossil fuel advertising—it’s the whole game.

And that’s not all—fossil fuel deception is a multi-billion dollar industry, with leading PR firms earning millions through misleading ad campaigns. Take, for instance, Ogilvy’s “carbon footprint” initiative, which shifted corporate responsibility onto individuals to sell BP petroleum products.

That’s why Guterres referred to ad agencies that work with fossil fuel companies as “The Man Men fueling the madness.”

Media and tech giants are complicit too. Companies like Google, Instagram, and The New York Times raking in tens of millions of dollars each year from displaying these ads. In 2020 alone, oil and gas Facebook ads were viewed at least 431 million times.

Let’s be real. The industry has no more concern for the welfare of the public than the tobacco industry before it. And that’s why one remedy for fossil fuel disinformation should be the same as it was for the tobacco industry — a total ban on fossil fuel advertising.

Here’s what needs to be done:

  • Government action. We need immediate intervention. Governments must follow France’s lead and ban these harmful ads. Just as we banned cigarette ads in 1970 to protect public health, the United States can–and must–do the same for fossil fuel ads.
  • Corporate responsibility. Tech and media companies must stop enabling the spread of fossil fuel propaganda.  As Guterres aptly stated, “fossil fuels are not only poisoning our planet, they are toxic for your brands.” It’s time for these companies to stop enabling planetary destruction.
  • Ethical PR. PR firms can–and should–take a stand by refusing to work with fossil fuel companies. The Clean Creatives Initiative pressures marketing firms to do just this, releasing a yearly scorecard of major agencies that continue to work with fossil fuels and highlighting the progress others are making to move away from the industry.

And guess what? Clean Creatives recently reported that over 1,000 ad agencies have cut ties with fossil fuels. It can be done. Let’s get more onboard!