"Fossil Fuel Free Future" by Jeremy Buckingham MLC is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It’s Time To Ban Fossil Fuel Advertising, Brought To You By “The Godfathers Of Climate Chaos”

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A safe climate depends on replacing coal, oil, and gas with clean energy sources. During a speech in New York City this week, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for an end to fossil fuel advertising advertising.

“The godfathers of climate chaos – the fossil-fuel industry – rake in record profits and feast off trillions in taxpayer-funded subsidies. It is a disgrace that the most vulnerable are being left stranded, struggling desperately to deal with a climate crisis they did nothing to create.”

Why is this statement so important? Each of the past 12 months has broken existing heat records, as cited by the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The earth is on a slow burn, fossil fuel companies are to blame, and we need to stand up and hold them accountable.

Banning their advertising across all multimodal platforms is a start.

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Guterres’ animated comments came soon after upsetting new climate data was released: countries will have no more than 5 years to realign their polluting emissions to keep global temperatures from rising even more dramatically, according to more data released yesterday by the World Meteorological Organization and researchers at the University of Leeds.

“The target of limiting long-term global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is hanging by a thread,” the United Nations secretary general said in the speech at the American Museum of Natural History. He continued that, to meet the most ambitious goal set out in the Paris climate agreement of preventing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels need to drop steeply each year before reaching net zero around 2050.

In response, representatives of fossil fuel groups said they were committed to reducing their emissions. “Our industry is focused on continuing to produce affordable, reliable energy while tackling the climate challenge, and any allegations to the contrary are false,” said Megan Bloomgren, senior vice president of communications at the American Petroleum Foundation.

Why Should Multimodal Platforms be Part of an Expansive Ban?

The fossil fuel industry knew about the dangerous effects of the combustion of fossil fuels on the global climate in the 1970s. The period of “late fossil capital” began when the scientific knowledge of anthropogenic climate change was institutionally and publicly recognized a decade later. How did the fossil fuel industry continue their energy dominance over the subsequent decades with little pushback?

The challenge for the fossil fuel industry was how to admit the reality of anthropogenic climate change while continuing to extract, refine, and sell fossil fuels.

The language of fossil capital, according to Dahlberg at the Kth Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, is based primarily on marketing material by fossil fuel companies, in the US and other Western countries, such as advertising and advertorials, current and archived websites, social media, corporate sustainability reports, as well as material produced by industry organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute and the Heartland Institute.

The oil and gas industry’s climate obstruction shows how the industry is shifting strategies. First, it denied that fossil fuels are causing climate change. Now its more recent efforts are to delay actions that promote renewables and reduce fossil fuel reliance. They grabbed the public mantel of “combating anthropogenic climate change, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, promoting more efficient energy use, as well as developing renewable energy sources,” Dahlberg continues. They and their enablers have adopted and reframed the discourse of sustainability and sustainable development so that they are repositioned as proponents of renewable energy.

The fossil fuel industry is strategically communicating about renewables to slow or stall action on climate change. Communication on social media is an under-analyzed part of the fossil fuel industry’s strategy to delay the energy transition away from fossil fuels to a renewable future. Indeed, promoting natural gas as beneficial for the energy transition reinforces carbon lock-in, which contributes to delaying the energy transition to renewables. Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, and TotalEnergies tweet about different renewable technologies in the context of showcasing their own renewable projects. According to research described in Energy Research & Social Science, TotalEnergies and BP focus mostly on solar, ExxonMobil on biofuels, and Shell on hydrogen; geothermal and hydropower are hardly mentioned by any of the companies.

These seemingly positive claims and their promotion of renewables need to be examined carefully — after all, these are the same companies that continue to lobby against ambitious climate policy while profiting from continued fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

Why are Tech, Media, & PR Companies Advertising on Behalf of the Fossil Fuel Industry?

Tech, media, and PR companies are the biggest spaces for fossil fuel industry ads, and Gutteres pleaded with these powerful public voices to alter their editorial positions regarding fossil fuel advertising.

“I call on these companies to stop acting as enablers to planetary destruction. Many governments restrict or prohibit advertising for products that harm human health, like tobacco. I urge every country to ban advertising from fossil fuel companies. And I urge news media and tech companies to stop taking fossil-fuel advertising.”

Gutteres spoke directly to this sector, which “is full of creative minds who are already mobilizing around this cause. They are gravitating towards companies that are fighting for our planet — not trashing it.”

Calling Gutteres’ remarks “a turning point in the advertising and PR industry’s relationship with climate change and fossil fuels,” Duncan Meisel, executive director of Clean Creatives, commented that no longer must agencies suggest “they are doing the right thing when working with polluters.” In fact, Meisel pointed to the over 1,100 advertising, PR, and creative companies have already taken the Clean Creatives pledge to “refuse work from Big Oil, and they are the true leaders on this issue.”

In 2022, France became the first country to ban advertisements for fossil fuel companies. The country has been challenged to extend the law’s parameters to also eliminate marketing for natural gas and to prevent fossil fuel companies from sponsoring public events.

Similar bans are also being considered in Canada and Ireland.

Google, Facebook, and Instagram profit by tens of millions of dollars each year from fossil fuel advertising, according to estimates in a 2023 report from the campaign Stop Funding Heat. In an email to The Verge, Google spokesperson Michael Aciman explained that the company doesn’t screen fossil fuel advertisers unless they violate company standards. “Generally speaking, this policy (as with most of our policies) does not block specific types of advertisers on our platform, provided their ads comply with all of our policies.”

In reaching out to the CleanTechnica upper echelon, I’ve deduced that our policy is about the same as Google’s — we have little say in who advertises, but we writers are explicitly removed from their influences. “All of our editorial and reporting work is independent of any influence from advertisers and clients. Our editorial team is separate and autonomous from our advertising team.”

Final Thoughts

Guterres lauded the growth in clean energy deployment, amid record levels of investment in wind, solar and other renewable sources, predicting that “economic logic makes the end of the fossil-fuel age inevitable” but added that governments must hasten the phase out of fossil fuels.

“It’s ‘we, the peoples’ versus the polluters and the profiteers,” he said. “Together, we can win. But it’s time for leaders to decide whose side they’re on.”

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

Carolyn Fortuna has 1328 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna