Last week, George Monbiot of the Guardian suggested #BigOil should be banned from public advertising.
It’s not a bad idea, for not only has #BigOil demonstrated implacable intransigence towards meaningful carbon emission reductions, they are actively misleading the public and hiding private efforts to ensure business as usual.
Expect more and not less fossil fuels
Every seven-year kid and up now knows fossil fuels are killing us. They are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from all human activity. In the United States, fossil fuels used for electricity, heat, and transportation produce 76% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
The dangers are not just imminent, they are here and now.
Even so, this past Monday, #BigOil leaders defended their industry as the United Nations called for an urgent slashing of fossil fuel emissions. The industry’s response, reacted the New York Times, seemed “designed to perpetuate the use of oil and gas for decades to come.”
#BigOil’s “strategy”- pump more, cross fingers for carbon capture tech to work
It’s not that #BigOil has no plan to transition to ‘clean’ energy. They do. Incredible as it may seem, executives want to pump more fossil fuels while developing carbon capture technologies as a way to offset emissions, none of which represent a near term or guaranteed solution.
Indeed, Forbes estimated last year that the seven largest oil companies will produce a combined 23 million barrels of oil per day by 2023. That’s 3 million more than forecasted a year earlier, an “astonishing” 3% annual increase .
Arsonists selling fire extinguishers
To get to these levels of output, #BigOil will increase investment in oil and gas extraction. This means an additional USD 115 billion will be dedicated to new energy projects, of which only 3% will be in ‘low carbon’ projects.
The twenty four largest firms combined investment in clean energy? A grand total of 1% of their USD 240 billion annual investment budgets. ExxonMobil, infamous for suppressing their own damning climate change research for over 30 years, invested a staggering (and not in the good way) one-fifth of 1% on renewables in 2018.
The language of #BigOil is reality altering
We have been through this before, corporations putting the welfare of their business far ahead of others to deadly effect, most notably with #BigTobacco.
Unlike tobacco, we were (are) talking about the tragic deaths and suffering of a small fraction of the world’s population. With #BigOil, we are literally talking about the wellbeing of the entire biosphere.
And like #BigTobacco, #BigOil executives are hitting back against detractors with overt and covert public relations campaigns as disingenuous as they are deplorable.
Influence Map, a non-profit, found that the five largest public oil and gas companies “spend around $200m annually to ‘lobby, delay, control, or block policies to tackle climate change. The industry public relations campaigns, says the organization, hide “investment in a huge expansion of oil and gas extraction,” exactly when we should be winding up the industry as quickly as possible.
Shifting vocabulary from “combatting” climate change to business “risk”
In its battle to defend profits, #BigOil has also shifted its vocabulary over time, including avoiding the phrase “climate change” in their corporate sustainability responsibility reporting.
According to Sylvia Jaworska, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of Reading, #BigOil has moved to using more passive language when talking about climate, laying aside once common phrases such as ‘combatting’ climate change in favor of climate “risk” (though not as in risk to the planetary ecology, but as in risk to their business).
Shifting blame to the market
A particularly insidious habit seen across the #BigOil’s disinformation arsenal is to blame customers. We, they claim, are simply providing “products that people need and want to improve their lives – in their homes and businesses, and for transport.”Never mind that this is like selling bullseye targets to condemned prisoners heading towards to the wall Click To Tweet
Never mind that this is like selling bullseye targets to condemned prisoners heading towards to the wall, #BigOil executives betting on carbon capture is risk taking unparalleled in human experience. There are many, many, safer and more profitable options. Only not for them.
Ad banning, tried before
#BigOil investments and PR have only one objective: confound efforts to bring an end to the era of fossil fuel.
Given their deadly self-interest and constant PR misdirections, the idea of banning public advertisements by #BigOil is compelling.
There have been a few attempts to put a stop to misleading #BigOil advertising. Several oil and gas associations have been taken to task by regulators in Switzerland, the US and the UK for false or misleading advertisements. In South Africa, Shell was fined for claiming fracking never causes water contamination.
Advertising bans effective…? Maybe
It is unclear, however, what good a ban would do.
Take tobacco. The combined worldwide profits for #BigTobacco in 2015 was USD 62.3 billion (the last year available). That is USD 9,730 profit per smoker related death, up from USD 7,000 in the late 2000s. These are the deathly facts despite tobacco advertising having been banned on television and radio in US in 1970 and in print ads in 1997.
And when investors took to investing elsewhere after decades of pressure from sustainably minded investors, #BigTobacco simply bought back their shares and went private. They then went on to ply their awful trade more intensely in jurisdictions that had greater judicial and regulatory ‘flexibility.’
#BigOil commitment to reducing emissions: not nearly enough nor in time
#BigOil public support for climate action while lobbying and investing against it is devious and dangerous, to say the least. Advocating low-carbon solutions while dedicating massive investments to expand their fossil fuel business is hardly a commitment worth the branding paper it’s written on.
Says Influence Map, “Oil majors’ climate branding sounds increasingly hollow and their credibility is on the line.” This alone gives reason to ban #BigOil advertising.
Ban their Public Face
If there are lessons to draw from #BigTobacco is that an advert ban would have little effect on #BigOil’s current business trajectory.
It could, however, provide an effective rallying cry, a warning shot to the industry that lets them know hypocrisy and short sightedness cannot be tolerated.
Fossil fuels are responsible for 76% of all carbon emissions: the time for #BigOil to chart a responsible course is now.
If not, banning ads may be the least of their problems.