The Guardian, Sept 2019
Many people still know very little about what “climate crisis” actually means. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 84% of 18- to 24-year-olds agree they need more information to learn how to prevent climate breakdown. In addition, more than two-thirds of teachers in the UK believe there should be more teaching in schools about the climate crisis. And three-quarters feel they have not received appropriate training to educate their students on the subject.
Rather than spending £100m on an ad campaign to prepare the country for a no-deal Brexit, a better use of government resources would be a public information campaign on tackling the climate emergency. Such campaigns were very effective in the 20th century.
In 1918, the government set up a new department – The Ministry of Information (MOI) – to oversee publicity and propaganda. It was short-lived but returned during the second world war. Campaigns such as the Make Do and Mend and Dig for Victory projects, educated the public on the vital role that civilians could play in the war effort.
In the 1930s, communications activities became a function of government, including films, radio broadcasts and exhibitions. Artists and designers could be called up at any time. As a result, hundreds of designs were pre-prepared, instructing people to do a variety of things to help the war effort according to changing demands, from saving kitchen scraps to feeding chickens, to putting out paper, metal and bones for recycling to make “planes, guns, tanks, ships and ammunition”.
Dig for Victory was perhaps the most effective. Open spaces in gardens and public parks were transformed into makeshift allotments to growmuch-needed food. By 1942 half of the civilian population was part of the nation’s “garden front”. Similarly, Make Do and Mend – a slogan to encourage people to repair and rewear old fabrics after clothes rationing in 1941 – became an indispensable guide to life in Britain for rich and poor alike.
In similar fashion, a 2019 public information campaign could inform people about their role in the fight against global heating. Using lessons from past campaigns, a climate emergency campaign could harness the skills of contemporary artists, designers, and writers to create eye-catching and informative messages- creating a campaign that would illuminate ways in which members of the public can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, just as designers and illustrators such as Donia Nachshen and Abram Games did during the second world war. It would also call on experts to draw attention to the negative and positive impacts of our lifestyles. Few people are aware of how to properly recycle different types of plastic waste, or the detrimental impact of fast fashion on the planet, or how they can transform their gardens to encourage biodiversity. How can we galvanise people into taking immediate action if we know little to nothing about the effects of our lifestyles on the climate?
We must put pressure on the government to launch this campaign. It should be internet-based but include posters in public spaces printed on recycled paper and a leaflet delivered to every home in the country. Yes, we are in a climate emergency, but that means nothing if it is in word only. It’s up to the government to launch such a campaign because of its resources and ability to target every household.
We still have time to halt a climate emergency and shift to renewable energy sources. A government-sponsored campaign must go hand-in-hand with achieving targets for net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2025. Past public information campaigns show the need to target everyone in society to effect change.
• Joshua Curiel is a 19-year-old student and enviornmental activist. He co-wrote this opinion with Annal Lobbenberg, head of digital learning programmes at the British Library
Fossil Fuel Ad Campaigns Emphasize ‘Positives’ After Climate Science Denial PR Lands Industry in Hot Seat
Read time: 7 mins
By Sharon Kelly • Monday, September 16, 2019 – 19:09
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This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
Public relations experts keep a careful eye on the multitude of ways that PR can go wrong: tracking the year’s biggest “PR blunders,” assessing flopped ads for lessons learned, and noting when to remain silent and when to circulate a particular point of view.
PR blunders have been blamed for causing stock prices to dip, powerful executives to lose jobs, and occasionally even forced public apologies from PR representatives themselves.
But it takes a special kind of PR nightmare — a particularly unusual kind in the U.S., with its broad protections for free speech — to prompt investigations by state attorneys general into whether a company’s public messaging was so misleading and harmful that it should be considered illegal.
That is the situation facing one of the world’s most powerful industries, on one of the most consequential issues of our time, climate change. The subject of these investigations isn’t the direct harm from the fossil fuel industry’s actions, it’s the ways that companies communicated about their actions, and how that misled investors or the public.
And right on cue, the fossil fuel industry’s PR professionals have been stepping in to help reshape the narratives propping up their bottom lines.
Sign about what Exxon knew about climate change. Credit: John Duffy, CC BY 2.0
ExxonMobil, for example, currently faces investigations by multiple state attorneys general centering on how the oil giant communicated about climate change and the risk of climate regulation to investors and to the public.
In 2015, the New York state attorney general subpoenaed ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy, following an InsideClimate News investigative series, eight months in the making, that was one of three finalists for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
Last year, New York’s investigation ripened into a lawsuit, still pending.
“Investors put their money and their trust in Exxon — which assured them of the long-term value of their shares, as the company claimed to be factoring the risk of increasing climate change regulation into its business decisions,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement roughly a year ago, when her investigation turned into a lawsuit that claims ExxonMobil defrauded its investors. “Instead, Exxon built a facade to deceive investors into believing that the company was managing the risks of climate change regulation to its business when, in fact, it was intentionally and systematically underestimating or ignoring them, contrary to its public representations.”
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block a different investigation into ExxonMobil’s climate communications, this one by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
Big news: SCOTUS just rejected Exxon Mobil’s appeal to stop Massachusetts’ attorney general from forcing the oil giant to turn over documents detailing what and when it knew about burning fossil fuels causing climate change. http://news.trust.org/item/20190107143238-u421z/ …U.S. top court rejects Exxon in climate change document disputeRuling clears the way for Massachusetts attorney general to obtain records from Exxon Mobil to probe whether it concealed its knowledge of the role fossil fuels play in climate changenews.trust.org3,4008:48 AM – Jan 7, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy1,683 people are talking about this
In March, a report by the Climate Investigations Center tallied $1.4 billion worth of public relations, advertising, and communications contracts signed by energy and business trade associations from 2008 to 2017. One organization, the American Petroleum Institute (API), accounted for nearly half of that sum.
The Evolution of Fossil Fuel Messaging — and Climate Science Denial
Amid the investigations into their communications on climate change, many fossil fuel companies have been slowly re-tooling their messaging.
Some have acknowledged a need to transition away from fossil fuels — but at what critics respond would be a very slow pace.
Others have continued to push natural gas as a climate-friendly fossil fuel, despite the industry’s severe climate-changing methane problems. API, for example, has placed ads claiming natural gas can “help meet the growing global demand for sustainable energy” under the Washington Post’s “branded content platform,” as The Intercept’s Sharon Lerner reported in April.
Other campaigns ditch mention of climate change and pollution all together, instead focusing on the benefits of products made from fossil fuels.
During the Super Bowl in 2017, the American Petroleum Institute released an ad campaign called Power Past Impossible, touting the many uses of oil and natural gas and highlighting how dependent modern life is on the byproducts of these fossil fuels.
“Oil majors are projecting themselves as key players in the energy transition while lobbying to delay, weaken, or oppose meaningful climate policy,” Edward Collins of the UK-based think tank InfluenceMap said in a March statement accompanying a report he authored on public relations campaigns by oil and gas giants. “They advocate gradual implementation of market-based and technological climate solutions, but the latest [United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report makes clear that urgent policy action and limitations on fossil fuel use are needed to avoid dangerous climate change.”
The shift doesn’t spell the end of climate science denial — DeSmog’s database of individuals and organizations that seek to cast doubt on climate science or oppose action to prevent some of the worst effects of warming the world includes roughly 225 organizations — and that list continues to grow.
Climate sciences deniers, many with ties to the oil, gas, and coal industries, have also climbed to dizzying heights within the Trump administration, placing them in positions where they can wield power directly and also communicate doubt to the public. Vice President Mike Pence is closely tied to the Koch network and in 2016 said, regarding climate change, “I don’t know that that is a resolved issue in science today.”
And of course, there’s President Trump himself, who in June responded, “I believe that there’s a change in weather and I think it changes both ways,” when asked by Good Morning Britain if he believed in climate change.
Donald J. Trump✔@realDonaldTrump
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But some of the organizations and think tanks in DeSmog’s database have gotten a lot quieter when it comes to questioning climate science, even during the Trump administration — and a handful have dissolved entirely.
Take, for instance, the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a free market think tank that co-authored a 1991 report that read: “Currently, scientists disagree on whether global warming has already occurred, whether significant global warming will occur in the future, whether warming would be harmful or somewhat beneficial to humans and whether, if harmful, it is better to adjust to the warming or try to prevent it.”
A quarter century later, the organization carried a very different message to an industry conference. “It is no secret that the oil and gas industry has an image problem,” Jacki Pick of the NCPA reportedly told the Tyler Area Energy Summit in Texas in March 2017. “We don’t do a very good job of explaining the value of the industry.”
Later that year, the NCPA folded, citing “significant financial challenges over the last three years.”
‘A Crisis of Perception’
This year, the state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco’s chief executive similarly warned of the oil and gas industry’s image problem.
“My encounters in Davos showed me that fewer and fewer of our stakeholders accept logic and facts, least of all from us. We are therefore facing what I would call a crisis of perception,” Amin Nasser told an industry audience in February, according to The Guardian. “Because it threatens our industry’s very relevance, it puts our ability to supply ample, reliable, and affordable energy to billions around the world at risk, which in turn risks their energy security.”
The oil industry has had image problems before. The “Ethical Oil” ad campaign pitted Canadian oil against Middle Eastern oil producers. Credit: EthicalOil.org
In August, a top Chevron executive hinted that a group of major oil and gas companies plans to launch a new branding campaign, which she suggested would be modeled after the “Got Milk?” ad campaigns that launched in 1993.
“I think as an industry, we have an image that we need to change, where people equate what we do to their everyday life,” Kimberly S. McHugh, a Chevron vice president, said at the Summer NAPE Expo in Houston.
“What we do is noble,” she added, “we help humankind.”
That’s a message that the fossil fuel industry, particularly as investigations into their past communications continue, may be trumpeting a lot more loudly in coming days.
Or, in the words of McHugh at the NAPE Expo: “The world needs what we have.”Main image: Sunset over oil rig, Huntington Beach, California. Credit: Pete Markham, CC BY-SA 2.0
‘All Rhetoric and No Action’: Oil Giants Spent $1 Billion on Climate Lobbying and Ads Since Paris Pact, Says Report
Read time: 7 mins
By Sharon Kelly • Friday, March 22, 2019 – 09:00
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A new report by a British think tank estimates that since the 2015 Paris Agreement, the world’s five largest listed oil and gas companies spent more than $1 billion lobbying to prevent climate change regulations while also running public relations campaigns aimed at maintaining public support for climate action.
Combined, the companies spend roughly $200 million a year pushing to delay or alter climate and energy rules, particularly in the U.S. — while spending $195 million a year “on branding campaigns that suggest they support an ambitious climate agenda,” according to InfluenceMap, a UK-based non-profit that researches how corporations influence climate policy.
InfluenceMap cites as an example ExxonMobil’s heavily-touted algae-biofuels research, which the oil giant says “offers some of the greatest promise for next-generation biofuels” with significant climate benefits and has made it the focus of its “The Tiny Organism” ad campaign.
InfluenceMap notes that “detailed disclosures from the company show its goal of 10,000 barrels of bio-fuel a day would equate to only 0.2 percent of its current refinery capacity.”
“Oil majors are projecting themselves as key players in the energy transition while lobbying to delay, weaken, or oppose meaningful climate policy,” Edward Collins, author of the new report, said in a statement. “They advocate gradual implementation of market-based and technological climate solutions, but the latest [United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report makes clear that urgent policy action and limitations on fossil fuel use are needed to avoid dangerous climate change.”
Today’s report updates the group’s 2016 report that estimated these companies spent $115 million a year lobbying against climate regulations — even policies companies said they supported.
“Say one thing,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, as he described InfluenceMap’s 2016 research on the floor of the U.S. Senate, “do another.”
The new estimates suggest that spending to influence climate policy by the five oil giants has increased sharply over the last two years.
It also comes as global banks are investing more in fossil fuel projects since the Paris Agreement. In addition, the five oil companies are spending heavily on finding and producing more fossil fuels — and putting only a tiny fraction of their budgets into efforts to transition away from climate-altering fuels.
“This spending accompanies the expansion of the companies’ operations with combined annual sales of over $1 [trillion] and profits of $55 [billion in] 2018, the vast majority of which is oil and gas related,” InfluenceMap wrote. “Combined capital investment will increase to $115 [billion] in 2019 but only about 3 percent of this will go to low carbon investments, according to company disclosures.”
Lobbying One Message While Advertising Another
The report focuses on the world’s five largest listed oil and gas companies, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, and Chevron, leaving out state-controlled oil giants like Saudi Aramco and China’s Sinopec.
InfluenceMap examined the extent to which each company’s branding efforts and advertising campaigns focused on climate change.
Shell’s branded content about its “Sky” emissions scenario in The New York Times.
“The research suggests that Total maintains the highest proportion of its branding activities on climate (29 percent),” the new report finds. “Following this, ExxonMobil, which has faced significant negative media attention in 2018, allocates 19 percent. Shell and BP followed with 16 percent and 14 percent respectively. Chevron appears far less concerned, using approximately 2 percent of its branding budget on climate issues in 2018.”
The think tank’s research also looked at what the companies were saying to government regulators, either directly or through industry groups funded by the oil majors.
“Since Paris, Chevron, BP and ExxonMobil have led in opposition to a range of climate-motivated policy stands,” InfluenceMap wrote. “For example, in 2018 both BP and Chevron have directly lobbied U.S. policymakers for a rollback on U.S. methane requirements.” (Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and the major constituent in natural gas.)
The report credits Shell and Total for becoming “more positive on a number of climate policy issues” since 2015, but adds that they “continue to support policies that will extend the role for fossil fuels in the energy mix and remain part of highly climate-oppositional trade associations.”
Mixed Messages and Industry Trade Groups
At times, the public stances of a corporation’s leadership stand starkly at odds with the messages from industry groups funded by that same corporation.
For example, on electric vehicles, Shell’s CEO Ben Van Beurden had a very direct and simple message in July 2018. “We need battery electric vehicles,” he said. And a year earlier, at the oil industry conference, CERAWeek, in 2017, he expressed support for “regulations that speed up investment in low carbon technologies and ― at the same time ― move consumer demand.”
Oil and gas lobbying on climate policies through trade associations. Credit: InfluenceMap, 2019
In May 2018, the American Petroleum Institute, the largest U.S. trade group for oil and gas, pushed the U.S. Congress to move in the opposite direction by rolling back incentives for electric vehicles.
“American Petroleum Institute (API) opposes mandates and subsidies,” API testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, according to InfluenceMap’s new report. The fossil fuel trade group voiced its opposition for subsidies for electric vehicles, adding that “the level of market penetration achieved by electric vehicles should not rely on government interference.”
The report also notes the difficulty in tracking corporate lobbying in the U.S. given the rise of so-called “dark money” groups and the lack of transparency surrounding political contributions in the U.S. “Political contributions that were made without full disclosure of their ultimate source totaled $539 [million] in the 2018 election cycle according to OpenSecrets.org,” the report says.
InfluenceMap also dives deep into how companies used social media to influence Americans during the mid-term elections last year.
“During this time ExxonMobil was by far the most prolific spender, racking up over $400K in four weeks on over 360 individual political ads,” InfluenceMap wrote. “The ads urge rejecting specific ballot initiatives whilst promoting the benefits of increased fossil fuel production. Facebook’s data indicates that ExxonMobil’s ads made over 10 million ‘impressions’ in this time with users in Colorado, Texas, and Louisiana.”
Oil industry spending on Facebook and Instagram ads leading up to the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. Credit: InfluenceMap, 2019
All of this spending has implications for shareholders, InfluenceMap observed — and some shareholder groups appear to be listening.
“InfluenceMap’s research confirms a widely held suspicion that Big Oil’s glossy sustainability reports and shiny climate statements are all rhetoric and no action,” Catherine Howarth, Chief Executive of ShareAction, a UK charity focused on responsible investment, said in a statement accompanying the report. “These companies have mastered the art of corporate doublespeak — by boasting about their climate credentials while quietly using their lobbying firepower to sabotage the implementation of sensible climate policy and pouring millions into groups that engage in dirty lobbying on their behalf.”
DeSmog has reached out to ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, and Chevron for comment.
“We firmly reject the premise of this report. We are very clear about our support for the Paris agreement, and the steps that we are taking to help meet society’s needs for more and cleaner energy,” Shell said in a statement provided to The Guardian. “We make no apology for talking to policymakers and regulators around the world to make our voice heard on crucial topics such as climate change and how to address it.”
“We have not been afforded the opportunity to review the data but we disagree with the assertion that Chevron has engaged in ‘climate-related branding and lobbying’ that is ‘overwhelmingly in conflict’ with the Paris Agreement,” Chevron said in a statement provided to DeSmog, adding that the company was taking “prudent, cost-effective actions” and seeking “balanced and transparent” policies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. “We believe climate change is real and human activity contributes to it. We accept the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
Updated: This article has been updated on March 22, 2019 to reflect a statement from Chevron.
Main image: Climate policy grades, on a scale of A (highly supportive) through F (highly oppositional) for oil companies from InfluenceMap. Credit: InfluenceMap, 2019