Extreme Temperature Diary- Saturday June 8th, 2024/Main Topic: Calling for a Ban on Fossil Fuel Advertising

UN Leader Calls Out PR Firms for Fossil Fuel Advertising on Climate Change (msn.com)

UN Leader Calls Out PR Firms for Fossil Fuel Advertising on Climate Change

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres used his World Environment Day address Wednesday to call for a ban on advertising by the fossil fuels industry, and he asked public relations firms and ad agencies to stop representing fossil fuels.

“I call on these companies to stop acting as enablers to planetary destruction,” Guterres said in a speech on climate action delivered at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. “Fossil fuels are not only poisoning our planet, they’re toxic for your brand,” he said.

Guterres accused oil, gas and coal companies of mounting greenwashing and disinformation campaigns and compared them to the misleading PR campaigns once used by tobacco companies to evade the harm from smoking.

“Many governments restrict or prohibit advertising for products that harm human health, like tobacco,” Guterres said. “Some are now doing the same with fossil fuels.”

Guterres’ speech comes amid mounting evidence of misleading public information efforts by fossil fuel interests. Several investigations and academic studies document how some fossil fuel companies have used their advertising and lobbying campaigns to sow doubt about the science on climate change. In some cases, such as with Exxon Mobil, that included hiding what the companies themselves knew about the harm that would come from burning more oil.

Exxon Mobil systematically misrepresented what they knew about climate change and misrepresented what mainstream scientists were saying,” Harvard University science historian and author Naomi Oreskes told Newsweek in an interview last October.

Related video: UN chief António Guterres aims at the fossil fuel industry and calls for windfall tax on profits (The Canadian Press)

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Oreskes and co-author Geoffrey Supran’s peer-reviewed work includes a January 2023 study showing that Exxon had developed—but withheld from the public—remarkably accurate climate modeling decades ago that predicted some of the heat and other impacts we experience today.

In April, a bicameral congressional investigation concluded that oil and gas companies had engaged in PR campaigns to “confuse and mislead the public” about climate science while moving to ensure the future use of more fossil fuels.

“Big Oil’s deception campaign evolved from explicit denial of the basic science underlying climate change to deception, disinformation, and doublespeak,” the investigators found.

All of this adds to pressure on the PR firms and ad agencies that represent coal, oil and gas companies and their trade groups.

“Essentially every misleading thing that anyone thinks about climate change began with an ad agency or PR agency working with fossil fuels,” he said.

Meisel said Guterres’ speech is validating for people involved in a movement within the public relations industry who are trying to align their work with their values on climate change. He said the speech also sends a message to those firms that represent fossil fuel companies.

“I think for them this is the sign that it’s time to plan to get out,” he said. “You may not be able to do it tomorrow, but this is the starting gun.”

Meisel said that more than 1,000 agencies in 64 countries have taken the group’s pledge. The largest PR firm on that list is Allison Worldwide, a San Francisco-based company that earns five of five stars on Newsweek‘s ranking of America’s Best Public Relations Agencies.

Allison’s Executive Vice President of Purpose Whitney Dailey told Newsweek that the decision to join the pledge last fall was motivated by both company values and business strategy.

“We are sending a signal to the marketplace and industry that you can do this, you can refuse work from oil, coal and gas and still be profitable,” Dailey said, adding that the pledge demonstrates their climate commitment to potential like-minded clients.

In his address, Guterres made a comparison to what are probably the most famous—if fictional—figures in advertising.

“[Fossil fuel companies] have been aided and abetted by advertising and PR companies, Mad Men—remember the TV series?—fueling the madness,” Guterres said, a reference to the popular long-running AMC series about a Madison Avenue advertising firm in the 1960s.

The Mad Men series finale found lead character Don Draper, a charismatic but morally conflicted ad man who had helped tobacco companies dodge health concerns, rethinking his life at a seaside meditation retreat. The climactic scene left open the question of whether Draper would mend his ways.

Dailey laughed at the Mad Men reference but also used it for a moment of reflection. As members of an industry designed to influence, she said, PR and advertising professionals have an important role to play in social issues like climate change.

“We have the literal ability to shape cultural conversations,” she said. “What type of conversations do we want to be shaping?”

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