A mock up of one of BP’s ad with a warning about fossil fuels
A mock up of one of BP’s ad with a warning about fossil fuels
Image: ClientEarth (www.thewholetruth.uk)

Lawyers with the environmental legal nonprofit ClientEarth filed a groundbreaking complaint against BP for greenwashing in their ads. They’re also calling for a ban on all fossil fuel ads, unless they come with “a tobacco-style health warning” about the dangers the industry poses to the planet.

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And they’re not asking for vague warnings about how oil and gas might have something to do with the Earth warming—they want the labels to quote the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports about how dangerous the industries are.

“This would make sure the public is not misled, and fossil fuel companies are accountable for the damage they do,” ClientEarth said in a statement.

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They filed the first-of-its-kind complaint to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Wednesday. The 100-page dossier alleges that BP’s new “Keep Advancing” and “Possibilities Everywhere” campaigns, which describe the company’s gas as “clean burning” and prominently feature shots of renewable energy technology and cute young people driving electric cars and riding bikes, are so misleading and rife with “greenwashing” that they breach international guidelines on corporate conduct.

Basically all fossil fuel advertisements are masking something about the oil and gas industry (I hear that saying your products are the biggest contributors to the greatest threat humanity has ever faced is bad for business), but these ones are particularly bad.

In one TV ad, a man with a warm British accent says, “We need to learn from the past, work harder than ever, to create cleaner, greener, smarter energy safely,” over shots of workers installing a solar panel and a dude riding his bike up the street. “The world needs progress, seeking new possibilities everywhere so we can keep powering dreams and ambitions.” So inspiring!

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You’d think the campaign was created by some new London-based sustainable energy firm, not the British multinational oil and gas company responsible for the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010 which killed 11 workers and resulted in millions of barrels of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Only five companies in the entire world are responsible for more carbon emissions than BP. Yet their ads conveniently omit this. And though it’s making some investments into renewables, more than 96 percent of BP’s capital expenditures are on oil and gas.

“BP is spending millions on an advertising campaign to give the impression that it’s racing to renewables, that its gas is cleaner, and that it is part of the climate solution,” said ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac in a statement. “According to its own figures, BP is spending less than four pounds in every hundred on low-carbon investments each year. The rest is fueling the climate crisis.”

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A sample “tobacco-style” warning label created by ClientEarth.
A sample “tobacco-style” warning label created by ClientEarth.
Image: ClientEarth

In a statement on Wednesday, BP said they haven’t seen the complaint yet, but that they “strongly reject the suggestion that our advertising is misleading.

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BP is of course well known as a major oil and gas producer. We are also committed to advancing a low carbon future,” the statement continues.So one of the purposes of this advertising campaign is to let people know about some of the possibilities we see to do that, for example in wind, solar and electric vehicle charging, as well as in natural gas and advanced fuels.”​

The thing is, if they’re serious about their commitment to “advancing a low carbon future,” they should know that means we can’t produce new oil and gas. Study after study shows this. Heck, a new one that the Global Gas and Oil Network released Thursday found that “carbon emissions from oil and gas in operating fields and mines push the world beyond 1.5°C of warming by 2030

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“Any expansion of oil and gas production would take us beyond 2°C,” the new report states. 

The United Nations has made it clear that warming past that 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahnreheit) could usher in massive heat waves, the loss of nearly all coral reefs, and most Arctic sea ice. It would also subject millions of people to life-threatening heatwaves and floods and generally cause catastrophe.

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These BP’s ads are hardly the only sunny fossil fuel company ads that gloss over the mass-genocidal effects of the oil and gas industry. I nearly lost my mind over another BP ad on Twitter that asked me to calculate my carbon footprint, as though I should feel guilty for occasionally forgetting to turn off my hall light (I’m getting better!) while the company continues to produce 1.4 million barrels of oil a day. Other oil companies have followed similar paths. A recent Shell ad, for instance, features influencers attempting to reduce their fossil fuel emissions while driving across the country, as though Shell isn’t the seventh biggest carbon emitter in the world.

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But yeah, the ads are fine! Just add the warnings. And make them really, really big...like, big enough to cover the whole thing.

Staff writer, Earther

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