Climate Change Denial

December 6, 2007

Adverting Disaster

George Marshall @ 5:35 pm

Four more spectacularly idiotic adverts that will have future generations boggled eyed with astonishment.

indian-ford-ad-for-web.jpgHere’s a cracker: the two page promotional ad for the Indian Ford Endeavour which appears to have demolished the arctic single handed. Look closely and you will see the polar bears round the back stranded on a shrinking scrap of ice sheet

No doubt the sight of all that ice- well any ice actually- goes down well in India, but it is a remarkable piece of hubris to use the symbol of the international climate change campaign to publicise a gas guzzler SUV, especially given the legitimate concerns about the climate impact of India emissions if it follows a high carbon development path – such as gas guzzling status symbols

Manu Sharma, who lives in New Delhi, writes a long complaint about this ad in his excellent blog Orange Hues (link.. ).  He concludes that ‘it’s probably the work of an ignorant graphic designer approved by some equally dim executives at Ford’. I am not so sure. The choice of imagery is so inappropriate that it feels like a deliberate choice to me, especially as the byline of the ad, as it appeared in the Indian media, is ‘Freedom’. It either says ‘we don’t believe’ or it says ‘we know, we know, but we really don’t give a stuff’.

freelander-for-web.jpg
And here’s more of the same. After the melting arctic, the next best known poster images for climate change are the melting mountain snow caps. So what better backdrop for the Ford Freelander? We know that Kilamanjaro is heading to be snow free and the British Mount Snowdon will be Snowgone by 2030. This mountain looks like Mount Fuji to me. I have no idea what is happening to Fuji’s snow cover, but I understand was snow free all last winter. Of course this need not be climate change – it could be a sign that it is about to blow. What a great place to park your tank.

By the way, that little ‘offset’ logo in the corner says that its emissions have been ‘offset’ for the first 45,000 miles. Oh good. That’s all alright then

ecowarrior-for-web.jpg
Which leads nicely into this UK ad that is meant to make us all feel good about solutions to climate change. The small text reads “Save energy while you sleep. You don’t have to be an eco-warrior to help the environment. It can be easy”.

Apparently the Sky digital boxes don’t sit around on standby but turn themselves off at night. All well and good. But the amount of energy saved is extremely small in the overall context of what we need to do. This is another of those ‘it’s easy peasy’ denial strategies I whinge about regularly (see my 18th September posting).

 Any emissions that are saved are far outweighed by the damage caused by this kind of advert: It’s a kind of reverse offset. It sends a double-page spread message through the lifestyle magazines that climate change is trivial, the solutions are ‘easy’ and that ‘sexy people’ (as the readers no doubt aspire to be) can legitimately sleep through it all.

And finally, the abject horror of this pro-coal propaganda ad by General Electric that uses anorexic models to sex up the world’s filthiest and most dangerous industry.

Well, it’s meant to be sexy but it looks to me like the poor skinny waifs are being worked to death. And how sexy can coal be? I’ll bet that whoever made this ‘ironic’ ad has never been any closer to a coal pit than his electric toaster. My grandfather worked his whole life down a pit until his back was broken in a roof collapse. His lungs rattled with phlegm and coal dust all the way to his premature death . Now that would make a sexy ad.

This is a hard core denial ad. It’s aim is to undermine environmental concerns. Its core message is: “don’t believe those whingeing (ugly) greenies- coal is great and will never be banned’’.

Did not General Electric and Ford also endorse a ‘Global Roundtable on Climate Change position that stated “climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels,  is an urgent problem that requires global action”? No contradictions there.

9 Responses to “Adverting Disaster”

  1. Manu Sharma says:

    Excellent work, George. You must keep the critiques coming. The success of advertising industry is built upon the extent to which they are able to create these happy / feel-good associations in the public consciousness. So naturally they are quite sensitive of criticism in the public domain. They don’t want people to see behind the facade. They don’t want you and I to peel away the surface and reveal the ugly inside.

    I’d urge you to keep exposing them. If you build enough momentum, the “creative directors” in these ad agencies will think twice the next time they sit down to conceive another meaningless commercial to take advantage of the green trend.

    There’s reason to be optimistic. After I exposed the Ford ad (http://tinyurl.com/2xwn9j), it was picked up by few blogs and subsequently the polar bears disappeared (with rest of the imagery left intact) from the press ads. Ford Endeavour micro-site went a step further and completely removed the image.

  2. Hi George
    Great work as usual!
    I just wanted to add something about the coal ad. The song in the background is of course the coal-minnig classic “16 Tons” made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford (authorship of the song is disputed but I won’t get into that right now). As you may recall, and as you can clearly hear in the ad, the chorus goes “you load 16 tons and whaddaya get/another day older and deeper in debt/St. Peter don’t call me cuz I can’t go/I owe my soul to the company store”. That reference in the last line is to the stores that were owned by the coal companies and where the miners often had little choice but to buy their goods. Naturally these were being sold at rip off prices but because the stores were owned by the coal companies they roped the workers in by giving them “scrip”s – basically fake money that allowed them to get goods as an advance on their wages. So often the money was spent long before it was earned and the workers were kept in a form of indentured servitude. Working to pay off the debt to their bosses. There’s a good link that goes into detail about this, and the song:
    http://www.fortunecity.com/tinpan/parton/2/sixteen2.html
    The fact that GE should be trying to show how great “new coal” is (is that like “new coke”?) by not only sticking hard hats on a bunch of chicks in sweaty skimpy clothes, but ALSO using a song which was anything but a celebration of the industry, but rather an indictment of the way miners were practically enslaved stretches irony to the point of real grotesquerie!
    It really makes you wonder who is coming up with these ideas.

  3. Peter Winters says:

    Well done, George,

    It seems abundantly clear that some corporate interests are sufficiently threatened by the issue of climate change that they are embarking on propaganda campaigns along the lines of “we are getting more environmental”, plus we offer “balance” and/or “security” and/or “home comforts” and /or “social welfare” and/or “cheaper / good for economy”. That what they are doing is not nearly sufficient to meet the requirements of what climate scientists tell us we should aim for to avoid the risk of catastrophic climate change, is not addressed!

    I have just moved to Montreal (I am married to a Canadian) and have seen a couple of TV campaigns recently that are in line with this, see below.

    1. Shell’s Advertising for their Oil Sands

    http://www.shell.ca/home/content/ca-en/news_and_library/features/feature_oilsands_commercial.html

    This is a TV commercial I saw a few months back about Shell’s work with the Canadian oil sands. The excavation of Canadian’s oil sands is one of the great global threats to our climate, but you would never know it from this advert. It is also a major reason why Canada is doing so badly amongst countries dealing with climate change (for a league table of how countries are doing, see the 2008 Climate Change Performance Index by German Watch http://www.germanwatch.org/klima/ccpi.htm ). William Marsden reviews this TV campaign (although not this exact advert) in his recent book about the oil sands called “Stupid to the last drop; How Alberta is bringing environmental Armageddon to Canada (and doesn’t seem to care)”.

    On p.169, he writes “The company runs a national television advertisement to convince the Canadian public that Shell is acting responsibly in restoring the land to its former state. The ad shows a few grazing bison and a Shell employee in a field of barley talking to a group of local Aboriginal elders. The voice-over claims that Shell is getting advice from the Natives on how to restore the land. This begs the obvious question: what do Natives know about restoring the land? They’ll teach you how to gut a moose, but they don’t know how to restore the land for the simple reason that they’ve never destroyed it.”

    2. ABEC’s Coal Adverts

    http://www.clean-coal.info/drupal/abec_50_percent

    Take a look at this advert for coal which is current being broadcast. (There was another one showing an imaginary coal power station in a forest by a beautiful river, which I haven’t been able to track down!). Anyway, it’s clear that this advert stands for “abundant”, “provides energy-security”, “at low cost” with images / sound track of “fun”, “homeliness / security”. The advert leads us to a couple of websites which talk a lot about environmental benefits, at :
    http://www.americaspower.org/
    http://www.balancedenergy.org/abec/index.html

    Bottom line, this is all propaganda with the future of the planet at stake …

    Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behaviour to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.
    – Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda And Persuasion

  4. Peter Winters says:

    Just a small addition to my last post, you can see both of the coal adverts at http://www.americaspower.org/ – including the futuristic coal station in a forest by a beautiful river. The advert is labelled “Technology can take us to clean”.

  5. Jimmer King says:

    The America’s Power website is scary: http://www.americaspower.org/Ask-The-Experts/ where within their total worship of coal they state “coal plants are now 70% cleaner than they were in the 1970s. Is that really true?

    It is true!”

    but they cunningly don’t include carbon dioxide in their list of pollutants. Wow, that’s amazng!

  6. Fred Moolten says:

    The video “Easter Island” has been receiving some attention as a means of alerting the wider community to the danger of ignoring environmental destruction. Polynesian tribes settled this remote Pacific island a millennium ago, built a thriving civilization, and then destroyed it and themselves through reckless misuse of their environment. The metaphor for today’s world is clear to those who hear their story.

    The five-minute music video relates that story in a manner that is entertaining, while preserving the underlying seriousness. It can be viewed at YouTube at Easter Island, or can be found there by searching YouTube with the terms “Easter Island Global Warming”, and choosing the “grastog” video.

  7. Peter Winters says:

    Comment #5, Jimmer – well spotted about the Ask the Experts comment.

    As a result, I have just asked this question to them, through the website (see bottom of page at .. http://www.americaspower.org/Ask-The-Experts/ )

    When you say that coal is 70% cleaner now than in the 1970s, why do you miss out Carbon Dioxide? Isn’t that the one we are all concerned about now?

    I wonder if they will respond!

  8. Peter Winters says:

    Further to my comment above (#7), I have just had this reply from Americas Power. I have my own thoughts about it, but I will them to myself for the time being.

    Message from American Power, 10 January 2008

    From:
    Sent: January-10-08 2:54 PM
    To:
    Subject: Thank you for visiting Americas Power!

    Thanks for checking in with us.

    The issue of global warming is probably the single biggest challenge facing America’s energy sector. This issue not only affects electricity generators who use coal, natural gas, and oil to meet their customer’s electricity needs, but also could likely impact the types of cars we drive as consumers.

    But the fact remains, there has never been an environmental challenge facing the coal-based electricity sector for which technology didn’t provide the ultimate solution – and those who are familiar with the advancements in carbon capture technology recognize that meeting the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector is not likely to be the exception to that rule.

    That is why America’s coal-based electricity providers are working with Department of Energy on a $1.5 billion project to build a coal plant that captures close to 100% of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. The “FutureGen” plant will capture carbon dioxide for permanent storage before it is released into the atmosphere. The plant will bury its heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions deep underground in a saltwater aquifer.

    Regards,
    Americans for Balanced Energy Choices

  9. Kate says:

    America watching too much TV is not only bad for our health, but it is obviously giving the citizens misconceptions about their product use and buying power. These advertisements were shocking and consumers need to refuse these so that new, environmentally products come out.

    By the way, that last advertisement does not bode well for “clean” coal. Coal is anything but sexy- causing lung disease and tearing families apart.

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