Climate Change Denial

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August 18, 2008


George Marshall @ 1:34 pm

These adverts are not greenwash or misinformation. They manage to use the images and language of climate change without in any way recognising the scale of the threat or their own responsibility for the problem. Innocent, cynical or deeply disturbed? What do you think?

Last year General Motors hit a smart way to market their notorious gas guzzling tank, the Hummer- they would encourage hummer owners to offer emergency relief in ‘natural’ disasters. Naomi Klein said about this idea: “it’s a bit like the Marlboro man doing grief counselling in a cancer ward”.

And then to top it all GM broadcast this ad. When I watch it don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or scream and I usually alternate insanely between them. Alison Wright, who sent it in, says: “The message is not only that a Hummer will help you survive the apocalypse, but drivers of Hummers are good, selfless people who will help others in need. Talk about irony….”

In the States NBC refused to show this ad- and no doubt GM was delighted to stir up a bit of publicity from that. By the way, that little “crooks and liars” at the end is the logo of the group that put it up on you-tube. This is a genuine ad.

A more recent Hummer ad glorifies the burning of electricity in a curious parody of energy saving ads. Link… I really do feel that there is some clever and deliberate marketing behind this.

In a previous posting we noted the ubiquitous practice of naming SUVs after murdered tortured and exterminated indigenous groups. Volkswagen’s excursion into the market is named the Touareg after an ancient nomadic tribe of the Southern Sahara which has been viciously repressed by the Niger government. Volkswagen have not only stolen their name but shoot most of the publicity for their car in sand dunes. Mark Bennett, who sent it in, writes: “It uses the name of a people traditionally living on minimal resources to suggest some sort of false connection between an enormous tank of a 4×4 and outdoor, rugged and adventurous living. The carbon emissions then increase global warming, adding to the gradual desertification of Sub Saharan Africa and more people living in deserts.”

The ironies run even deeper. In Niger the Touareg minority has started an armed rebellion to defend its lands against mining for uranium to fuel the reborn ‘zero carbon’ nuclear power industry. And back in Germany Volkswagen has tooled up the Toureg with a machine gun on top for sale as an military vehicle. LinkHow long before Touaregs are shooting down real Touaregs?

Marianne sent me a photo of this promitional can of Castlemain XXXX with “all this global warming is making me thirsty – thank xxxx for that” written on the side. She says “I was so stunned i had to take a picture much to the bemusement of the in-laws!” It’s another example of the ho ho macho ironic bring it on posturing we’ve seen before. The drought in Australia has become so sustained and serious that urban areas such as Sydney have been recycling the treated water from sewage plants. So, ho ho for global warming- a glorious future drinking piss. Got to be better than paying to get it in a tinnie.

Graham spotted this advert by South Africa airways of a plane flying over a disintegrating ice sheet. He says: “Once again it’s hard to believe there was any naivety behind the choice of image, it seems to me to be very much an “up-yours!”statement and the caption would seem to support this – the melting Arctic ice being a mere side show, an entertainment to be viewed from your window as you cruise past burning thousands of litres of aviation fuel”. The caption reads “For those occasions when there is a better show outside you can always pause the movie inside”.

And finally here’s one of my own. I was minding my own business coming out of a meeting at the University of Oxford Centre for Environment. I was accosted by enthusiastic hawkers at the gates who thrusted a free bag into my hands on behalf of those deeply green and globally concerned people at BP. Nice to know that they have found a way of blowing their immorally high profits. When I read the attached card my irritation passed into dumb astonishment. On the front was a picture of scorching desert with the caption “Ever wanted to go to one of the hottest places on earth?” and on the back was the BP logo with the heading “We’ll take you there, and beyond”.

The text is offering graduates a junket to Houston to experience the wonders of BP’s whizz bang headquarters and its “virtual reality 3-D imaging room that allows you to explore energy reserves….it’s a chance to see some really hot stuff- in a part of the world that does get a little warm at times”. Well clearly the writers are permanently locked into their virtual reality headsets if they can fail to see the bitter ironies in all this.

Many many thanks to everyone who sent these in. Please if you see a ludicrous advert sent it to me at When I have enough I will post them up and the cream of the crop will be featured at some point in the Guardian newspaper.

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  1. emissionary says:

    What about recent billboards for 4x4s with slogan “put your Carbon footprint down!” boasting emissions of only . . . (200 gm/km?) from a (zoom, zoom trearaway) Lexus hybrid 4×4?

    And another billboard for a zoom-zoom car (Alfa Romeo?) with the slogan “passionate for the planet” or similar. It ‘boasted’ the car’s emissions, but they were not low.

    Both ads struck me as in-your-face pisstakes of those expressing concerns on CC.

    And wisdom tells me we can expect no different – from those for whom the discomfort of self-control is more than they can handle, and from those ad designers charged with gaining market share among said group. Wd complaints to Advertising Standards Council gain anything?

  2. Jeremy says:

    It’s the gratuitous earth shot at the end of the Hummer ads that gets me. Still, I expect I was not alone in rejoicing at the news that sales of the beasts are in freefall…

  3. Well, to be fair, I think “Castlemaine XXXX” isn’t contributing that much to global warming. In fact, they’re probably on the opposite side of all this — as production of malt barley decreases causing their prices to go up, brewers will need to find a way to cope (either raise beer prices or reduce alcohol content).

    So why did they write those words on the promotional can? That’s a good question…

    — bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  4. Johnnie says:

    I agree with you — especially on the beer ad… I try to comfort myself with the thought that these ads demonstrate taht cliatme change is so ‘acccepted’ that is can be the basis for a (admitedly purile) advertisement. I *think* this is a good thing. My fear is that as the world’s population comes to grips with climate change disasters, it will become necessary to apply selectivity to resource allocation e.g

  5. Mark says:

    Greenwashing ads are now ubiquitous. I was just pondering the insincerity of the Toyota(?) television advert where artists come construct a car out of sticks and moss in a beautiful high mountain valley, and then it all gradually blows away back into the earth. Oh, that the human impact on our planet was so benign.

  6. Tim Holmes says:

    “Other maladaptive responses to fear and frustration can include resistance and counterproductive behaviors that may in fact increase one’s objective risk to external danger (e.g., Gray and Ropeik, 2002). Survey studies have found, for example, that one common response to information about the threats of climate change is a desire to buy a sports utility vehicle (SUV) as a means of protecting against an unpleasant or unpredictable environment (FrameWorks Institute, 2001). Unfortunately, of course, SUVs at current low levels of fuel efficiency exacerbate the climate problem …” (Susanne C. Moser, “More bad news: the risk of neglecting emotional responses to climate change information”, in Susanne C. Moser & Lisa Dilling (eds), Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 69)

    Which is where GM steps in …

  7. Rebecca says:

    Greenwashing and climate-change denial.

    I have visited this site a few times, and thought you might like to see these.

    The links are about the Coopers brand of beer, about the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission cracking down on unproven claims.

    The ACCC have also put out information about greenwashing and the trade practices act.

    Thought the links might brighten your day.

  8. Kris of Sydney says:

    “Sydney ha[s] been recycling the treated water from sewage plants.”

    Wow, you have got this so far wrong I don’t know where to start.

    Yes, our major dam was low during the decade-long drought. It’s now back up over 60%.

    Recycling treated water from sewage plants was ONE mooted solution to the problem when our dams were at their lowest point. Our state government has begun work on a desalination plant.

    I might go crack a cold one and drink to how ill-informed Mr Marshall is.

  9. John Revington says:

    Perhaps Mr Marshall is not so ill-informed.

    Below is an excerpt from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, 25 October 2005

    “Recycled effluent is already in Sydney’s drinking water system, undercutting the State Government’s claim that people will not drink it because of health fears, water experts say.

    “When a toilet is flushed or a washing machine drained in Katoomba the water eventually makes its way to taps in Richmond and Windsor, says a former Sydney Water executive, Charles Essery.

    “Treated sewage from Goulburn and Lithgow also ends up in Sydney’s water catchment, he said, adding that the release of treated effluent was licensed by the Environment Protection Authority.

    “The Hawkesbury’s 52,000 residents have for years been drinking a mix of treated effluent, rainwater and water from the Hawkesbury River.

    “Everyone thinks Warragamba Dam is what we would class as virgin water,” Dr Essery said. He is one of a number of water experts taking part in a three-month investigation into Sydney’s water shortage conducted by Foxtel’s The Weather Channel .”What people don’t know is that sewage and stormwater from Goulburn and Lithgow go into the various rivers that feed Warragamba Dam so that everyone in Sydney drinks water that has either passed through someone else’s body or gone through the streets of those places.””

    To read the full article go to:

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