We Need To Stop The Fossil Fuel Industry’s PR Machine

Now that Joe Biden is officially President, we’re about to witness the greatest propaganda effort ever put forward by the fossil fuel industry to try and block, water…

Now that Joe Biden is officially President, we’re about to witness the greatest propaganda effort ever put forward by the fossil fuel industry to try and block, water down, or delay meaningful climate action.

To do so, the industry will rely on one of the weapons that they’ve used for decades to block climate action: advertising and public relations.

As the journalist Amy Westervelt documented in her incredible podcast, “The Mad Men of Climate Denial,” the fossil fuel industry has been relying on PR and Ad agencies to maintain their economic and political power since the earliest days of coal, oil and gas. Many of the misinformation tactics we associate with Big Tobacco (fake scientists, bogus reports, outright lies) were actually pioneered by Big Oil’s “polluter relations” firms.

Over the decade or so that I’ve been a climate activist, I’ve had to go up against these PR efforts numerous times. Every time we launched a new campaign, whether it was fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, pushing universities to divest from fossil fuels, or educating the public about what #ExxonKnew, we’d end up facing off against a multi-million PR effort by the industry and their front groups. As the New York Times documented in a major expose this November, the PR agency FTI Consulting set up an entire fake news-service to combat the fossil fuel divestment movement!

That’s why my organization Fossil Free Media, a nonprofit media lab supporting the movement to end fossil fuels, has come together with partner organizations like the Hip Hop Caucus, Sum of Us, and the Climate Investigations Center, to launch a new campaign called Clean Creatives, with the goal of ending this Polluter Relations industry by pressuring PR and Ad agencies to stop working with fossil fuel corporations.

You can learn more about the effort by visiting CleanCreatives.org or checking out the video below:

Our theory of change is simple: if we can get the world’s largest and most powerful PR and Ad agencies to stop working for the fossil fuel industry, we’ll dramatically weaken the industry’s ability to pollute the public debate and block climate action. Sure, there will always be some hack that’s willing to lobby on behalf of Big Oil, but much of the industry’s political and cultural power comes from working with big, well-respected agencies like Edelman, Ogilvy, Wavemaker, and BBDO. If these agencies agreed to go fossil free it would help turn Big Oil into something more like Big Tobacco: a social pariah that’s lost most of its sway in Washington.

In order to get there, we need your help. If you know anyone who works for a PR or Ad agency (or you do yourself!) please tell them to sign our Clean Creatives pledge to not work with the fossil fuel industry. If you work for a business or organization that hires PR or Ad agencies, you can sign another pledge to say you won’t hire an agency that works with fossil fuels. And no matter where you are, when you see polluter propaganda—on TV, on billboards, or on social media—you can help us call it out. One great way to do this is by becoming what the author and climate justice activist Mary Heglar has dubbed a “Green Troll,” someone who uses humor, sarcasm, and justifiable rage to push back on industry bullsh*t online.

With the plummeting cost of renewables, increased public concern about the climate emergency, and a new US administration that’s committed at least rhetorically to bold climate action, the fossil fuel industry knows it’s facing an existential threat. Their only chance at survival is to trick the public and policy makers into thinking that there’s no need to regulate fossil fuels because the industry is already acting on its own. But to pull off that deception, they’re going to need the help of the world’s spin masters, advertisers, and PR whizzes. Together, we can make sure that these creatives don’t fuel the world’s destruction, but instead come clean and join us in protecting creation. Let’s get to work.


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