Fighting climate change denial
Dubbins turned his attention specifically to the misinformation around climate change, reinforcing that this is a phenomenon that is having severe impacts around the world. He highlights the severity of what we’re all facing, from Karachi experiencing the worst flooding in almost a century to California’s horrific wildfires and the devastating fires that swept the length and breadth of Australia at the start of 2020.
He introduces statistics that point out a gap in belief that is creating a damaging problem when it comes to action being taken to combat climate change. 94% of British people think that climate change is definitely/probably happening according to NatCn Social Research. But only 36% believe that climate change is entirely or mainly caused by human activity.
“Effectively we have a massive gap between those that believe that climate change is happening and those that believe that we are not mainly or entirely the cause of it,” explains Dubbins. Action around climate change, he adds, is made much more difficult to enact if information abounds about it being a natural occurrence rather than one caused by humanity’s behaviour.
He uses a few examples to back up his point from videos on YouTube where he’s found, “the biggest green energy company is sponsoring and paying for content that says that CO2 is harmless.” He also points out the irony that Amazon’s ad pledging zero emissions and highlighting how the brand signed up to the Paris Climate Pledge 10 years early, appeared on a video denying the existence of global warming.
Delay tactics stifle action
Dubbins is quick to say that it is obvious brands are not funding these platforms deliberately. But brand content is ending up in the wrong place, he says, because, “we’re not asking the right questions as advertisers, we’re not asking the right questions of our agencies and the entire ecosystem to make sure that we are not inadvertently funding this stuff.”
CAN believes that the narrative over the last year particularly has been moving from climate denial to climate delay messaging. Dubbins points out that it looks like a lot of this is similar to The Big Tobacco Playbook, which was originally conceived during the fight for the big tobacco companies. The thought at the heart of the playbook was that ‘doubt is our product’.
When there started to be more information around public health and big tobacco companies recognised how this could affect them commercially, there was a lot of delay, harassing scientists and “effectively a plan to make sure the bottom line of companies wasn’t affected.” These are tactics that Dubbins says CAN is seeing played out today when it comes to the conversation around climate change.
Culturally the misinformation suggests that we shouldn’t be panicking about climate change because we shouldn’t even be talking about it. We are, says Dubbins, “moving from outright denial to actually delaying dealing with the truth.”
These delay tactics essentially divert attention away from the truth, percolating throughout culture into every corner of society. For Dubbins, it comes down to industry awareness or lack thereof. Brands and agencies who are on the one hand pledging their commitment to going net zero in the next few years should also, believes Dubbins, be ensuring that the content they are creating isn’t funding narratives online that deny the science.
CAN’s work across the industry serves as a vital point of education, one that every business could do well to pay attention to. Because, if your brand is spotted advertising and ultimately funding misinformation, it is a sure step to consumers turning away from the company perhaps for good. Educate and interrogate to ensure that advertising of the future is not funding climate science denial but rather supporting the efforts of those working to combat the increasing climate emergency.
Jake Dubbins was speaking at BITE LIVE 2020. To watch the full conversation, visit the dedicated event page, How advertising is funding climate science denial