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‘Brain pollution’: campaign aims to stop ads that fuel the climate emergency

Seeking to address the advertising industry’s lack of accountability for its role in the climate crisis, an initiative dubbed the Ministry for the Climate Emergency is re-branding the advertising industry as ‘brain pollution’ in its debut campaign.

The initiative has been created for Badvertising – a campaign to stop the ad industry fueling the climate emergency – by two leading UK climate campaigners: Andrew Simms, co-author of the original Green New Deal and co-director of the New Weather Institute, and animator Leo Murray, who devised the Frequent Flier Levy.

The campaign itself targets polluting fossil fuel companies and high-carbon lifestyles specifically, and features a public health warning film voiced by doctor and television presenter Chris Van Tulleken.

The film is accompanied by a Ministry briefing and billboard posters on the dangers of #BrainPollution, including a bicycle-powered billboard that will tour some of London’s leading agencies who have major polluters as clients – beginning outside the offices of Ogilvy and Wavemaker, whose clients include polluters Chevron, Texaco, BP, Heathrow and HSBC.

The campaign is seeking to address the fact that the climate is changing faster than people’s behavior, and that adverts promoting high-carbon lifestyles are a major obstacle. It is also in response to the huge gap between the carbon cuts science says is needed to meet climate targets, and current actions by industry and governments.

Van Tulleken, who features in the campaign, says: “The brain pollution of advertising creates not just the high-carbon lifestyles feeding the climate emergency, but also a wave of commerciogenic diseases ranging from malnutrition to depression. Yet this is one of the least talked about and understood aspects of the climate and public health crises.

“We are desperate for an official public information campaign, but in its place I am delighted that the Ministry for the Climate Emergency has appeared to fill the gap. We need to end the badvertising that undermines climate action and public health for both our health and our ultimate survival.”

The Ministry for the Climate Emergency is calling for legislation against high-carbon advertising, with a particular focus on fossil fuel companies, internal combustion engine cars and aviation. It is also calling on local authorities to follow the example of councils such as Norwich, Liverpool and North Somerset in the UK and Amsterdam in the Netherlands in taking measures to end high-carbon advertising.

The complicity of the ad industry in facilitating greenwashing and accelerating the climate crisis has been a hot topic of late, as this month the CMA and ASA released new guidance cracking down on sustainability claims and encouraging transparency in advertising.

Initiatives such as AdGreen launching its free carbon calculator are helping brands and advertising agencies to measure the CO2 emissions produced by ad campaigns in an effort to help the industry reach net zero by 2030.

However, brands falling short of addressing their sustainability shortcomings, or minimizing their environmental impact through distracting marketing, run an increasing risk of being called out – such as Brandalism’s recent guerilla campaign, which criticised Barclays for its ongoing investment in the fossil fuel industry – or penalized through legislation. The CMA has said brands have until the new year to comply with the law when it comes to marketing their environmental credentials.

Earlier this month the US congress also announced that it has launched an investigation, and will hold hearings, into the reported role of the fossil fuel industry in a long-running, industry-wide campaign to spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing climate change.

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