Corporations have been trying to pass off the blame for their role in climate change for years in increasingly interesting ways.
In the Fall of 2003, British Petroleum (BP) released an advertisement that, in my opinion, was perhaps the most hypocritical ad ever viewed by the public. BP is a massive petrol-producing corporation, estimated by “The Guardian” in 2019 to be the sixth-highest producer of fossil fuel emissions of companies, releasing over 34.02 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent gases since 1965.
In BP’s 2003 advertisement, passersby on the street were asked: “What size is your carbon footprint?” The people, in reply, seemed a range of adorably bewildered to taken aback. Remember, this was 2003, and the term “carbon footprint” was not yet in the public’s lexicon — in fact, it was actually BP that’s credited for coining the term. BP wraps up the ad with a white screen portraying the text: “We can all do more to emit less.”
If you know anything about BP’s massive fossil fuel production, this ad stirs up a mixture of ludicrousy and rage. In this ad, BP is poking fun at, and making an example of, people for not thinking about their carbon emissions. It is a prime example of “green-shaming” — a term that means the shaming of others over their insufficient effort to help the environment.
In 2019, Fischer Future Heat released an ad that asserted that its product was more environmentally friendly than other water cylinders, even claiming that theirs had “zero emissions.” The Advertising Standards Association (ASA) deduced that this claim was false: the product was powered by electricity, a source of carbon emissions. This ad, just like BP’s in 2003, is attempting to green-shame consumers into buying their product while pushing the responsibility of climate change off their own shoulders and onto the public.
Anyone can green-shame, but it is toxic and hypocritical when performed by the very companies that contribute heavily to the problem.
Lots of carbon-emitting corporations are setting goals for the future. In theory, these goals are good news. However, if you stop listening to the words corporations are saying and look at what they are doing, truth arises. It is incredibly difficult to wade through BP’s long list of “goals” to reach the facts.
For instance, BP advertises on its website that their “carbon emissions from energy use fell by 6.3%” in 2020. This would be great news if it was not also true that BP sold its Alaskan Oil Company in the same year, wiping an estimated 8 million tonnes from its “climate ledger,” according to Bloomberg Green. In other words, BP has simply transferred their emissions to another company. It is not honest change, it is a facade.
It’s inexcusable for companies to green-shame us and tell us to drive less or recycle more while simultaneously releasing billions of tonnes of CO2 for profit. While everyone contributes to this problem, the root of the problem lies within the system that trades our future for money.
Green-shaming is not the way to achieve mass change. Instead, the government should provide infrastructure and subsidies to incentivize corporations to switch to cleaner renewable energy — solar, wind, power — and create transportation options that allow individuals to reduce their personal carbon emissions.
Make no mistake, people in charge are making the decision every day to trade our planet’s future for deeper pockets. Yet it does not have to be this way, for them or us. Corporations can make money with clean renewable energy, and even better: they can create many more jobs with it.
And as for us, the general public? We get a less drastic effect from climate change — maybe even save a few hundred thousand species and habitats while we are at it. That is worth writing home about.