Why a few of your favourite podcasts are full of oil firm advertisements | Surroundings
If you’ve heard the New York Times The Daily podcast regularly, you’ve heard more than once an ad for ExxonMobil’s investment in carbon capture in November.
The ad, which coincided with the Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow, told the audience that carbon capture technology could remove more than 90% of carbon emissions from “carbon intensive industries” and that the company was working to “make this technology large-scale to use “. It gave the feeling that an oil company was fighting the climate crisis with a technology that could solve it – and quickly.
Similar ads appeared on NPR podcasts, including Invisibilia and Up First. The American Petroleum Institute has also run ads on podcasts, including on Vox’s Ezra Klein Show (Klein has since joined the New York Times), stressing that it “produces more oil and gas while reducing emissions”.
The fossil fuel industry’s sudden interest in podcasts coincides with its recent adoption of social media and newsletter advertising, and could in part be due to a major difference in the regulation of this “newer” media, regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) be driven. compared to older print, TV, and radio media regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
While the FCC actively regulates advertising, the FTC works differently. Generally nothing is investigated until a complaint is filed, and even then an investigation is not guaranteed. The FTC has had “green guides” on environmental claims marketing for more than 30 years, but the first complaint ever filed against an oil company for greenwashing was against Chevron in 2021. The lawsuit is still pending.
The challenge with the FTC’s guidelines, including the green guides, is that they are usually product-related and specific: your product is either made from recycled materials or not, you either take packaging back and recycle it, or you don’t . All of this leaves podcast and newsletter publishers and social media platforms to develop their own fact-checking guidelines and processes.
This is made difficult by the industry’s advertising strategy – oil companies almost never advertise their products, instead promoting ideas, especially the idea that they are working hard to fight the climate crisis.
For example, ExxonMobil’s ad in The Daily highlights its work to increase carbon capture as a climate solution. However, according to a report by activist hedge fund Engine No 1, the company currently captures less than 1% of its emissions and uses some of the captured CO2 to extract more fossil fuels through a process called enhanced oil recovery.
The statement in the advertisement that 90% of emissions can be eliminated through CO2 capture also has some important reservations. The number is a base target for carbon capture projects and relates to the emissions recorded at a single industrial site rather than all industrial emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, global carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects can currently capture around 0.1% of annual global emissions.
“ExxonMobil has long recognized that climate change is real and poses serious risks,” said ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler. He said figures from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions show that “CCS” Catch more than 90% of emissions from power plants and industrial plants ”.
He added that ExxonMobil captured more than 120 million tons of CO2 in total, accounting for 40% of the world’s carbon captured since 1970, supply chain was more than 650 million tons.
“All advertising must adhere to our advertising acceptance guidelines,” said a New York Times spokeswoman Nicole Taylor. “This bans advertising that is intentionally misleading, deceptive, or contains false information. Ads submitted to the New York Times are fact-checked by an advertising standards team. “
However, Exxon’s misleading claims about carbon capture have passed this filter. Taylor didn’t say whether the Exxon ads were fact checked, just that ads were “fact-checked”. Either the ad passed or it wasn’t scrutinized.
NPR also says it has implemented digital ad review processes. “The digital guidelines were designed to protect the non-commercial spirit of NPR with some added flexibility in language beyond the strict limits imposed by the FCC for recognizing broadcast sponsorship,” said NPR spokeswoman Isabel Lara .
Unsurprisingly, Exxon’s ad passed the filters of media companies, said John Cook, a research fellow at the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University, Australia and an advisor to Facebook on climate change information. This is because it uses a tactic often used by oil companies called “patering,” which uses truthful statements to convey a misleading impression.
“It takes a background to figure it out, so it’s difficult,” said Cook. “You can run an ad that is 100% accurate. Exxon invests in algae – that’s 100% true – then there is a lot they can do to convey a green impression without conveying that they are spending more on advertising than on algae technology. So it’s very difficult for fact checkers or social media guidelines to grasp because companies can say, “What? Everything is true. ‘”
Unless the New York Times advertising team has a knowledgeable climate expert to review Exxon’s ads, it is unlikely that a misleading ad would be rejected. “The problem with self-regulation is that when it runs counter to a publisher’s or platform’s financial interests, they are less likely to do so,” Cook said.
That doesn’t necessarily mean banning fossil fuel advertising is the only way to get greenwashing under control, Cook said. “I would probably tend to have the solution based on the content rather than the source,” he said. “But even if the source has a track record of misinformation, it should come with penalties.”
The problem is to catch the problem first, because greenwashing does not fit into the usual form. “Your greenwashing is not considered misinformation in the first place,” said Cook. “So what is now available to identify misinformation in advertisements is not really a framework for identifying greenwashing.”