Energy Addicts: Oil Companies Greenwashing on Social Medias

Energy addiction is one of the sin of our global society. It means that our development model is devouring energy at an extremely high speed. Of course, it has consequences on the Planet. Despite this, energy-producing companies are using ad campaigns to convince us that nothing serious is happening.

By Rosa Maria Currò and Simone Predelli | ASG Italy

Oil and natural gas companies are trying to clean up their image and they’re doing it by polluting communication. This is what emerges from latest InfluenceMap report published in August 2021. Just like in the 2018 and 2019 analyses, it is evident the exponential growth of sponsorship campaigns that these companies publish, at great expense, on social media (Facebook, most of all). During 2020, it is noted, the expenses of these industries for advertising reached peaks of about 100 thousand dollars per day. These peaks occurred during the electoral period in the USA. Therefore, not only are companies choosing propitious moments for their propaganda, but, unable to keep denying climate change, they are increasingly opting for greenwashing. Through biased information or highlighting expenditures on emission control technologies, their goal is simple: to make the public forget that fossil fuels are the main culprits of climate change.

As InfluenceMap underlines, this situation is made worse by the lack of intervention by social media. Facebook, for example, has presented itself as a green and eco-friendly company, but has not shown any interest in reporting or moderating the misleading propaganda of oil companies. As Giancarlo Sturloni’s article points out, the issue was already known a couple of years ago and, through a legal action, the association ClientEarth had proposed that the sponsorships of oil companies were at least accompanied by a disclaimer like that of tobacco: «Oil consumption causes climate change». However, the power of these companies has not yet allowed for any real action. And “power” here does not only refer to the economic strength of these businesses: it also (and above all) indicates the socio-cultural force they exert on a global society extremely dependent on high energy consumption. Already in 2017, in his text “Out of Control”, Thomas Eriksen was pointing out how, in a condition of overpopulation and hyper-consumption, our energy addiction reaches such levels that operating a systemic change is very difficult, let alone set limits to our “dealers”.

But what are the actual consequences of such an immobilizing dependence on energy? First, the increase in emissions and the rise of global temperature with devastating consequences for the environment and for all living beings. Second, but equally important, is the increase in social inequality. As Eriksen explains, “all other things being equal, low energy societies are more equal than high energy societies”. This is true especially for oil-based societies, where conflict grows, poverty prospers and authoritarian regimes are easier to establish. Nevertheless, our culture (and global trend) connects social progress to high energy consumption to the point where our flexibility as a species falters. Small-scale operations to build a more equal world and curb climate change are valid and nearly ubiquitous. However, the time is right to demand meaningful large-scale changes. Inevitably, these must come through changes in mainstream communication.

In the midst of such complexity, it might seem impossible to change. As Eriksen put it, “changing course is easier for a rowboat than a cargo ship”, but that doesn’t mean that doing it is impossible. What needs to be done now is to support operations such as the one proposed by ClientEarth, to make the oil companies’ manipulative operation a thing of the past and to put in front of everyone’s eyes the fact that high energy consumption seriously is harmful to health and environment alike. This could be a step towards our detoxification, towards the emancipation from our energy addiction, towards the real possibility to develop a critical sense about our development model. It could be a step towards fully dedicating ourselves to sustainable forms of energy production and consumption. Let’s avoid falling into those webs woven with the precise intent of chaining us to a collapsing system. Let’s think in the long term. Let’s demand effective action also from social medias to ensure transparent information.


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