It is time we stopped the ‘brain pollution’ of high-carbon advertising

The advertising industry has enjoyed a lack of scrutiny for its role in the climate crisis, but its time end the promotion of polluting fossil fuel companies and high-carbon lifestyles by adverts, and see such advertising now as a form of ‘Brain Pollution’.

A newly created ‘Ministry for the Climate Emergency’ launched our the campaign with a public health warning film voiced by the doctor and television presenter, Chris Van Tulleken (see below).

This is accompanied by a Ministry briefing and billboard posters on the dangers of #BrainPollution. A bicycle powered billboard toured some of London’s leading agencies who have major polluters as clients. The campaign targets the fact that the climate is changing faster than people’s behaviour 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.

Dr Chris Van Tulleken is a leading British infectious diseases doctor and documentary maker who focuses on ‘commerciogenic disease’. You can watch the film here…

Explaining his reasons for being involved, and on the dangers of advertising, Dr Chris Van Tulleken said:

“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.”

Separately, a range of uncompromising billboards will convey the key messages too, backed by a Ministry briefing on ‘What is Brain Pollution?’. The campaign is international with materials available for equivalent climate Ministries in Germany, Spain, Italy, France, the United States, Sweden and Denmark.

Advertising is a sector which has largely escaped attention until now but actively promotes high carbon, polluting goods and services, and creates an obstacle to change by making heavily polluting lifestyles appear normal. Following in the footsteps of heavily resisted, but ultimately successful campaigns to end tobacco and cigarette advertising, the campaigners are calling for similar controls on high carbon advertising.

The initiative has been created for New Weather’s Badvertising campaign 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 and created the ‘Trump Baby’ blimp.

By promoting high-carbon, polluting products and lifestyles, large parts of the advertising industry are an obstacle to climate action and encouraging behaviour which makes the climate emergency worse. Yet, until now, the industry has largely escaped scrutiny. Change happens though and we have been here before. Against huge resistance, but for good public health reasons, the advertising of tobacco was ended.

With its threats to life on earth, the climate emergency is an even bigger issue, so action to stop adverts fuelling the crisis is even more urgent, yet not even being discussed by politicians and regulators. We need to stop the brain pollution of adverts worsening the climate and public health crises.

Leo Murray said: 

“Over a decade ago I quit my own career in the creative sector to become a campaigner after learning about the existential threat that the climate crisis poses to human civilization. Although I loved my work as an animator, nine out of ten jobs were adverts and I could not square that with my alarm about impending environmental collapse. I’ve now come full circle after working for years on public engagement around climate to try to help people to make the changes scientists say we need to our society, economy, communities and lifestyles to rise to the climate challenge – but finding that it’s almost impossible to get these messages to stick against the relentless, overwhelming tide of commercial messaging urging people to keep on trashing the planet. I hope our new film might help kick start a long overdue conversation about the brain pollution that is blocking us from making the changes we so urgently need.” 

The campaign 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 local councils  like Norwich, Liverpool and North Somerset in the UK and Amsterdam in the Netherlands in taking measures to end high-carbon advertising. 

Key facts:

  • People encounter an estimated 4,000-10,000 adverts daily
  • Over an estimated $35 billion was spent advertising cars in key global markets in 2018
  • An estimated £28 billion was spent on advertising in the UK in 2019
  • Air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is estimated to kill 8.7 million people in a year prematurely

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