Column: Truth in Advertising

David Suzuki
By David Suzuki
July 3rd, 2024

The fossil fuel industry has made a lot of false or misleading claims over the years: burning the fuels doesn’t cause climate change, there’s no viable replacement for them, “natural” gas is a climate solution, coal power can be “clean,” carbon capture and storage will make oilsands bitumen climate-friendly…

But a new rule requiring industry to substantiate its claims is creating a stir.

Although fracked methane gas companies and their supporters didn’t back down after Ad Standards Canada found an industry front group’s assertion that gas is a climate solution amounted to “greenwashing,” a recent Competition Act amendment requiring companies (not just fossil fuel) to back environmental claims with evidence is making the industry and its supporters nervous.

Reaction to the Ad Standards ruling was muted in part because the organization has no enforcement powers and doesn’t release its findings to the public. (In this case, the findings were leaked.)

The Competition Act amendment gives the Competition Bureau commissioner the power to investigate claims about a company’s environmental performance to ensure they’re factual.

The Pathways Alliance, which represents Canada’s largest oilsands companies, has now scrubbed all content from its website, social media and other communications platforms. It had been claiming its member companies would reach net-zero emissions by 2050 using carbon capture technology (which is expensive and still largely unproven). The Competition Bureau is already investigating the Pathways Alliance for misleading the public with net-zero claims, because those only apply to extraction and not to the 80 per cent of emissions from burning their products.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers also said it would remove information from its public communications. Some oil companies — including Imperial, Suncor, and ConocoPhillips — have put disclaimers on their websites.

Big Oil supporters in government and media are also upset. The Alberta government called it “authoritarian censorship,” and charged that it’s aimed at “phasing out the energy industry altogether.” (By “energy industry,” they mean fossil fuel energy, not cleaner, more affordable renewable energy.) Alberta has also shut down its controversial oil and gas “war room,” known as the “Canadian Energy Centre.”

It’s clearly overreaction to a rule that only requires companies to tell the truth. But the dirty energy industry is fighting for its survival and continued obscene profits in the face of a changing climate and a renewable energy boom.

That some governments would put this industry’s interests ahead of their constituents’ health and wellbeing is appalling.

The fact that it’s just the fossil fuel industry complaining is telling. “The provisions in the amendments are industry agnostic, so they apply across the board, and yet we don’t see every other sector tearing down websites,” University of Calgary law professor Martin Olszynski told the National Observer.

Those who recognize how serious the climate crisis is and how much worse it will get if we don’t stop using fossil fuels want to take things further, with a ban on all advertising for fossil fuels. Some are even calling for restrictions on advertising for products that facilitate use of dirty fuels, especially gas-powered cars, trucks and SUVs.

We saw with tobacco use how regulation works well and is often necessary, as most companies aren’t willing to give up profit-making regardless of the greater cost to society. It’s hard to imagine that, not long ago, people smoked in restaurants, hospitals, taxis, workplaces — almost everywhere!

The Competition Act amendment also shows how effective policy can be — especially considering gentle prodding from a toothless organization such as Ad Standards Canada appeared to have little or no effect on the industry.

“Canadians can expect that if you’re going to make claims in advertising that you actually have the evidence to back it up,” Catherine McKenna, chair of the UN’s expert group on net-zero commitments and Canada’s former environment and climate change minister, told the National Observer. “That’s not onerous.”

The climate crisis is accelerating. Promoting products that are fuelling it — especially using false or misleading information — will only make matters worse. Industry has shown over decades that it can’t be trusted to do the right thing on its own. We need to hold it to account and to shift quickly to cleaner energy sources.

It’s long past time to leave fossil fuels in the ground and to stop promoting them.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.

Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

This post was syndicated from https://rosslandtelegraph.com
Categories: GeneralOp/Ed