One of the world’s top polluters of atmosphere-altering greenhouse gases has aired nearly 30,000 TV advertisements over the past 15 months, trying to convince people that it is green.
From June 2020 to August 31st of this year, Americans have been bombarded with ads from the California-based oil-and-gas-producer Chevron, according to new data from the analytics firm AdImpact first reported on Morning Consult. During July 2021 alone, the fossil-fuel giant aired 4,402 ads, the data shows.
More than 80 percent contained terms such as “sustainable,” “renewable,” “environment,” and “clean.” In reality, however, Chevron has contributed more than 43 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere since 1965, data from the Climate Accountability Institute shows, placing it among the most climate-damaging companies on the planet. “The large majority of ads Chevron is airing are touting their shift to more clean energy,” says Rachel Haskin, senior marketing manager for AdImpact.
Despite all the ads’ green talk, Chevron directed only 0.2 percent of its capital expenditures toward lower-carbon forms of energy between 2010 and 2018.
“It’s the epitome of greenwashing — act dirty, talk green,” Geoffrey Supran, a research fellow at Harvard University who studies the decades-long communications strategy of oil companies, said of the Chevron advertising blitz. “Clearly, it’s more of a public-affairs tactic then a genuine effort to reformulate their business.”
Chevron didn’t respond to a media request from Rolling Stone. The AdImpact data was first reported by Morning Consult.
The most widely-aired Chevron advertisement, which ran more than 5,300 times between August and October 2020, doesn’t mention oil and gas at all. It shows a young Black girl running past trees and trying to catch a butterfly as soft piano music plays in the background.
“It’s only human to pursue the elusive, while also capturing the possibilities, even something like CO2,” says the narrator. “Chevron has spent over $1 billion on carbon-capture projects, and is investing in startup companies working to transform carbon into new forms of energy to help address climate change.”
That $1 billion sounds much less impressive when you consider that Chevron reported nearly $240 billion worth of assets in its 2020 annual report. It produced the equivalent of 3.1 million barrels of oil day last year. The company says in the report it’s currently sitting on 11.1 billion barrels of proved reserves.
A coalition of environmental groups earlier this year found Chevron’s ads to be so misleading that the groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission “for unlawfully deceptive advertisements.” It’s unclear whether the FTC will begin an investigation.
While climate advocates might scoff at a major oil company portraying itself as an environmental savior, the average TV viewer without that much knowledge of the climate emergency might be more amenable to the message, said Zorka Milin, a senior legal adviser with Global Witness, one of the groups that filed the FTC complaint.
“Chevron is trying to present themselves as part of the solution to the climate crisis, when in reality they are one of the main drivers of the crisis,” she said.
The U.K. oil and gas giant BP announced last year that it would “stop corporate-reputation advertising,” a decision that came not long after an environmental group called ClientEarth filed a legal complaint citing ads in which BP talked up its investments in renewable energy without mentioning that it’s still one of the world’s largest producers of oil and gas.
Chevron has called the FTC complaint against its advertising “frivolous.” It announced in September that it will be spending $10 billion between now and 2028 on things like biofuels, hydrogen production, and carbon capture—a threefold increase from before.
Yet as Chevron touts these investments as evidence it’s taking climate change seriously, the company is participating in efforts to block key provisions of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act, which observers say contains some of the most aggressive climate action ever proposed by the U.S. government.
A trade organization that Chevron belongs to, called the American Petroleum Institute, has spent more than $500,000 since this August to run millions of Facebook ads attacking the $3.5 trillion spending bill. “Tax hikes on U.S. energy producers is equal to risking U.S. energy jobs,” alleges one of the Facebook ads.
Supran sees little difference between Chevron hammering TV viewers with images of young children chasing butterflies or paying dues to a trade group fighting legislation in Washington, D.C., that would dramatically lower greenhouse gases.
“It all leads to the same end goal of business as usual and no climate policy,” he said.