Last week, The Guardian announced it would no longer be accepting advertisements from big oil and gas companies. As a huge proponent of tackling climate change, The Guardian is the first major news publication to adopt this policy.
This position comes after youth activist Greta Thunberg called for news outlets covering climate change to support their own message by not accepting money from these fossil fuel companies.
And perhaps other publications like the New York Times and Washington Post, which are currently still producing ads for big oil companies, should follow suit.
A Significant Decision — Losing $655,000 in Advertising Revenue from Big Oil Companies
This new change in The Guardian’s advertising will affect the Guardian’s flagship paper in Britain, digital publications in America and Australia, and the newspaper’s applications. This is a bold move by The Guardian.
Advertising accounted for approximately 40 percent of its 2019 revenues, with around $655,000 from fossil fuel companies alone. Many are now calling for The Guardian to take its stance even further and turn down any advertisements from heavily-polluting companies.
However, the company says that it is not currently in a financial position to do so. It also allegedly targeted fossil fuel companies due to their lobbying efforts.
According to a statement from The Guardian: “[F]ossil fuel extractors are qualitatively different. The intent — and extent — of their lobbying efforts have explicitly harmed the environmental cause over the course of many years — as our own reporting has shown and environmental campaigners have powerfully argued.”
Could This Lead to Policy Change?
With this policy change by The Guardian, a spotlight is once again oil companies’ huge influence on national policy. This is largely through massive lobbying efforts and campaign donations.
According to a study by the independent non-profit InfluenceMap, five of America’s largest oil and gas companies spend over $200 million per year on lobbying lawmakers to pass policies that favor non-renewable energy and put renewable energy at a disadvantage.
ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, and Chevron, are the big spenders. They’ve poured over $1 billion into swaying legislation in their favor since the Paris Agreements.
In return, the oil and gas companies see huge returns. Direct production subsidies total more than $16.4 billion. This leaves out consumption subsidies, overseas fuel projects, and indirect subsidies, according to a study by Oil Change International (OCI).
How does this compare to how much the government spends on renewables? In another study by OCI, researchers found that the government spends over $7 billion in permanent tax expenditures on non-renewables. Meanwhile, only about $1 billion of permanent tax expenditures go to renewables.
The Tie Between Ads from the Tobacco Industry and Big Oil Companies
Oil company spending in the political world and on advertising surged after the Paris Agreements. This mirrors the activity of another group in history: cigarette companies. After World War 2, the spending of these companies on advertisements and lobbying skyrocketed.
In 1967, as a result, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced one of its governing doctrines to make sure the public remained educated on the dangers of smoking. To do this, it required one anti-smoking ad to be shown for every three smoking ads. These anti-smoking ads were to be free to broadcast for the creators of it.
Bills eventually surfaced to ban pro-smoking ads altogether, fueled by public opinion. On April 1, 1970, President Nixon signed a bill that banned television and radio cigarette commercials. Since then, the percentage of smokers in the United States has declined from over 40 percent to 17 percent.
What we can take away from this historical event that started very similar to current events in the oil industry? Action like banning ads for oil can potentially reduce use and, thus, emissions, drastically.
Turning Down Ads from Big Oil Companies Will Cause a Revenue Hit, But May Still Be the Move
Sure, these big oil companies have money to spend on advertising and lobbying, but of course the general public hopes that its opinion can override the money spent by oil companies to get more favorable policies.
In ensuring that the common person has a voice, The Guardian has taken a huge step in taking ads for big oil companies off of its site, even if it means taking a hit in revenue. And that monetary consequence would exist for publications like the Washington Post and New York Times too, so they should be prepared to make that commitment.