Author: Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist covering the oil and gas industry, climate change and international politics.Originally published on To get rid of smog.
From creating “clean coal” to “carbon footprint”, PR companies have played an important role in shaping the public discourse surrounding climate and energy policies. As a new study emphasizes, their powerful efforts have been ignored for too long .
Over the past 30 years, public relations companies have played a key role in hindering climate change actions, carrying out public relations activities on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, not only Downplay the severity of climate change, And also position the solution favored by the industry as the preferred course of action.
A new peer-reviewed study, Published on climate change On November 30th, Robert J. Brulle and Carter Werthman of Brown University analyzed the role of public relations firms in the climate misinformation ecosystem from 1988 to 2020.The study looked at 214 organizations in five major sectors — Coal/Steel/Railroad, Oil and Gas, Utilities, Renewable Energy, and Environmental Movement — and found that in all other analyzed industries, power companies hire and use PR companies the most, followed by oil and gas.
At the same time, these organizations use a handful of big names in the field of public relations, including Edelman, Glover Park Group, Cerel and Ogilvy. Of the more than 600 PR companies analyzed, the top 25 accounted for nearly one-third of climate work with companies and non-profit organizations.
“The obstruction of climate action by the fossil fuel industry is not just misinformation and climate denial. The main part of preventing climate action is to improve the positive public reputation of fossil fuel companies and emphasize the benefits of continuing to use fossil fuels,” said the visiting professor at Brown University. Said Robert Brewer, the co-author of the article. “From the severity of the climate impact to the policy to solve the problem, public relations firms are an important part of the corporate advocacy mechanism that guides the way Americans think about problems.”
The author writes that although a lot has been written about the role of right-wing think tanks, black money, and corporate power in misleading the public on climate change issues, little is known about how PR firms are integrated into this story. The study stated that they are often seen as passive participants in climate confusion rather than active agents, which ignores their influential role in the “conceptualization, design, and execution of communication and political movements.” The PR company deliberately tried to remain invisible.
The study aims to reveal some of the most famous companies that the authors say are “equal to conservative think tanks or environmental groups” in terms of their impact on public climate discussions. The public relations firm “still remains uncensored and has not been held accountable for its activities.”
“This research adds a new role to our understanding of key players in the politics of climate change,” the study noted. “In addition to Exxon Mobil, Koch Corporation, Greenpeace, Hartland Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute, we also need to join public relations companies such as Edelman, Glover Park, Cerel and Ogilvy. ”
Edelman stands out with the most “participation” in public relations, and also accounts for most of the public relations work in the oil and gas industry. The researchers found that Edelman is the only public relations firm that has jobs in all five departments identified in the study. For example, it is relatively rare for public relations companies to work for both the petroleum industry and environmental protection organizations at the same time. Edelman could not be reached in time for comment.
Although most industries, including the fossil fuel industry and its affiliates, have long ago avoided direct denial of climate change as an overall strategy to disrupt climate action, corporate entities have deployed a series of Other strategies Slow down or prevent threatening policies. According to analysis, the most common public relations strategy is “corporate image promotion” or “greenwashing”, and clear climate denial itself is rarely used.
This study found that PR companies are responsible for phrases such as “clean coal”, “renewable natural gas”, “country of coal” and “carbon footprint” that have become commonplace. The author points out that these concepts have become “a natural discourse on climate change and subsequently influenced public debates on this issue.”
Once these phrases become popular, they will become the traditional way of constructing themes.For example, the President of the United States Barack Obama arrive Donald Trump When discussing their energy policy approach, everyone used the term “clean coal”.
Strategies used by PR companies include paid media campaigns, winning media placements, so-called grassroots campaigns (or astroturfing), and social media campaigns.Defogging and Others in climate news Has long been committed to exposing how corporate interests use these public relations industry technologies to manipulate public opinion on climate and energy, from Edelman’s work on behalf of TransCanada asphalt sand pipeline in 2014 arrive FTI Consulting’s recent efforts Sell ??hydrogen and natural gas as climate solutions.
The study found that, especially in the past 30 years, the use of PR in the oil and gas industry has surged several times, most notably in 1989 and 1996. Those years coincided with two notable events: the Congressional testimony of climate scientist James Hansen in 1989 on the threat of climate change and the promotion of the Kyoto Protocol in the mid to late 1990s, an international agreement aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the authors caution that they cannot empirically draw a causal relationship between these events and the use of PR in climate change.
Brulle and Werthman pointed out that this study is not comprehensive. They only focus on national public relations activities, not state or local participation in climate and energy.The study does not Including internal PR Created by the company itself, and only completed by an external public relations company. Moreover, it is important that many relationships between corporate entities and public relations companies are private and not publicly disclosed, so this study may underestimate the role of the public relations industry.
Advocacy organization Clean Creatives, Launched last year, Has been pushing the public relations and advertising industry to sever ties with fossil fuel companies. Duncan Meisel, director of Clean Creatives, welcomed the research’s efforts to highlight these connections.
“The organizations mentioned in this report, such as Edelman, Ogilvy and Weber Shandwick, need to recognize that working for fossil fuel companies is causing significant damage to their reputation and legacy. The cruel fact is that advertising and public relations agencies have The industry’s propaganda machines are crucial, and working for fossil customers has prevented the world from responding adequately to climate emergencies,” Messer told DeSmog in an email. “The best time to stop working for fossil fuel customers was 20 years ago, when we had more time to prevent a climate emergency, followed by now.”