After a summer of record-breaking temperatures that the global scientific consensus agrees was exacerbated by climate change, advertising billboards across Europe have been "hacked" with more than 500 satirical artworks on Thursday highlighting the huge carbon footprint of the aviation industry.
Billboards, bus stops and adverts on public transport in cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Lisbon, Paris, Rome and London were "hacked" to display posters that highlight the aviation industry’s lack of meaningful action on climate change. Campaigners are calling on the European Commission to introduce tobacco-style advertising bans on the sector.
"Advertising plays a crucial but often overlooked role in fuelling the climate crisis. By pushing high-carbon goods, such as cheap flights, advertising is complicit in driving carbon emissions higher at a time when we need to see an urgent reversal," said Andrew Simms of the 'Badvertising' campaign in a press release on Thursday.
"Just like cigarette advertisements were eventually snuffed out from the 1980s onwards, governments and regulators need to step up to stop these companies polluting the planet and public space."
Calling out greenwashing
Airlines targeted in the artworks include KLM, Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, Ryanair, Easyjet, SAS Airlines, ITA Airways and Etihad, as well as the industry body International Air Transport Association (IATA).
One artwork satirises the oversized carbon footprint of Business Class flights with the text “We're turning Business Class green with the world's first on-board golf course." Another depicts an aeroplane flying over wildfires, with the text “Fly Responsibly?”
Other designs call attention to greenwashing, in which airlines and airports make sustainability claims that campaigners say conceal the actual impact aviation has on the planet.
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The adverts highlight the huge greenhouse gas emissions that flying causes. In addition, the majority of flights are taken by a tiny fraction of the world's total population. Campaigners stress that airlines have missed all but one of the sustainability targets set by the aviation industry.
Will policy-makers finally act?
So far, these kinds of climate and anti-advertising campaigns are gaining a lot of support: over 300,000 people have signed a 'European Citizen Initiative' to ban fossil advertising and sponsorship.
Currently, several local governments in Amsterdam, Haarlem and Utrecht (all in the Netherlands) and Liverpool, Norwich and North Somerset (all in England) have already passed motions to restrict adverts for airlines and airports, as well as non-electric cars and fossil fuel companies. France, too, has passed national legislation against some adverts for fossil fuels.
"Advertising agencies such as Ogilvy, VCCP, Dentsu, DDB Munchen need to consider their role in driving up emissions for airlines they work for such as British Airways, Easyjet, KLM and Lufthansa. We call on employees in those firms to refuse work for high carbon clients."
The naming of specific advertising agencies follows a speech by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres condemning the Public Relations industry at the 77th General Assembly in New York earlier this week, saying that "lobbyists and spin doctors have spewed harmful misinformation, just as they did for the tobacco industry decades before."
A report released earlier this year estimated that in 2019, global airline advertising could be responsible for emissions of up to 34 MtCO2 – the equivalent of burning 17 million tonnes of coal, or roughly the annual emissions of the entire country of Denmark in 2017.
"Advertising for airlines and airports is driving up demand for flights and trashing the climate. We urgently need to see the creation of viable, sustainable transport alternatives to flying that ensure job security for workers currently employed in aviation," said Robbie Gillett, from Adfree Cities in the UK.
In the meantime, a simple step that both local and national governments can take is to prohibit advertising for polluting products – "for the benefit of peoples' health, air quality and the climate."