This story was originally published by Grist and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration

If all you saw were BP’s ads, you’d think the company’s top priority was investing in renewable energy. Like other oil majors, the company has embraced green marketing to rehabilitate its image after decades of misleading the public about the negative consequences of burning fossil fuels. But the truth of the matter is that companies like BP, ExxonMobil, and Chevron are still laser-focused on the thing they do best: finding and selling more oil.

A new complaint against BP from environmental law firm ClientEarth alleges the company is misleading the public by claiming it is dedicated to tackling the climate crisis. The legal action centers around a marketing initiative the oil company launched early this year, which has peppered newspapers, billboards, and television screens across the U.S. and Europe with claims that BP is committed to the transition to clean energy.

“While BP’s advertising focuses on clean energy, in reality, more than 96 percent of the company’s annual capital expenditure is on oil and gas,” ClientEarth climate lawyer Sophie Marjanac said in a statement.

In addition to taking BP to task under the guidelines of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — the international rules regulating corporate conduct — ClientEarth is calling for a ban on advertisements from fossil fuel companies. That is, unless the ads are accompanied by a warning similar to the health warning tobacco companies are required to stamp on their products. ClientEarth helpfully mocked up what these ads would look like:


“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that emissions from fossil fuels are the dominant cause of global warming,” says ClientEarth’s proposed label. “The IPCC warns that fossil fuel emissions must be halved within 11 years if global warming is to be limited to 1.5°C. Warming above 1.5°C risks further sea level rise, extreme weather, biodiversity loss, and species extinction, as well as food scarcity, worsening health and poverty for millions of people worldwide.” The label includes a photo of a forest on fire.

If adopted, these new warnings could be an effective way to alert the public to the dangers of fossil fuels. Text-based health warnings on cigarette packs, which have been around in the U.S. since 1966, have been shown to wane in effectiveness over time. However, warning labels that contain graphic images have been proven more effective in deterring smoking than text-only labels. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration recently proposed a new set of cigarette labels with gruesome pictures representing various health problems on them.

Rotating different warning labels, instead of using just one, has also been proven to prevent people from tuning them out. So if ClientEarth wants people to pay attention to its proposed warning labels, it might want to add photos of floods, hurricanes, and droughts to the mix.

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Not against this at all, I'm actually chuckling. I am wondering at the effectiveness of the notices. Specifically for those already using oil. People (like me) who have been smoking for more than half their life are accustomed to the packages - and it doesn't exactly register in our brains. The deterrent is usually more effective for those who don't already engage in the activity. Of course, Oil dependency and Nicotine dependency is not the same. People want 'ease and comfort' - that's it's easy to sell a loaf of bread (they don't have to make it) and Swiffer dusters (they don't have to clean it) and (they don't have to go hunting for the right store). But smoking? Put it this way. People quit due to health reasons and I have some already (?) and when I try again, it won't be the first time. And every time I try, it's harder to stay quit. Know what I mean? Addiction isn't 'ease and comfort'. The only similarity between both would be "disliking change" ... so I question the effectiveness of the ads.