How Google Search is helping ‘greenwash’ oil companies
Oil behemoths spent $24 million in two years on top search ads playing down their culpability for our climate crisis, according to new study.
Google often touts its commitment to sustainability and tackling climate change head-on, but a new study courtesy of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) reveals the Big Tech giant won’t hesitate to take oil corporations’ money in exchange for diminishing their role in our ongoing planetary crisis. According to the CCDH’s new report, Google has accepted nearly $24 million for top search ad spots from oil giants over the past two years alone. Of that amount, almost half was spent on advertising specifically targeted for sustainability search terms like “net zero” and “eco-friendly,” presenting users with advertising and sites that skewed climate science in the companies’ favor, explained Reuters earlier this week.
In October 2021, Google pledged to “prohibit ads for, and monetization of, content that contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change,” but in the ensuing months has routinely failed to live up to its promise. This often takes the form of accepting fossil fuel companies’ “greenwashing” campaigns, a term referring to advertising and PR that makes businesses seem more environmentally conscious and active than they truly are.
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“Big Oil’s deception is by design. It is a tried and true business plan for the world’s largest polluters to make public promises about sustainability, whilst lining their pockets with the largest profits in decades,” explained CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed in the report’s introduction. The study shows, for example, that when users search phrases like “pros and cons of the paris climate agreement [sic]” or “what are greenhouse gases” they invariably see ads sold by companies like ExxonMobil at the top of the page. Because previous studies indicate studies only a small fraction of Google searchers click links on a second page of search results, Google “is allowing fossil fuel companies to dominate the information ecosystem to peddle their deception.”
To remedy the situation, CCDH recommends Google immediately cease its flagrant hypocrisy when it comes to advertising clients, as well as “create a public and transparent ad library” for organizations, government officials, and general users to see where funding originates. In September 2022, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on the Environment released its own initial investigatory findings regarding Big Oil tactics, finding that companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell admitted in their own words within internal documents to “gaslighting” the public.