How many errors can there be in 23 seconds of an advertisement?

What follows is an expanded version of a complaint sent to the ACCC. (The ACCC complaint form limits the amount of text than can be entered.)

I wish to complain about the Australian Government “Climate Change” advertisement currently showing on Australian TV (August, 2008). The text of the advertisement is as follows:

“Scientists warn Australia will be hit hard by climate change, with temperatures rising, water more scarce, and economists warn to protect our economy we must act now. We’re developing a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to tackle climate change, putting a limit on carbon pollution, and encouraging cleaner energy solutions. Think ‘climate’, think ‘change’. We can’t afford not to.”

I claim the advertisement fails these Advertising Standards Bureau Truth and Accuracy issues:

  1. Misleading or deceptive advertising.
  2. Misrepresentation in advertising.
  3. The exploitation of community concerns in relation to portraying a product or service as benefiting the environment, if it does not.
  1. The advertisement says, “scientists warn”, without qualification or reference to whom those scientists are. There are many scientists who dispute that climate change will cause significant problems. [;;]
  2. There is no qualification of what “hard hit” means.
  3. There is no qualification of how high temperatures are supposedly going to rise; thus it is impossible to know from the advertisement whether such rises are significant and will thus result in a “hard hit”.
  4. There is no qualification of whether “more scare” water applies to certain areas of Australia, nor of how significant such scarcity will be.
  5. The reference to “economists warn” does not reference those economists, or that there are dissenting economists with differing views.
  6. The advertisement uses the term “carbon pollution”. That is a meaningless (and misleading and deceptive) phrase. Carbon is an element. In the context of the climate change discussion, carbon as an element is not part of the discussion. The advertisement should refer (at least) to carbon dioxide, which is a gas.
  7. The advertisement states that “carbon”, hence carbon dioxide, is a pollutant. But carbon dioxide is an essential gas present in trace amounts in the atmosphere. Without it, life on earth would not exist. Except in high concentrations, carbon dioxide is harmless to humans. There is considerable doubt that increases in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are a significant cause of increased temperatures. [;]
  8. The advertisement implies all climate change is something to avoid (“We’re developing a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to tackle climate change…”), but does not mention that climate has been changing for thousands of years, with the earth having been both colder and warmer than it is now. That is a misrepresentation of facts. []
  9. The advertisement exploits community concerns by attempting to cause fear by using the phrases “hard hit”, “must act now” and “can’t afford not to”.
  10. The claim that we “must act now” are misleading because it implies temperatures are rising at a dangerous rate. In fact, global temperatures since 1998 have not passed that 1998 peak, and early 2008 global average temperatures are marginally less than the equivalent period of 1988 (repeating: 1988, not 1998). [;]
  11. The claim that a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will “tackle climate change”, presumably successfully, is false and deceptive. Australian greenhouse gas emissions are less than 1.5% of global emissions, so even if such a scheme were to be totally successful in eliminating all Australian emissions, the effect globally would be minuscule.
  12. The phrase “We can’t afford not to” is misleading and deceptive. There is no qualification as to what the costs will be, so it is impossible for the advertisement to so claim.
  13. The advertisement displays images of both cooling towers and “smoke stacks”. Both are deceptive. In the case of cooling towers, the only emission is of condensed water vapour. In the case of the smoke stacks, there is a misleading confusion of particulate pollution with colourless carbon dioxide gas.

The advertisement thus fails, in many instances, the tests for truth and accuracy.

Bob Long

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