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The fine print of the climate campaign

What are we talking about when we talk about climate? Many times the discourse surrounding the global climate crisis is conducted above our heads - in the atmosphere, in the air, in complicated scientific data, in huge numbers, in scenarios that will occur sometime in the uncertain future, in decisions made in the corridors of power of the government and in the ivory towers of academia.

In fact, the climate crisis affects all of us in different and varied ways (on health, on the economy, on personal security and on the quality of our lives) already here and now. And as it affects us, we also have an effect on him and the pace at which he will progress.

This month, several large international companies launched a new campaign called Count Us. Among the companies promoting the project are British Telecom (BT), The HSBC holding company, Ikea and-Reckitt Benckiser (Owner of brands such as Cillit Bang, Gaviscon and Durex). Their campaign calls on people to register online and commit to personal steps they wish to take and carry out in their lives for the benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and according to the level of involvement that suits them.

According to the campaign, if a billion people around the world took a few small steps and turned them into permanent changes in their lifestyle (such as changes in diet, transportation and consumption habits, for example), it would be possible to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent.

There is no doubt that the campaign conveys a positive message and represents concern for the planet and humanity, but it also raises questions about the motives behind it. As mentioned, behind the campaign are large international companies, which are interested in teaching and encouraging us as citizens how to act in order to improve the climate situation. But in the entire campaign there is no reference to the influence of these companies themselves on climate change and their contribution to global warming. If we take into account that20 giant international corporations are responsible for at least a third of total greenhouse gas emissions the global Accelerating the pace of climate change and its effects, it seems reasonable to ask where they are in this whole story.

Changing habits in 16 steps

"Overall, the campaign is good and welcome. He arrives at the right time and his message is excellent. The corporations that initiated it are all those that deal with the issue of sustainability within their organization" says Michal Bitterman, CEO and founder The Natural Step Israel. "Going out with such a message to the general public is very correct because in the end, in order to achieve a behavioral change in our consumption habits, we need to reach the public through these channels as well. It is also important to remember that every consumer is also someone who works somewhere and by raising their awareness of the issue there is also the potential to reach their business circle and even the community circle."

The campaign offers 16 steps, of varying degrees of difficulty, that enable change. Starting with a permanent transition to a different and more sustainable diet, a promise not to fly for a specified period, purchasing an electric car, reusing and repairing objects instead of buying new ones, installing solar panels at home and more. In each step chosen, the degree of impact on the amount of emissions and the degree of investment required if one chooses to persist with it are indicated.

Those who sign up for the service will receive an email reminder regarding additional steps that may interest them and they are guaranteed that they will not receive marketing material from specific companies related to their choices.

According to the initiators of the campaign, the 16 steps were chosen with experts From the UN Environment Program (UNEP) based on three criteria: their impact on our personal carbon footprint, their power to influence leaders and their suitability for people in different countries around the world.

Reactions to the campaign in the world were divided. Various climate activists expressed reservations and said that large companies and governments must bear more responsibility for climate change. According to them, the campaign serves as a kind of blaming on us consumers and our choices, and that it is not certain that a change on the personal level of each of us will indeed be enough for us to solve the climate crisis.

From the second past, there were also those who claimed that the goal is to reach through the campaign citizens who do not think of themselves as climate activists and that without a change in our daily personal behavior we will not be able to change the environmental policy on the subject either.

"Even though the project is really positive, there are some things that are important to be precise about," Bitterman emphasizes. "First of all, it is very adapted to the Western world, to certain countries and middle and higher socioeconomic status. Thus, for example, one of the steps described is a transition to driving hybrid vehicles, a step that not everyone is able to take and which does not appeal to all classes."

"Many of the steps proposed in the project are interim solutions, and they must also come with upstream actions in order to really be able to produce change," Bitterman adds. "In the case of the hybrid car, for example, in the end the significant solution will actually be to lower the rate of private vehicles traveling on the roads by encouraging and creating high-quality public transportation, simple and accessible to everyone. In addition, there is also a lack of reference in the campaign to encourage the public to take frugal measures from the very beginning. I mean, instead of, say, renovating an apartment in an energy-saving way, one of the steps mentioned in the campaign, maybe it's better to choose in advance an apartment that will be more economical."

A successful and deceptive advertising campaign

It is understood that the new campaign is not the first of its kind. Large companies and corporations periodically launch advertising campaigns that encourage a reduction in air pollution and damage to the environment. However, because these are large corporations, there is reason to be a little suspicious. Indeed, many of these campaigns focus on actions taken by citizens and not necessarily on the significant negative consequences of these large companies on the planet.

A notable case was the successful advertising campaign from 1971, in which an organization named Keep america beautiful, created an advertisement calling on the American public not to throw garbage in the public space. The ad promoted the message "People start pollution." People can stop it." What was less known at the time was that this group is funded by beverage and packaging corporations that produce and market billions of plastic bottles every year (such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi) and that they do not do enough to create mechanisms to treat the waste they themselves produce.

Likewise, in a particularly ironic and cynical manner, British Petroleum (BP), the third largest corporation in the world in the field of oil, which is responsible for many carbon emissions and only a decade ago in April 2010 was responsible for a mega environmental disaster due to a leak About 800 million liters of oil El Gulf of Mexico, promoted for the first time, and with great success, the establishment of the term "carbon footprint" in the public discourse regarding the personal responsibility of individuals for climate change.

The company unveiled its "Carbon Footprint Calculator" back in 2004, so that it would be possible to assess how our normal daily lives - working, buying food and traveling - are largely responsible for climate change. Even today this term is still used by many and even The US Environmental Protection Agency has such a calculator.

experts claim Because this is one of the most successful and deceptive advertising campaigns that may have ever existed. After all, this is a strategic campaign that managed to manipulate our thinking regarding one of the biggest environmental threats. To this day, BP produces huge amounts of barrels of oil and gas every day (3.8 million barrels per day). In contrast, in 2018 the company invested only 2.3 percent from its budget in the production of renewable energies when a significant part of the share of renewable energies are biofuels whose production and production also pollutes the environment.

The allegations against the company were that it was not really interested in reducing its carbon footprint, but did want to make the public think that it is the one that actually has a greater impact on carbon emissions and needs to make an effort to do so.

"It is important to note that it is really critical to involve the public in the required change because there are steps that must come from the public itself," says Bitterman. "At the same time, it is important to separate measures that should come from the public itself and measures for which the public is not responsible and should come from the business sector, the government and other parties," she adds, "as long as the request from the public makes sense and does not come instead of policy measures, then the initiative is correct and accurate. As soon as you ask the public to do things instead of the government or businesses, then the problem arises, or when you ask the public to take steps that are very small in their impact compared to what the businesses and government could have achieved."

"In the campaign of Count Us, saying to choose one step is not enough," Bitterman adds. "We need to make a general change in the way we conduct ourselves. It is important that the initiators of the campaigns emphasize additional alternatives that will suit our lives today and different social classes. In addition, it is important to have a connection between initiatives. There are many green initiatives in the market today and the connection between them can lead to a more significant result. Another important thing I want to say in this context is to point a more critical finger at the businesses in Israel, which are not heard about as much as part of these initiatives. It seems that the business sector in Israel is relatively behind in this issue compared to the rest of the world and I would expect Israeli companies to start acting on this issue as well."

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