Big Tech helps to block Big Oil’s hidden climate


The fossil fuel companies’ climate message may have changed to fit the new century, but the goal is the same as the industry has had for decades: to delay action and preserve profits for as long as possible. Even in the ever-increasing climate emergency, this message still resonates with many people. Maybe that’s because the biggest social media companies help amplify it.

In a recent example, a study found that industry groups, including an arm of the American Petroleum Institute, spent up to $4 million on nearly 4,000 Facebook and Instagram ads spreading climate misinformation before and during the United Nations climate conference last November. COP27.

Some ads, like Praguereau and other conservative groups, promote old-school climate denial that Exxon and others have been selling for decades, contradicting their own scientists. Others were more subtle, acknowledging human-caused climate change, casting doubt on the viability of green energy and the need to end the use of fossil fuels. Some have warned that a rapid transition could harm national security and lead to inflation.

Some of the promoters were fossil fuel companies themselves, including Chevron Corp. and ExxonMobil Corp., which boasted green credentials by explaining how their businesses pumped carbon into the atmosphere. Many companies and petrostates have resorted to the tactic of “nature washing,” or associating their products with images of the reflective wilderness. The study, by Climate Action Against Disinformation, a coalition of advocacy groups, was partially funded by Meta Platforms Inc., the parent of Facebook and Instagram. It is based on available information.

These ads are part of a media strategy that oil companies and utilities have used in recent years to cloak their messages in a socially acceptable cloak. Maybe it’s placing sponsored content with big media brands or quietly investing money and talking points to local news outlets. Maybe it’s sponsoring climate change newspapers, which is why we ended Zemafor’s climate change, Chevron’s main advertiser of climate change.

And sometimes the work is a little more socially acceptable, like when a freelance ABC News producer was paid by representatives of Florida Power & Light and other companies to attack environmentalist politicians.

It also recalls the problem of social media in addressing climate misinformation. Most companies don’t have clear standards or processes for dealing with it, and it’s less clear how their algorithms promote false positives. Twitter, currently run by electric-vehicle mogul Elon Musk, is the least transparent of the major platforms, CAAD’s metrics show.

All of these companies need to do a better job of exposing and combating misinformation. Ad technology companies, advertising agencies and government regulators also have a role to play. They threaten to weaken the world’s defenses at a crucial time in the fight against climate change.

After decades of what some environmentalists call a “predatory delay,” time is running out for the drastic changes needed to prevent catastrophic global warming. Denial in today’s climate may be more subtle — it’s now “delay” and “inaction” — but it’s still harmful.

Momentum seems to be on the side of denial. COP27 is overrun by fossil fuel lobbyists. It will be hosted by the CEO of an oil company from the United Arab Emirates. Another explosion of propaganda to accompany this will make it more difficult to bring about the necessary change.

More from Bloomberg Commentary:

• Global warming is testing California’s creative spirit: Faye Flam

• How does geoengineering work? Time for some game theory: Tyler Cowen

• What the Kardashians Can Teach Climate Activists: Lara Williams

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Mark Gongloff is a Bloomberg Opinion editor and columnist on climate change. A former managing editor of, he led HuffPost’s business and technology coverage and was a reporter and editor for The Wall Street Journal.

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