The best, worst, and weirdest climate ads of 2020
Author: Joseph Winters
Whether they’re pro- or anti-climate, video ads trying to sway voters on environmental issues generally stick to a handful of familiar tropes: trees and polar bears for the conservationists, jobs and construction hats for the fossil fuel interests. If it’s a politician touting their environmental voting record, there’s a 50-50 chance they’re doing so while fly-fishing.
But every so often, we are blessed with some truly creative eco-advertisements for mobilizing the masses. We at Grist spent some time rounding up the cream of the crop (or at least the most unique of the crop) for your edification entertainment. From epic chase scenes to “candid” family conversations to a bizarre cameo from Carl Sagan, here’s how advertisers in 2020 thought outside the box with their environmental messaging.
Make it satire
This ad from the League of Conservation Voters lets the “fossil fuel industry” speak for itself via a handful of (obviously fictionalized) wealthy oil executives doing what they do best — smoking cigars, playing golf in their bathrobes, and shredding evidence that they knew about climate change decades ago. (“No one needs to know that!”)
The ad packs a punch by poking fun at the industry-led emphasis on individual climate action. Consumers had better start composting! Or stop exhaling so much carbon dioxide. “You’ve got a lot of work to do,” says a man in an expensive-looking suit. “‘Cause your kids are gonna need it.”
Make it like a movie
This ad from the progressive group Vote Like a Madre pulls on parent heartstrings as hard as any Pixar feature film. It opens with an adorable mother-daughter pinkie promise over a kids’ drawing of a pollution-spewing facility. “Mirame, cariño,” the mother says to her worried-looking daughter. Look at me, dear. “Mamá will fix this, okay? I promise.”
Then she and four other mom friends go into full action-hero mode. Armed with the tools of the trade (plush toys, water guns, etc.), they storm into an emissions-producing factory, distracting the operators and deactivating the smokestacks. The fantasy sequence ends and the mom is back at home. She flexes her true superpower by affixing an “I Voted” sticker to her daughter’s shirt. “A promise is a promise,” she says.
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Make it apocalyptic
This ad may *technically* be from 2019, but we figured it was still worth a mention — also, what is time anymore, am I right? Voters may not have loved this end-of-the-world advert from Colorado Democrat Andrew Romanoff, who lost his bid for U.S. Senate over the summer, but the spot drew intense praise from environmental advocates around the country. Genevieve Guenther, founder of the nonprofit End Climate Silence, tweeted that it was “the most powerful political ad about climate change” that she’d ever seen.
The first half is pure horror: “I just hope we can see the sunshine again one day,” says a young girl who seems to have been living in a bunker for years. Outside the temperature reads 127 degrees F, the air quality index is at 420, and there’s a “heightened chance of large-scale tornadoes.”
The ad may not have inspired Colorado voters to elect Romanoff, but the scary climate message feels more relevant than ever this election.
Make it dissonant
We are just now entering the Halloween season, but one of the freakiest ads came out back in April, just in time for Earth Day. In this unnerving video from youth-led group Fridays for the Future, flames crackle and consume a suburban house as the family inside goes about their everyday business. “I’m gonna stay in the office until about 6:30 tonight,” the dad announces over coffee and toast. Mom chops celery for the kids’ lunches, and as she sees them out the door, she’s totally oblivious to the inferno inside.
“Our house is on fire,” the ad says in closing. “React.”
Make it #relatable
On the flip side of the climate debate, the American Petroleum Institute chose to fight climate fire with FACT — or at least something sorta kinda close to it — as part of its Energy Citizens campaign. The ad series, “Conversations,” is out to appeal to down-to-earth folks by portraying totally candid, not at all canned or bizarrely forced conversations about climate policy between everyday Joe and Jane six-packs.
One ad features a woman buffeting her husband with strangely specific and laudatory factoids about the oil industry. “Emissions are at an all-time low, thanks to natural gas!” she explains cheerily while packing up her things for work. “Plus!” she says, wagging a finger at him before heading out the door, “natural gas jobs pay twice as much as other jobs in manufacturing!” Just your typical Tuesday morning husband-and-wife small talk.
Make it claymation
Fans of maximalism will appreciate the sheer scope of this Greenpeace climate advertisement opus. This ad has it all: turtles, claymation, a wholesome family road rip. But said vacay ends with tragedy — an ocean trawler destroys the turtle family’s coral-lined home just as the group pulls into the driveway. Mama turtle, who was putting on the kettle for the whole family, is killed. Yikes!
“Six out of seven sea turtle species are threatened with extinction,” the ad says, closing with an invitation to sign a Greenpeace petition and #ProtectTheOceans.
Make it Carl Sagan
Who needs car ads to offer climate specifics when they have Carl Sagan? Yes, the famed astronomer who brought us the Pale Blue Dot, the original Cosmos series, and other incalculable contributions to science and culture, narrates this ad for the Jeep Wrangler. If you watch the whole video, Jeep says it’ll make an undisclosed donation “to combat climate change.”
At least it’s a hybrid?