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Paul Murphy If we want real change, we should ban fossil fuel companies from advertising

The People Before Profit TD is seeking political support for a ban on fossil fuel advertising.

COP-28 LAST DECEMBER was an historic failure with no agreement for a global phase out of fossil fuels. Despite this, we need to start taking concrete steps towards fossil fuel phase out now if we are to have any hope of avoiding catastrophic global heating of 2 degrees more.

A ban on fossil fuel advertising, including petrol, diesel and the private cars and flights that use them, can be one of those steps — alongside radical ecosocialist measures to give people real alternatives.

Car companies, airlines and fossil fuel companies wouldn’t spend billions on advertising if it didn’t work. Just like the tobacco companies before them, they are spending those billions on ads to make billions in profits — despite the damage their products are doing to the environment.

Our love of cars

Ireland is one of the most car-dependent societies in Europe, and Dublin is one of the most congested cities in the world. The average motorist spends 158 hours a year — almost a whole week! — sitting in traffic. Transport accounts for 17% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions and the vast majority of this comes from private fossil fuelled cars.

As well as being the primary cause of the climate crisis, fossil fuels are the main cause of a host of other health and environmental problems. They are the main cause of air pollution in our towns and cities, leading to chronic diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart and respiratory problems. A study in London found that children growing up in the most polluted parts of the city had significantly reduced lung capacity, likely for life.

Ireland has the highest rate of asthma in Europe. One in ten children in this country are currently suffering from the disease and one in five will suffer from it at some stage during their childhood. 380,000 people in this country have asthma right now and 890,000 will develop it during their lifetimes.

The last time such a major public health threat was so clearly associated with a particular product was with tobacco. We banned tobacco advertising and sponsorship because of the clear link between smoking and illness, disease and death. It’s time to do the same with advertising of fossil fuels and the vehicles that use them.


Last month, I introduced a Private Member’s Bill in the Dáil that would ban corporate advertising of fossil fuels, private fossil fuelled vehicles (private cars and motorbikes) and flights.

The Bill only applies to corporate advertising, merchandising and sponsorship — not to small ads taken out by individuals selling a second hand car, for example. There are also exceptions for on-premises advertising and price display, so petrol stations can still display prices for example and airlines can advertise prices of flights on their own websites. The Bill would also set up a Fossil Fuel Information Commission, so consumers can compare prices and features of fossil fuels and fossil fuelled vehicles.

People who still need to buy fossil fuels for heating or a petrol or diesel car because of a lack of affordable, feasible alternatives would still be able to do so. There is no question of anyone being prevented from buying a new or second hand car. In fact, they would have access to better, unbiased information than they do at the moment to enable them to get the best deal.

The big difference is that we would no longer be bombarded with constant advertising for fossil fuels that are killing us and killing our planet.

Once you start noticing it, it’s striking just how much car advertising there is everywhere — on billboards, on websites and as sponsors of TV and radio programmes. There’s evidence this has a direct impact on the lack of media coverage of the climate crisis — a topic the Late Late Show has barely covered in all its years of showcasing shiny new cars.

The problem with SUVs

Most of the new cars being advertised are SUVs, which as well as being more environmentally damaging are two to three times more likely to kill pedestrians. The massive increase in SUV sales in recent years is not encouraging at a time when we’re seeing a growing number of road deaths in Ireland.

Last year in Ireland, the number of new fossil fuelled cars or SUVs increased by 10% to over 99,000 new cars sold. Sales of electric vehicles also increased but four times as many new fossil fuelled cars as new electric cars were sold.

The average car on Irish roads is nine years old so these new fossil fuelled cars will be pumping out carbon emissions well into the 2030s. At that stage, we will have breached 1.5 degrees of heating and may be well on our way to 2 degrees.

Of course, along with a ban on fossil fuel advertising, we need ecosocialist climate action to give everyone a real alternative to the private car and fossil fuelled heating. That means massive public investment in free and frequent public transport, right across the country and free access to public bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters and electric car sharing schemes. It means public funding for free retrofitting for all households that need it and rapid state investment to transform our electricity system from fossil fuel dependency to 100% renewables.

This Earth Day, 22 April, I am launching a campaign for a ban on fossil fuel advertising alongside environmental and health activists. We hope to gain widespread public support for this idea that can push it up the political agenda and force the government to act.

Paul Murphy is a People Before Profit TD for Dublin South West.

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