Untruth in Green Advertising

  • Date: 07/01/17
  • The Wall Street Journal

A UK regulator calls out anti-fracking scaremongering

Our friends in the environmental movement often behave as if they have a monopoly on sound science, but not everyone is convinced. Witness the rebuke that Britain’s independent advertising watchdog issued to Friends of the Earth, which on Wednesday was forced to withdraw one of its anti-fracking leaflets.

The finding by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) concerned a magazine insert titled “Pat Saved Her Home From Fracking. You Can Save Yours Too.” The ad claimed that hydraulic fracturing—the injection of high-pressure fluids into shale to extract oil and gas—causes cancer, asthma and eye problems, as well as skin diseases and nervous disorders. Friends of the Earth illustrated the ad with a photograph of a national park where there are no plans to frack.

Britain’s ASA took action in response to a complaint from the energy company Cuadrilla, which objected to the ad’s suggestion that toxic chemicals could end up in drinking water and cause illness. The regulator resolved the dispute informally, and Friends of the Earth said this meant ASA had “dropped” its complaint. That prompted the regulator to clarify Thursday that it had ended its investigation only after Friends of the Earth promised it wouldn’t repeat “claims it made in its anti-fracking leaflet or claims with the same meaning.”

As a matter of principle we don’t like any regulation of speech content, even if the ASA is a self-regulating body unaffiliated with the British government. The best way to counter false speech is with more speech, which is how it works in the U.S. with its First Amendment.

That would have been the better way for the ASA to handle it too, but the episode does illustrate the falsity of green-lobby claims. Even President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has never been able to show harm that fracking pollutes ground water. Yet this falsehood persists, much like claims about the dangers of genetically modified foods that have been debunked by scientific authorities on both sides of the Atlantic.

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