Fossil fuel companies and firms that work closely with them are among the biggest spenders on ads designed to look like Google search results, in what campaigners say is an example of “endemic greenwashing”.
The Guardian analysed ads served on Google search results for 78 climate-related terms, in collaboration with InfluenceMap, a thinktank that tracks the lobbying efforts of polluting industries.
The results show that over one in five ads seen in the study – more than 1,600 in total – were placed by companies with significant interests in fossil fuels.
Advertisers pay for their ads to appear on the search engine when a user queries certain terms. The ads are appealing to businesses because they are very similar in appearance to search results: more than half of users in a 2020 survey reported they could not tell the difference between a paid-for listing and a normal Google result.
ExxonMobil, Shell, Aramco, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs were among the top-20 advertisers on the search terms, while a number of other fossil fuel producers and their financiers also placed ads.
Jake Carbone, senior data analyst at InfluenceMap, said: “Google is letting groups with a vested interest in the continued use of fossil fuels pay to influence the resources people receive when they are trying to educate themselves.
“The oil and gas sector has moved away from contesting the science of climate change and now instead seeks to influence public discussions about decarbonisation in its…