UK government department made TV adverts about global warming in 1991 - withdrawn because of complaints

2/4/2011 Guardian Solved: The mystery of the 1993 global warming TV ad - by Leo Hickman.You know how it is. You’re searching rather aimlessly online when you get
distracted by something else entirely only never to return to the thing you were
originally searching for.
This is exactly what happened to me a few weeks ago when searching on YouTube
for, well, I forget now. All I can remember is that it included the key words
“global warming”.
What I uncovered, though, was this little historical curiosity from 1993: a UK
government-sponsored TV advert showing a cartoon of a heating thermostat
morphing into planet Earth with a child’s voice telling the viewer that “turning
down the heat by just one degree slows down global warming and saves energy”.
Under the telephone number for the “information pack”, you can just make out the
words: “Issued by the energy efficiency office, the Department of the
I don’t remember ever seeing this advert myself. But, then again, I have never
really been a fan of ITV’s Poirot – during an episode of which this advert was
shown – so I might easily have missed it at the time. (For a dose of nostalgia,
watch the other adverts, too, including the one for a Daily Mirror pull-out
asking whether Elvis Presley was “murdered by the mafia”.) What really struck
me, though, was that all the way back in 1993 (four years before the Kyoto
protocol was adopted, remember) a government department had paid for an advert
to be shown during primetime commercial TV urging people to save energy to help
slow down global warming.
When the government ran its ill-judged Act on CO2 “Bedtime” adverts in 2009, it
claimed that it was the first time it had emphatically linked global warming to
our lifestyle choices in a TV campaign. But here we have evidence of the
government doing the same a full 16 years earlier. Of course, the “bedtime”
adverts went on to cause a flurry of protest from viewers leading both the
Advertising Standards Authority and Ofcom, the media regulator, to investigate
whether it had breached their respective rules. Ofcom ruled that the adverts
were not in breach of its rules on the “prohibition of political advertising”,
but the ASA, while concluded that the ads had largely not breached its rules,
did rule that the imagery of flooding, heat waves and droughts in one of the ads
“was likely to mislead” and ruled that the ads must not be shown again in their
current form.
But does anyone remember this advert from 1993, let alone a resulting
controversy? And if shown again today on primetime television, would it go
The Department of the Environment no longer exists, of course, having long ago
being subsumed into what we now know as the Department for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs. But given that it had been involved in the commissioning of the
bedtime ads, I contacted the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) to
see if it could tell me more about the provenance of the 1993 advert. It checked
its files and found nothing. It then asked the Central Office of Information,
which describes itself as the “government’s centre of excellence for marketing
and communications”, which, since 1946, has “worked in partnership with
government departments and the public sector to drive best practice and cost
effectiveness in the way citizens are informed, engaged and influenced about
issues that affect their lives”. Again, it found nothing.
The great Frank Capra made a startlingly prescient science programme for Bell
Laboratories on weather and climate in 1958 called the “Unchained Goddess”,
which contained a section about mankind’s warming influence. But, from what I
can gather, it wasn’t sponsored by the government of the day.
So I’m throwing this out to readers: does anyone out there remember seeing this
1993 advert, or know anything more about it? A Decc spokesman, having viewed it,
said: “To the extent of the government’s knowledge, this is the first public
campaign which talks about climate change and, therefore, possibly one of the
first in history.”
Is this, perhaps, the first example anywhere in the world of a government
running a global warming campaign in primetime television?
UPDATE: 31 March, 2011
Just after this article was published, I heard back from the Central Office of
Information (COI) saying it had now managed to trace some information in its
  The ad was part of a campaign commissioned by the Department of Environment
  from COI called “Helping the Earth begins at home”. COI believes it is the
  first government climate change/global warming ad (there had been previous
  “Save Energy” ones). It began in November 1991 (according to Hansard) and was
  - on paper - a three-year campaign.
The Hansard entry provided some extra intrigue, though. It mentioned that two
complaints about the campaign had been submitted to the Advertising Standards
Authority in its first two years - one of which was upheld. Curious to know what
the subject of the complaint had been - and why it was upheld - I contacted the
ASA to see if it still held the adjudication on file. After three days of
searching, it come up with this:
  Advertiser: Central Office of Information t/a Department of Energy /
  Department of the Environment
  Date of adjudication: 16 March 1992

  Basis of complaint: Objections to a national press advertisement headlined
  “Global Warming. We have been warned” which featured six photographs of the
  effects of the Great Storm of 1987 including a ship driven ashore, a car
  crushed by a tree, a train on a collapsed bridge and mobile homes which had
  been destroyed. The complainants noted that the advertisement stated,
  “Scientists are not yet able to say if the Great Storm of 1987 and the
  ‘hurricanes’ of 1989 and 1990 are among the first signs of global warming”.
  Since the scientific findings to date were inconclusive, they therefore
  considered the implication from the headline and photographs that there was a
  definite connection between global warming and extreme climatic conditions was

  Findings: Complaints upheld
  The advertisers maintained that the international scientific consensus of the
  Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change was that global warming would take
  place, and that it would be foolhardy to disregard the attendant problems,
  such as extreme climatic events. They also pointed out that the advertisement
  gave a specific qualification that scientists could not say whether the recent
  storms were the first signs of global warming but reminded people of the UK’s
  vulnerability to extreme climatic change.
  The Authority considered that the overall impression given by the
  advertisement’s emphasis on the Great Storm of 1987 was that it had been
  caused by global warming. While accepting that there was a significant body of
  opinion which held that global warming would occur, the Authority did not
  consider that the visual presentation of the advertisement adequately conveyed
  that no such consensus existed concerning the cause of the recent storms. It
  requested that future advertisements in this campaign immediately make clear
  that any connection between global warming and the recent storms was a matter
  of opinion.
  [NB. Further information about this newspaper advert can be found here and
Given the level of heated debate this subject generates today, isn’t it
interesting that almost two decades ago people were arguing over much the same
issues? And isn’t it also rather telling that only two complaints to the ASA
were made by the public in the first two years of this campaign? Another Hansard
entry from 1993 sees the secretary of state for the environment being asked how
many telephone complaints had been received by his department about the “Helping
the Earth Begins at Home” campaign since it began in November 1991. Answer: just
Go to: