“Life is so much better without restrictions” says the advert for a big car in a big national newspaper. It is, in fact, a very big car.
The new Land Rover Defender will not fit in a standard UK parking space with a spare wheel on the back like the one shown in the image. Its pollution is over-sized too.
The official carbon pollution figures range from 226 to 340 g CO2 /km. At the top of the range the SUV is pouring out pollution at over 250 percent above the EU target carbon emission level for an average car.
So is that what Land Rover mean when they say that life is so much better without restrictions, that they don’t want to concern themselves with fairly sharing space in the car park, or be hemmed in by efforts to make air breathable in towns and cities?
Because the great majority of SUVs – even the biggest boasting about their off-road abilities – are indeed registered to urban addresses.
But the Defender is pictured in a sun dappled forest, so do the makers mean something else?
Is it that they think their vehicle should be allowed to drive wherever it wants, through protected woodland, across areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest, or anybody else’s back garden?
What exactly do they mean? Because, a life without restrictions would, at the very least, be challenging, however appealing it might be to those who prefer not to consider the impacts of their actions on others.
Would it mean the removal of all building regulations, including restrictions to guarantee fire and structural safety? Given recent lethal failures of existing building codes, this might be one area where more restrictions, not less are needed.
Should there be no restriction on industry’s ability to pollute the ground, air or our water supplies?
Should there be no restrictions on the powers of the police, or politicians? Or, on a neighbour partying loudly every night of the week, or even on one person assaulting another?
The fact is that life is so much better with the ‘right’ restrictions and can be made immeasurably worse by their removal.
So, more specifically, what kind of restrictions might the Land Rover Defender like to live without? What is this advert actually saying?
Given the car’s huge emissions, could it be that there should be no restriction on the amount of pollution it causes, or its kerb clogging size?
Either way, whether thinking about life in general, or cars and roads in particular, the idea that life is better with no restrictions, is not only an absurd notion, but one that will get a lot of people killed.
The social contract that makes civilisation possible is made of agreeing checks and balances, agreeing certain boundaries and restricting the power of some to cause harm to others.
Before restrictions were introduced concerning the loading of ships, for example, unscrupulous operators and insurance scams turned shipping routes into drowning pools with a horribly high death rate.
The reality is that life may be better without restrictions for some – very often the rich and powerful, but not others, those who don’t have money and power. What is the picture when it comes to owning large SUVs in general, and Land Rovers in particular.
Our research shows that Range Rovers and Land Rovers are among the most carbon polluting SUVs, being among the top selling vehicles which have average CO2 emissions in the top 10 percent of the market.
The wealthy London borough Kensington & Chelsea is the most popular place for these high CO2 emission vehicles, with one in five new private registrations falling into the category.
Land Rovers and Range Rovers are also common among the top selling 25 over-sized vehicles which do not fit into a standard UK parking space of 4.8m in length.
Large SUVs are most popular, not in remote farming regions, but in affluent urban and suburban areas. Six of the top ten areas for new Large SUV sales were wealthy London boroughs – as measured by share of new private car registrations.
But, of course, these polluting vehicles don’t stay in their wealthy boroughs, but drive through poorer city neighbourhoods, and it is the poorest and more marginalised urban communities which suffer the worst air quality.
Adverts are not allowed to be harmful or misleading. If they are, people are able to complain to the regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which will take forward complaints that explicitly violate its code of conduct.
But the UK’s advertising regulator has been criticised for being weak and too close to the industry it is supposed to regulate.
Only 22 percent of complaints are investigated currently and only two percent upheld. The ASA has said it is developing “new rules that tackle advertising that is misleading or harmful to the environment”.
But, in January 2021, the regulator was heavily criticised in the Journal of European Market and Consumer Law for “missing the big picture” regarding carbon-intensive advertising.
Even so, the Land Rover advert seems to be in clear violation of principles 3.1 (point 1), 3.2 (point 1 and 2) of the ASA non-broadcast Code, regarding the misleading use of text and imagery.
When Land Rover says the “one restriction” applied to the vehicle is to “bring it back”, it is false and misleading and implies that the model advertised is not susceptible to any other measures or regulations, such as those related to vehicle emissions or driver behaviour.
Also, the reference to a “whole new word of freedom” is particularly misleading for the reason that it clearly contradicts further restrictions soon to be imposed on internal combustion-engine vehicles by the UK Government.
Picturing the car against a forest background is misleading too, as recent research finds that on average two thirds of SUV purchases in the UK are in fact registered to urban addresses.
Furthermore, forests are sensitive ecosystems not suitable for large SUVs. Of course, forests are also frequently protected and carry restrictions. To promote unrestricted driving is not only irresponsible, but misleading too.
Perhaps even more cynical is the way the advert exploits frustration over public health measures for the promotion of a highly polluting vehicle.
The copy reads: “Understandably, there are still restrictions as life slowly gets back to normal. Not so with Defender, the 4WD vehicle with a capacity to go almost anywhere and do almost anything.”
That is particularly irresponsible when air pollution is leading to the premature death of up to 36,000 people each year in the UK and has been shown to aggravate the severity of Covid-19 symptoms.
In Sweden the regulator ruled recently against a Jeep advert which claimed its vehicle was ‘inspired by nature.’
And, Amsterdam won international recognition for being the world’s first city to adopt a motion banning advertising from all fossil fuel products and activities – including those from cars, airlines and fossil fuels.
Not long after this, Amsterdam’s metro operator took a similar step by deciding to remove adverts for short-haul flights and fossil fuel-powered vehicles.
With the issue now high on the political agenda, there is a new push for a European-wide initiative to end advertising and sponsorship from all fossil fuel activities and products, much in the same way this was done for tobacco products. Complain to the Advertising Standards Agency now.
Find out more about the Badvertising campaign action here.
This article was first published in the Ecologist here.
Andrew Simms is Coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, an author, political economist and activist. He is co-director of the NewWeather Institute, Assistant Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, a Research Associate at the University of Sussex, and a Fellow of the New Economics Foundation (NEF). His books include The New Economics, Cancel the Apocalypse: the New Path to Prosperity, Ecological Debt and Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth? He tweets from @andrewsimms_uk