The ADgenda: this week's most offensive advert

Estee Lauder's Day and Night repair.

During the Paralympics one advert seemed to be running interminably throughout the Channel 4 coverage. As we watched heroic athletes at their physical peak, battling to claim public recognition for all the gruelling years of training and dedication they had sweated through, Estee Lauder were more interested in educating us about life's necessities. A purring voice grabbed our attention with the words "Millions of women can't live without it" and up our ears pricked, what could this wonderful new invention be that we had so far survived just fine without but had now arrived to show us how dreary and base our existence had been up until this very moment? 

Turns out the one thing that women require as a basic need the world over is anti-aging cream. No, not clean running water or access to electricity. Not even the oxygen we breathe is as crucial or as life-sustaining as holding off those wrinkles, ladies. This isn't just that we'd quite like healthy, younger-looking skin - no, it's not that flippant. We NEED a youthful, bouncy complexion - our very lives depend on it. 

Sadly, someone forgot to tell child poverty charity Plan International who in the same week have released an advert for their campaign "Because I Am A Girl", highlighting the continuing yawning chasm of gender inequality in certain parts of the world. While actress Freida Pinto spoke of girls who will not survive adolescence because they have no access to quality healthcare, Estee Lauder were busy convincing the rest of the world that survival depends upon slathering your face in a thick white cream every night. 

The company recently announced that they are upping their advertising spending by about $80m, so I imagine we're going to be treated to ever slicker examples of sham beauty products we just simply can't do without. But where's "the science bit"? While we're regularly subjected to the statistics behind the effectiveness of beauty products – "99.99999 per cent of women found their skin was a bit wetter after applying this product" – the company are strangely silent when it comes to backing up this particular claim. Perhaps they rounded up millions of women who were at death's door, smeared some cream on their face and miraculously they were cured, marching out into the sunshine radiating pure health. Perhaps. But then Estee Lauder would be modern day saviours worthy of our undying admiration, not grab-a-buck-quick fraudsters who profit from manipulating women's insecurities.

The Estee Lauder advert. Photograph, Getty Images.
Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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