This article by Belinda Noble, founder of BeNoble Communications, was published by crikey.com.au on 11 January 2021.
2021 must be the year greenwashing dies
Fossil fuel companies are adept at pretending to be part of the solution, when they're actually the cause of the problem.
Early this year, scientists will put the final touches of the Sixth Assessment Report from the International Panel on Climate Change.
It will not be an easy read.
The hope of containing global warming to under 1.5 degrees on pre-industrial levels will be all but gone and the current target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 will be revealed as being far too little, far too late.
One of the report’s lead writers, Australian climate scientist Joëlle Gergis, gave us a taste when she wrote in October, “what concerns me is that we may have already pushed the planetary system past the point of no return. That we’ve unleashed a cascade of irreversible changes that have built such momentum that we can only watch as it unfolds”.
With fossil fuels responsible for the bulk of global warming, it’s little wonder that oil, coal and gas companies are concerned about community support. In fact, pre-COVID, the mining sector more broadly identified social licence at its greatest threat.
And the decades of delaying climate action by deliberately casting doubt on the science is coming to an end. Only 8% of Australians believe global warming is not at all serious.
So that leaves fossil fuels companies with only a few tactics left to maintain their social licence: sponsorships, marketing, community engagement and greenwashing.
Greenwashing is a pretty soft term for what is basically misleading, misdirecting, minimising and spinning facts to enable companies to make a profit at our expense.
In short, oil, gas and coal companies are pretending to solve the very problem they are creating.
They speak of “net zero” targets, but those targets are far in the future, don’t include all their emissions, or rely on carbon capture projects that aren’t yet delivering. Their commitments are full of weasel words, dodgy accounting and wishful thinking.
Like Woodside, which boasts of planting trees to offset 700,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide while also planning Barrup Hub, the largest fossil fuel project in Australia’s history with a carbon bomb of six billion tonnes.
Like Shell, which runs an “eco-marathon” while also expanding production at three Australian sites.
They pretend gas is “clean” when its methane is actually 84 times more potent at heating the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
And they continue to tell us that fossil fuels are necessary for “progress”, “keeping the lights on” or “keeping Australia moving”, despite renewables being the cheapest source of power.
Last year they tried to convince us that we need to open more gas wells and coal mines to boost employment, even though they employ less than 2% of the population.
Most offensively, the NSW Minerals Council equated miners with “frontline workers”, comparing people that earn up to $145,000 a year in remote locations with nurses who earn less than half of that while bravely risking their lives to treat COVID patients.
Last year a marketing deck from BP was leaked. It revealed the depth and sophistication of the company’s greenwashing tactics. They ranged from subtle language changes, such as stopping using the word “hydrocarbons”, to research-based, grass-roots marketing campaigns to persuade people to associate gas with renewable energy. The aim was for BP to be seen as “part of the solution”.
The only solution is to stop. We have no more time to waste.