Brisbane Airport happy to promote fossil fuel projects but not climate change

Chevron and Santos aren't really selling oil and gas to airport commuters. Their ads are as political as the WWF climate change billboards rejected by Brisbane Airport for being 'political'.

Brisbane Airport has rejected the billboard advertisement below from environmental groups because they say it breaches their policy of not running political advertisements.

In the overall scheme of political advertising it’s probably one of the more tame ones I’ve seen – no mention of any political party, no mention of politician’s names. But I would have to agree it has a public policy goal of pushing politicians at the G20 meeting to put climate change up the order of priorities. That’s something WWF, who organised the ads, freely acknowledges.

But what I find rather odd is that Brisbane Airport didn’t seem to have any objection to running advertisements with a similar appearance from oil company Chevron.

You’d have to have been hiding under a rock not to notice the ‘We Agree, Do you?’ advertisements from Chevron, particularly if you visit an airport on a regular basis. They run on our own website, they also figure prominently in The Australian and The Australian Financial Review newspapers. Indeed, last time I was in Perth the main street of the CBD was blanketed in Chevron flags pushing their message as a contributor to the local community.

These ads explain how their gas projects are benefiting Australian businesses, workers and local communities as well as taking care to protect the environment. They say things like 'Make Australian gas benefit all Australia – I agree', featuring a vignette on how Australian manufacturer Wilson Transformers is benefiting from Chevron’s LNG projects.

Such a blanket advertising campaign doesn’t come cheap. Yet Chevron doesn’t have much in the way of customers it wants to directly sell to in Australia.

So why are they running these ads?

I bet you can’t guess.

Chevron has a huge amount of money at stake in Australian oil and gas projects. All up their Gorgon and Wheatstone projects will cost $80 billion to construct.

These investments are vulnerable to an array of political decisions.

Some manufacturing industries would like to reserve a significant proportion of gas purely for domestic use, while Chevron’s most valuable markets for its gas are overseas.

Gorgon is located on a sensitive island nature reserve which hosts a range of endangered species. Worries about a possible oil spill or a gas explosion or even a few feral animals piggy backing via one of the boats servicing the Gorgon project might be a reason to constrain Chevron’s activities. One only needs to see how environmental activists halted plans for an LNG plant at James Price Point to see why Chevron could be worried.

And of course Chevron’s projects will generate very large amounts of free cash flow, which is liable to tempt governments keen for more tax revenue to fund election promises.

To protect their investments against such government decisions they need to have the general public onside, or at least have those close to the levers of political power onside.

Also, even though Brisbane Airport’s head of corporate relations, Rachel Crowley, acknowledged the obvious – that Chevron’s ads had a political purpose – the airport won’t be knocking back forthcoming advertisements from Santos. These communicate eerily similar messages to those in the Chevron campaign about how their gas projects are making a positive contribution to the community and how they are not damaging the environment.

I don’t really expect Brisbane Airport to knock back advertising from oil and gas companies explaining their own point of view. But maybe they should acknowledge their mistake and agree to run the advertisements raising concern about climate change as well.

The reason why is when the visitors get through the airport and make their way to the centre of Brisbane during the period of the G20 summit, they’ll find a series of side events they can attend entitled 'the Global Café'. These involve experts providing presentation on five themes, one of which is ‘Powering future economies energy’. This is sponsored by coal company Peabody Energy. Staff of Peabody Energy naturally feature in the program, as does Bjorn Lomborg.

Peabody Energy have even developed their own marketing and social media campaign as part of the G20 Summit – the Lights on Project – to “urge world leaders to fight energy poverty”. When you visit the page you are greeted with a prominent side bar headlined, 'Coal is good for humanity'. There’s also a video from Brendan Pearson, current CEO of the Minerals Council and former Peabody employee, explaining that “the reduction of energy poverty … should be a priority … The key to that solution is low-cost energy and coal produces the lowest cost energy source".

This forms a sub-part of a broader campaign known as Advanced Energy for Life where you can read articles such as: ‘The world is counting on coal to power growing needs’ and ‘EPA’s Carbon Plan: Pain and Politics’. There’s even a note of congratulations to Tony Abbott entitled, 'Carbon tax repealed: Australian Government puts its people first'.

Given Peabody and other fossil fuel companies seem to be free to promote their own messages about the positives of fossil fuels, would it really hurt if G20 delegates got a little prompt at the airport that we need to think about the negative side effects of burning fossil fuels, too?