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In King Coal’s Kingdom, Truth Is Stranger than Satire
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by Carl Pope | 2011

By Carl Pope—Back in December 2008, the coal industry looked to be the victim of a vicious satire. An online campaign purporting to be from an organization called the American Coalition for Clean Coal posted a series of cartoons of lumps of coal dressed in Christmas garb and singing absurd lyrics to Christmas carols. For example, to the tune of “Frosty the Snowman,” we heard that “When they looked for pollution there was almost none to see” and that “Frosty the Coalman” is “affordable and adorable.” Like most spoofs, the campaign vanished like a snowman melting in Dubai when folks like MSNBC journalist Rachel Maddow mercilessly tweaked it.

In King Coal’s Kingdom, Truth Is Stranger than Satire

 

By Carl Pope—Back in December 2008, the coal industry looked to be the victim of a vicious satire. An online campaign purporting to be from an organization called the American Coalition for Clean Coal posted a series of cartoons of lumps of coal dressed in Christmas garb and singing absurd lyrics to Christmas carols. For example, to the tune of “Frosty the Snowman,” we heard that “When they looked for pollution there was almost none to see” and that “Frosty the Coalman” is “affordable and adorable.” Like most spoofs, the campaign vanished like a snowman melting in Dubai when folks like MSNBC journalist Rachel Maddow mercilessly tweaked it.

[In May] Peabody coal issued a press release in the way that corporations that have been caught screwing up often do—they agreed to pay (grossly inadequate) compensation for the documented impact that burning their product has on the lungs of children. Peabody agreed to a typical class action suit remedy: provide a free inhaler to any child afflicted with asthma who lives close to a coal-fired power plant, along with a $10 coupon for the purchase of the medicine that goes in the inhaler. The details are provided on what looks like a typical coal industry-funded website. (There are many such sites.) This one is called Coal Cares. Coal Cares appears to reflect the industry’s knowledge that its product is making kids sick, and perpetuates the industry’s fundamental response: “Let them breathe inhalers.”

There’s only one problem. The Clean Coal Carolers video, full of lies, is the coal industry’s Real McCoy, and the truthful if painful Coal Cares site is a prank by the culture-jamming satirists The Yes Men. In denouncing the prank, Peabody promptly slipped back into falsehood, claiming that “a growing collection of studies demonstrate the correlation between electricity fueled by low-cost coal and improvement in health, longevity and quality of life,” according to a company press release. “The United Nations has linked life expectancy, educational attainment and income with per-capita electricity use, and the World Resources Institute found that for every tenfold increase in per-capita energy use, individuals live 10 years longer.” WRI promptly pointed out that it had never made any such finding.

So we have a deceitful coal industry internet roll-out, followed by a truthful satire of the industry’s stance, and capped off with a deceitful denunciation of the satire by Peabody! The black comedy might end there. . . except the parodies of the truth that Peabody puts out are not only showing up online, where the likes of Rachel Maddow and The Yes Men can track them. They are also headed for a 4th grade near you.

Scholastic Inc., whose name is at risk of becoming a self-parody, has entered into another one of its “curriculum for pay” deals. For a sum it won’t disclose but doesn’t deny, Scholastic Inc. has agreed to distribute curriculum materials to 66,000 fourth grade teachers commissioned by the American Coal Foundation. The curriculum pretends to be a comprehensive energy learning tool, but in fact, it’s straight-out coal propaganda. None of coal’s pollutants is mentioned, nor is mountaintop removal mining.

The Campaign for a Commercial Free America, which calls these kinds of curriculum-for-pay deals “predatory marketing,” is asking Scholastic to pull “The United States of Energy Materials.” You can join their campaign and send your own letter.

Let’s keep deceit and pollution profits where they belong: out of schools.    n

 

Carl Pope is Chairman of the Sierra Club.

 

UPDATE

Since Pope’s blog appeared in May, Scholastic has agreed to discontinue the coal-friendly curriculum, and has removed it from its website. Assailed in newspapers and online for pushing coal propaganda into the schools, Scholastic retreated. (Its other corporate alliances are being similarly challenged.)

But the coal industry has no intention of leaving the school building.

Coal Education Development and Resource (CEDAR ), partnerships between the coal industry, business community and academia in the coal mining states, is committed to “the increase of knowledge and understanding of the many benefits the Coal Industry provides in our daily lives by providing financial resources and coal education materials to implement its study in the school curriculum.” (www.cedarinc.org, Kentucky)

Focusing its efforts on students in mining areas, the organizations offer scholarships to students and  grants to teachers in cash-strapped communities to develop coal-friendly lessons and projects for their students. Teachers apply for the grants in increasing numbers. CEDAR is generous with instructional materials, too, providing such tools as “The Greening of Planet Earth,” a video which informs students that  “our world is deficient in carbon dioxide, and a doubling of atmospheric CO2 is very beneficial.” Scientists generally—and vigorously—dispute that assertion.

Though Carl Pope’s story of one company seeking to propagandize students came to a satisfactory conclusion, the coal industry’s quest to win young hearts and minds goes on, and should not be overlooked as we seek to move beyond coal.

 

Sources:

www.cedarinc.org (KY)

www.cedarswv.com (WV)

Sieff, Kevin. “Mining schools for Some Support.” Washington Post 2 June 2011 A1

> 2011 Table of Contents

   
   

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