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The False Promise of Clean Coal — Jeff Goodell

The False Promise of Clean Coal — Jeff Goodell

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The coal industry’s slick advertisements promoting “clean coal” employ twenty-first century media techniques to keep us locked into a nineteenth century energy economy. A classic greenwashing campaign, it uses the iconography of sexy technology and down-home Americana to maintain the status quo: Big Coal’s influence over energy politics.
The coal industry’s slick advertisements promoting “clean coal” employ twenty-first century media techniques to keep us locked into a nineteenth century energy economy. A classic greenwashing campaign, it uses the iconography of sexy technology and down-home Americana to maintain the status quo: Big Coal’s influence over energy politics.

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Published by: Post Carbon Institute on Jun 12, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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THE FALSEPROMISE OFCLEAN COAL
Jeff Goodell
 
This publication is an excerpted chapter rom
The Energy Reader: Overdevelopment and the Delusion o Endless Growth
, Tom Butler, Daniel Lerch, and George Wuerthner,eds. (Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media, 2012).
The Energy Reader 
is copyright© 2012 by the Foundation or Deep Ecology, and published in collaboration withWatershed Media and Post Carbon Institute.For other excerpts, permission to reprint, and purchasing visit energy-reality.org or contact Post Carbon Institute.Photo: George Wuerthner.
Coal-fred power plant near Kemmerer, Wyoming 
.
about the author
A longtime contributing editor at
Rolling Stone,
 
 Jeff Goodell
has written or many periodicals. His books include
Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future 
and
How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the AudaciousQuest to Fix Earth’s Climate.
 
Post Carbon Institute | 613 4th Street, Suite 208 | Santa Rosa, California 95404 USA
 
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1
S
everal years ago, in Gillette, Wyoming, I ell intoa long conversation with the vice president o alarge American coal company about coal’s public imageproblem. Gillette is in the center o the Powder River Basin, the epicenter o the coal boom in America, where60-oot seams o coal lay just below the surace. This vicepresident, who did not want his name to appear in print,was deeply concerned about coal’s uture and expressedrustration with environmental attacks on coal, suggest-ing that it was all a problem o perception: “People don’tlike coal because it’s black,” he told me. “I it were white,all our problems would be solved.”Whenever one o those slick ads or “clean coal” popsup on CNN, I think about that conversation in Gillette.The 35-million-dollar “clean coal” campaign, spear-headed by a coal industry ront group called AmericanCoalition or Clean Coal Electricity (ormerly knownas Americans or Balanced Energy Choices), is nothingless than a nationwide eort to paint coal white.And to the coal industry’s credit, they’re doing a prettygood job. Republicans and Democrats alike tout “cleancoal” as the solution to America’s energy troubles. Thelogic is simple: America has lots o coal. We are a tech-nologically advanced society. Ergo, we can clean upcoal. What’s the problem?Well, here’s one: “Clean coal” is not an actual invention,a physical thing—it is an advertising slogan. Like “at-ree donuts” or “interest-ree loans,” “clean coal” isa phrase that embodies the aith that there is an easyanswer or every hard question in America today. Wecan have wars without sacrice. We can borrow morethan we can aord without worrying about how we’llpay it back. We can end our dependency on oil by pow-ering our SUVs with ethanol made rom corn. And wecan keep the lights on without superheating the climatethrough the magic o “clean coal.”Mining and burning coal remains one o the mostdestructive things human beings do on this Earth. Itdestroys mountains, poisons water, pollutes the air,and warms the atmosphere. True, i you look strictlyat emissions o smog-producing chemicals like sul-ur dioxide, new coal plants are cleaner than the oldcoal burners o yore. But going rom our bottles o whiskey a week down to three does not make you cleanand sober.O course, the “clean coal” campaign is not about real-ity—it’s about perception. It’s an exercise in rebranding.Madison Avenue did it or Harley Davidson motor-cycles and Converse shoes. Why not Old King Coal?It’s not a dicult trick—just whip out some slick adswith upbeat music and lots o cool twenty-rst-centurytechnology like ghter jets and computers. Run the adslong enough, and people will believe.
 
The coal industry’s slick advertisements promoting“clean coal” employ twenty-first century media techniquesto keep us locked into a nineteenth centuryenergy economy. A classic greenwashing campaign,it uses the iconography of sexy technologyand down-home Americana to maintain thestatus quo: Big Coal’s influence over energy politics.

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