Viral emails have become a pleasant staple of the holiday season. A couple of weeks ago, I sent one myself to a few friends and family -- an "Elf Yourself" video featuring me with my wife and one of our cats. (You can find it on my personal website if you're interested.) "Elf Yourself" includes an understated advertising message for its sponsor, OfficeMax, but the dancing elves are kind of cute, and I figured my loved ones are strong enough to handle an occasional bit of commercialism. It's a different story, though, with the "Clean coal carolers" video shown here that was just released by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a front group for the coal industry. This latest PR ploy features animated lumps of coal singing Christmas carols with the wording changed to deliver pro-coal propaganda.
The "Clean coal carolers" video appears on the ACCCE website, which lets you adorn each lump of coal with a festive holiday cap or scarf, and then have them sing a song of your choosing, from options that include "Clean Coal Night," "Abundant, Affordable," "O' Technology" and "Deck the Halls." Here's a sample of the lyrics to "Frosty the Coalman":
Frosty the Coalman is a jolly happy soul. He's abundant here in America, and he helps our economy roll. Frosty the Coalman's getting cleaner every day. He's affordable and adorable and helps workers keep their pay. There must have been some magic in clean coal technology, for when they looked for pollutants there were nearly none to see.
Some of the lyrics sung by the "Clean coal carolers" might actually offend people who take Christmas seriously as a religious holiday. "Clean Coal Night," for example, uses the melody of "Silent Night" but replaces the words, "Christ the savior is born" with "Plenty of coal for years to come." Similarly, the chorus praising Jesus in "Come All Ye Faithful" is transformed from "Oh come let us adore him" to "And we can count on clean coal." (Every year Bill O'Reilly at Fox News likes to rant about a so-called "war on Christmas," simply because some people use the phrase "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Let's see if O'Reilly even mentions the coal industry's latest sacrilege.)
Let's focus, though, on the lies about coal itself that the industry has planted in the mouths of its singing video cartoon. The industry has already spent millions of dollars on TV, radio and print advertising aimed at convincing politicians, the media and the public that the "magic in clean coal technology" is a cure-all for global warming pollution from coal-fired power plants. But "clean coal" is nothing but a meaningless phrase -- "vaporware" in the words of one environmental blogger. As Al Gore pointed out in a recent op-ed for the New York Times, "those who spend hundreds of millions promoting 'clean coal' technology consistently omit the fact that there is little investment and not a single large-scale demonstration project in the United States for capturing and safely burying all of this pollution." Scientific American has just written a detailed piece titled "The Dirty Side of Clean Coal," which focuses on just one aspect of the environmental damage done by the coal industry. "As long as mountaintop removal mining continues coal cannot be clean," it states, "even if the pollution from burning it can be minimized." Greenpeace has published a detailed critique of the myth of clean coal, titled "False Hopes: Why Carbon Capture and Storage Won't Save the Climate." The Union of Concerned Scientists has also produced a useful backgrounder titled "How Coal Works." As it points out, "Carbon emissions from burning coal are one of the leading causes of global warming. Acid rain, from sulfur emissions, is almost entirely due to coal burning. From mining to processing to transportation to burning to disposal, coal has more environmental impacts than any other energy source." The coal industry's greenwashing campaign has been massive enough and deceptive enough that it also received an award in this year's version of our own annual "Falsies awards," which call out the people responsible for polluting the information environment over the past year. When ACCCE's animated, anthropomorphic bits of anthracite sing about the "magic in clean coal technology," I remember the famous comment by science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Of course, by "advanced" Clarke indicates that he is referring to technology that actually exists, and works. The magic of "clean coal," by contrast, is the more mundane kind of conjurer's trick that simply uses mirrors and tricks to create a false illusion.