Clean Coal: The Battle of the Marketers

clean coal marketing With every great greenwashing campaign comes an equally fascinating anti-greenwashing campaign.

I have to credit the person who came up with the label “clean coal” because (while as of yet it’s a complete oxymoron) it says it all in the name, right? It’s coal, BUT it’s clean. As the Coen brothers explain in their fake ad, “Clean coal harnesses the awesome power of the word ‘Clean'”

America’s energy companies and watchdog organizations alike are having a field day with this one. Americans are seeing everything from “Factuality” to “Reality” grace their TV and computer screens.

What the environmentalists say: Coal is considered “clean” when its CO2 emissions are captured, transported, and stored properly. The U.S. coal industry is spending millions on ads for “clean” coal, but there is not a single “clean” coal power plant in operation or under construction. What we do have is 600 coal-fired power plants spewing out 32% of U.S. CO2 emissions each year.

From the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity: With the right investments in technology, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the science of climate change irrelevant. If we continue to fight about the science, we’re going to be sitting here 20 years from now still arguing about it.

I hear you, coal companies. And I agree: who needs science when you have marketing?

Audrey is a freelance copywriter. She has worked with every kind of company, helping them to communicate their message of sustainability. Careful to never greenwash, Audrey believes that transparency in marketing is just as important as branding. And that doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive. When she's not blogging, marketing sustainability or writing radio commercials for Chinese food, you can find Audrey rock-climbing, riding her bike around San Francisco, or looking for work (she's available for hire, call now!)

3 responses

  1. I am by no means a proponent of the coal industry or the clean coal marketing campaign.
    My ambivalence about CCS technology is expressed here on 3P with my articles about my recent visit to Schwarze Pumpe, a pilot CCS plant in Germany (as will as a recent article on my own blog). I do not believe there is any such thing as “clean coal.”
    I believe, however, that a decision will – or should – be made here in the U.S. about whether or not to develop CCS technology. Whether we like it or not, it is an option that should not be discounted out of hand in a hasty reaction to the propaganda of the American Coalition of Clean Coal Technology and their unfortunate choice of words about making the “science of climate change irrelevant” – such a notion is misguided at best (I am being as generous as I know how).
    As long as the Coalition uses such a blatantly ridiculous argument, they should be ignored. But we shouldn’t ignore the option of developing CCS technology, thoroughly studying the issue of finding ways to use CO2 as a resource instead of a waste stream (google Mantra Energy for one example), and determining if there is a safe way to sequester carbon (where the biggest risk of CCS lies, in my opinion)
    In the past few days I have read of new projects in the planning stage to start CCS plants in this country, as well as the possibility of restarting the Future Gen project. The Germans are moving forward with plans of a commercial scale plant in operation by 2020.
    Will CCS be a total solution (as in “making climate science irrelevant”)? Most assuredly not. But in the face of some trying to oversimplify the case in favor of “clean coal” with specious arguments and rhetoric, we should be cautioned not to oversimplify or dismiss out of hand the option of using CCS as a partial solution to move quickly to a lower carbon society.
    I remain unconvinced that it will work, but we need to look at it soberly, and absent the emotional rhetoric that the Coalition would have us engage in. The fact is, we are now faced with hard choices, and in regards to coal, there are no perfect solutions.

  2. Well said, Tom. The tragedy here is that these scumbag marking firms will actually take this on, seeing nothing but money, the rest be damned, which requires millions more to be spent with counter attacks. It really makes me ill.
    You’re absolutely right that we need clean coal technology as there’s just other way to transition. But as long as these dirt bags drag their heels, we’ll have to keep fighting these propaganda battles. C’est la vie.

  3. Yes, I certainly agree with you, Tetsuo. The whole notion of making “climate change science irrelevant” makes my heart sink – and it detracts from the real issue of how best to approach (or not) CCS technology. We hardly have the time to waste on such nonsense, and yet, there it is.
    I suppose we can’t, or shouldn’t, “ignore” the big propaganda machine. I just hope the debate can somehow rise above it. And perhaps that is wishful thinking on my part!

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