Coal’s Last Lie: We Want to Help the World’s Poor

May 21, 2015


Suzanne Goldenberg has some useful articles recently in the Guardian about Big Coal’s attempt to recast itself as a positive force for lifting millions out of poverty.  In magazine ads, posters and youtube videos, Peabody Coal – the world’s largest privately held coal company, is portraying coal as a friendly neighbor bringing prosperity, modernity, and education to struggling families in the developing world.

The campaign is run by the notorious  Burson Marsteller, a “..a public relations firm that worked with the Nigerian government and Argentina junta when they were accused of massacres and disappearances, and helped the nuclear, chemical and energy companies after environmental disasters.”

Suzanne Goldenberg in the Guardian:

But for all the stated concern about poverty in developing countries, Peabody, unlike Gates or indeed several other big coal companies, has no record of funding programmes to reduce energy poverty. “Global energy poverty requires a structural solution brought about by the wise choice of fuels and the wise choice of policies,” Svec said in an email. “The entire mission of Peabody and our activities is driven around increasing access to reliable, low-cost energy.”

Instead, the solution proposed by Advanced Energy for Life, when the campaign first launched, was blocking the new rules in the US putting limits on carbon pollution for power plants, due to be finalised this summer.

When the campaign launched, Peabody invited the public to “take action” by writing the EPA to oppose the clean power plant rules as a way of helping poor people in Africa. The “take action” option was later removed.

And Peabody has admitted the true measure of success of its Advanced Energy for Life campaign will not be measured in developing countries, but by the degree to which it has managed to lead the attention away from coal as a cause of climate change.

Certainly slimy and deceptive, and you can only marvel at the chutzpah – but, no matter – too little, too late. The end is coming for coal, and some additional current stories show why.

Mother Jones:

China is by far the world’s biggest investor in clean energy technologies like solar and wind. Last year, its clean energy spending hit a record $83 billion, a 39 percent jump from the year before, and more than twice what is spent in the United States.

Although America and most other G20 nations are moving toward a clean energy overhaul, its the developing world where you’ll find the most explosive growth: When you add in emerging markets like Brazil, India, and South Africa, clean energy investment in developing countries totaled $131 billion in 2014, only six percent less than the combined total for developed countries. It’s the closest that gap has ever been, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

If you want to bring electricity to places without a power grid, renewables have lots of advantages. For one, it’s far cheaper and faster to build a solar or wind farm than a coal or gas-fired generation plant. And renewables can be built locally, on a small scale, eliminating the need for long-distance transmission lines. Consider what happened with cellphones: Mobile technology became cheap and ubiquitous before many African nations had landline networks, so people just “leapfrogged” straight to wireless.

The same phenomenon is afoot in the energy market, says Todd Moss, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, who was not involved with the Pew report. “I don’t have any doubt that over the next two generations we’ll see colossal investments in the energy sector in many African countries” and in India.


China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, so small decreases in its emissions seem like monumental feats when compared to other countries. According to a new analysis, in the first four months of 2015, China’s coal use fell almost 8 percent compared to the same period last year — a reduction in emissions that’s approximately equal to the total carbon dioxide emissions of the U.K. over the same period.

The analysis, published by Greenpeace and Energydesk China, reviewed data from a number of sources, including China’s industrial output, and found that China had reduced its coal output by 6.1 percent in the first four months of 2015. The research team calculated that the drop in coal use translates into a nearly 5 percent drop in domestic CO2 emissions.

While China is rapidly pursuing clean energy technology — with solar growth that dwarfs any other country — and also closing hundreds of coal plants in response to domestic air pollution issues and a shifting fossil fuel landscape, the real reason for the dramatic fall in emissions is likely the country’s sluggish economy. So far in 2015, China’s economy is growing slower than the government’s desired 7 percent pace — a trajectory that puts it on course to have its weakest economic year in a quarter of a century.

But while China’s economic growth may turn around, its coal use will not. Late last year the government announced it plans to cap coal use by 2020, a necessary target to meet its global pledge of peaking greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Reducing its use of coal, which still generates three-fourths of China’s electricity, is also a key element of China’s renewable energy target of 20 percent non-fossil fuels in “primary energy consumption by 2030.”

As the Wall Street Journal reports, all these factors are coming together in the country’s upcoming overhaul of its power industry, which will be “bad news for coal-fired plants.”

Video below has poor sound but interesting recent interviews with attendees at a “Powering Africa” summit in Washington DC.

6 Responses to “Coal’s Last Lie: We Want to Help the World’s Poor”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Good news that Peabody is falling on hard times. They deserve to die a painful death for their sins, particularly for all the lying BS they have spread through people like Lomborg and Idso and Burson Marsteller.

    What happens in China over the next 10 years is going to be key, as is what happens in India. India actually plans to UP its coal use from ~500 million tons a year to ~ 1 billion tons in the future, and is one of the countries where the Peabody “cheap energy for the poor” campaign seems to have resonated.

    2015 is going to be a make or break year. The Paris talks, the Pope’s encyclical, the growth of renewables, the financial world’s movement away from fossil fuels—lots of interesting stuff coming. Make lots of popcorn.

  2. MorinMoss Says:

    I hope that the drop in China’s coal usage is mostly from shuttering older plants.
    The deadline for all plants to adopt the 2012 emissions standards was Fall 2014 which would bring them roughly in line with newer plants in Germany & the USA.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      China has made some big and ambitious plans, but we will just have to wait and see if things play out positively. They are shuttering the older and dirtier coal plants right next to the cities, but are still talking about opening ~50 coal gasification plants in the hinterlands away from the cities—-the old “clean coal” BS.

      There is still some talk that the major reason for the drop in CO2 emissions is that the Chinese economy has been sputtering a bit, and that if it takes off again they won’t be able to meet their CO2 targets (because they’ll be too busy “growing”).

  3. […] Suzanne Goldenberg has some useful articles recently in the Guardian about Big Coal's attempt to recast itself as a positive force for lifting millions out of poverty. In magazine ads, posters and…  […]

  4. […] Coal’s Last Lie: We Want to Help the World’s Poor […]

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