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Coal industry punk'd by hilarious spoof website

Kidz Koal Korner graphic
This site offers free asthma inhalers but still claims that coal is the safest form of energy. Image: coalcares.org.

"Why free inhalers? Because COAL CARES. For kids who have no choice but to use an inhaler, Coal Cares™ lets them inhale with pride," announces a website that claims to be "a goodwill campaign from your neighbors at Peabody Coal."

But Coal Cares is actually a spoof done in the culture-jamming style of Adbusters or The Yes Men by a new coalition called Coal Kills Kids. As a cherry on top of this delicious hot fudge sundae of satire, after launching Coal Cares, the children's health group then started a real petition drive on Change.org condemning its own (fake) website.

Peabody Energy, the world's largest energy company and major contributor to health problems wherever their coal plants are located, has just announced an outrageous PR program called "Coal Cares" .. to give out free colorful and "fun" inhalers to American children with asthma. There's even a "Justin Bieber" and "Twilight" themed inhaler. It's really sick and needs to be condemned NOW!

They don't make shows like ER about environmentalists

For years, the green movement has been trying to connect pollution to toxic chemicals to health, hoping to reach a larger public that cares less about saving polar bears and giant redwoods than about saving themselves and their kids.

I understand this strategy. What anti-coal activist would be content to scrounge for nickels and dimes from broke-ass lefties in the green ghetto when they could break out into a bipartisan, mainstream healthcare heaven where fund-a-thon money for this or that disease flows freely?

Nobody calls the American Lung Association "socialist." And they even get money from Republicans.

But by blaming kids' asthma on coal, the Coal Cares website probably won't win many friends in the GOP, which today more than breathes in money from dirty energy companies, especially Big Coal. In the last twenty years, 76% of donations from the entire mining industry (including coal) went to Republicans.

OK, we admit it -- coal DOES cause asthma

"Puff-Puff™ inhalers are available free to any family living within 200 miles of a coal plant, and each inhaler comes with a $10 coupon towards the cost of the asthma medication itself," advertises the site, which even displays an e-commerce page appearing to offer a dozen different kid-friendly inhaler designs, ranging from My First Inhaler ("baby's first breath") to Diamonds ("diamonds are an asthmatic's best friend").

For those who want to go beyond health, the site's "Clean" Energy page focuses on the alleged risks of renewable power sources, with "Facts" including:

Coal power is solar power. That's because millions of years ago, before coal began to form from decaying organic matter, the sun provided the energy that organic matter required to grow and die.

Wind Kills. Wind turbines can kill up to 70,000 birds per year, or 4.27 birds per turbine per year. Coal particulate pollution, on the other hand, kills fewer than 13,000 people per year.

Solar Burns. In just 30 minutes, a human being absorbs 2.5 million joules of energy from the sun—enough, for most people, to cause sunburn.

Somebody will fall for this one

Unlike many satire sites whose broad humor quickly gives itself away, the wit on Coal Cares is so dry so that it took me a few minutes to figure out that it wasn't really a production of Peabody Energy's PR department.

Though I am among those who are less moved by health concerns of burning coal than by the threat of ecological overshoot -- climate change and peak energy, including peak coal -- I admire the clever subtlety of Coal Cares. The site might just help convince suburban moms and dads, who would otherwise never chain themselves to the White House fence to protest mountaintop removal with a group like Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, to finally start being concerned about the impact of coal.

There have already been excellent satirical attacks on coal, such as the Coen brothers' TV ad spoof "Clean Coal Clean." And sometimes the industry seems to spoof itself, as with its Christmastime cartoon cretins, the Clean Coal Carolers. But as one of the biggest threats to human civilization -- NASA climatologist James Hansen has called coal-fired power plants "death factories" -- don't you think the industry deserves a few more good attacks?

Meantime, I'd love to see a spoof this realistic take on an oil company. Because they fight tooth-and-nail to keep unneeded taxpayer handouts, try to kill clean energy whenever they can and continue to drop helicopters-worth of cash on the heads of climate change deniers, Big Oil deserves a good culture jam as much as Big Coal.

The obvious choices are ExxonMobil and BP. And of course, Koch Industries.

-- Erik Curren

Editorial Notes: Erik Curren is the publisher of Transition Voice. With his wife Lindsay Curren he co-founded Transition Staunton Augusta in January 2010. He is managing partner of the Curren Media Group.

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