Archives for: January 2009
Anyone that pays attention to the news and science, and not the desperate ads put out by the coal industry, knows that "clean" coal cannot be typed without quotes around "clean." Clean coal has been debunked thoroughly, and even the coal companies are beginning to pick up on their failed "facts."
This, however, has not led to any admissions on their part, only clever copy writing and continuing attempts to obscure the truth. Peabody Energy's latest ad is full of greenwash, offering us the chance to refute the coal industries' lies point by point.
The ad opens with:
"Clean coal means energy security, jobs and economic stimulus along with a cleaner environment."
The coal industry often tries to present itself as the savior of the American economy. While the coal industry does, of course, offer jobs, this is not a mutually exclusive arrangement. As the President and his advisors have noted, a clean economy would offer millions of new, green-collar jobs as well as a wellspring of economic stimulus.
In addition, the promise of "a cleaner environment" excludes, apparently, the air. Power plants are responsible for nearly 40,000 near-fatal heart attacks per year, almost 3000 instances of lung cancer, and countless asthma cases and assorted respiratory and cardiac illnesses. These effects are felt much more acutely in those areas near coal-fired power plants than in areas with little to no coal plants nearby, which is yet another reason to keep the "clean" in quotes.
"What is clean coal?"
"Part One of clean coal has taken place in recent years, as billions of dollars in new technologies scrub away emissions."
One of the most common greenwashing practices is taking credit for what the law requires of them. Or, as Stop Greenwash puts it, "It's the Law, Stupid!"
For instance, the toxic emissions that the coal companies so helpfully scrubbed away- sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide -not only are such emission reductions required by law, but using these scrubbers requires more energy, resulting in even more CO2 pollution.
"Part Two builds on this with new, efficient coal-fueled power plants with reduced carbon footprints. Eventually, carbon capture and storage will allow plants to recycle the CO2 back underground in deep storage or even oil fields, increasing U.S. oil production."
Again, the greenwash in this paragraph is subtle--the ad suggests that carbon-capture and storage is an inevitable technology soon to be sweeping the nation In reality, the technology is not yet ready for utility use, and experts believe it couldn't be deployed any earlier than 2030.
Carbon-capture and storage, first and foremost, wastes energy. Using 10-40% of a power plant’s energy, CCS could literally erase the efficiency gains made in the last 50 years. For every four CCS plants, another five would be needed to power them; all the "clean coal" industry offers the American public is false hope.
Lastly, carbon capture and storage would raise the cost of electricity of 21-91%. So much for coal being America's affordable electricity.
"Americans overwhelmingly support the use of coal. A landslide 72% of opinion leaders recently said yes to the use of coal to generate electricity and 69% say coal is a fuel of the future."
According to CoalCanDoThat.com, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity was the sponsor of this study. Perhaps this would indicate it is not as scientific and unbiased as one would hope—a textbook greenwash.
"So let's use coal to deliver energy security, more jobs and a stronger economy. And let's solve the technology and regulatory hurdles to let America recycle its carbon."
Carbon-capture and storage does not recycle carbon, by which they mean carbon dioxide, the second most-abundant greenhouse gas, but you wouldn't know it if you only read "clean" coal ads. Carbon capture and storage involves the separation of carbon dioxide, either before or after the fuel is combusted. The carbon dioxide is then sequestered in underground geological formations, such as oil fields, or pumped into the ocean.
The carbon dioxide would never be reused for energy, and in fact, could pose a risk to nearby communities if it leaked out of the sequestration.
In the end, then, what Peabody Energy and its accomplices are attempting to sell the promise of an unproven and unfeasible technology. They want the public to put up with dangerous, dirty, coal-fired power plants today, with the empty reassurance that sometime later, they'll clean it up.
Coal is hardly the energy solution America, and the world, needs.
P.S. All the specifics in this article were pulled from "False Hope," the comprehensive Greenpeace report on the myths and lies of carbon capture and storage. You can read the PDF here.
Update: We sent the letter out, and you can download a PDF of the official, signed version here.
January 22, 2008
Immediately after President Obama's inauguration speech, you began running television ads that splice together quotes of the President's in a manner promoting "clean coal" but deliberately misrepresenting his energy campaign platform. Buying the very first ad run on CNN after the speech shows the weight of the $40 million dollars you have spent in the past year on prime advertising real estate.
The footage in your latest ad was apparently taken from President Obama's September 9th speech in Lebanon, VA. The ad shows him saying, "[C]lean coal technology is something that can make American energy independent." Then a screen with text flashes "Clean Coal - creating jobs" before another video clip from the same speech with the President's words: "And by the way, we can create five million new jobs, in clean energy technologies."
The ad thereby implies that President Obama intends to create five million jobs with "clean coal," which you know is false. The President’s New Energy For America plan outlines the creation of "five million new green jobs" with a broad swath of investments in energy efficiency, weatherizing homes, aggressive deployment of renewable energy and plug-in hybrid cars. Coal is the next to last thing on the list. Even in your wildest dreams, so called "clean coal" will never create millions of jobs.
In addition, your ad co-opted President Obama's signature inspirational campaign slogan, dubbing in a crowd chant of "Yes we can!" over what in real life was just a round of applause.
Greenpeace considers the myth of "clean coal" and Carbon Capture and Storage to be a dangerous distraction and false solution to the climate crisis. As prioritized by Energy Secretary Chu and the President's agenda, energy efficiency and renewable energy have stronger and more crucial role to play in America's energy future. However, regardless of differences of opinion on the role of coal in our nation’s energy future, false advertising and misinformation is unacceptable.
We call on you to withdraw this ad campaign and publicly redress these false representations of President Obama's environmental policy. Your misinformation campaign around clean coal continues to corrupt an informed debate in the quest for energy alternatives, environmental security, and real energy solutions.
The tension built as the judges deliberated. Then at last the results were were all in and - ta-da! It was time to announce the winner of the first annual Greenpeace 'Emerald Paintbrush' award for greenwashing above and beyond the call of duty. Cue a quick roll on the drums, and step forward into the spotlight - BP!
The energy corporation with an income larger than most of the world's nation states has spent a lot of time and money restyling itself as being 'Beyond Petroleum' in recent years, but a trawl through their accounts quickly reveals just how empty that assertion really is - 'Back to Petroleum', more like it.
Strangely enough, when our dinner-jacketed and bow-tied representatives turned up at the British oil giant's London headquarters this morning to present the handsome, bright green, mounted paintbrush to group CEO Tony Hayward, they were unceremoniously ejected.
The prize was offered in recognition of the company's attempts to greenwash its brand over the course of 2008, in particular its multimillion dollar advertising campaign announcing its commitment to alternative energy sources. Slogans such as "from the earth to the sun, and everything in between” and “the best way out of the energy fix is an energy mix".
The reality, you'll be unsurprised to learn, is somewhat different. We got our hands on internal company documents (summarised in the chart above) which clearly show that this year the company allocated 93 per cent ($20bn) of its total investment fund for the development and extraction of oil, gas and other fossil fuels. In contrast, solar power (a technology which analysts say is on the brink of important technological breakthroughs) was allocated just 1.39 per cent, and wind a paltry 2.79 per cent.
The same presentation reveals that BP intended to spend just $1.5bn this year on all forms of alternative energy – including wind power, wave, solar, tidal, and biofuels and even including some "efficient" natural gas projects. This amount represents just 6.8 per cent of their total investment.
The reality is that BP is one of the world's largest single corporate emitters. In 2007 alone the company released over 63 million tonnes of CO2 into the earth's atmosphere, roughly equivalent to the emissions of Portugal. But while their adverts announce the arrival of a fresh approach, BP boss Tony Hayward continues to describe alternative energy only as "a valuable option for the future". Too little, too late Tony.
A final word from our man at the impromptu awards ceremony, James Turner:
"You wouldn't know it from their adverts, but BP bosses are pumping billions into their oil and gas business and investing peanuts in renewables. They've won the 2008 Emerald Paintbrush award because their slogans suggest that they are serious about clean energy, while their actions show they're still hell-bent on oil extraction."
And now, a video from the award ceremony itself.
The Wall Street Journal's environmental blog reported last week (1/9/08) that ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson expressed support for a carbon tax, “somewhere north of” 20$ per ton. Mr. Tillerson’s position wouldn’t be that surprising if he was from an environmental group, or if he was an economics professor, or just about anyone besides the chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil.
Yes, ExxonMobil, they of the eponymous and disastrous Valdez oil spill, the financial backer of dozens of global warming denial front groups – more than $20 million since 1998 according to ExxonSecrets.
Is this greenwashing?
On the one hand, Tillerson’s support was expressed in a public speech, covered by a variety of news organizations; with oil prices dropping, projected profits down, and general public backlash against the super-profitable oil companies. Tillerson and ExxonMobil could use a little favorable PR and what amounts to free advertising right about now.
Strikingly, however, ExxonMobil hasn’t advertised its newfound decision to fight back against global warming, or maybe this move by Tillerson was a trial balloon. It still advertises its super-duper, technoptimist image inside the covers of Newsweek and the like, but no mention of its support for carbon tax. Is this the moment we have been waiting for? Has an oil company finally begun to support green policies with seemingly no promotional benefits? Have they seen the light?
Obviously, my rhetorical questions lead to the inevitable no.
Tillerson came out with his announcement just as the Obama administration, stuffed with supporters of the cap-and-trade system, prepares to take office, backed by a Congress that has also begun pushing for a cap-and-trade system. More importantly, perhaps, other oil companies such as BP and Shell have joined the US Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), which states in it’s Call to Action report: “Cap and Trade is Essential. Our environmental goal and economic objectives can best be accomplished through an economy-wide, market-driven approach that includes a cap and trade program that places specified limits on GHG emissions.” USCAP includes General Electric, General Motors, Ford, Alcoa and Exxon’s oily brethren at ConocoPhillips, Shell and British Petroleum.
Thus, these other corporations are on a slightly different page than Tillerson and company. ExxonMobil, though, craves legitimacy in the climate change policy discussion. Tillerson said as much last week; as paraphrased by a New Yorker blog, “Exxon had to weigh in now to avoid risking irrelevancy when the Obama Administration and Congress begin negotiating later.”
Yet they don’t want to acquire this credibility at the cost of their own profits. Cap-and-trade systems, besides making polluters pay, allow lawmakers to set clear, scientific goals of emission reductions–-hence, the CAP. The carbon tax, conveniently, has no inherent end goal, or limit on pollution. So presumably, if the company can afford it, and Exxon-Mobil can, pollution could be more cost-effective than cleanliness. Also conveniently, the tax on Exxon’s carbon would ultimately be passed on to consumers.
Don’t get us wrong, a carbon tax is not a bad idea. A tax could indeed be implemented as part of a strategy to implement a national goal of reductions. But what we really need, and scientists are pleading for, is a definite cap on global and national emissions, and a steep reduction over coming years and decades.
Greenpeace told reporters the following: if Exxon is convinced that a carbon tax is the right option, let their ever-so-smart engineers and economists demonstrate a tax rate and structure that gets us the 25-40 percent reduction in (industrialized country) carbon emissions scientists say is needed by 2020, and the 80-90 percent reduction needed by mid-century to stave of dangerous climate change.
We, here at StopGreenwash.org, don’t particularly expect a response to the challenge.
ExxonMobil, then, has begun to acknowledge the problem of global warming just in time to gum up legislative motions to address the problem. Carbon tax, with Tillerson’s endorsement, might now garner approval by other corporations, or maybe a few once-reluctant Representatives and Senators, and water down the growing green momentum. Hopefully, Congress will stay the course and design strong and tight US climate law.
So my once burgeoning optimism about ExxonMobil's once not-actually-burgeoning conscience here ends
Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.