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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Coal Industry tells children “Wind Power Kills”

UPDATE: I was "punked." It doesn't happen too often. But it happens. And when it does, it's really embarrassing. It turns out that the "Coal Cares" website upon which this story is based was a hoax.

It was created by a very clever group called the Yes Men in conjunction with an environmental group Coal Kills Kids. They build the website spoofing actual coal industry propaganda by taking that rhetoric to its logical conclusion. The website does provide many very useful links to genuine sites - such as actual coal company websites and to solid public health information on the health effects of coal-fired power plants.

But, NO, you can't get a free Justin Bieber inhaler for your kid. And I guess, Coal actually DOESN'T care.

A few days ago, we ran a syndicated story by one of my favorite Texans, Jim Hightower, on efforts by the coal industry to buy its way into the curricula of elementary school children.

We run larger national pieces like that because, believe it or not, there is a very big, wide world outside of Charlestown and South County. During the raucous Charlestown debate over wind energy, we heard local wind opponents proudly claim that Rhode Island doesn’t use coal. Therefore, there is no point to generating wind power, since Rhode Island electrical generation mostly comes from natural gas.

Well, Rhode Island doesn’t generate enough power to meet its needs and like most other places, we draw energy from the grid. And that grid is 50% coal-fired. (We could also get into the argument about why natural gas is not a green fuel, but that’s for another day.)

Getting back to coal, though, there’s an even more disgusting coal industry ploy than peddling propaganda in elementary school. And it ties directly to our local wind energy debate. Read on.

"My First Inhaler" for infants (NOT a joke)
It’s called “Coal Cares.”

Coal Cares is a collaboration of several of America’s biggest coal mining companies – e.g., Westmoreland Coal, Chevron, BHP, Texas Utilities – to distribute asthma inhalers to children, along with some absolutely incredible propaganda. In addition, they say they have a program to help children deal with “asthma-related bullying.”

You can get a dozen different varieties of inhalers, some varied by age group, like “My First Inhaler” for infants. I swear to God, I am not making this up. You can get a Justin Bieber, Harry Potter, Spongebob or Twilight inhaler.

There’s a coloring book and game page. These feature two cartoon characters – Puff (the asthma inhaler) and Ash (the lump of coal). My favorite is a maze where a kid having an asthma attack has to navigate through a maze to get to Puff the asthma inhaler. Now if I were really making this stuff up, I’d add one exit that leads to the hospital emergency room and another one that leads to a cemetery. But that’s me.

Kids who live within 200 miles of a coal-fired power plant qualify. That includes Washington County because of plants in southeastern Massachusetts and in Connecticut.

The propaganda on this website is just amazing. By clicking at various places in the site, kids can learn that :
  • Wind power kills. In fact, if you read their description of the deadly hazards of wind energy, it sounds remarkably like the stuff our local wind opponents say. Fancy that!
  • Here’s the way the coal industry reasons that coal power is less deadly than wind energy (see if you can detect any flaw in the reasoning: 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.”
  • Exposure to pollution from coal-fired power plants is not a significant health risk to children
  • Environment scrubbers to reduce that pollution are a bad idea.
  • Coal is actually solar power. Didn’t know that. You see, millions of years ago, the sun helped the vegetation grow that eventually was buried and then turned into coal. That’s what they say.

So instead of composting, we should bury our vegetation so that it will turn into future coal. Now that’s renewable energy!

The “Coal Cares” site does provide one surprising external research link, one that takes you to data on the health effects caused by coal-fired power plants.

Using the new 2010 Census data for South County (which shows 126,979 people), South County residents suffer the following effects from coal-fired power plants:
  • 8 deaths per year
  • 14 heart attacks per year
  • 109 asthma attacks per year
So breathe deeply, Charlestown neighbors, thanks to the vigilance of the coal industry and our local anti-wind NIMBYs.

Author: Will Collette