Dirty Pictures | Big Coal Ad Campaign Draws Parodies

Renewable energy sources, like solar power, have to compete with their unsustainable and polluting counterparts in a variety of ways. Technologically, economically, politically — and in the arena of public opinion.

A couple of weeks ago, we ran an expose of coal industry propaganda. The article (Dirty Pictures | Courtesy of Clean Coal) drew a lot of attention, partly because we focused (so to speak) on the images used by the industry to get children to think of coal as their BFF.

Readers from both sides commented on the Website about the article. Some people contacted The Phoenix Sun directly urging us to post parodies of the coal industry’s multi-million dollar ad campaign. Until we started searching for it, we hadn’t realized there was such a rich vein of material to mine. But there is — and here are a few examples of spoofs we particularly liked.

Color Me Nauseous

Why is coal important,1Remember the infamous coloring book devised by “Friends of Coal” for distribution to elementary school children? It had that great pedagogical title, “Let’s learn about Coal!”

A page from the original is on the left. Kids are invited to use their imagination to illustrate “one important use of [coal powered] energy”.

An anonymous artist followed the directions to produce this dark send-up of one of coal’s contributions to the Nation’s electrical needs.









.Why coal is important

Coal Versus and Our Environment

Here’s another parody of the coloring book.

Coal v Environment















Several readers contacted us about a video created by the coal-industry front group, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). It’s one of those unfortunate PR creations that appears to be a parody, but wasn’t intended to be.

The Clean Coal Carolers

Image by ACCCE

The video was posted on December 9, 2008, along with this explanation on the ACCCE blog, “Behind the Plug:”

“‘Tis the season for peace, light and spreading good cheer. And that’s exactly what our Clean Coal Carolers have set out to do.

“Stop by to get a sweet serenade from the seven carolers, send the holiday jingles to a friend and connect with other Clean coal Caroler fans on Facebook (where you’ll also learn more about each singer).

“We also encourage you to look around America’s Power to learn more about why coal is the stocking stuffer of choice this year—it’s abundant, affordable and cleaner than ever…and will help you power your holiday lights this season.

“Enjoy the Carolers, and have a bright and happy holiday season.”

One day later, the reviews started coming in as comments on the ACCCE blog.

Thanks for making my point better than I ever could. The energy companies are desperate to be seen as “clean.” They can’t debate on the merits, so they’re making cutesy commercials. Can’t wait to send this to everybody I know!! Its hysterical! It would be shameless, but I’m afraid its just stupid. Tanya m.

Enough prologue. You probably want to see some of these videos, right? Here’s “Deck the Halls (with clean coal!)”:

(Not) Silent (Enough) Night

And here’s their rendition of “Silent Night,” re-purposed as “Clean Coal Night.”

Whoever first said “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” hadn’t seen the coal carolers — or, more to the point — MSNBC’s Rachel Madow’s piece on the “singing lumps of coal,” aired on December 10th.

By the afternoon of December 12th — three days after they debuted — the coal carolers show was canceled.

“It’s time for them to head home for the holiday,” was ACCCE’s explanation.

BTW, here’s the video that got my vote for “most surreal:”

Back to the Intentional Parodies

"A deadly ball of hydrogen burning dangerously hot..."

"A deadly ball of hydrogen burning dangerously hot..."

In response to the “Clean Coal” PR campaign, anti-coal group have started producing parodies of the coal industry’s videos.

“The mandate of this site is very simple: To debunk the myth of ‘clean coal,'” explains the Coal is Dirty campaign. The group is a collaborative effort of The DeSmog Project, Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace USA.

Their video parody “exposes” the dark side of solar and wind power, and mocks the coal industry’s claims of carbon-free coal power.

Coal is the Cleanest Thing Ever!

The Reality Campaign

Kinda loud in here!

Kinda loud in here!

If “Clean Coal” is a myth, what’s needed is a reality check — and that’s what this coalition of environmental groups aims to provide with its parodies.

In the first video, the man in the hardhat is ostensibly giving a tour of a “Clean Coal facility.”

Like all satire, this parody wants to make you laugh — and then to think about a serious problem.

Clean Coal: This Is Reality

COALergy, “Smudge”

In another Reality video, a coal-company CEO speaks in a reassuring tone about his industry:

“At COALergy we view climate change as a very serious threat to our business. That’s why we’ve made it our primary goal to spend a large sum of money on an advertising effort to bring out and complicate the truth about coal.”

Clean Coal Clean Coen Colaboration

Coen brothersFor a couple of video parodies, Reality was able to attract the Oscar-winning brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen, to direct.

The first parody has a pitch-man from central casting walk into a suburban family’s house and gets them to try — and be delighted by — a new kind of air freshener: “Clean Coal.”

The Making of…

Given that the video was directed by the Coen brothers, it’s not surprising that you can watch a “making of…” video.

Mom, is he sleeping?

Mom, is he sleeping?

The film below uses behind the scenes footage, mixed in with the final cut. Here, the mother is urged to use a new laundry detergent: “Clean Coal,”  of course.

She pours thick black sludge into the wash, and of course the clothes are all stained with coal tar derivatives, which seems to delight everyone. Or almost everyone.

The children seem preoccupied with their unresponsive pet … wait for it … canary.

The Forgotten Gem

I apologize for omitting one of the earliest and one of the best parodies of the coal industry’s campaign. Here it is below. So many funny touches, but my favorite doesn’t come until the final seconds — the difference between what the soothing voice says and the words that actually appear on the screen. It’s a brilliant send-up.

Turning, small

Wanted: More Parodies

If you’ve made any parodies of Big Coal’s ad campaign, please let us know in the comments box. Or post links to parodies you’ve seen.

We’ll keep you posted on others we find. But now, we have to run. We’ve been seized by an overpowering need to take a shower.

Renewable Energy Pie

M-m-m-m. Energy Pie.

M-m-m-m. Energy Pie.


[Note: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that nuclear power is a low-carbon sources of energy — contrary to the what I believed when I wrote the post below in 2009. My belated thanks to David Walters who blogs at Left Atomics, whose comments below were spot on. And now, I think I’ll have a nice big helping of crow pie.]

Renewable energy is becoming as American as apple pie, and as any good chef knows, the quality of the finished products depends largely upon the ingredients used. So, what do Americans want in their energy pie this year? Well, in October, the Nielsen Company did a survey to find out. The results are interesting, partly because things look very different depending on how you slice the pie.


The study grouped a variety of energy sources under the heading, “Renewable and Carbon Neutral Sources.” [Emphasis added]

I don’t know why the phrase “carbon neutral” was included, but it appears to give nuclear power a chance to be included in the pie. Nuclear fuel isn’t renewable, but it also isn’t carbon neutral — unless you ignore carbon emissions that come from mining, transporting, and processing the uranium fuel, and disposing of the radioactive waste (for which there is currently no viable plan — but that’s another story).

Using all the Nielsen study data, here are the results presented in (what else?) a pie chart.

Chart #1

Pie Chart 1

Fine. Looks good. But, as I argued above, I really don’t think nuclear belongs in this pie under a reasonable definition of “carbon neutral.” Here’s what our pie would look like with the radioactive ingredient removed.

Chart #2

Pie sans Nukes

Renewable and Non-Nuclear Carbon Neutral Sources.

Not that much of a difference, given that only 6 percent of respondents said they preferred nuclear power in the first place. Still, the configuration has changed slightly.

But, I wondered: What is “no preference” doing in a list of energy pie ingredients? It’s a non-ingredient. If we yank it from our pie, here’s what we get:

Chart #3

Fresh from the oven

Now, this pie looks very different from the first one. It began as a kind of mish-mash of choices, with nothing in particular standing out. But in chart #3, solar power is the clear favorite. The solar portion of the pie is bigger than all the other choices combined.

Some will argue that I’ve cherry-picked (apple-picked?) my data to produce the final pie.


I picked which data to use. But then so did the Nielsen Company when they gathered it. My defense is simple: Every pie chart reflects the bias of the chef. I don’t believe that nuclear power is either renewable or carbon neutral, so out it went. I also think that we can learn more about the energy preferences of Americans if we remove from consideration those who don’t actually have a preference. Or, at least, have the two charts side-by-side.

That’s it from the Phoenix Sun kitchen. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Update | The Founding Kids


When he was twelve years old, Alec Loorz saw the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. What he learned from the film shocked him. But that was nothing compared to the surprise awaiting Alec after telling a friend about the movie.

“It’s all a hoax,” his friend claimed. “Al Gore’s a psycho.”

Then, listening to the adult world, Alec realized the country was led by people who also considered global warming a hoax — oblivious to overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.

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