Now, this would be a good story:
“In a tacit admission that burning coal endangers the health of many, many Americans, a new public relations website sponsored by Peabody Energy, coalcares.org, is giving out free inhalers to ‘any family living within 200 miles of a coal plant.’ And each inhaler even comes with a $10 coupon toward the cost of asthma medicine.”
But, although some got their hopes up, the story isn’t real. Coalcares.org, which launched today, is an elaborate, Onion-esque hoax in the spirit of professional hijinxers the Yes Men (and, yes, the hoax was made with help from the Yes Men).
An activist group called Coal Is Killing Kids claimed responsibility in a statement sent to media this afternoon.
“We don’t have their millions, but we do have a knack for incredibly tasteless jokes,” said Veronica Tomlinson, a pediatrician and member of Coal Is Killing Kids, in the statement.
The main (fake) purpose of the site is to make kids feel better about their fossil-fuel-induced illnesses. “For kids who have no choice but to use an inhaler, Coal Cares™ lets them inhale with pride,” the homepage explains. For the free inhaler, kids have their choice of 13 different themes, including designs featuring Elmo, Spongebob, Miley Cyrus, “Twilight” and “The Bieber.” (My favorites are the “punk/emo” design, featuring a a leering skeleton, and the Harry Potter design: “Accio breath-o!”)
There’s also a “Kidz Koal Korner” featuring downloadable pdfs of coloring book pages and crossword puzzles, all coal themed. There’s a comically cavalier “‘Clean’ Energy” page and an “FAQ” page — even media info and a disclaimer at the bottom (“This web site is directed only to U.S. consumers affected by the energy production of Peabody United States. This web site is not directed to consumers outside of the U.S.”).
It’s so clever you almost forget how depressing a joke it is.
For the last few years, coal companies and groups sponsored by coal companies have unapologetically tried to hook ‘em them while they’re young through all sorts of print materials and websites. And the Department of Energy has joined in the effort.
Peabody responded today with a press release.
“Earlier today, an activist group released a ‘spoof’ website claiming to be sponsored by Peabody Energy. The site is in fact a hoax, making inaccurate claims about Peabody and coal,” the release said.
It went on to discuss the correlation between coal-burning and longevity by explaining that coal produces electricity, and people who use electricity live longer. The U.N. says so.