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Penn State Professor: "'Clean Coal' Propaganda" is "Deceptive" and "Unethical"

2 min. read

At Penn State University's Climate Ethics blog, Professor Donald Brown has an informative op-ed discussing the many ways in which clean coal propaganda is "misleading," "deceptive,"  and "unethical." With regard to coal industry advertising campaigns being "misleading" and "deceptive," Professor Brown explains (bolding added for emphasis):

...The clean coal propaganda has frequently engaged in propaganda that must be understood as lying by omission, if not outright lying. It is also lying by omission about something which is potentially very harmful, making the lies even more morally abhorrent

Given that academies of science around the world have concluded that climate change is a huge threat to millions of people around the world, that coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels currently used for electricity generation in regard to climate change, that there are no commercial scale coal-fired power plants in the United States now nor likely to be in wide-spread commercial operation for decades capable of actually removing heat trapping gases, a fact not revealed in TV commercials funded by the clean coal campaign, this campaign which implies that coal is "clean" is deeply misleading about likely harmful and dangerous human activities. In other words, this is deception with huge potential adverse consequences for life on earth and ecological systems on which life depends.

As if all that's not bad enough, Professor Brown also cites specific, and serious, ethical violations carried out by the coal industry in promoting its product. For instance, Professor Brown writes:

The creation of AstroTurf groups around carbon energy issues has been a known tactic of the climate change disinformation campaign that began in the 1990s and a tactic which is itself ethically problematic because an AstroTurf group's very purpose is to hide from the general public the real parties in interest.

The practice of using AstroTurf groups is expressly prohibited by the code of ethics of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA, 2012) This code requires that PR professionals expressly identify real sponsors of PR activities (PRSA, 2012). Because front groups and AstroTurf organizations usually are designed to hide the real parties in interest, an ethics advisory of the Public Relations Society on these practices proclaims that it is unethical for PR professionals to represent front groups and/or other deceptive or misleading descriptions of goals, tactics, sponsors, or participants. (PRSA advisory, 2012) This advisory specifically includes AstroTurf groups as an unethical front group activity covered by the ethics advisory. (PRSA advisory, 2012)

The bottom line, according to Professor Brown, is that there's nothing "clean" about coal,  and to pretend that there is something "clean" about it is simply wrong.