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June 26, 2008

Coal's PR Hacks Even More Embarrassing Than You Thought

You have to feel for Vic Svec. He's a senior vice president at Peabody Energy, the largest private coal producer on earth, and it's apparently his job to be wheeled out whenever there's any threat of action on global warming. After James Hansen's recent Senate testimony, Svec sent this statement to the New York Times:

Blaming big oil and big coal for the broad array of opinions about climate change is disingenuous. If [Hansen] would imprison those who don’t march in lockstep with his views, the jails would be very, very big. It would include thousands of scientists and university professors and the likes of the president of the Czech Republic, a former founder of Greenpeace and the former founder of The Weather Channel.

Here's John Coleman, the "former" founder of the Weather Channel, giving his fascinating views on climate change:

Here is the deal about CO2, carbon dioxide...I estimate that this square in front of my face contains 100,000 molecules of atmosphere. Of those 100,000 only 38 are CO2; 38 out of a hundred thousand. That makes it a trace component. Let me ask a key question: how can this tiny trace upset the entire balance of the climate of Earth? It can’t. That’s all there is to it; it can’t.

Here's how I imagine the meeting went as Vic Svec huddled with his staff to draft the New York Times statement:

SVEC: We need three names on our side.

LACKEY: We've got Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic.

SVEC: Great. Just make sure he doesn't start talking about the dangers of "homosexualism."

LACKEY: And then there's Patrick Moore, the Greenpeace guy.

SVEC: Didn't Moore just say we have to stop using fossil fuels due to the threat of global warming? And that "coal causes the worst health impacts of anything we are doing today"?

LACKEY: Eh, who cares. No one will notice except the losers who fuck around on blogs.

SVEC: Ha! Got that right. And who's number three?


LACKEY: Yeah, that's the thing. We're having trouble getting to three.

SVEC: What about Charles Manson? Our focus groups just remember his name, not why they remember it.

MINION: He doesn't want to be associated with us anymore. Says it hurts his credibility.

SVEC: How about that monkey we'd been training to talk?

LACKEY: He won't do it either. He told the trainer he felt like we're insulting his intelligence.

SVEC: Shit. Don't tell me we're going to have to go with that Weather Channel moron.

[long pause]

SVEC: Son of a bitch. All right, let's saddle up.

MINION: One last thing, just looking at the text—how can people be "former" founders of Greenpeace and the Weather Channel?

SVEC: Jesus Christ, do I have to teach you people everything? You obviously don't understand the first thing about SCIENCE!

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at June 26, 2008 03:02 PM


John Coleman is currently a nobody, right? But he had to have been a somebody to found the Weather Channel. Ergo, he used to be the founder of the Weather Channel.


Posted by: Sully at June 26, 2008 04:34 PM

Ray Kroc was the founder of MacDonalds; that doesn't mean he was an expert hamburger chef.

Jack Welch was CEO of GE; I'm guessing he rarely changed his own light bulbs.

And John Coleman (ironic name, given the post) only needs to know as much about the weather as is necessary for him to make money from it on his TV channel.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at June 26, 2008 05:03 PM

"And the Peabody Coal Company hauled it away."
What's that from?

Great dialogue about Manson.

Posted by: catherine at June 26, 2008 05:15 PM

You would think the fact that they blow up entire mountains would be a big enough gaff...

Posted by: Dave at June 26, 2008 05:33 PM

"And the Peabody Coal Company hauled it away."
What's that from?

Daddy won't you take us back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River, where paradise lay?
I'm sorry, my son, but you're too late in askin.
Mr Peabody's coal comp'ny done hauled it away...

I seem to hea John Denver's voice, among others. Dunno who wrote it...

Posted by: woody, tokin librul at June 26, 2008 05:47 PM

It's 'Paradise' written by the great John Prine.

And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away

Then the coal company came with the world's largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.

Posted by: Nicholas at June 26, 2008 06:25 PM

350 years ago some cities in europe made laws against burning coal because of the "chokeing fumes" (polution) 350 years of having learned nothing new, 350 years of walking backwards. Ccoal still polutes, and WE use it more than ever.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 26, 2008 07:07 PM

Good work there, Mike, subliminally highlighting 350!

Posted by: Nell at June 26, 2008 10:10 PM

Nell: Its probably closer to 450 but Thank You. Vasoline was first made from coaltar in England in the 1830's. Name and all are from that time. Its good to see that an old and valued product works JUST as well in 2008 AMERICAN society as it in those bygone dayz of yore.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 27, 2008 02:27 AM

The english chemist Paraffin Young invented Vaseline. He invented numerous petrochemicals we still use today and YES, paraffin is named after him.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 27, 2008 01:26 PM

It seemed to slip by unnoticed, I think, but the statement by Coleman has a basic error that undermines whatever scientific credibility he might have been aiming for with his talk of molecules.

Basic high school chemistry:
6.02 x 10^23 molecules per mole
22.4 liters per mole

So, there are 2.6875 x 10^22 molecules per liter.

Converting further, there are 2.6875 x 10^16 molecules per cubic millimeter.

So, I don't know what "square" Mr. Coleman was envisioning in front of his face as holding 100,000 molecules, but it was probably way off. You only need about 0.004 cubic micrometers of atmosphere to get that many molecules.

Of course, this doesn't address his larger claim that 380 ppm is not dangerous, but it does tend to negate whatever claim of expertise he was attempting.

Posted by: Ficus at June 29, 2008 12:28 PM