Clean coal is quite the buzz word this year. It was thrown around during the elections by both parties and it's been popping up in various news stories and industry speak all over the place. I try to keep up on climate control measures and sustainability, but when the term 'clean coal' started cropping up everywhere, I really didn't know what it meant. I really wasn't sure how I felt about clean coal since it seemed a bit like an oxymoron, plus it still depletes natural resources. I intended to look into it someday, but never quite got around to it. I inferred from all the references I'd heard, however, that 'clean coal technology' was something that was currently available and clean (aka as clean or close to as clean as other alternative energies like wind or solar).
That is not the case.
Driving home last night, I was listening to NPR and they were discussing a new ad campaign launching today from the Alliance for Climate Protection headed by Al Gore. Robert Siegel interviewed both Al Gore and Joe Lucas, vice president for communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, and covered their dispute over the term 'clean coal' and the ads below that started running today.
Perhaps I'm a bit biased, but based on my experience with the term as I described above, I sided with Gore on this one. According to Joe Lucas, clean coal technology is a relative term, like medical technology. It refers to technological advancements in that industry, meaning our current polluting coal plants are using clean coal technology right now since they are cleaner than they used to be and as the technology progresses, they will continue to get even cleaner.
Gore and the Alliance for Climate Protection, however, suggest the clean coal technology simply doesn't exist, at least not right now and maybe never. Again, it's all in how you choose to interpret it. Gore's argument is the industry is throwing around the term as if clean coal currently exists and is as clean as other alternative energy sources. He asserts that is simply not true. Gore suggests that the industry is using the term to get authority to build plants now with a 'plan' to retrofit these plants with 'clean coal technology' when (or if) it becomes available. Much of the argument is semantics, but this is the argument behind the Alliance for Climate Protection's new ad spot.
As much as I agree with clarifying that we don't currently have clean coal technology, the ad implies not only that it doesn't exist, but can't exist. The truth is, it doesn't exist yet, and maybe it never will, but it makes the ad itself a bit confusing and misleading. I think it's on the right path and I agree with its mission, but it doesn't come close to telling me what I should know about clean coal. Outright calling clean coal's existance a lie actually makes me skeptical without further information. There is a website with some information and links, but the URL is barely visible at the end of the ad for less than a second. I had to re-watch the ad and specifically look for it to see it at all. The site itself is pretty basic, so while there's a web component, with the amount of education needed, I'm surprised the web component isn't more extensive. As someone sympathetic to their cause, if the ad makes me skeptical at first, what chance does it have of convincing anyone?
Great idea and worthy cause, but this campaign just isn't cutting it.