Clean Coal and General Electric

Eco-Porn:  Selling  clean coal technology as eco-imagination.

1) Blatant appropriation of anti-coal mine company/coal town song as musical overlay to sell clean coal.

The song, “sixteen tons”, speaks to the life of a coal miner during the mid-twentieth century: a life dominated by brutal, oppressive and coercive coal mining companies that forced workers into debt-bondage through company towns and script payment systems.  Experiences that fueled the growth of the United Mine Workers and violent conflicts between company thugs, local sheriffs and coal miners throughout coal country.  To efface this history through blending this song with hypersexualized models and claims of technological fixes (emissions reducing technology) is patent historical falsification.  The ad presents the life of a coal miner through the lens of aesthetic glorification of the laboring body: the rippled pecks, the bursting bras, the toned abs.  All that hard work makes a body feel good!  Exploitative work is reduced to a semi-vigorous exercise regime: repeat daily.  The beauty of the laboring force is put forth as the front-stage to the beauty of clean-coal technology.  Well, you better focus on the beauty of the workforce, although a lie, when the processes of coal extraction are anything but pretty, which brings up the next point.

2) Blatant misrepresentation of actual production relations, labor process and working conditions of coal mining.

Today in the United States coal is increasingly produced not through the techniques depicted in the video, underground mining, but surface mining, which takes the form of strip mining and mountaintop removal mining. To see modern mining practices, check out the video below.

Essentially, these modern methods require the complete and utter devastation of the ecosystem. After blowing up the mountain, the unwanted rubble is generally dumped into rivers or kept in drainage pools, both of which pollute water flows.  This pollution kills off animal life that depends on the water system (fish, frogs, deer, birds) as well as contaminates drinking water for humans, forcing towns to truck in bottled water.  These modern mining practices are pursued by corporations to increase the output of coal and diminish the cost and power of union labor.  The result is increasing corporate profits at the expense of ecological destruction and unemployment. Leaving regions like Appalachia a social and ecological wasteland.  Technology did not clean up the job or reduce its back breaking labor, technology was employed to put the mine worker out of a job and to destroy the environment at a faster rate.

3) Blatant misrepresentation of a company’s legacy.

General Electronic is not a green company. It has a long history of ecological destruction and pollution of air, land and water related to its involvement in nuclear power, computers and electronics, aviation, railroads and medical imaging equipment, amongst others.  It is a leading producer of sites that become labeled as “superfund” cleanups (1), as well as a leading producer of air-pollution in the United States(2).  Its power and profits are directly due to the destruction of the environment and this is not changing.

4) Blatant selling of techno-fix to energy crisis.

The central problem with fossil fuels is that they are a non-renewable resource.  As such, it is the equivalent of living off of your capital rather than your dividends/return on investment.  If you can live off of your dividends or return on investment then you aren’t potentially running down your investment capital and theoretically this makes it a socially “sustainable” practice.  However, if you are running down your capital then at some point in time you will have nothing to invest in the future because you will have nothing to claim a return on and nothing to invest to claim a return in the future.  Burning our way through fossil fuel is like burning up all your capital.  Once it’s gone your screwed.

The problem with the “transition” from fossil fuel to so-called renewable energy (solar, hydro, biomass, wind, tidal, algae) is that we are looking at a drastic reduction in total energy output at the national level in the U.S. as well as dramatic regional alterations in energy output and supply.  By all current technological trajectories renewable energy cannot produce at the equivalent level or rate at which we are burning through fossil fuel.  The default, then, is a future with an overall lower volume and rate of energy consumption, which means less fossil fuel dependent technology and lifeways.  Such techno-fix technology eschews addressing the energy-reduction reality.

Another problem of the techno-fix emissions reducing technology is the presumption that the solution to the energy problem is merely to clean up the burning of fuel, which effaces the reality of the ecologically destructive structure of the total cycle of energy: extraction, production (conversion from raw material to consumable energy), burning of coal, consumption of energy, waste generated throughout all these processes.  To call emissions reducing technology clean coal technology prioritizes air quality  over water and land quality and the ecological integrity of the landbase and the burning stage over extraction, production, consumption and waste stages.  Increasing air quality at the expense of blowing up mountains does not make it green, it makes it eco-pornography.

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