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Peabody Coal is VERY concerned about how Jim Hansen is "cheapening the dialogue"

June 28th, 2008 No comments

In response to Jim Hansen’s recent expressed desire for “public trials” for fossil fuel executives if, despite being “aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual,” they continue their “campaigns” “to spread doubt about global warming” in order to “blocked [the] transition to our renewable energy future”, Andy Revkin of the The New York Times has received and posted on the NYT’s “Dot Earth” blog a note from Vic Svec of Peabody Energy, which Revkin notes is the largest private coal producer in the world.

Vic Svec’s note at “Dot Earth” is here.

In response, I posted a few comments to Mr. Svec on the Dot Earth blog thread, which I copy below [with some links added]:

Vic Svec
Senior Vice President, Investor Relations and Corporate Communications
Peabody Energy
(314) 342-7768
[email protected]yEnergy.com

Dear Vic:

Nice try with your letter addressing Jim Hansen’s criticism of fossil fuel firms such as yours.

1.  You say that Hansen’s “Holocaust analogies [are] outrageous and demeaning.”

Hansen’s latest criticism of coal and oil firms contains ZERO Holocaust analogies.  So who is it who prefers not to address his actual remarks, but to “cheapen the dialogue and invite ridicule”?

Yes, Hansen did warn last year that rapid climate change may very well threaten the extinction of many species – a claim supported by many prominent biologists – and in that context said that further increases in coal plants could in effect be “death trains … loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species”.  http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2007/IowaCoal_20071105.pdf.  You obviously don’t like his rhetoric, but do you care to explain why either his facts or his imagery are wrong?

2.  “The suggestion that a dissemination of ideas be criminalized –- coming from a government employee no less –- does hearken back to World War II.”

First, what was that you just said about cheapening debate?

Second, Hansen has not said that the speech of any fossil fuel executives should be restricted or criminalized.  Rather, he is making a stronger version of the argument that the British Royal Academy made last year to Exxon, when it sought to clarify if Exxon was going to continue to provide support to groups that deny what EXXON itself has conceded: that human GHG emissions present sufficient worry for public policy action now.

Like Exxon, your firm has publicly acknowledged that concerns about climate change are legitimate and, indeed, that massive investments are needed in new infrastructure to ensure that coal is burned more cleanly and that CCS (carbon capture and storage) technologies are employed (as you note in the projects listed in your item 4).  The only real differences between your firm’s position and Hansen’s is that you think that the government should subsidize your change in business model by (a) having Uncle Sam pay the bulk of capital costs for IGCC (integrated gas combined cycle plant) [something like $1 billion for the first one with CCS] and (b) giving you a further break (reduced royalties) on the sweet deals you already have for stripping coal from public lands, while Hansen proposes a carbon tax (rebated to citizens) to motivate changes in demand and a moratorium on new coal plants until CCS is in place.

While Peabody has every right to conduct its business as it sees fit, so does Hansen have the right to hope that fossil fuel firms will be called to public account for the years of delay that they have purchased, not by openly arguing with the science, but by back door channels/contributions and third-party proxies – tactical activities that are hardly subject to dispute.  THAT, and not open disputes on science or policy, is what Hansen is criticizing.

3.  “Blaming big oil and big coal for the broad array of opinions about climate change is disingenuous.”

Is that at all what Hansen has done, or do you just find strawmen to be irresistible?

“If he would imprison those who don’t march in lockstep with his views, the jails would be very, very big.”

Ahh, here we go with more cheap and shameful metaphors of the very type that you yourself decry, plus another great strawman.  Hansen hasn’t suggested jailing anyone who disagrees with him, as I previously noted.  He’s just castigating the fossil fuel firms for what is rather pedestrian (and undeniable) in the modern world – that powerful economic interests have no qualms about ignoring public and common interests for the sake of private gain, or about employing whatever tool they can to influence government action via both politicians and public opinion.  Hansen, whose views on science you conspicuously refuse to address, is now obviously trying to play the same game of influencing political discourse by putting pressure on you.  As a scientist, Hansen obviously has only a political bark and no formal bite.

Your aim now is simply to discredit the barker, the better to get government subsidies, cheaper coal from the government by lowering royalties, and to continue commercial activities that shift the costs and risks of GHG emissions to others and to the future.  That, of course, is the “serious work” for which Peabody employs you as SVP of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications.

As for the “thousands of scientists and university professors” who have opinions that differ from Hansen’s, I’ll wager that, like Exxon, your scientists tend to agree with Dr. Hansen and that your only connection with any of the other thousands is via funding for PR efforts.  Maybe you could clarify this?

Thanks so much for your sound bites.