BY ON May 16, 2011

Elisa Batista

This piece was cross-posted at Moms Rising and Daily Kos.

I have been writing a lot about air quality as part of my work with Moms Clean Air Force, an initiative by the Environmental Defense Fund. While I have always been passionate about preserving our environment for my children and future generations, I have also learned a lot on the job.

For one, I never realized that half of our electricity is produced by coal plants — heavily polluting coal plants that not only sicken workers and their communities with lung disease, asthma and other respiratory illnesses, but are also responsible for a significant amount of green house gases that are causing erratic weather patterns. (Please see my story on this season’s allergies and how they are related to global warming.)

No doubt that part of the problem is us, the American consumer, failing to conserve energy, like turning off the lights and appliances in the house. But another problem is the manipulation by the coal industry to remain one of the top producers of energy in the country. Now, it’s taking its message to our children directly — in their classrooms.

Scholastic, which has a presence in practically every classroom in the United States, just announced that it stopped distributing curriculum materials submitted by the American Coal Foundation. Here is a a CNN Money report on it:

“Lessons that are taught in schools should be objective,” Josh Golin, an associate director at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said in an interview yesterday. “This is one-sided propaganda that’s paid for by an industry.”

“Golin said Scholastic used its unique access to students to distribute the curriculum to 66,000 classrooms.

“Golin and other public interest groups mounted an attack of the curriculum earlier this week, urging Scholastic to review or withdraw it. The campaign began attracting press Wednesday and garnered an editorial in the New York Times Thursday.

“On Friday Scholastic said it would no longer distribute the material.”

The material, which has already been disseminated to 66,000 classrooms, rightfully pointed out that “coal is produced in half of the 50 states, that America has 27 percent of the world’s coal resources, and that it is the source of half the electricity produced in the nation, with about 600 coal-powered plants operating around the clock to provide electricity.”

What the material didn’t mention were the negative effects of mining and burning coal, including removal of the Appalachian mountaintops, the release of numerous poisonous gases including mercury and arsenic, mining accidents and lung disease.

Another popular PR campaign by the coal industry is to boast of “clean coal” as a green alternative. Clean coal is a term used to describe technology that reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by, typically, pumping and storing the emissions underground.

But as this helpful Wikipedia entry on the arguments for and against “clean coal” will tell you, there is no evidence that “carbon stored underground will be able to stay there indefinitely.” Plus, the process is expensive and companies have yet to monetize the captured carbon emissions. These are disincentives to actually doing it.

Therefore, coal plants opt to pollute, sicken our population, and yes, even go to our classrooms. If you are as sickened by this as I am, please let your schools know about this curriculum. I e-mailed our principal and the staff member in charge of our curriculum immediately. Like many schools across the country, our school library does depend on the proceeds from our annual Scholastic Book Fair.

Also, Moms Clean Air Force is circulating a petition and sample tweets calling out American Electric Power, another major air polluter in the United States.

On a lighter note, if you want a laugh, here is a funny satire about how “Coal Cares.” It looks real — so beware!

TOPICS: Asthma, Coal, Economics, Mercury Poisoning, Pollution, Social Justice