The Yes Men, that prankster-activist group that has ruined many a corporate executive's day, have struck again. This time their target is the notorious Peabody coal company, which operates environmentally devastating mountaintop removal mining sites in West Virginia and has strip mining operations in Arizona.
It may take a minute to realize that Coal Cares is a fake. Designed to look like a website for a Peabody-funded nonprofit, the faux charity offers free “Puff-Puff” designer inhalers for kids living within 200 miles of a coal plant. The site features a “Kidz Koal Korner” (an interesting spelling choice that could be meant as a subtle reminder of the environmental racism issues associated with coal-fired power plants), and a selection of inhalers with themes ranging from “Miley Cyrus” to “The Bieber” to “Punk / Emo.”
The humor is dark. For example, a kids' game page features a maze with a drawing of the character “Jimmy” at the beginning and an inhaler at the end. It's titled, “Help! Jimmy is having trouble breathing. Help him find his inhaler, quick!”
A section called “'Clean' Energy” features some over-the-top misinformation about wind power: “Wind technology is another 'alternative' wild card. Every single year, gargantuan wind turbines kill literally thousands of birds—especially when the turbines are located in the middle of migration paths. Exploding bats are also a growing problem, as vibrations from turbines causes the rodents' lungs to burst apart in mid-flight.”
But a press release on the Yes Men's website reveals that the issues that inspired this hoax are no laughing matter. Peabody was targeted for lobbying against new pollution standards for power plants that have been proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency — rules that the agency has calculated could prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma per year in the United States.
The press release noted that the action was dreamed up by a small environmental and public health group called Coal is Killing Kids (CKK), which aims to challenge coal industry lobbying against rules that would strengthen the Clean Air Act. “We don't have their millions, but we do have a knack for incredibly tasteless jokes,” said Veronica Tomlinson, a pediatrician and member of CKK.
“Sure, it's kind of tasteless to say that 'Bieber' inhalers are a solution to childhood asthma,” said Janet Bellamy, a spokesperson for CKK. “But it's a great deal more tasteless to cause that asthma in the first place, as coal-fired power plants have been proven to do.” Added CKK spokseperson Justin V. Bond: “It's even more tasteless to disproportionately kill poor people.”