Coal giant draws long bow in Ebola claim
The world’s largest private coal company has been accused of promoting itself in Ebola-ravaged Africa, claiming that fossil fuel is a solution to global poverty.
Public health experts are outraged by Peabody Energy’s campaign that claims its product has helped in the fight against Ebola.
It has been described as a ludicrous, insulting and opportunistic attempt to exploit the disease for corporate gain.
The outrage comes from a single slide in a presentation by Greg Boyce, the chief executive of Peabody.
US-based Peabody is the world’s largest privately-held coal company; a multinational with mining interests around the world.
Peabody boss Greg Boyce included a slide on Ebola and energy in a presentation to a coal industry conference in September last year.
“Lack of electricity impairs ability to fight crises like Ebola,” the headline to Boyce’s power-point presentation said.
The slide reportedly suggested that if the region had more access to energy, any hypothetical Ebola vaccine could be distributed faster.
There is no Ebola vaccine, and it is unclear how coal-fired power would help it be distributed.
It is the latest example of a fossil-fuel argument that is getting a lot of traction lately; the “coal is good for humanity” line.
The World Health Organisation believes more than 11,000 people died in the recent West African Ebola outbreak, though some agencies believe this is an understatement.
Peabody’s claims were “absolutely ludicrous”, according to senior fellow of the Harvard University Humanitarian Initiative, Skip Burkle.
“We are talking about public health infrastructure,” he said.
“Energy is just one piece of it. There are so many other factors that have to come together.”
“The coal industry is going down but there are other answers to this and it is not to dump it in Africa. It is just an insult to the population.”
The slide in question attempted to back its claims by quoting Harvey Rubin, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania said.
But the slide misconstrued Rubin’s comments, and could not even get his name right, referring to him as ‘Harry’.
Dr Rubin has told the Guardian; “I know nothing about the coal industry”.
He said he was contacting Peabody to correct his name on the power point.
The Rubin quote Peabody used was; “Let’s say someone does develop an Ebola vaccine. Distributing a vaccine would require continuous chain refrigeration.”
Dr Rubin told the Guardian he was “agnostic” on the power sources, as there are sufficient supplies of electricity in Africa for vaccine distribution by using cell phone towers.
“We can piggyback on those towers,” he said.