Peabody Energy’s Ebola profiteering exposed

This video from the USA says about itself:

Ebola: A Disease of Extraordinary Poverty

28 October 2014

Public health expert Allyson Pollock explains how poverty, sanitation and infrastructure contribute to the death toll in West Africa.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Peabody Energy exploited Ebola crisis for corporate gain, say health experts

Public health experts outraged after world’s largest privately-held coal company promotes its product in the fight against Ebola in Africa as part of a PR campaign to rebrand the fossil fuel as a solution to global poverty

Suzanne Goldenberg

Tuesday 19 May 2015 18.48 BST

Public health experts involved in the response to the Ebola crisis have condemned what they described as a ludicrous, insulting and opportunistic attempt to exploit the disease for corporate gain by the world’s largest privately-held coal company.

As part of a PR offensive to rebrand coal as a “21st-century fuel” that can help solve global poverty, it has emerged that at the height of Ebola’s impact in Africa, Peabody Energy promoted its product as an answer to Africa’s devastating public health crisis.

Greg Boyce, the chief executive of Peabody, a US-based multinational with mining interests around the world, included a slide on Ebola and energy in a presentation to a coal industry conference in September last year. The slide suggested that more energy would have spurred the distribution of a hypothetical Ebola vaccine – citing as supporting evidence a University of Pennsylvania infectious disease expert.

The World Health Organisation believes nearly 27,000 people contracted Ebola in an outbreak of the virus in West Africa last year, and more than 11,000 died – although the international agency believes that is probably an underestimate.

Public health experts who were involved in fighting the spread of Ebola were outraged at Peabody’s suggestion that expanding energy access with coal generation could have hindered the spread of Ebola and helped with the distribution of a vaccine – especially as there is no approved vaccine against the disease.

Meanwhile, the medical expert cited by Peabody to support its claims told the Guardian he had never heard of the company – and that it had got his name wrong.

“There is no apparent merit or evidence to support such a thesis,” said Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University’s National Centre for Disaster Preparedness, and an advisor to the White House on the US response to Ebola. “Peabody has very specific and explicit corporate goals. I think this is a pretty far fetched leap from a global crisis to try to justify the existence of a company that is interested in producing and selling coal.”

Redlener added: “I think it’s an opportunistic attempt and somewhat desperate to relate corporate self-interest to a massive public health crisis.”

Skip Burkle, a senior fellow of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative at the university’s school of public health, said Peabody’s claims were “absolutely ludicrous”. “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.”

He went on: “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 doctor whose comments were used to justify Peabody’s claims was relatively sanguine. “I know nothing about the coal industry,” Harvey Rubin, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania said.

He did say he intended to contact the company to correct his name – which was wrong on the power point.

Boyce had claimed in the power point that electricity shortages had hampered the fight against Ebola.

“Lack of electricity impairs ability to fight crises like Ebola,” the headline to Boyce’s powerpoint said.

It went on to quote Rubin – misidentified as Harry not Harvey – on the importance to public vaccination efforts of a reliable electricity supply.

“Let’s say someone does develop an Ebola vaccine. Distributing a vaccine would require continuous chain refrigeration,” Rubin said.

But he told the Guardian he was “agnostic” on the issue of power sources. He said there were already sufficient supplies of electricity in Africa for effective distribution of vaccines by using existing cell phone towers. “We can piggyback on those towers,” he said.

The Ebola claims surfaced amid growing pressure on Peabody Energy from the downturn in coal and a global anti-apartheid style fossil fuel divestment campaign.

Over the last two years, over 200 institutions and major investors have committed to selling off their stocks of oil, coal and gas, on the grounds that much of the world’s reserves of fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change. Some institutions – such as Stanford University – have committed only to dumping coal, while hanging on to oil and gas holdings.

The Guardian supports the fossil fuel divestment movement, and through its Keep it in the Ground campaign has called on two of the world’s biggest charities, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest from fossil fuels. The Gates Foundations’s Asset Trust has a $1.6m holding in Peabody according to the most recently available information. The Wellcome Trust does not appear to have a direct investment in the company. …

But the fossil fuel divestment movement has intensified Peabody’s campaign to rebrand coal. It is the dirtiest of fossil fuels which contributes heavily to climate change and causes large numbers of deaths because of pollution produced when burning it.

But in a power point presentation, prepared for the managers of the world’s richest sovereign wealth fund, the Norwegian government pension fund in June last year, Peabody executives argued that coal was positioned to be the fastest-growing fuel of the 21st century.

At the time, the fund had 64m NOK (£5.5m) in Peabody, down from 1.2bn NOK in 2010.

In the meeting, Peabody argued that “21st-century coal” was positioned to be the main driver of digital expansion, and of urbanisation of developing countries. It also said access to coal was the cure for global poverty.

The effort did not work. As of 31 December, the Norwegian government pension fund had dumped all shares of Peabody and other US coal companies, according to Urgewald, a German NGO which monitors the fossil fuel divestment campaign.

“So they were obviously not convinced by Peabody’s presentation,” said Heffa Schuecking, a campaigner for Urgewald.

While the West African Ebola epidemic has dwindled in size, a steady stream of new infections in Guinea and Sierra Leone, as well as the reappearance of the disease in Liberia, point to a potential resurgence. The fact that the epidemic has not been contained in the 19 months since it began points to the deplorable health conditions confronting the region’s poor: here.

‘NEW PHASE’ OF EBOLA OUTBREAK Officials warned the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has entered a “new phase” after a case was confirmed in the urban area of Wangata, home to more than 1 million people. [HuffPost]

CONGO EBOLA OUTBREAK  DECLARED GLOBAL EMERGENCY The deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo is now an international health emergency, the World Health Organization announced after the virus spread this week to a city of 2 million people. [AP]

10 thoughts on “Peabody Energy’s Ebola profiteering exposed

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  4. We just published a story by freelancers Robert Fortner and Alex Park about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s role in the international response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We’ve been working on it for months, and we asked Alex about it.
    How did this piece come about?
    When the Ebola epidemic was unfolding three years ago, I was writing about it from Mother Jones’ DC bureau. The picture that I and just about everyone was seeing was that the organization charged with managing global health was hampered from the inside, and I wrote something saying as much and left the WHO story at that. But after we ran the story, I got a Tweet from Robert, who at the time, I didn’t know at all, asking for some of my source material. Robert had a blog where he wrote about science and technology and global health, and I read some of it, and we started talking. We began to wonder if there might be a deeper story, about what role the Foundation — which, until then, had said very little about Ebola — had in the response. Given how powerful the Foundation is and — let’s face it — how much money it has, it was natural to think they were at least speaking with the WHO and CDC during this time. So we filed several Freedom of Information Act requests for emails between the Foundation and the CDC, and once those came in about a year later, we knew we had a story.
    What was the most surprising thing you discovered while reporting this?

    Personally, I was astonished by how much of WHO’s resources were invested in eradicating polio prior to the Ebola epidemic. That such a large slice of WHO staff in Africa — 38 percent in 2013– were covered by polio funds is an indication of where its priorities really lie. WHO says these staff also help with routine immunizations, so they’re not only working on polio eradication. But one way of looking at this is that WHO depends on voluntary donations, earmarked for polio eradication, to support its basic mission.
    What was the hardest thing about the reporting, writing, or editing process?
    There wasn’t one moment when WHO suddenly became dysfunctional and the Gates Foundation became the agenda setter in global health. It happened one step at a time over years and years. Keeping track of the details of this slow change, which often looked insignificant, without losing sight of the bigger picture of this shift happening in the foreground was definitely hard.
    Did you learn anything that could help other writers or reporters?
    Just to deal with the deluge of material, we kept a timeline with names, quotes, links where we could make a note of pretty much every event, however small, that was relevant in the scope of our story. At first it was just a place to dump material, but for this story, where there are so many events over years, and the timing of a decision can say as much as the decision itself, the timeline became an essential resource. When we started working on a first draft, the timeline was 13 pages and almost 4,000 words long. While we were writing the story, we could always come back to it to make sense of certain details, and see what else was happening at that time.
    Anything else you want readers to know?
    Robert and I have both written about the Gates Foundation before, and we’ve been criticized for writing about an organization that does a lot of good in unflattering ways. We recognize the Gates Foundation does good work. But it’s an enormously powerful institution, and like all powerful institutions, it deserves scrutiny.


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