The truth behind Peabody’s campaign to rebrand coal as a poverty cure

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The story Linda Jing tells in the video is slick and persuasive: she was a girl from a poor village forced to study by candlelight because there was no electricity until coal-fired power plants arrived, transforming her destiny and that of China.

“It’s not an easy life,” Jing says, whose school was an old temple. “We actually had to bring our own little oil lamp or homemade candles for some of the school sessions.” The children had to go there very early, often in the dark, she recalls.

In the three-minute video, ‘From Candles to Computers: Bringing Electricity to China’s Jing Jin village’, she says: “The coal industry is a major force in eliminating fuel poverty in China but, more importantly, it’s a critical driving force for the phenomenal economic growth China has experienced.”

The video comes with a soothing soundtrack of traditional Chinese music, and is beautifully shot. Nowhere more so than when Jing recalls the beauty of the (electrical) city neon lights in Shanghai when she first went there as a student.

She concludes: “Eliminating energy poverty will obviously lead to conveniency in life, but to me the more important part is changing the person’s perspective to life. What are the other opportunities that can be out there?”

Linda Jing has certainly made the most of her opportunities. Contrary to the impression the video viewer might form, she was brought up in relative prosperity. She studied hard, emigrated and is now an executive at Monsanto, the agriculture and biotech giant, headquartered in St Louis, Missouri. Not that there is any mention of her work in the video.

Nor does Jing reveal that this is a video produced at the behest of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest privately-held coal mining company, which also has its headquarters in St Louis. The two industrial giants are a 20-minute drive apart, and she was approached to appear in the video after a women’s networking event involving the companies.

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