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About this book

This book examines five rhetorical strategies used by the US coal industry to advance its interests in the face of growing economic and environmental pressures: industrial apocalyptic, corporate ventriloquism, technological shell game, hypocrite’s trap, and energy utopia. The authors argue that these strategies appeal to and reinforce neoliberalism, a discourse and set of practices that privilege market rationality and individual freedom and responsibility above all else. As the coal industry has become the leading target and leverage point for those seeking more aggressive action to mitigate climate change, their corporate advocacy may foreshadow rhetorical strategies available to other fossil fuel industries as they manage similar economic and cultural shifts. The authors’ analysis of coal’s corporate advocacy also identifies contradictions and points of vulnerability in the organized resistance to climate action as well as the larger ideological formation of neoliberalism.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Under Pressure

Abstract
“Coal Under Pressure” stages the authors’ investigation of rhetorical strategies used by the US coal industry to advance its interests in the face of growing economic and environmental pressures. The authors identify five rhetorical strategies in coal industry advocacy: industrial apocalyptic, corporate ventriloquism, technological shell game, hypocrite’s trap, and energy utopia. They argue that the corporate advocacy of the coal industry appeals to and reinforces neoliberalism, a discourse and set of practices that privilege market rationality and individual freedom and responsibility above all else. The chapter explains why attention to neoliberalism is essential to understanding the rhetoric of the coal industry’s opposition to environmental policy and regulation, and it situates the authors’ research relative to other scholarship on environmental communication and corporate advocacy.
Jen Schneider, Steve Schwarze, Peter K. Bsumek, Jennifer Peeples

Chapter 2. Industrial Apocalyptic

Abstract
“Industrial Apocalyptic” examines the US coal industry’s “War on Coal” campaign. Noting that environmentalist voices are consistently associated with apocalyptic rhetoric, the authors argue that this association deflects attention from “industrial apocalyptic,” the apocalyptic rhetoric that comes from industry and its supporters. Industrial apocalyptic rhetoric articulates the shared fear that environmental regulation may lead to economic catastrophe and collapse of the American way of life. The chapter shows how industrial apocalyptic rhetoric relies on a burlesque frame in order to denounce violations of traditional principles, ridicule opposition, and manufacture precarity in order to thwart environmental regulation. Industrial apocalyptic co-opts environmentalist appeals for radical change in the service of blocking such change and naturalizes neoliberal ideology as the common-sense discourse of the center.
Jen Schneider, Steve Schwarze, Peter K. Bsumek, Jennifer Peeples

Chapter 3. Corporate Ventriloquism

Abstract
“Corporate Ventriloquism” examines coal industry front groups and the “Faces of Coal” campaign. Using theories of voice and appropriation, this chapter argues that much of the coal industry’s advocacy operates through a rhetorical process of “corporate ventriloquism,” in which the coal industry appropriates elements of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, adapts them to the cultural circumstances specific to coal, and “throws” its voice through “front groups” to create the impression of broad support for coal. Corporate ventriloquism masks the industry’s influence over the spaces and conditions for “voice.” The coal industry constructs a corporate voice that is positioned as a voice of citizenship, blurring and flattening the distinction between corporation and citizen in ways that are advantageous to the industry.
Jen Schneider, Steve Schwarze, Peter K. Bsumek, Jennifer Peeples

Chapter 4. The Technological Shell Game

Abstract
“The Technological Shell Game” examines the industry’s persistent use of the “clean coal” trope to resist environmental regulation. The chapter interprets “clean coal” as a case of strategic ambiguity in which the industry invokes different definitions of “clean coal” to play a “technological shell game” with audiences, offering the promise of clean coal while hiding what exactly is meant by clean coal. This rhetorical strategy can unite disparate audiences in support of “clean coal,” but it obfuscates the coal industry’s resistance to regulation by appearing to work voluntarily and proactively toward technological solutions to environmental problems. The shell game enables the industry to finesse contradictions between its neoliberal calls for smaller government and deregulation, and its demand that the federal government subsidize carbon capture and sequestration technologies.
Jen Schneider, Steve Schwarze, Peter K. Bsumek, Jennifer Peeples

Chapter 5. The Hypocrite’s Trap

Abstract
“Hypocrite’s Trap” examines the coal industry’s response to the fossil fuel divestment movement. Using a realist style of rhetoric, the coal industry and its allies in the oil and gas industry, conservative think tanks, and conservative media set a rhetorical trap for divestment advocates, the “Hypocrite’s Trap.” Three moves set the trap: establishing ignorance, exposing complicity, and naming hypocrisy. Industry advocacy characterizes the divestment movement as idealistic and unrealistic, elitist and dangerous, and hypocritical and immoral. In so doing, the hypocrite’s trap thus reinscribes divestment activists as individual consumers, rather than members of a collective movement. It also positions itself as a heroic provider of energy for the poor. This strategy positions the advocates of divestment as hypocrites but also reasserts the neoliberal reality, reasonableness, and virtue of the market.
Jen Schneider, Steve Schwarze, Peter K. Bsumek, Jennifer Peeples

Chapter 6. Energy Utopia

Abstract
“Energy Poverty” examines Peabody Energy’s “Advanced Energy for Life” campaign and the trope of energy poverty as a key site of rhetorical struggle over coal’s future. Peabody’s campaign responds to economic and political pressures on the coal industry with an ostensibly moral rationale for continued reliance on coal. The campaign invokes an “energy utopia” and a cultural politics of life that attempts to position access to coal-fired electricity as the solution to global poverty and as necessary for “the good life,” while deflecting anxieties about climate change and obscuring issues of energy justice. The campaign transforms the market failure of neoliberalism to provide half the world with affordable electricity into an opportunity for heroism among global elites, who can solve poverty by expanding markets for coal.
Jen Schneider, Steve Schwarze, Peter K. Bsumek, Jennifer Peeples

Chapter 7. Coal and the Contradictions of Neoliberalism

Abstract
This concluding chapter examines the contradictions and fissures in the rhetoric of coal industry advocacy. By identifying inconsistencies in the coal industry’s public discourse, the chapter shows where neoliberalism’s footing is not secure and reveals how the coal industry’s rhetoric is a cobbled-together project, not a discursive and ideological monolith. It buttresses a rationality that requires constant rhetorical upkeep, a smoothing and suturing of the various and contradictory neoliberal impulses. The authors argue that these contradictions are sites where environmental and climate advocates can continue to apply pressure and leverage, and that coal is the harbinger of things to come for oil and gas, as climate change awareness, renewable fuels, and regulatory policies continue to apply pressure to the fossil fuel industry.
Jen Schneider, Steve Schwarze, Peter K. Bsumek, Jennifer Peeples

Backmatter

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