Dirty Business: “Clean Coal” and the Battle for Our Energy Future

Film. Produced by Peter Bull, Justin Weinstein, Alex Gibney. 2010. 88 minutes.
A feature documentary that addresses the questions: Can coal be made clean? Can renewables and efficiency happen on a scale large enough to replace coal?
Time Periods: 21st Century, 2001 - Present
Themes: Climate Justice, Economics, Environment, Science

Dirty Business is a long film for classroom use, but it is also the best and most comprehensive look at global dependence on coal, and explores some promising alternatives. The film is built around the work of Jeff Goodell, who wrote the important book Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future.

Goodell begins with the devastating impact of coal mining in Appalachia. He remembers when he first saw the impact of mountaintop removal mining: “It was like the first time you look into a slaughterhouse after you’ve spent a lifetime of eating hamburgers.”

Climate Justice More Resources Ad | Zinn Education ProjectThe film travels to Mesquite, Nev., where residents are fighting a coal-fired plant, and also to China to explore the health impact of coal there — an important piece of the story not included in any of the other films reviewed here. The film’s strength is its exploration of alternatives to coal — wind, solar thermal, increased energy efficiency through recycling “waste heat” — which makes this a valuable resource for science as well as social studies classes.

The treatment of carbon dioxide sequestration may confuse students; the film simultaneously suggests that this is a terrible idea in North America but a good one in China. But, on the whole, Dirty Business is a fine and lively overview of a complicated issue.

By the Center for Investigative Reporting.



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