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Fossil Fuel Titan Spins Ebola Crisis for Corporate Gain

Guardian newspaper exposes Peabody Coal's attempt to profit from Ebola epidemic

 Two women walk in front of a billboard, which says "Ebola must go. Stopping Ebola is Everybody's Business" in Monrovia, Liberia on 15 January 2015 (Photo: UNMIL/Emmanuel Tobey)

Two women walk in front of a billboard, which says "Ebola must go. Stopping Ebola is Everybody's Business" in Monrovia, Liberia on 15 January 2015 (Photo: UNMIL/Emmanuel Tobey)

The world's largest privately-held coal company has been exposed capitalizing off the Ebola crisis in West Africa—a move public health officials called "ludicrous" and "opportunistic."

A Guardian exposé reveals that Peabody Coal's new public relations campaign—which aims to brand the iconic pollutant as a "21st century fuel"—promotes its product "as an answer to Africa’s devastating public health crisis."

Journalist Suzanne Goldberg reports:

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.

As part of its campaign, Peabody cites Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness. But Redlener told the Guardian he had never heard of the company and that their claim has no "merit."

"Peabody has very specific and explicit corporate goals," Redlener said. "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."

West Africa is slowly working to rebuild following the Ebola epidemic, which began in December 2013 in Guinea before spreading to Liberia and Sierra Leone, with outbreaks reported in Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, and Spain. The World Health Organization estimates that as of May 9, 2015, there were a total 26,683 suspected cases of the disease, claiming 11,022 lives.

The investigation into Peabody is part of a series conducted by the Guardian to expose the social and environmental toll of certain fossil fuel companies. In March, the newspaper launched its Keep It In the Ground campaign, which is calling on the world's two largest foundations, the Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust, to divest their holdings from fossil fuel companies.

According to the Guardian, the Gates Foundations’ Asset Trust has a $1.6m holding in Peabody. The Wellcome Trust does not have a direct investment in the company.

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