"Clean Coal" and the Battle for Our Energy Future
Reveals the true social and environmental costs of coal power and looks at promising developments in renewable energy technology.
Directed by Peter Bull
Produced by Center for Investigative Reporting
Co-Producer: Justin Weinstein
Editor: Pascal Akesson
Executive Producers: Robert J. Rosenthal, Christa Scharfenburg
Consulting Producer: Alex Gibney
Director of Photography: Anthony Forma
Original Music: Gary Lucas, Ben Decter
Narrator & Editorial Consultant: Jeff Goodell
[Note: Community screenings of DIRTY BUSINESS can be booked at Bullfrog Communities.]
"A must-see for anybody concerned with our environment and energy future." Brent Yarnal, Department of Geography, Penn State University
Note: There are two versions of this program on the same DVD: 90-minutes and 60-minutes.
In the digital age, half of our electricity still comes from coal. DIRTY BUSINESS reveals the true social and environmental costs of coal power and tells the stories of innovators who are pointing the way to a renewable energy future.
Guided by Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Goodell, the film examines what it means to remain dependent on a 19th century technology that is the largest single source of greenhouse gases.
Can coal really be made clean? Can renewables be produced on a scale large enough to replace coal? The film seeks answers in a series of stories shot in China, Saskatchewan, Kansas, West Virginia, Nevada and New York.
The film features amongst others: Robert Kennedy Jr., Bill McKibben, Dr. James Hansen, Myron Ebell, Don Blankenship, Joe Lovett, Maria Gunnoe, Dr. Vaclav Smil and Dr. Julio Friedmann.
Grade Level: 8-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2011
Copyright Date: 2011
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-903-8
"Dirty Business is a dramatic reminder of where our electricity comes from and of the enormous environmental and human price we pay for cheap energy. This compelling documentary drives home the point that 'Clean Coal' is a cynical advertising slogan and political tool aimed at maintaining the primacy of King Coal and pushing cleaner, safer energy alternatives to the side. Dirty Business also demonstrates how coal mining and burning disrupts and degrades communities and ecosystems, from the coal-producing regions of Appalachia to coal-consuming areas of Nevada and China. Dirty Business is a must-see for anybody concerned with our environment and energy future."
Brent Yarnal, Professor and Associate Head, Department of Geography, The Pennsylvania State University
"Impressive, scientifically accurate and interesting...Dirty Business does an excellent job of explaining that, while removing carbon dioxide from coal emissions is technically possible, it is a project of such vast proportions that it is unlikely to be successful in the long run...The fact that the coal industry can spend millions of dollars on advertising and that there is no equivalent counter weight to the self-serving misinformation being distributed is a very significant factor in the energy debate. We need more and better sources of information, for example this film, available and prominent in the public's awareness...I will definitely show this film to both of my environmental science classes and I am sure the film will generate a lively class discussion and give students ideas for follow up research."
Dr. Kyle Forinash, Professor, Department of Natural Sciences, Indiana University Southeast, Author, Foundations of Environmental Physics:
Understanding Energy Use and Human Impacts
"Dirty Business provides a comprehensive look at the pervasive presence of fossil fuels and electrical power in all aspects of modern life...[and] demonstrates how the concentrated power of the coal industry holds us all hostage at a time when we need to be seeking innovative, sustainable energy alternatives, including increased efficiency, wind, solar and even recycled heat from already existing manufacturing plants. Dirty Business investigates what the coal industry means by clean coal...and demonstrates the inherent contradictions in the term. With a clear eye on the connections between political power and the electrical grid, the film maps the difficulties we face in pursuing a sustainable energy economy."
Rebecca Scott, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia, Author, Removing Mountains: Extracting Nature and Identity in the Appalachian Coalfields
"Dirty Business provides a multi-faceted examination of energy development, use, and waste disposal worldwide...Because it makes such an effort to present all viewpoints, the information provided is much more credible than most films on this topic. The movie would be an exceptional classroom tool because it describes the viewpoints of energy developers, energy users, and the people who live near extraction and waste disposal sites. Legislators, researchers and students in energy and environmental policy courses would find this film to be an eye opener. I have been teaching energy and environment policy for several years, but have never shown a film in class due to the strong bias usually present. I will definitely use this film the next time I teach the course. It is the best film I have seen on the topic."
Dr. Susan Hunter, Associate Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University
"Dirty Business exposes the reality of the modern human's reliance on coal, 'the rock that built America' that will now build China and other rapidly industrializing nations. That is, if it does not break us all, first...An informed, holistic view of our energy use that will help us to make better decisions for the future...[and] gives credible consideration to alternative energy sources while also looking at sequestration technologies to treat emissions...Dirty Business captures the complexities of human reliance on electricity and the coal that makes it possible. It is a balanced primer on the role of energy modern life that will be an excellent addition to the environmental studies curriculum at any high school or college."
Dr. Brian Black, Professor, History and Environmental Studies, Head, Division of Arts and Humanities, Penn State Altoona
"Most people don't realize the amount of coal burned to provide them with electricity. This powerful documentary examines what it really means to be dependent on coal...The film embraces a wide variety of topics, making it suitable for use in science, economics, and government classes."
School Library Journal
"This film separates the rhetoric from the reality...It explains that clean coal is not yet an energy source; it is just an untested idea. It compares clean coal with proven technologies such as wind power, solar power, and waste energy recovery...Unlike some environmental films, it gives a reasonable amount of screen time to the other side of the story. And while it thoroughly explores the negative impacts of coal-powered energy, it also introduces positive solutions."
Carrie Macfarlane, Middlebury College, Educational Media Reviews Online
"The best and most comprehensive look at global dependence on coal, and explores some promising alternatives...wind, solar thermal, increased energy efficiency through recycling 'waste heat'--which makes this a valuable resource for science as well as social studies classes...Dirty Business is a fine and lively overview of a complicated issue."
"With most of the attention centered on oil, natural gas, and alternative forms of energy, the documentary film director Peter Bull has done a great service by focusing on coal: a widely used, enormously impactful, but far less glamorous form of energy...The visuals of the impact of mountain top removal are stunning as is the suffering of the people who must live with its aftereffects."
Robert D. Lifset, University of Oklahoma, H-Net Reviews
"Dirty Business reminds us of the sobering costs of coal-generated electricity, dramatic vistas of communities devastated by mountain-top-removal mining, and surreal images of Chinese cities through a coal pollution haze. Especially interesting was the footage of current and historic interviews with Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Co., the 6th largest coal company in the U.S. and operator of the Upper Big Branch, which killed 29 Kentucky miners in an April 2010 explosion. The icing on the cake is the outtake during the credits to the film: Blankenship abruptly terminates his interview."
K.K. DuVivier, Professor of Law, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Author, The Renewable Energy Reader
"A sober examination of the industry that currently provides half of America's electrical power...Coal power comes with heavy societal and environmental costs, and is the largest single source of greenhouse gases; can it really be made 'clean' in a sustainable, long-term sense?...Dirty Business looks for answers...and its eye-opening revelations make it a choice pick for public and school library DVD collections."
The Midwest Book Review
"This straight-shooting documentary takes a skeptical but judicious look at the future of coal-based energy...Fact-filled...Viewers get a sobering look at the damage strip mining and mountaintop removal are doing."
Includes 90-minute and 60-minute versions, and a 15-minute short "What is Clean Coal?", all with scene selection and SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
The film's outstanding website includes a host of resources
The film's trailer
Awards and Festivals
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Central Ohio Green Education Fund Award
First Place, Documentary, Appalachian Film Festival
Spirit of Innovation Award, EcoFocus Film Festival
Bronze Plaque, Columbus International Film + Video Festival
Athens International Film Festival
Council on Foundations Film & Video Festival
Reel Earth Film Festival
Wild & Scenic Environrmental Film Festival
World Community Film Festival
DocMiami International Film Festival
Climate Change/Global Warming
Marketing and Advertising
Examines the escalating drama in Appalachia over mountaintop removal mining.
Explores the controversial issue of mountaintop removal mining by following a grassroots fight to stop the process in West Virginia.
Tells the incredible story of the Tar Creek Superfund site in NE Oklahoma and the massive and deadly remains left by the lead and zinc mines there.
The Air We Breathe
Connects asthma and other respiratory diseases with air pollution and suburban sprawl.
The Four Corners
The "hidden" cost of energy development in the homeland of the Hopi, Navajo, and Mormons.
The Suzuki Diaries: Sustainability in Action
David Suzuki and daughter Sarika travel to Europe to visit inspiring people and projects that give hope for a sustainable future.
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The Age of Stupid
An old man (Pete Postlethwaite) living in a devastated world, watches 'archive' footage from today and asks: Why didn't we stop climate change when we had the chance?
Burning in the Sun
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Examines the media strategies, on both sides, that have resulted in the US government's failure to take decisive action on global warming.
The Greening of Southie
The story of Boston's first LEED-certified residential green building, and the people who made it possible.
Lovins on the Soft Path
Hunter and Amory Lovins make the case for energy efficiency and energy conservation.
Living Under the Cloud
A sobering look at the Chernobyl disaster, with exclusive home video footage.
A report from the front lines of climate change in Kenya, India, Canada, the Arctic, China, and Montana where people's lives have already been dramatically altered.
Turning Down The Heat
Renewable energy sources and energy conservation are the solution to global warming.
Design with the Sun
Take a tour of passive solar homes and buildings.