NYT crossword puzzle called coal a greener source of energy and people hated it


the New York Times crossword puzzle contained a major environmental misstep last week.

The world’s first daily pun (sorry, Wordle) sparked a mini-scandal when it hinted that coal could help avert our impending climate catastrophe in a puzzle published Monday, January 11.

The prompt: “Greener energy source”.

The answer: “Clean coal”.

Naturally, some people on Twitter weren’t thrilled. “Clean coal is not a ‘greener source of energy'” tweeted Molly Fisch-Friedman, senior survey research manager at Climate Nexus. “Do better.”

This isn’t the first time clean coal has been erroneously hailed as a viable green alternative: energy industry groups and some politicians like to suggest that we can keep burning coal, without ruining the planet. , if we can just find a cheap way to clean up this dirty fossil fuel.

The term has been circulating like a buzzword with little evidence that it will ever prove effective in generating energy in a way that doesn’t totally mess up the planet. Elsewhere, the Time‘ own news reports helped debunk the idea.

The next day the Time quickly demoted.

“The 47 Across clue in Monday’s puzzle may have incorrectly implied that coal is a viable source of clean energy,” said one Time correction published last week indicated. “Although it is possible to capture and sequester some of the greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from coal-fired power plants, the technology has never been used on a large scale due to its high cost. .”

The kerfuffle shows how pervasive the “clean coal” myth has become, despite its questionable background.

Former President Donald Trump liked to brag that his administration had ended the war on “clean coal” – even though he apparently didn’t know what the term meant, and such a war was never fought.

At a rally in Phoenix in 2017, Trump told his audience that clean coal means “they’re taking coal out, [and] they’ll clean it up,” as if an army of miners with toothbrushes and spray bottles of disinfectant could solve our climate crisis with a quick little cleanup.

The real idea, in theory, is to remove the carbon emissions created when burning coal and inject them into the earth.

“Clean coal is fake. It doesn’t exist,” Tim Donaghy, senior researcher for Greenpeace’s climate campaign, told VICE News. “It’s a greenwashing term that tries to get people to think happy thoughts about an extremely unhealthy and bad-for-the-planet energy source.”

In this case, the author of the controversial crossword puzzle was apparently not to blame. The puzzle was created by 75-year-old Lynn Lempel as her 70th Monday puzzle (an accolade that has led her to be known among puzzlers as “the Queen of Mondays”).

Lempel writes, in a note published on Time‘ website, that she had originally included a crucial word at the start of the index which was later removed by the editors.

“‘Clean Coal’ as an answer gave me slight pause as one wonders if such a thing really exists,” Lempel wrote. “My original hint included some sort of hedge (‘dubious term for a greener power source’), but the writing team didn’t think that was necessary.”

Reached by E&E News at her Florida home days after performing the puzzle, Lempel said she was “disappointed” that the Time had not accepted its original wording. “I thought it should have been how I had it.”

Jordan Cohen, executive director of communications at the Time, wrote in an email to VICE News that the newspaper “does not plan to comment beyond the correction.”


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