The Curious Case of Coal In the Crossword

What is considered pop culture varies depends on your circle. For some — it’s the Kardashians. For some — it’s the New York Times crossword. The crossword is a staple for many: our co-founder Ingrid, grandparents everywhere, and, I recently learned, a lot of climate activists on Twitter. This is how it came to my attention that last week, The New York Times published a crossword clue for “greener energy source” whose answer was “cleancoal.”

The backlash was swift and severe, and before too long, but after many tweets later, a correction was issued. A correction was issued, because clean coal is not a proven technology and has come to be used as a delay tactic. We need real action now, and we have proven solutions like wind, solar, and more. We don’t need industry pipe dreams. 

Now, the crossword doesn’t seem to be a high stakes battle, and it’s not. However, it is indicative of a larger problem — the siloing climate reporters and journalism. The climate crisis affects our health, our economy, the weather, and pretty much every news beat there is. When it’s not covered holistically, it leads to a situation like this one. A situation where one of the nation’s premier papers, with a thriving climate reporting team, publishes a crossword with clean coal and regularly writes ads for the fossil fuel industry (if you’d like to stop that — check out the #AdsNotFit2Print petition.)

This crossword was just the latest example of how climate denial and delay slides into our everyday lives from cultural touchstones as seemingly innocuous as the morning crossword. To do better we must ask that all our content creators have some base knowledge and ethics about this crisis, not just the climate reporters. 

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