With his thumbs pointing almost permanently skywards, the copyrighted mascot Hector the Lump of Coal wants to talk to kids about the arts, dental hygiene, bullying, sun safety and pretty much anything else the PR people at one of the world’s biggest coal export facilities can think of.
In one segment of his own mini-TV series, Hector’s sidekick presenter tells kids* how to save energy at home to “save the environment” and how you shouldn’t leave the tap running when you’re cleaning your teeth because “water is precious.”
His TV slots are screened on the popular Seven free-to-air Australian television network in the Mackay region of Queensland where kids have been served The Hector Show sandwiched between segments of Saturday Disney.
There is not a sliver of irony or sarcasm in sight but, then again, this is the state of Queensland that — according to its Premier Campbell Newman — is “in the coal business.”
Hector is the property of Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal (DBCT) which last year enabled the export of more than 60 million tonnes of coal used for energy and making steel.
DBCT is one of two facilities at Hay Point, one of the world’s biggest coal ports. Coal combustion, as if this needs pointing out, is the world’s biggest single contributor to climate change.
Not only did the state export 192 million tonnes of coal last year, but it has been revealed that a coal company employee is actually writing the environment policy for Newman’s Liberal National party.
Perhaps this is why Hector sports a permanent grin on his Facebook page where he is pictured at community events, sports games, schools, libraries and inside any building with a door wide enough to fit his considerable girth. It seems wherever there are children and families, there's a grinning six foot lump of coal in a high-visibility vest.
DBCT would likely say Hector is just a part of them being a good corporate community citizen. No doubt too, that getting kids to feel good about coal by getting them to literally dance and play sports with a piece of it could help form a small legion of fossil fuel fans more willing to defend it in the future.
Hector also has his own “fun zone” on the DBCT website where kids can download and colour in pictures of the bituminous mascot juggling fruit and playing guitar (a healthy supply of black crayon is required).
Yet while Hector gives advice on everything from “making friends” to “making emergency calls” there is, not surprisingly, no mention of coal’s contribution to climate change and ocean acidification.
No doubt these subjects will be taboo when judging commences on Hector’s latest venture — a competition just launched for kids and adults to write a book about his adventures with a pool of prizes worth $4000.
Presumably, there are few chances for children’s authors to make a few grand, given that competition has been promoted by the New South Wales Writers’ Centre, which is more than 1000 miles away in Sydney.
“Tell a tale about Hector the Lump of Coal,” the centre wrote in its newsletter.
The competition was also held last year, when a writer from Melbourne (more than 1400 miles away) won the second prize.
Hector’s exploits have shades of Talisman Terry, the allegedly friendly “Fracosaurus” depicted in a colouring book showing the apparently benign impacts of hydraulic fracturing equipment in Pennsylvania surrounded by flowers and rainbows.
The book got into the hands of the comedy writers at “The Colbert Report.”
Days later, Terry went the way of the dinosaurs.
No doubt that Hector’s advice on teeth cleaning, road safety and anti-bullying is all very well received, as are the colouring pages.
But I have to wonder for how much longer it will be seen as acceptable to allow an icon of the deleterious effects of climate change to frolic around kids with impunity? Is there a more inappropriate children’s mascot anywhere in the world?
*Remember children, once Hector has helped you improve your dental hygiene and road safety skills he is then sent overseas to be burned alive.