It’s really amazing what a person can do with a few phrases like “volatility in the global coal market” and “a careful analysis of repetitional risks.” Anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan used those and a few other choice phrases to send the stock price of Australian company Whitehaven Coal plummeting — the company’s shares lost $314 million in just a few hours.

Moylan sent out a hoax press release, purportedly from ANZ bank, which said that a $1.2 billion loan to the coal company had been rescinded. The press release claimed that the bank didn’t want to contribute to “significant dislocation of farmers, unacceptable damage to the environment, or social conflict,” and included a quote from the bank’s group head of corporate sustainability. Either bankers/financial reporters don’t actually read press releases carefully or they believe that the corporate sustainability folks have a lot more power than they actually do.

Sadly, as soon as reality caught up to traders, they traded the coal company’s price back up to its previous heights. Still, it is a good lesson in what would happen if banks did decide to grow a backbone and not fund projects that have huge, hidden social costs. We’re not going to hold our breath, though.

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