[THS] Chris Hedges: Fight for a World Without Coal
The Harder Stuff in news and commentary
ths at psalience.org
Thu Feb 17 13:42:21 CET 2011
[According to James Lovelock in his latest book, The Changing Face of Gaia, recommended on THS awhile back, it is way too late to halt - much less reverse - severe climate change to a much hotter world where few will survive. BUT, it is not too late to wreak justice on those who continue the suicidal and (see below) murderous business-as-usual policy. -ths]
Fight for a World Without Coal
By Chris Hedges
February 14, 2011 "Truthdig" - - - -The writer and philosopher Wendell Berry, armed
with little more than a copy of William Shakespeares The Tempest and his
conscience, has been camped out for three days with a handful of other activists in
the governors outer office in Frankfurt, Ky. Berry, who is 76 and the author of a
number of important books including the Unsettling of America and Life Is a
Miracle, has been sleeping on the floor of Gov. Steve Beshears reception area since
Friday night with 13 others to protest the continued blasting of mountaintops in
eastern Kentucky and the poisoning of watersheds, soil and air by coal companies.
Weve come, weve lobbied legislators, he said when I reached him by phone this
weekend. As recently as last May we had an interview with the governor in his
office. None of this has produced any effect. There are no changes in the attitudes of
the government towards surface mining, and attention from the media is minimal or
nonexistent. We understood, not because we like what we are doing, that this was
the next thing that had to be done if we were going to carry our efforts any farther
towards the elimination of surface mining.
The extraction and burning of coal in 26 states is perhaps the most urgent
environmental concern facing the United States. Nearly 40 percent of our CO2
emissions come from coal-fired plants. If we do not begin to regulate and control the
coal companies and plan for a future without coal, there will be no possibility to
thwart the spiraling effects of climate change. Hundreds of thousands of acres, as
well as major watersheds, have already been turned into poisoned wastelands,
especially as coal companies blast away mountaintops for the last seams of coal.
Communities in the coal fields have been poisoned out of existence by the release of
mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, manganese, beryllium, chromium and other
carcinogenic substances into the air, soil and water. Hundreds of communities are
now ghost towns. The health effects in the countrys major coal fields, where the
water running out of the tap is often so rancid it is undrinkable and cancer and
respiratory illnesses have reached epidemic levels, are spreading far beyond the coal
fields. These toxins migrate to us all.
Coal, like oil and natural gas, is in an inexorable decline. There will be major
shortages in as little as two decades. The continued extraction and burning of coal at
these levels make any alternative energy policy, including carbon credits, a joke. We
must begin to prepare for a world without coal. If we continue to wait passively we
will be faced with a crisis that will make basic energy consumption unaffordable and
create widespread human misery and suffering as increasing parts of the country
and the globe become uninhabitable. Corporations, in their relentless quest for
profits, shredded the Kyoto Accords. Corporations, which place greed above the
protection of life, determine government policy at the state and federal levels.
Corporations block serious reform and regulation and keep the country bound to this
wheel of fire. The only hope left is to carry out civil disobedience such as the protest
under way in Frankfurt. And if you can get to Frankfurt, be there Monday morning
for the planned street demonstrations. Details of Mondays action, and of the
occupation of the governors outer office, are available by clicking here.
Berry, who has lived and farmed for more than 40 years in Kentuckys Henry County
and who is the author of some 40 works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, said he and
13 other activists from the state were able to meet for 20 minutes with the governor
on Friday. Gov. Beshear, whose administration has joined with the Kentucky Coal
Association to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the EPAs attempt
to enforce the Clean Water Act, agreed to two of the activists requests. He said he
would visit some of the people and communities affected by the strip mining
operations and he promised to oppose what Berry said was the violent speech
directed at those who defy the coal companies, much of it generated by the coal
industry. But Berry said this was not nearly enough. The governors continued
support for surface mining and his refusal to acknowledge the ecological and social
devastation unleashed by strip mining pushed Berry and the other activists to vow to
occupy the office until their other demands were met or they were arrested; those
demands include the state governments withdrawal from the lawsuit against the EPA
and steps to begin a transition away from coal. The governors office has not moved
to arrest the group, although this could change Monday when the office reopens.
Massive destruction is taking place and this is permanent destruction, Berry said.
When you destroy a mountain, when you destroy a watershed, when you open the
earth so as to permit the escape of trace minerals, acids and other harmful
substances into the watershed it permanently affects peoples water supply
downstream. That isnt going to stop within anybodys lifetime and probably the
lifetime of several generations. We would say that that is massive destruction. It
involves the oppression of the people who live in the proximity of the mines.
Furthermore, it involves a permanent threat to the people who are dependent on
these watersheds for drinking water. There is a high incidence in the coal fields of
various kinds of cancer. There is oppression.
Civil disobedience is all we had left, he said. We are not at present being civilly
disobedient, but this event we are carrying on now in Frankfurt required our
willingness to be civil disobedient and to be arrested. In our opinion this was the last
resort. We had tried everything in our power to get attention to our problems and to
have the existence of the problems even acknowledged in state government in a
public way and we had failed year after year. There simply came a time when on the
part of a number of people this readiness occurred. And so we are now where we
Berry said that the state and federal governments refusal to concern themselves with
the rights of citizens and the stewardship of the ecosystem that makes human life
possible must now be fought on the ground. The tactics he has employed in
Frankfurt have to begin to be employed across the country if there is to be any hope
of thwarting the effects of climate change and breaking the countrys reliance on coal
and other fossil fuels.
It is possible now to say that this is a controversy involving on one side citizens
acting on behalf of the mere earth and its ecosphere for the sake merely of their
children, grandchildren and on down into the future, he said. On the other side are
very powerful and very wealthy interests. The influence of those powerful and
wealthy interests upon the government is excessive and unacceptable finally to we
who are mere citizens.
Its a mistake to approach this simply from the standpoint of climate change, Berry
went on. The problems that were up against are the problems of greed and waste.
If we correct those problems, whether or not we are confronted with climate change,
we will certainly improve our lot in this world and our prospects.
There is the impulse that goes by the name of denial, Berry said of those who
refuse to confront the environmental crisis. People dont want to experience the
discomfort of finding something untrue or wrong that they have always assumed to
be true or right. There are economic arrangements that enforce that; for instance
the bookkeeping in the current economy is very short-term. The people who run
corporations are not under obligation to look far into the future, even necessarily at
the interests of the very corporations they are working for. What they are working for
is as large a dividend as possible in this accounting period to their shareholders. We
are living in an economy and a climate in which short-term thinking is not only
encouraged but in some ways enforced. There is even a kind of moral mechanism.
The people who are in charge of these destructive corporations account to
themselves not in terms of the effects on the world, but account for themselves in
terms of their obligations to shareholders, which is an entirely different thing. Coal
companies may be destroying the world, but they are doing so on behalf of their
You cant dismiss quantification as a necessary process, but when you begin to
quantify things that are not quantities, then you begin to get in trouble, Berry said.
The health of an ecosystem, for instance, cant be reduced to a quantity. The health
of a water supply cant be very easily reduced to a quantity. What we are talking
about here is not just that, were talking about the faith of neighborliness in these
coal fields. We are instructed by everything in our tradition, our local community
traditions, to be good neighbors to one another. The coal companies have been
historically the worst possible neighbors. If they damage somebodys home water
supply, for instance, they will do anything to keep from paying for it. That record has
been established. The mistreatment of individual citizens in these rural
neighborhoods has accumulated a long record, a massive record. There has been a
lot of bad behavior towards neighbors. This is remembered. This is part of the
motivation for our presence here.
To accept that there is nothing to do is to despair, Berry said. It is to become in
some fundamental way less than human. Those of us who are protesting are
protesting in part for our own sake to keep ourselves whole as human beings. We
dont agree that it is impossible because we dont intend trying to stop it. Im
speaking as somebody whos been involved in these efforts for a long time and we
have stopped some things. We stopped the project for damming the Red River
Gorge. We stopped the Louisville International Jetport. We stopped the nuclear
power plant that was scheduled to be built, and was nearly built, at Marble Hill in
southern Indiana on the Ohio River. There is no reason and I dont believe there ever
is a reason to despair that what is wrong by clear moral and ecological standards
cannot be corrected.
We have to put ourselves in the way of business as usual, Berry said. It is a little
bit hard to give you a neat answer because we dont know where this is going from
here, we dont know whats going to be required of us after this. We are all pretty
conscious that what weve done here this weekend we are going to belong to for a
while and be responsible for.
More information about the THS