… but I did not trust my brother, I carried him to blame. Which led me to my fatal doom To wander off in shame …
— Bob Dylan, “Lonesome Hobo,” 1967
In the Coal Creek river valley in Southern West Virginia actress Daryl Hannah and NASA climatologist James Hansen were arrested protesting continuation of mountaintop — “surface” — mining, warning of dire environmental consequences and unfunded costs exceeding the value of coal mined. According to Robert Kennedy Jr.’s eloquent appeal over 500 mountaintops have been lost, mostly in Appalachia, to mountaintop removal. Debris and waste from surface mining dam up rivers and valleys, and of course head downstream.
Coal company funded groups, and the miners themselves, gathered to brand the environmentalists as ‘outsiders’ and ‘tree-huggers’ determined to destroy the few remaining jobs above minimum wage in Coal Creek.
The miners have a point about the jobs. I cannot recall any environmental protest seeking to ban some kind of unclean industry or practice that ever paid the slightest honor or consideration to the lethal, dangerous and hard labor performed by generations of workers. Everyone works under light bulbs and burns the power that coal, oil and nuclear power workers have made abundant and reliable. Maybe it happened somewhere — but I never saw the celebrities demand — lip-service will not do — that ANY and EVERY worker sacrificed to cleaner energy be fully retrained and compensated, along with his or her children who were counting on those miner wages and benefits to get to college, and have access to health care. After Daryl is gone, if the protest is successful, families will be watching their miner parents head to Wal-Mart to work for beans until they are dead or unable to stand.
On the other hand, West Virginia receives (thanks to having two of the most powerful U.S. senators) a huge amount of federal anti-poverty and other aid. So the term ‘outsiders’ does not really apply to any U.S. taxpayer! Plus, the risks to public safety and health in failing to make a sharp turn toward renewable energy technologies are abundant. Only mine owners who are also into Rapture theologies really can’t see this obvious truth — there are some, by the way, who boldly assert: ‘the world won’t even exist in a decade, so who cares about the environment.’
‘Clean coal’ is a scientific fiction, made of whole cloth. Most of us, of course, are not committed to the Rapture. But it’s easy to get lazy and underestimate the climate change issue. You, dear reader, may NOT be one of those fools who, like me, carelessly made jokes for years about global warming every time there was hard winter freeze, or a cool summer breeze. I was eventually humiliated one Christmas morning with ‘Global Warming For Dummies’ books, my gift from relations clearly tired of my act.
So, I agree with the protesters on all the dangers. But I stand with the miners if push comes to shove and someone thinks there is a path to progress that trashes workers’ families and lives. There will be no green recovery, or any recovery, in our country if the rights of working people to full compensation for their labor, and full investment in their abilities and security, are put on the back burner.
John Case (firstname.lastname@example.org) hosts the morning radio show “Winners and Losers” out of Shepherdstown, W.Va.