Commentary: Coal removal reclaims the American dream
Some quick insight to my perspective before this column gets underway: the last five summers, I’ve spent one week in Appalachia working on home repair for impoverished families.
I’ve met children as young as three and families that have lived in the region for generations. I’ve come back a better person from each of those trips.
During my most recent journey into Appalachia, I saw a mountain that was in the process of being stripped bare for coal. Seeing environmental degradation on that scale was a crystallizing moment for me, in which I decided to change my major (from nursing to environmental policy & management) and to spend my life working toward preserving the environment and keeping communities healthy. Last Thursday night, TU hosted a panel discussion on the economic, social and ecological consequences of mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia.
The panelists talked about how coal sludge was pumped into abandoned mines, where it could leak into groundwater and turn well water into venom. They talked about how ancient, beautiful mountains were blasted open and replaced with ugly grayscapes.And you know what? It absolutely infuriated me. When did it become OK to poison people for electricity?
Reflecting on the panel also led me to realize that we’ve corrupted the American dream. The American dream used to be life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But now? It’s been perverted to collecting the most toys and building the biggest McMansions.
Natural habitats are being destroyed, groundwater is being polluted and coal dust is coating the poverty-stricken countryside, all to power our modern lifestyles. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s repulsive.
We can fix it. We can reclaim the American dream. Reclaim it as an ideal, instead of a list of things to obtain. We could stop pumping toxic coal sludge into the water and stop obliterating mountains. We could stop filling the air with soot and stop displacing families.
Towson’s got a pretty good record of being environmentally friendly, and I’m incredibly proud to attend a school that’s nationally recognized for its efforts. But Towson University can’t save the world on its own.
We need to change the status quo and reclaim the American Dream, because our current way of life isn’t sustainable anymore.
On a personal level it can be as easy as being a more responsible consumer of electricity – turning off lights and unplugging the hair dryer. On a wider, systemic level, well, I won’t even pretend to have all the answers. But we could start by embracing alternative energy.
You know, electricity that doesn’t poison anyone while it’s being produced? Renewable energy would be good for Appalachia, and even better for the country. Solar and wind energy could help keep remote Appalachian families from depending on the power grid. And wind, solar and nuclear energy could push America toward energy independence. Independence from foreign oil and other energy sources increases our security, and makes our country and economy stronger.
Renewable energy is not, of course, a silver bullet that will at once end poverty, abolish world hunger and reverse global warming. But embracing and developing renewable energy is a whole lot better than what we’re doing now. Right now, we’re sticking with what we know – fossil fuels. This resistance to change and subsequent strangling of the environment is the greatest tragedy of our time.
By exploiting the Appalachian Mountains, and the communities that live among them, we’re turning our backs to one of our most sacred founding principles: justice. Where’s the justice in poisoning instead of providing for those who most need our help? We pledged loyalty to the concept of justice for all every single day in school when we were kids.
What happened to that? I think it’s time that we go back to the real American dream. Let’s get back to the work of creating a more perfect union.
Creating a more perfect union starts with establishing justice. No matter what we do, lasting justice will never be established in America, at Towson, or around the world until the environment is safe and clean, and our communities are strong and healthy.