Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Honor, Integrity, Responsibility

I was watching the video posted here. In the piece, the Missouri Senator says, basically, that she is not going to back any bill that would force Missourians to make more positive choices for their energy needs if it also means they'd have to pay more money. She says that coal is what they have, because coal is what they can afford.

Having spent a good many of my formative years in a coal mining community, I have some pretty strong feelings about coal mines, and it's a conundrum for me, because I recognize that without the economic base of coal, the community where I grew up, and where a good many of my relatives still live, would become, in a very short time, a ghost town. The mall stores would quickly shutter, the fast food restaurants would pack up their factory-farmed meat products, and the movie theater would close. The nearest, chain, store would be a forty-five minute drive, but most of the people who stayed in them thar hills would be unable to afford the gasoline necessary to get them that forty-five minute drive.

Some people would stay. After all, there have been people in those hills for hundreds of years, living a kind of shadow existence while the rest of the United States experienced the rapid growth and expansion of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My own lineage in that area can be traced back to the early 1800s, and based on what I've been able to discover were, most likely, indentured servants, who were drafted from the streets and hovels of Ireland on the promise of land, lots of land in the "New World", but found themselves working as slave labor on one of the many plantations in North Carolina. Many of them escaped into the hills of Kentucky, where they learned subsistence farming and assimilated into and later usurped the native populations (according to one resource, the natives weren't as good at having babies as the Europeans ;).

But those who stayed would be incredibly poor, at least by suburban American standards. The sad irony, however, is that they would probably not have a much different life from what they have now. The difference is that now they hope for a richer life that is full of the stuff that we suburbanites enjoy, and if coal mining were to leave the hills, they would no longer have that wish for riches, but would rather only hope to survive.

It's an unfortunate and incredibly unfair fact that the people who live in resource rich areas of the world are often impoverished, often to the point of destitution. The dozens of videos and news stories showing the horrific conditions people in places like Nigeria are left with after allowing big oil companies, like Shell, (who promised schools and medical facilities for the residents, but never followed through) to come in and take their resource are too familiar from what I know from having grown up in a similarly resource rich area, where most of the people who lived on the land have no rights to the minerals and so rather than enjoy some hope of financial security through a residual income from the multi-billion dollar companies who stripped their land and poisoned their water, they were left with ruin and disease and abject, life-destroying poverty.

It's not uncommon for these big energy corporations come into a resource rich area, pretend to have the best intentions, and then prove, through their actions that all they want is the money, and no act that increases their bottom line is too base, too heinous, too unethical, or too immoral. Some might argue that it was the people's own greed that landed them in their dire situation, and that may, well, be true, in part, but that doesn't absolve the energy companies of their responsibility to do the right thing ... often the thing they promised when they began negotiating for the mineral rights.

In the video link at the beginning of my post, the Missouri Senator first tells the young voter that she did not take one penny from energy companies, and then, a minute later (literally a minute later), she says that the paltry sums she accepted from the energy companies were nothing compared to what her opponents' campaigns accepted, and I have to ask, did she accept campaign contributions from energy companies or did she not? Because her comments are contradictory. She can not both have *not* accepted any funds and accepted negligible amounts. Either she took their money or she didn't.

For me, though, if a thing is wrong, it's wrong, and trying to absolve oneself by pointing out that others have done worse is simply no defense. People who make those sorts of backpedaling statements have no credibility with me. Don't try to appease me with your lies, and then, turn around and try to divert my attention from your wrong doing by pointing out the shiny thing over my shoulder.

Of course all of that is really beside the point. The real point with regard to coal (and oil) is this statement from the FAQs About Coal info site that states, The United States has about 275 billion tons of recoverable coal, which could last us more than 250 years if we continue using coal at the same rate as we use it today.

The United States declared its independence from Great Britain two hundred and thirty-four years ago. Every child knows that the Declaration of Independence, that little letter that started it all, was signed on or about July 4, 1776.

Two Hundred and Fifty Years is within our LIVING memory, which means there is only enough coal left in the ground to cover TODAY'S usage for a time period that is WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF OUR LIVING MEMORY.

Who can stand here, today, and say to our great-great-great grandchildren, "I'm sorry, Junior, but I really, REALLY needed that Wii, which is why you have to suffer through catastrophic climate change and energy depletion and all of the associated variables related to those things." Who, today, will stand up and say, "My comfort is more important than your survival?"

We have choices today. Two hundred and fifty years from now, after we've used up all of the oil, and then, all of the coal, and depleted the land of all of the other amazing and rich resources available to us, they won't have the kinds of choices that we have today.

Most of the changes we should be making are so simple, so easy, and so affordable - and will, in fact, save money.

I just don't understand why we refuse to make them, still, and in light of what we know will be happening in the future.

The FAQs About Coal site gives us two hundred and fifty years left of coal, which will become increasingly more difficult and costly to extract.

The question is, do we really want to invest all of our resources trying to maintain our consumptive lifestyles, or are we willing to be responsible adults and give up some of those things we like, but that we don't need?


  1. Excellent post! I am coal Miners daughter. My father was over safety/ search and rescue in WV during the 70's. One point that I would just like to add is that the mines are not safe for the workers. Mining companies are in bed with politicians who make the laws. When a mine doesnt meet safety standards they receive a fine that is often cheaper than fixing the problem. Therefore they pay the fines in hopes that nothing bad will happen and when it does... those people are replaceable and they continue to pay the cheap fines. Massey Energy is prime example. My father and I talked about this a great deal after the mine explosion in March. It broke my heart. Growing up in the coal mine community I am sure that you feel the sense of community and hardships that the miners feel for each other... a "brotherhood" if you will. No matter where life takes you that loyalty runs through these veins. When my father and I stayed glued to the tv in March... it broke our hearts as we knew that the tragedy wasnt just the explosion/ lives lost but also of the greed that surrounded it.

    Also I want to say that you made another great point,
    "It's not uncommon for these big energy corporations come into a resource rich area, pretend to have the best intentions, and then prove, through their actions that all they want is the money, and no act that increases their bottom line is too base, too heinous, too unethical, or too immoral." Take Scrip for example... Scrip often kept miners eternally in debt to the mines they were working for. The common person has continually been raped by big business... and as long as politicians back them, it will never be a crime.

    But with all that said, I feel I should say that with some people its not about using coal in order to buy the latest Wii... Its survival time right now. Some people, especially in the Appalachian area's are absolutely poverty stricken right now, and depend on that coal.... U.S.A blood diamonds.

    I dont know what the answers are but it seems to me that we have to fix poverty before we can fix anything else.... and is it even possible... to cure the world or even just our country of poverty? And before we can touch Poverty... there is that greed to contend with.

    Its such a frustrating cycle...Is there and end?

    I apologize for the lengthy comment, your post got my mind a turnin'! lol

    Thanks for another great read!

  2. Leigh: Thanks for your great comments! I'm really glad that my post gave you so much food for thought ;).

    I will add that the only way to combat corporate greed is to take away our support. Refuse their easy credit. Repair our stuff rather than buying new. Reduce our consumptive lifestyles. In short, stop giving them our money.