A Lenten Practice
My pledge for Lent this year is to write each day on one issue related to justice and to give the reader one resource that can be used to address that injustice. This day, and for the last several days, my focus has been on environmental and economic justice, and particularly surface mining.
Surface mining tends to occur in locations remote from densely populated areas. As such, many of us have never witnessed first hand the environmental destruction that results from surface mining. Additionally, even if we have seen it before, surface mining itself has transformed radically with the advent of technology in the last 30 years. Surface mining is now occurring on a scale never before seen on the earth. (See, for example, this interactive satellite map, courtesy NASA, showing growth of Athabasca Oil Sands mine 1981-2011: http://1.usa.gov/yF7GMP (notice that each unit is 4 KM).) In central Appalachia, mountaintop removal mining (in which an entire mountain is blasted to expose the coal underneath) has become the dominant driver of regional land-use change. Because of economic injustice issues, local communities devastated by these practices have found themselves powerless to stop the devastation to their communities.
Photo by Mark Schmerling,
I hope I’ve written enough to alert you to the issue. But, what to do about it?
Start with your light switch.
As Shirley Burns writes in her article, “Mountaintop Removal in Southern Appalachia,”
It is easy for the rest of the country to flip on their light switches and never think where the energy is coming from. More than half of all US electricity comes from coal. It's the nation's dirty little secret. Even filthier is what is done to the land to get the coal. People talk passionately about clean coal technology, but this discussion revolves around whether it's possible to clean the burning of the coal. Overlooked in the "Clean Coal" dialogue is the extraction of coal through mountaintop removal. This process is inherently filthy, and it can never be clean! Along with the incessant dust and danger from blasting apart a mountain, the processing of this coal results in huge coal slurry impoundments that hold billions of gallons of toxic sludge, which contains concentrated toxic substances such as selenium, cadmium, boron, arsenic and nickel. In addition to the knowledge that these dams can break (as one did in Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, in 1972, killing 125 people and, more recently, in October 2000 in Martin County, Kentucky, polluting more than 75 miles of stream from Kentucky to West Virginia) is the fear that they are contaminating underground aquifers. The valley fills that are created with the refuse of the blasted apart mountains bury hundreds of miles of streams that feed the waters of the eastern United States.
Half of all U.S. electricity comes from coal. Dirty coal. Please, ask yourself, “what can I do today to reduce my use of electricity?”
Here are some ideas. Can you add to the list? Please DO leave a comment below to add to this list!
Aim to use no more than one light per person in the house, at a time. (How many bulbs are burning where you are, right now?)
Ventilate with outside air. If you use heat or air condition, moderate its use by dressing for the weather.
Put your hot water heater on a timer. Lower temperature setting on hot water heater.
Use electric strips that can be shut off, or unplug all electronics and battery chargers when not in use. These sap electricity at all times.
Please, leave a comment to add to this list!