|Police officer pepper spraying students during occupy event.|
What's almost as alarming is the number of people standing
around taking photo's.
We cultivate a sense of detachment from these stories by making their influx a part of our daily routine. It’s not that we don’t know many of our modern practices are skewing the careful balance evolution has developed to sustain itself. We complain about carbon output in our atmosphere yet destroy our natural carbon sinkholes; the oceans via overfishing and pollution and our remaining forests via permanent clearcuts to raise large-scale neighborhoods and new pasturelands. Ground aquifers are tapping out all over the globe, yet we let the Nestle Company profit off water taken from the droughtridden California. After all this turmoil, we’re left with nothing but a fat wallet and sense of selfidentified misanthropy – and only the lucky few get the fat wallet. So why do we do this? Are we really just succumbing to the efficiency of propaganda? Surely, we’re smarter than that by now, right? Or is it that we’ve lost touch with our sense of empathy? Or has our rationale depleted beyond fixing? Perhaps it all boils down to our newfound inability to focus on any one thing for an extended period of time, creating a chaos in our minds that succumbs to simple distractions and generates a vivid sense of lethargy.
Let’s look at strip mining practices like mountain top removal (MTR). They are devastating on both an environmental and social level. In the wake of MTR, comes not only severed mountain peaks, but tons of dry, rocky rubble that is dumped into valleys suitably renamed “valley fills” which sometimes eradicate stream beds that had posed as staples of genetic diversity. The rubble is then hard packed into dense fields, reminiscent of parking lots, in order to prevent erosion. (Before they did this, rockslides causing civilian casualties were commonplace.) What’s left after all of this is a wasteland too tough for most weeds to establish let alone productive trees such as hardwoods. So, as the law deems, mining companies then attempt to reclaim the land by hydroseeding the area with a monoculture crop that is hardy enough to grow in such an anoxic environment. Oftentimes, they use an invasive species. These “reclamation” attempts are so bad there are entire organizations devoted to re-reclaiming them, which involves a costly haul of heavy machinery to tear up the tough rock and many volunteers to replant local species. However, their extensive labor is sometimes wasted as reopening an old surface mine is not uncommon.
Unfortunately, MTR is not confined to the mountain peaks. It decimates entire ridgelines with runoff that turns folk’s backyard streams orange with toxic chemicals and dust clouds that coat their schools with coal ash, such as what happened to the old Marsh Fork Elementary School in Coal River, West Virginia. In this area of WV, rock blasts cause fissures in the thirty foot tall rock overhang that towers over Route 3. This being the only direct route between cities, civilian cars and school buses travel it daily. Occasionally, 20 x 20 foot boulders crash onto it, crushing anything beneath.
To top it off, roughly 65% of electricity generated in the U.S. is wasted on our out of date electric grid, not including the lack of energy conservation we practice. To see these mountains go to waste without purpose is literally heartbreaking. Extractive industry CEOs make six figure salaries to blow up Appalachian backyards, and they justify this to themselves because they, too, need to feed their families. They write off the community members of affected areas as “extreme environmentalists” and market them as such so as to keep that reputation in the public eye. Yet both sides of this fight are in the same war not to be impeded upon by outside forces. To the people of Appalachia it’s not just about money to raise their families. It’s a fight for their childhood memories, the mountains they grew up in, and the trees and cliffs they remember. When you love your children, you want them to hold similar memories of caves explored and rocks overturned. You don’t want them to grow up in a toxic wasteland. You don’t want them to have to wear respirators to go outside. You don’t care if that CEO has children of their own, they don’t deserve a six figure paycheck to destroy your home, your mountains and your forests. These places mean something to you. You love them.
Yet the irony runs even deeper. Our ecosystems are falling apart. We are currently facing the argest species extinction event that the Earth has ever seen. Cancer rates are up and we can no longer pretend spewing carcinogenic particles into open air is not a part of the problem. We now know too much about ultrafine particles (UFPs) to think they don’t pose a threat. UFPs are a particulate matter with a size of 0.1 micrometers (µm) or less – that’s about one thousandth the size of the diameter of a human hair – and we now have evidence they are more of a threat than larger dust particles as they can diffuse deeper into the brachial systems of the lungs.
It’s not as though we’re blind to all of this, the erratic weather, the misguided policymakers or the skewed propaganda favoring dirty energy. We know there is an impending water crisis. We knowshale basin hydraulic fracturing takes billions of gallons of water out of the foreseeable hydrology cycle. So then why do we continue? Of course, those with financial investments don’t want to terminate their businesses. So that leaves us – the people – who refuse to say enough is enough. We make small changes here and there, but the gravity of the situation calls for more critical problem solving. Is this because we can’t get organized? Or that we would rather sit at home than attend a state legislative hearing? Maybe what we don’t understand is that to truly live well, we have to be involved. Lobbying for new innovations in energy efficiency and environmental sustainability is a key factor. We currently live in a system where dirty energy companies hold monopolies over entire states, slipping their own initiatives into state law such as what Duke Energy has been doing in North Carolina.
Rebellion from this destructive paradigm is vital. Our current operatives cost lives and deteriorate ecosystems all the while wasting almost three quarters of what it’s producing. There are better ways of generating energy and we have the means to find them. Between solar capturing asphalt and the detritus devouring potential in the fungal kingdom, we have the technology and research capabilities to discover so much more about running a better planet. There are many things we can do to become more sustainable right in our own homes, such as growing one’s own garden, fermenting fruits and veggies and making other natural medicines. These practices have been around for centuries, and by making such changes in our own homes with our own bodies we can begin to take our physical and mental health into our own hands.
Living well necessitates a comprehensive lens and I’m proud to call myself an activist, a writer, a forester, a hiker, a reader, a cyclist, a climber, a meditator, a teacher and a student. However, I know how exhausted worrying about several ongoing endeavors can become. So I encourage you to take it one step at a time. Know the importance of being multifaceted, yet know that it is okay and even helpful to take breaks, rest and restore the body. I hope for each of us to discover a new degree of vitality that we have to offer every situation, both new and ongoing. In this way, may we put a stop to our population’s growing attention deficit and discover the true well being this life has to offer.
- Introduction to Environmental Toxicology, 3rd Edition, 2014, by Michael H. Dong
- Coal River Mountain Watch Newsletter, 2014, by Coal River Mountain Watch
- The Geochemistry of Natural Waters: Surface and Groundwater Environments, 3rd Edition, 1997, by Ames I. Drever