I recently engaged in a conversation with people on the “Coal Miners Light” Facebook page, inquiring whether or not the adamantly pro-coal followers wanted their children to become future coal miners. I was not entirely unsurprised to find that everyone was about saving “coal”, but I was surprised that no one would directly answer my question. I pondered this a few days and decided to finally lay it out…
First, let me start by defining “coal”…
I believe in their context, “coal” is the coal industry. You cannot save a rock, nor can a “life of coal” be a tangible object or organization capable of being saved, so “coal” becomes the coal industry
It bothers me how people have become so infatuated with saving “coal” that they choose to ignore such tragic events as the Upper Big Branch disaster and the outcome of investigations making it blatantly clear that–yet again–the greed of the coal industry succeeded in putting profit before the welfare of its employees. Some may say, “That was only one company,” but I disagree. I do not blame only one company for the many tragedies in which mountain people have suffered great losses of life, health, and land. I blame all of the companies whom I combine into the term “industry.” It is they who, in a mutual effort, continue to make people desperate enough to work dangerously within their coal mines. Company names may change, companies may claim to be entirely different having different stock portfolios, different management, different operations–but each put their money into the same campaign funds and into the same organizations and associations who lobby our representatives to adapt laws to their advantage.
The evidence is there, but people choose to ignore it in order to satisfy their own selfish beliefs.
Just a brief examination of statistical data shows that poverty rates in the coalfields remain some of the highest in the nation despite coal mining jobs. Data also shows that the people of the coalfields have the poorest health, and I will not begin to delve into social mobility scores. While other areas of Appalachia with similar terrain and infrastructure survive, and even prosper without coal, the existence of a socioeconomic stranglehold placed on coal extraction communities by the coal industry becomes overwhelmingly evident. Coal’s powerful influence has remained for so long that a form of the Stockholm Syndrome has begun, thanks in large part to well-funded media and propaganda campaigns initiated by an industry who faces downgrading their profit from “incredible” to “good”.
Only three decades ago, the Appalachian consciousness upheld an absolute and well-founded distrust of the coal industry. Today we have witnessed a complete turnaround in the attitudes regarding the industry’s presence in Appalachia, or at least within the majority of people who I have been able to identify.
From my observations, those who praise coal seem to fall into one of three categories….
- Those making the great paychecks, even at the cost of their health….most of which are in debt up to their eyeballs, and some of which live outside of coal extraction zones where they do not have to contend with the messes being left behind.
- Those in managerial or business ownership roles making even better paychecks from coal extraction, and again living outside of the coal extraction zones.
- Those who have no true understanding of the matter and simply jump on the bandwagon without proper consideration of the facts because it gives them a cause to connect with and rally behind with the common misconception that they are “helping people.”
A quote often comes to mind by Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
I can no longer tiptoe around this idea. As unfortunate as the circumstances are for those coal miners who supported the coal industry but have now lost their jobs or who face layoffs–unfortunately luck favors the prepared. Going out to curse at “hippies” and to support an industry that has never shown charity to the Appalachian people is not a very intelligent means of preparing your family for the day when coal markets soften. Realizing the industry is cyclical, eliminating debts and putting money back, seeking alternative job training, and getting politicians to work for the people to bring in job alternatives would have been a much better use of your time and energy. Instead, you have spent your time supporting an industry that funds political campaigns of people who will keep things the same in the coalfields–politicians and organizations that do very little to diversify the economy so that coal remains the only option. You have not only hurt yourselves, but you have hurt the other people of Appalachia.
Even if you were to impeach Obama and all of the “anti-coal” politicians in Washington, it won’t cause China to start buying and using more coal when their citizens are choking to death around their cities. It won’t keep other people from around this nation from standing up for cleaner air. It won’t keep the natural gas industry from competing with coal (though I have much to despise of them as well for their use of hydraulic fracturing). Public opinion stands, and because the rest of the nation wants a cleaner, healthier environment for their children and you don’t, well… majority rules. Ain’t that a bitch….
If you still do not believe me about the morality of the coal industry, this article
points directly to their true nature. Take time to justify the Crandall Canyon Disaster, the Sago Mine Disaster, Scotia, Buffalo Creek, Hurricane Creek, and Consol 9. I think you will find they were all preventable, and all fell upon the greed of mine executives and managers seeking profit and cutting corners to get there.
Undoubtedly, there will be those who will argue with me. They will completely disregard the hundreds of statistics and blatant evidence of political corruption. They will scream “Coal Keeps the Lights On,” “I’m proud to be a coal miner,” “Proud to be a coal miner’s wife,” “Proud to know a coal miner.” Some will call me a “disgruntled employee,” the new means of discrediting someone who calls out the flaws of the business they work for or once worked for. I doubt those people will change their way of thinking…it takes to much effort to do so. It would mean having to take a huge hit to their ego as well as working hard to adapt to a life without the many wonderful toys they’ve come to enjoy…darn.
I’m sorry my fellow coal miners, the job you do and the industry you support is doing more harm than good to the people of Appalachia and, well, the rest of the world. It is not new knowledge. It’s been written and talked about since the industry came to the mountains. Just because you choose to ignore it doesn’t make it “alright.” There is no denying that coal fuels a sense of greed and selfishness that has been tearing communities apart for the past 150 years.
All those lights folks keep talking about keeping on–most of them are on because people are to damn wasteful. In the case of businesses, that electricity is wasted to make more profit while management pays as little of a wage as they can get by with, thereby ensuring a strong quarterly statement for their already wealthy shareholders but keeping their good-hearted, hard working employees in the red. It’s just business though, right? I mean, I never knew a poor person to give someone a job….
It doesn’t take as much coal as what is being produced to operate the basic necessities: clothes manufacturing, food storage, medical care, heating and cooling in efficiently built houses and buildings. In fact, it doesn’t any coal, probably not even natural gas, and if you really think about it, it doesn’t take more than our own human energy to provide our basic necessities to survive–but I digress.
Most of the coal you are so proudly producing is just being wasted so power companies and coal companies can make insanely high profits that we will never enjoy the benefits of. So here is another way of thinking of it folks; you produce the dirtiest energy in the world so it can be wasted by spoiled teenagers and extraordinarily wealthy assholes living in huge mansions. Coal keeps the lights on! Keep saying it…
The pride of the Appalachian people used to come from being self-reliant. It was the honest and well deserved pride of doing their best with very little all the while helping neighbors. When coal companies came, that pride was used to preserve people’s dignity in the face of outside industrialists who were single handedly destroying the mountain ways of life and happiness.
Today, having pride in destroying your health for a paycheck to afford more than you need, all while perpetuating a system of greed and oppression, well…that’s not a very good thing to be proud of in my opinion…
You want something to be proud of? How about living on less so future generations can drink the water and breath the air.