Personal experiences with coal

2010-03-16

in Economics, Politics, The environment, Writing

Willa Johnson has written an interesting post about her personal experience with coal, an industry which her family works in but which she now opposes.

Much of it focuses on the apparent tension between dealing with climate change and addressing unemployment:

People say that I am ungrateful and that I don’t understand, but I do. I grew up with my house shaking from the explosions blowing the mountainside off. I know what it feels like not to be able to breathe the air on certain days because it is so thick with dust.

But layoffs are spreading across the region, and local activists like me are feeling the heat. Summer barbecues are tense when the person sitting across the table from you just lost the mining job that you spend a great amount of time speaking against. It’s not easy feeling like you’re fighting the people you love.

What makes the emotional situation here so unbalanced is the contrast between the powerfully immediate (though ambiguous) physical and economic impacts of coal mining, and the distant but invisible consequences of the emissions being generated. The former has a much greater capacity to engage human emotions than the latter, despite how the latter is a consequence on a much larger scale. Also, the sheer wretchedness of the local destruction caused by coal mining somewhat tempers the tendency to accuse the people in these communities of being gross abusers of the rights of innocent people around the world, and in future generations. While there is some truth to that perspective, people in coal mining communities are clearly victims too.

In any event, it highlights how pragmatic approaches to escaping fossil fuel dependence will require special assistance for those most directly affected by the transition.

Incidentally, it would be wonderful if some people with personal experience with the coal industry could contribute some posts to BuryCoal.com. The site would surely be enriched by the addition of some less distant perspectives.

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