Because surface mining tends to occur in locations remote from densely populated areas, many of us have never witnessed first hand the environmental devastation which accompanies it. The ordinary person also may not be aware that 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. It has become much more damaging environmentally than ever before.
(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 kilometers!).)
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. I have blogged in other posts about the effects on people and wildlife. People are driven off their ancestral lands, economic independenceand diversity is lost as communities become dependent upon one, powerful employer, streams clog up from sedimentation, chemicals pollute the waters and air, and children develop asthma. Because of imbalance of power related to economics, local communities profoundly affected by these mountaintop removal mining have found themselves powerless to stop the devastation to their health, economy, and way of life.
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. That means, when you use electricity, you are using COAL.
As long as the nation is gulping down coal like a famished beggar, our politicians will lack the political will to rein in the coal companies to alter the power balance back in favor of environmental regulations designed to protect people and communities affected by coal extraction, and all of us who reside downstream in the figurative sense.
So, 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 rather than motor driven ventilation.
- If you use heat or air conditioning, dress for the weather so that you can moderate your use of the thermostat.
- Put your hot water heater on a timer.
- Lower the temperature settings on your hot water heater.
- Use electric strips that can be shut off for all electrical items in your house.
- Unplug all electronics and battery chargers when not in use. These sap electricity at all times.
- Bake less often and stir fry more often (as this uses less energy)
- Use energy efficient light bulbs
- Please, leave a comment to add to this list!