I know this is controversial, but I think propaganda like this does far more harm than good. Around here it can be hard to have a civil conversation about this topic, so I thought I’d organize a couple thoughts to put out there as something to think about.
I love electricity and I love using it, however that doesn’t mean I have to love coal. Coal is a non-renewable fossil fuel. That means there is a fixed amount of it in existence. That amount might be “huge” right now, but it’s not as much as we used to have and every day the quantity lessens while what remains is harder to obtain. By no means is it limitless. If nothing else, please understand that point. Eventually, it will be too difficult or expensive to retrieve. That is what you are seeing now with the industry lay-offs. When the available resources in an area are too expensive to get, the coal company lays off lots of miners so they can ship those jobs elsewhere to a more productive site (or worse, never re-hire them anywhere at all). This has happened throughout the history of the industry. It’s called profit, and that’s what coal executives actually care about. If reflective of their true desires, bumper stickers would read “I ♥ Money,” “Ca$h keeps the lights on,” and “I support my coal profiteer.”
Underground mines used to employ a lot more laborers than a strip job. You think the industry switched because of dangerous conditions and health concerns for the miners? Of course not. They did it because dynamite’s cheaper than people when it comes to moving mountains and you can get more bang (literally) for your buck with larger equipment on a larger scale. By employing less people and accessing larger seams of coal, the company in charge of the operation is making vast sums of money compared to the pittance it throws at the communities who have to bear the brunt of the impacts. The BILLIONS they take away each year is nothing when held to the few MILLIONS they spend where they do business. (Just one tiny example: Kentucky has the most unpaid coal industry fines of any state in the country.) We are the ones with polluted water, land and air, we are the ones who die in “accidents,” we are the ones with black lung, we are the ones getting laid off from jobs that will never come back, and we are the ones dealing with a collapsed local economy that kills our towns and communities. They, on the other hand, collect their cash and simply move on. As you can plainly see it’s business as usual.
I love coal miners, I’m one of the first generations in my family that hasn’t had to mine coal for a living. I love anyone who does an honest day’s work to provide for the needs of their family. I fully understand the benefits coal has brought to our nation and particularly our state. But do you as fully understand what consequences it has also brought?
I don’t love what coal companies are doing to my planet and my community. Wanting to support employees who have no better industry to work in is not the same thing as having to support an entire industry. I would rather lend my support to an industry that can meet our many needs (energy, economic development, and environmental sustainability) while respecting the lives of the people who make that industry possible. Coal cannot do those things, because after all coal is just a mineral. The coal industry which is run by people, however, could do a lot. Unfortunately, they choose to place profitability over quality of life wherever they conduct business. That’s why we have to find something or some way better. Leaving all of the environmental sciences behind for a moment, from a simply economic view a community cannot hope to achieve long-term stability and growth if it is reliant on just one industry. It takes a vibrant localized economy where individuals create their own wealth with each other to share with one another. Hoping a coal company sticks around long enough for you to finish paying your mortgage and putting your kids through school will not guarantee your future happiness or ability to provide for your family; certainly it doesn’t guarantee anythingfor your children or grandchildren. It is a gamble where the house never loses. When an operation shuts down and you collect your last pay check from the mines, along with 200 other soon-to-be broke individuals from your community, see how much coal loves you back. I think you’ll find it more of a one-way relationship.
I pray for the families affected and pray for a better job for those brave miners. That’s why today, and tomorrow, I don’t support coal. I support those people who have to live their lives, not the greedy industry they used to work for.