Friday, January 08, 2010

Save Appalachia!

Along with the 2009 EPA finding that CO2 is a pollutant, a great deal of attention has been directed toward the coal mining industry, and specifically toward the deplorable, though increasingly common, practice of mountaintop removal (MTR). This attention is good and long overdue.

What's perhaps most astounding is the seeming absence of the scientific community in all this-- until now. And they're arriving with a vengeance. This article at Grist describes a paper just published in the journal Science, "Mountaintop Mining Consequences," in which the authors note the obvious-- MTR is bad for mountains. Go figure. (Apparently, this sort of official review of the obvious is a necessary step in the process of change, given how things work in the policy world, so this paper is important, if unsurprising.)

Coal extraction is, to my view, America's Dirty Little Secret. But before you get all up-in-arms and take on another progressive cause on behalf of which you will storm your representatives in Congress with letters and petition-signings, give a think to this fact: almost half of the electricity on the grid in the U.S. comes from burning coal. That means that anyone who uses electricity is complicit in this ongoing environmental disaster. It's easy enough to decry the profit-driven actions of huge corporations, but it's more than a little disingenuous to do so when you directly benefit from those actions. Such righteous indignation is akin to complaining to the driver of a car that he's polluting, while riding in the back seat.

Please don't mistake my intention: my plan is not to scold. I believe 100% that MTR must stop, and I mean yesterday. It is an antediluvian practice intended solely to maximize profit for the coal mining interests (though I'm sure they'd point out the health and safety benefits to workers who don't have to go underground anymore). But if we're going to solve the problem, we must 1) recognize that we're all in this together-- we all use electric power (most of us don't generate all we use!); 2) acknowledge that our lifestyle choices have a direct impact on the environment, whether in our own backyards or hundreds of miles away; 3) that it's much easier to solve problems working in concert rather than in the fray of opposition.

American pop culture has taken the "us vs. them" mentality about as far into the absurd as anyone could possibly want to go. Let's try working together toward solutions. As a starting point, how can you use less energy at home in order to reduce the grid load that mining companies are feeding? A sufficient drop in demand will obviate the need for finding new energy sources (or at least push that need farther into the future)-- that means stopping another coal-burning power plant, which leads directly to a reduction in MTR. It's all connected. What can you do? Plenty! See my earlier posts, but here's a short list:

    Install CFLs and LED lighting
    Use switched power strips to turn off phantom loads
    Line dry laundry (esp. if you have an electric dryer)
    Buy a new, Energy Star fridge, or fix the seals and clean the coils on your existing fridge
    Put outdoor lights on timer/sensors
    Give up the spare fridge (they're typically old and inefficient, and often poorly utilized)

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