At issue | Various articles, columns and editorials on recent protests against mountaintop removal mining.
"How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing." — Wendell Berry farmer, writer, activist, poet
...the poet must not avert his eyes" — Werner Herzog
Something about what is happening to the coal-bearing Appalachian Mountains is making me very angry.
Something about the title of Wendell Berry's essay "Compromise, Hell!" makes me very angry, too.
Well, what does one do with such opposing feelings? Aren't I supposed to bow to one flag or another? Either I hate mountaintop removal or I hate Berry or, worse, I am the lamest of the lame, the one who calls the matter "a difference of opinion."
Unfortunately, how we mine coal is no difference of opinion, it is a difference of action. Anyone can see that. What is done is done.
In a text I find essential, there is the following line: "We ceased fighting everyone and everything."
I refuse to fight mountaintop removal coal mining. I refuse to fight coal miners, operators or even absentee shareholders. I refuse to fight my friends and neighbors, regardless of their intuitive feelings on this subject.
A mentor of mine lives by the following slogan, "What else am I wrong about?" This means he turns inward, he holds himself accountable. But simultaneously, he can only answer his question by looking outward, by knowing. By knowing, we become true.
I was born and grew up in Bell County, Eastern Kentucky's eighth most productive coal county. In Bell County, roughly 30 percent of the population is impoverished.
The county leads the state in death by prescription drug overdoses and ranks eighth in the nation for such deaths.
There is a tendency for one mind-set to call capitalism evil. But first and foremost, economy is putting food on the table, roof overhead and clothes on the back. Instinctually, human beings prioritize "us" over "them" just as we prioritize "now" over "later." Civilization and individuals want what is wanted when it is wanted.
By satisfying that want, civilization grows. When we found coal, we found an abundant, slow-burning rock. That was pretty awesome, and nobody could foresee such negative repercussions.
There is a tendency for another mind-set to consider the future "nothing to worry about" and call others "lazy." This tendency can be so extreme as to make the future "paved with streets of gold" and to make an impoverished child "at fault."
In reality, the future is unknown and is dependent on actions taken in the present. In reality, people are born helpless into conditions they cannot change. Bootstraps can only pull so far.
Crucial are the love and kindnesses of others, whether they talk to us wearing "Friend of Coal" caps or "I Love Mountains" sweatshirts. The anger that arises within us from seeing exploding hemlock groves or from seeing a title like "Compromise, Hell!" must be free to pass through us.
It is at our risk we give those feelings a place to stay. We cannot stay angry. Anger blocks us from knowing. Anger averts our eyes.
Compromise is essential. Sacrifices will be made. Sadly, unreasonably reckless mining has gotten a head start. Much of what would comprise the takeaway for the mining companies (but not the miners) has been realized.
Huge profits are being reaped, and great damage is being done. But, personally, I must be ready to pay the true cost for my energy. I must read and learn. I must understand the consequences of energy extraction and the realities of transition to new energy. I must speak truth to power, be it Big Coal or Big Denial. I must speak openly and often. I must learn, again and again, what I am wrong about.
Whitney Baker of Lexington is a filmmaker, writer and landscape designer.