The following post is offered as a reflection on the recent New York Times article entitled “Appalachia Turns on Itself” published on July 8, 2012.
The recent New York Times article on Mountain Top Removal, “Appalachia Turns on Itself” repeated several arguments often cited to persuade us to limit or eliminate the practice of mountain top removal (MTR). However, I propose that there is only one argument that really matters in this current political culture.
The first arguments offered in this article against MTR use scientific studies that document significant negative impacts of MTR on ecological systems and public health. These arguments carry the fatal flaw of assuming that we, in Appalachia and in the nation as a whole, understand scientific principles and math. They assume that the reader understands the scientific principles of natural systems – that “streams and mountains” are not aesthetic frivolities, but on the contrary, they are our very lifeline for clean water, nutritious soils and breathable air. These arguments also assume the reader understands statistics and probability and what is meant by “percent greater risk”. Check the international and state rankings of our schools in science and math performance and you’ll begin to understand why these arguments do not translate to the public at large. It’s all too abstract, distal and distant to the uneducated and of course if you need to remain in denial, you can’t let science get in the way. So, without an education and an open mind, science and math will not persuade.
Jason Howard next makes the jobs argument. Now we’re talking! Now the public is listening! Sure, it’s disturbing to hear about streams, mountains and public health problems, but for many in Appalachia jobs trump all of these concerns. Times are tough and have been tough for generations. For those not directly and immediately impacted by MTR, scientific studies must take a back seat to the immediate needs of their family and where their next paycheck is coming from. So jobs, any kind of jobs, become the holy grail of policy.
Feeding on these hard times, corporations pit us against each other, convincing us that jobs that ensure workers’ as well as the community’s health and safety are simply not competitive globally. So, we continue on our race to the bottom. Perhaps an answer to Appalachia’s civil war and the nation’s extreme partisan culture lies somewhere within a quote from Umberto Eco, “When your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies… Only the powerful always know with great clarity who their true enemies are…”
In light of this, I offer this thought to our Ignatian Solidarity Network. Work as hard on the solution end as you do on the protest end. As Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting existing reality. To change something build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”.