Lookin’ For Light in All the Wrong Places

It was too costly (read unhappy stock holders AND consumers) to put in place the more stringent technology to burn the more readily available higher-sulphur coal in power plants along the Massachusetts coast.

So they went south–to Columbia, South America–where laws were more corporation friendly, operating expenses were cheap and human lives expendable.

Excerpt from “The Dirty Story Behind Local Energy” by Aviva Chomsky:

Surface, or open-pit, mines pose different risks. Whole ecosystems are destroyed when miles of land are dug up to access the coal underneath it. In the Guajira, rivers and streams have been diverted, desertification has spread, and whole species – such as the iguana and the howling monkey – have disappeared or been supplanted.

Too often, these ecosystems include people who are simply deemed dispensable by the mining companies, the power companies that buy the coal, and the consumers of electricity produced by the power companies. In Colombia, these are indigenous Wayuu and Afro-Colombian people who have inhabited the desert of La Guajira for hundreds or even thousands of years.

And among those who benefit from their displacement might well be you.

The Cerrejón coal mine has been operating in the region since the 1980s, extracting more than two million tons of coal a month. All of the coal is exported, 20 percent to the United States – most of it to fire East Coast power plants.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Stopping by to say hello. The coal mining thing has always been a tearing and sad issue for me. I grew up in West Virginia and come from a family of coal miners. It is difficult for rural communities who depend on the mining industries to see past their own employment and economy into the future results to the land.

    • It looks as if, finally, we might be prepared to start thinking about beginning to reconsider coal and all its costs. I’ll believe it when I see it, and do what little I can to encourage it.

  2. Hi Fred, I met you at the meeting we had a few weeks ago concerning Crystal Creek Dr. I told you you were one of my favorite writers, we usually remember compliments! I just saw your Fragments online while I was reading the paper, so now I want to tell you that you are also an amazing photographer! And if you ever teach writing, please contact me, I also love to write, but would love to learn your slant on writing. Thanks for all your wisdom.

    • I’ve had other folks suggest I teach a nature writing and/or photography class. It’s an interesting thought but I would be starting from absolute square 1 putting something like that together and feel very awkwardly presumptuous thinking I had any credentials to present myself as a teacher for those realms. But who knows–maybe some day.

  3. Hi Fred,
    Lucy forwrd’d your posting and I’d like to urge you to capsulize it as a Ltr to the Editor of the Times and the Star-Sentinel. Of course, I’d like to see it come down on the side of banning spraying in Roa Co… We need the Bd of Supvsrs to read smart opinions like yours. Thnx