We (Still) Owe Our Souls…

…to the Company Store. Read Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Coal’s True Cost

“Last evening’s GOP CNN/YouTube debate and the Democratic presidential debate on November 15 were jointly sponsored by a coal industry coalition (read this link!-ff) comprised of mining, railroad and utility interests.

Their high profile civic involvement is designed to further confuse American voters about coal’s true cost to our society. Many of the Republican candidates have endorsed massive new subsidies for King Coal and dutifully parrot industry talking points including earnest promises of cheap “clean coal.” Given that climate change is the most urgent threat to our collective survival, it is shocking that no debate moderator has pressed the candidates to clearly state their positions on “clean coal.”

In fact, there is no such thing as “clean coal.”

Coal mining’s legacy is long, dirty and sad. And yet coal has been a way of life for many Appalachian families in this short burst. With them, we’ve exploited 100 million years of summer’s sunshine and turned it into electricity that powers our computers this very moment. It generates atmospheric CO2 and smog, warm winter mornings and black lung.

For all its ills, coal, coal mining and coal-based communities and miners have produced some powerful music over the past decades. So even though our species will hopefully outlive the memories of coal and move on, we should remember those who have sacrificed lives and health to bring it to the surface.

If there is a way to celebrate this black rock, it is through music. Jack Wright, a fellow writer I met at the Hindman Appalchian Workshop this summer, has compiled a marvelous 2-CD collection of songs from and about coal. Hearing the words from real lives touched by coal gives the current situation of mountaintop removal a whole ‘nuther twist.

Giving a lump of coal has a long tradition this season–for bad little boys and girls. Thinking about giving the gift of coal–in the form of the Music of Coal this Christmas–for naughty and nice alike.

Share this with your friends!

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. That’s such a neat cd! I can’t help but think of how coal miners are like soldiers in a sense–I don’t agree with coal mining or war, but the people involved in the effort on the ground–coal miners and their families, soldiers and their families–are simply beautiful human beings with caring and artistic souls that should be celebrated. Thanks for posting the link!