I decided to include this brief documentary here as a kind of quick course for those who might be unfamiliar with the phenomenon of mountaintop removal, since I’ve made reference to it here in the past (most recently in my Campfire tale post). I don’t particularly care for the use of celebrity spokespeople and other outsiders to the region, which to my mind reinforces the notion that mountain people are incapable of speaking up for themselves, but otherwise I think the video gives a good overview of the crisis.
Some additional points to consider:
- “Mountaintop removal” is a bit of a euphemism. This form of extreme strip-mining effectively obliterates the entire mountain by taking off its top and then using the “overburden” to fill in the adjacent valleys and ravines (a.k.a. hollows).
- The forests will likely take tens or hundreds of thousands of years to recover, if ever. When the narrator refers to a moonscape, that’s not hyperbole. However, more aggressive species of grass will grow, and some local boosters of the coal industry talk about how this will open up the view and allow cattle grazing and the introduction of Rocky Mountain elk for big game hunters to pursue.
- The practice of mountaintop removal is tantamount to ecocide. As mentioned in the documentary, the location of these mines in southwestern West Virginia and Kentucky threatens one of the most biodiverse temperate ecosystems in the world: what forest ecologists call the mixed mesophytic forest. This forest is simultaneously under assault by pulpwood companies who are stripping out everything, plowing, and planting red pine monocultures designed for short-rotation tree farming. Many species of salamanders, land snails, and beetles, and even some wildflowers and songbirds, will be threatened with extinction if the combined assault continues too much longer.
- Mountaintop removal amounts to an undeclared war against the people and communities of this region. The mining companies display the same kind of callous disregard for life as the European companies that conspired to ship deadly chemical waste to Ivory Coast last month: it’s not that they hate poor people, exactly, they just fail to recognize them as fully human. The documentary shows this pretty well. Like any war, it also divides communities, with many people clamoring for the few, temporary jobs that this form of mining provides, even knowing that laying waste to the land will render it largely uninhabitable for generations to come.
- What can you do? Besides helping to spread the word, consider supporting organizations such the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia’s premier conservation organization, which has been tireless in its fight against mountaintop removal through every possible legal means. (The Highlands Conservancy is also, incidentally, one of the main reasons why the Monogahela National Forest is in such good shape.) Other worthy groups include Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.