06 April 2010

This is not a post about coal.

The two (on a good day, three) people who read this blog regularly know I'm a bit left of center on energy issues and pretty much everything else. So I'm typically more inclined to support investments in renewable energy and less inclined to support subsidies and tax cuts for fossil fuel production. Today, however, I don't care much about that policy stuff.

Today I'm thinking about the people who have lost family and friends in Montcoal, West Virginia. And I'm thinking about the sad, familiar ordeal communities in Appalachia experience. No, not poverty or unemployment or whatever stereotypes come to mind when you hear the words "West Virginia." I'm thinking about how people who don't know Appalachia or the people who live there suddenly descend on their community when tragedy strikes in a coal mine, and how the chattering classes express pity for "those people." How the community becomes this menagerie for the rest of us to gawk at. How the companies that operate there suddenly find themselves Public Enemy #1 for the week. And then how after a few days the rest of the world resumes ignoring them. This is the insult on top of the truly tragic injury.

I'm by no means an Appalachia expert. My wife spent a few years doing health research there and she's told me some stories. I've met with some coal executives and politicians there. Having lived in Kentucky for a few years, you get to know at least a few people with connections to "King Coal." Having read a bit about the history of the place (I highly recommend Night Comes to the Cumberlands by Harry Caudill and Lost Mountain by Erik Reece) you begin to understand the importance coal has in the culture. This is a sad, sad story. But it's also a rich and engaging story, full of characters and intrigue and song and rivalry and family and faith.

What I'm thinking about more than anything is this: no matter what you think about coal or the coal industry, there are people who take risks every day to mine it and refine it and transport it so the rest of us have energy to watch television, turn on the air conditioning, charge up our cell phones or whatever. Mining coal includes some risk, yet some are willing to do it.

Maybe they do it because there aren't any other jobs available to them. Maybe they do it because that's all they know, or that's what their father and grandfather did. Maybe they do it because they like to get dirty and work hard. Whatever the reason, they knowingly take risks to do it - and sometimes they and their families pay a terrible price for it.

And so rather than gawk at them or pity them or discuss their plight, maybe we should just thank them and let them know we're there for them if they need us.

1 comment:

Cristie said...

Thank you for this. I was not born and raised there, but I went to college in WV and therefore feel as if I "grew up" there and thus have an affinity for the region and its people. I wrote this after the tragedy http://www.thetravelingcircus.com/2010/04/real-tragedy-in-west-virginia.html.
I never share posts in comments, but I wanted you to know there is someone else out there defending these people too.