I have been raised in Kentucky, among the mountains, bluegrass and an innate understanding of the destruction coal mining brings to region. I now live in New York, among the lakes, gorges and an innate understanding of the potential destruction that hydraulic fracturing could bring to the region. Through recent research and writing, I have begun to recognize an overwhelming dichotomy with my position as a Southern-raised environmental activist living in the North: large corporations have made it nearly impossible for me to save both parts of my world.
Whether fighting to protect the mountains of Kentucky from Mountain Top Removal or the streams of Pennsylvania from hydrofracking, we are still fighting for our environment and our people–in that, solidarity between eco-justice movements around the country and around the world is absolutely essential.
When researching these two processes specifically, I began to notice an undeniable connection scientifically and economically, yet an outright disconnect socially. Regardless of whether this disconnect is due to a lack of education on the processes or communication between social movements, it is resulting in a fight for security of one group at the detriment of the other.
Mountain Top Removal is a terribly destructive process involving blasting off the top of mountains to extract coal more efficiently than prior coal mining techniques. It is most often used in the poverty-stricken, coal-reliant Appalachian states of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, among others. These states have based their entire economies on the coal industry for nearly two centuries and are finally realizing the extremely detrimental environmental impacts of Mountain Top Removal specifically.
In recent years, an enormous social movement has grown out of the environmental and social destruction caused by MTR. Increasing rallies, petitions and national media attention have compiled to result in changing legislation and actual progression towards the end of the process. However, the question then remains – what’s the next energy source?
Unfortunately, oil companies such as Cabot Oil and Gas and Chesapeake Energy have the answer for the Appalachians: hydrofracking. Similar to MTR, this is a effective process that results in extreme environmental destruction. Fracking involves pumping mass amounts of chemical-filled water underground to release natural gas to the surface, leaving ecosystems permanently poisoned. However, as the most recent development of the process has only been used for since the mid 1900s, its effects are only now being realized.
These multimillion-dollar companies have been able to push fracking as “Clean Energy,” adding that it will specifically offer a clean alternative to coal mining. The result? Anti-MTR activists and Appalachian residents support fracking and are willing to welcome the practice into their regions.
Appalachia Rising, was the largest gathering of MTR protesters the nation has seen thus far. With a conference and rally held in Washington, DC, activists saw an immense impact immediately, and three months later, the EPA pioneered legislation to end MTR. While at the event, protesters were in constant discussion of “alternative energy sources” and “clean energy,” even cheering for a passing bus claiming to be run on “Clean Natural Gas.” At the time, I cheered right along with them, unaware that “Clean Natural Gas” is being harvested through the process of hydrofracking. That “Clean Natural Gas,” while taking the destruction away from the mountains, forced unknown chemicals into Pennsylvania’s water supply and could potentially lead to rising cancer rates in affected areas.
So, I ask activists – to who is the environment more precious? Are we to ask for the protection of our land, at the destruction of our neighbor’s?
But I ask this question only to realize that the activists, landowners and coal miners involved in the fight against MTR are in no way a part of the root cause of this issue. In most cases, they are completely unaware and misunderstood of opposing issues. The corporations behind MTR and fracking have rigged a system around the people that is completely binding and blinding to all involved. THESE are the people that must be questioned.
Mountain Stage is a live music show broadcast through the National Public Radio in different cities around the country. In July of 2010 Dear Companion, a group of artists collaborating to protest MTR, performed on the Mountain Stage in Charleston, West Virginia. The show became an outlet for activists and musicians alike and attracted a crowd of local people who vehemently disagreed with the practice. It was sold out. I was overwhelmed with joy at the outcome of support for the protest and the people involved.
Yet, as the show ended and sponsors were read aloud, I was reminded of the at times terrifying necessity of corporate sponsorship for public works. Among many others, Chesapeake Energy is one of the largest sponsors of Mountain Stage.
While it may seem like a drawn out connection, it cannot be avoided. Yes, Mountain Stage is supporting the protest of MTR and the protection of the Appalachian Mountains. Yet by accepting the corporate sponsorship of Chesapeake Energy, Mountain Stage has bought into supporting fracking. For every episode of Mountain Stage, listeners are one step closer to making a connection between saving the mountains and the support of the “clean energy” provided by fracking.
While dangerous corporate connections can be found in several other instances (Facebook as a social media tool, for example) this is one that I have found a fascination with over the pas year. As activist for the environment and for humanity inherently connected in moral foundations, it is essential that we remain painfully aware of our relationships with corporate sponsorships and our reliance on funds from outside sources.
In the quest for our own eco-justice, are we willing to sacrifice the eco-justice of others?