Interfaith and interdisciplinary experts seek to educate about threats to Appalachia’s environment
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – An unprecedented interfaith and interdisciplinary gathering of environmental experts and advocates will occur at the St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center in Charleston on April 20th and 21st. The conference is intended to draw attention to the threats posed to public health and safety, as well as the environment, by the energy-extraction industry. Earth Day is on April 22nd.
The gathering, “Preserving Sacred Appalachia: Gathering, Speaking and Acting in Unity,” features at least 16 speakers, including ministers, laity, environmental activists, educators and artists. The event is being sponsored by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Hickory, N.C. Partners include the Sierra Club – West Virginia Chapter and West Virginia Interfaith Power and Light (WVIPL). The Appalachian Preservation Project is facilitating planning and logistics for the conference.
The Rev. Mark Andrews of St. Luke’s shared, “We are happy to be sponsoring the conference. After our Crossflame youth choir toured in West Virginia last summer, it seemed providential to follow up on their positive experiences with an additional event. The care of creation is our sacred trust, and we hope this conference will lead to a deeper understanding, heightened resolve to act, and the discovery of a common voice to address the issues which affect not only West Virginia, but also all of Appalachia and beyond.”
Bill Price with the Sierra Club offered, “We are excited to work with our brothers and sisters in the faith community in the efforts to preserve Appalachia for future generations. By uniting together, we are better equipped to fight for true prosperity, justice and peace.” Robin Blakeman, a member of the WVIPL steering committee, added, “For WV to have a hope-filled future, we need to build bridges across diverse communities – of faith, race and politics.”
Scheduled speakers include Bill Price; Susan Hedge with the Catholic Committee of Appalachia; Allen Johnson with Christians for the Mountains; Tierra Curry, the senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity; Elise Keaton, the outreach and education coordinator of the Greenbrier River Watershed Association; Angie Rosser, the executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition; Carey Jo Grace of Our Children Our Future; Robin Blakeman, who will be representing the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Ben Townsend, a West Virginia traditional musician; Keely Kernan, an award-winning freelance photographer and videographer; Mike Manypenny, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates; Bill Hughes, the West Virginia Community Liaison for the FracTracker Alliance; Hannah Spencer with Aurora Lights/Not in My Forest; Barbara Volk, a Lewis County landowner; Lindsay Barrick, the director of programs at St. Luke’s and a mixed-media artist; Michael Barrick, a freelance writer and founder of the Appalachian Preservation Project; and, steering committee members of WVIPL. The West Virginia Council of Churches is also supporting the conference. Biographies for the speakers can be found on the website of the Appalachian Preservation Project.
Michael Barrick said, “The call of our faith is clear, and the science regarding the energy-extraction industries indisputable. We are called to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, or will not because of fear of retribution from the powerful interests that have control of the corporations and political bodies of West Virginia and much of Appalachia.” He continued, “The lineup of speakers is awe-inspiring. That each of these folks have agreed to participate is simply remarkable. It reveals that we have reached a crossroads. No longer will we be reactive. We are all determined that this conference will provide us the gathering we need to seize the initiative against those who put profit ahead of people.”
He continued, “We understand that the energy extraction industry has a long history in the region. While it has provided the dignity that accompanies work, it has also caused tremendous harm to people and the environment. This is not an attack upon working people. It is, however, an acknowledgement that it is time to end our dependence upon a fossil-fuel mono economy. We all know of the history of coal mining disasters. Now, mountaintop removal has been proven to cause harm to human beings. The same is true for fracking and the related pipeline development. These are scientific facts which we ignore at our own peril.”
Barrick concluded, “We are aware of our responsibility to offer alternatives to the fossil fuel industry. To that end, we will end the conference with a white paper offering economic, environmental and political reforms that will offer the people of West Virginia and all of Appalachia a future consistent with the Mountain State’s motto – ‘Mountaineers are Always Free.’”
The conference is open to the public. Folks can register by visiting the website of the Appalachian Preservation Project. They can also learn more about the agenda and view a brief video by Barrick explaining the conference.
© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise business committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.