Identifying hazards and offering solutions for public health and safety is objective
By Michael M. Barrick
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Earth Day week conference, “Preserving Sacred Appalachia: Gathering, Acting, and Speaking in Unity” will be held this Monday and Tuesday, April 20th and 21st at the St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center here. Registration remains open through Saturday.
The conference is an intentional outreach by and to people and organizations that are devoted and dedicated to preserving the eco-systems which support life in Appalachia. It is a gathering of the region’s rich collection of seasoned, experienced conservationists with the intent of:
• Identifying fundamental areas of agreement regarding the immediate core challenges to Appalachia’s eco-systems and key strategies for addressing them;
• Offering an educational outreach to interested citizens; and,
• Issuing a unified, decisive statement identifying the core challenges and equipping the people of Appalachia with practical, effective methods to help preserve the region’s water, air, soil, habitats and natural beauty.
There are a number of core assumptions which guide the thinking behind this conference. Those include:
• The earth, because its eco-systems support life, is sacred. The notion of sacred varies; however, each person can remain true to his or her understanding while agreeing upon this definition by Webster’s: “reverently dedicated to some … purpose…”;
• Appalachia’s eco-systems presently suffer from the fossil fuel mono economy, including, but not limited to: mountaintop removal, hydraulic fracturing and related natural gas pipeline development;
• These practices present serious risks to the public health and safety of the people of Appalachia;
• These practices pose a longtime, ongoing and immediate danger to one of the most diverse eco-systems on the planet;
• The history of Appalachia is one of energy exploitation, aggravating conservation efforts;
• If Appalachia’s beauty is to be sustainable for present generations and preserved for future generations, alternative energies must be developed and conservation adopted;
• Public health experts and ecologists have a responsibility to offer economic, political, and spiritual solutions to these challenges;
• A great number of our neighbors are persuadable. Presently, we count many of them among the undecided. Though now in “the mushy middle” for various reasons, they can – properly educated and empowered – become the allies needed to alter the tipping point of public opinion, and hence public policy.
It is also vital to recognize some obstacles which much be acknowledged and overcome for this gathering and ones like it to enjoy success. Those include:
• Preservationists have been marginalized by certain interest groups and the media/press;
• There exists a lack of awareness among the general population regarding the historical role of naturalists and preservationists in establishing and protecting lands set aside for all citizens to enjoy;
• It is necessary to identify the key players causing environmental damage and respond to tactics utilized by them to discredit preservation efforts;
• We must model methods to address and reverse the lack of civility in public discourse;
• There is a high level of burnout within the movement, indicating that succession plans need to be developed or updated;
• The need for ongoing education on the most critical threats to public health and the eco-system remains essential;
• There exists a lack of awareness among the general population regarding the historical, legal and constitutional implications of eminent domain, in particular as it relates to pipeline development throughout the region; and,
• The implications of the 2014 state and national legislative elections upon conservation efforts require analysis.
So, despite a great diversity in the missions of those individuals and organizations that will gather for the conference, this gathering will demonstrate unity of purpose, provide a platform for sharing and learning, and increase awareness among the general public. As a result, the democratization that has occurred because of the digital age – combined with traditional, relational-based approaches – will contribute to the movement’s successful growth and impact.
The conference is open to the public, though advance registration is required. Folks can register by visiting the website of the Appalachian Preservation Project. They can also learn more about the agenda, view a brief video explaining the conference, and read the speaker biographies.
The unprecedented interfaith and interdisciplinary gathering is sponsored by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Hickory, N.C. In-state partners include West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light and the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter. The Appalachian Preservation Project is handling planning and logistics.
© Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. Please print, post and share.