Dispute is a distraction causing some environmentalists to miss the forest for the trees
By Michael M. Barrick
WESTON, W.Va. – On April 27, five environmental groups released a statement pointing out that the plans for the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) would include widespread destruction – what they termed “decapitation” – of nearly 40 miles of mountain ridge tops along the proposed route, including just a few miles from here.
In alerting the public to the devastating impact of these plans by Dominion Resources, the groups issued a news release with the headline, “Atlantic Coast Pipeline Would Trigger Extensive Mountaintop Removal.” In response, the groups were attacked by some other environmentalists who claim that what is planned by Dominion does not constitute Mountaintop Removal (MTR).
In fact, it has led to quite an online discussion – a discussion that has been relatively polite but undeniably silly. I fail to see the consternation over making a distinction. Dominion is planning on removing the tops of mountains. What else to call it? Calling it what it is does not diminish the horrors of MTR as we’ve come to see it. However, failing to call this type of pipeline construction MTR does diminish the horrors it will unleash upon our communities and the land that supports them.
So, when we received the news release, we headlined our article, “ACP Would Require Extensive Mountaintop Removal.” I’ve had a couple of readers object to the use of the MTR moniker. I have responded that at the Appalachian Chronicle we will continue to call it Mountaintop Removal because that is what it is. Whether the fossil fuel industry extracts gas, oil or coal, the outcome is the same: destroyed sacred mountaintops.
Mountaintop Removal is Mountaintop Removal. That is what I’m going to call it, because that’s what the hell it is.”
This type of discord within the environmental social justice community is exactly what Dominion Resources and their co-conspirators in the fossil fuel industry want. What is most disturbing is that it is a self-inflicted wound.
The odds are stacked against us. Let us not get bogged down in semantics; in doing so, we give ammunition to the energy industry. Let us agree, that when you remove the tops of mountains, create millions of tons of overburden, destroy streams and forests, and harm public health, what you are doing is MTR. The scale is irrelevant. Destruction is destruction.
And Mountaintop Removal is Mountaintop Removal. That is what I’m going to call it, because that’s what the hell it is.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
On Twitter: @appchronicle
International economics and politics impacting U. S. fossil fuel production
By S. Tom Bond
After beginning to rise in late January and February, the price of oil has begun to go down again. Statements made by the Saudis indicate they are aware of the coming end of the Age of Oil, and they intend to produce as much of it as possible before it looses its value. They have a tremendous advantage compared to the recent developments in extreme extraction-fracking, deep-sea drilling and Arctic drilling. Wells are already in place for their oil, and it only costs $20 a barrel to produce – prices which are well below the cost of extraction for the new methods.
Extreme extraction, including mountaintop removal, has been extremely successful – in attracting complaints, as its costs go far beyond what is put on the balance sheet. They include damaged aquifers, contaminated surface water, health effects, loss of surface property productivity and value, along with living handicaps for people in the neighborhood of extraction, and expense to local governments. As a result, lawsuits and scientific research are impacting extreme extraction techniques.
Global climate change due to burning hydrocarbons is accepted by 97 percent of scientists studying it, and most opposition is traced back to think tanks devoted to protecting carbon burning. The challengers are funded by the businesses they seek to protect.
Extraction is a mature process struggling to achieve marginal improvement, yet receives vast subsidies. Alternate energy, such as solar and wind power continue to make considerable advances, in particular solar technology. The University of Cambridge, UK, has recently announced a new process that will reduce the cost of solar-grade silicon by a factor of five. One of the biggest banks in the Middle East and the oil-rich Gulf countries says fossil fuels can no longer compete with solar technologies on price.
The international oil companies have major problems. The total extraction by the seven “majors” has declined by over 10 percent since 2009, even though they have raised their capital expenditure by 40-70 percent during that time. Their share of global production has fallen from 12.7 percent to 10.4 percent.
Intertwined with energy is the problem of the U. S dollar requirement for buying oil. After World War II, the U. S. dollar was tied to gold, and at the Bretton Woods Conference it was decided to make it the sole currency for international exchange. This made it necessary for countries to get U. S. dollars to pay for oil. When Richard Nixon was in office, the dollar was taken off the gold standard and allowed to float. At the present time, countries still have to buy oil in dollars, which acts as a wealth pump for the United States, since it can create new dollars, and no one else can.
This is an increasingly sore spot for world trade in energy. Those who have tried to sell for other currencies make for a sad list: Saddam Hussein, who took Euros; Muammar Gaddafi, who wanted gold-backed currency; and, Iran is selling oil in its bourse for several different currencies.
Now Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar. Two great pipelines are planned from Russia to China for natural gas, with construction to begin soon. Both need the exchange. There is no need for the dollar there, certainly. What happens when the dollars come home? A new investment bank is being set up by the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to compete with the World Bank.
Presently the U. S. is a great military power. It spends more money on its military than the next 14 countries combined, and the others don’t count for much. The U.S. has bases all over the world with brushfire wars going in half a dozen places. The population is exhausted by these continuous little wars, and the draft remains quite unpopular. Even drone pilots are having enough after one tour of duty. The VA hospitals are a mess.
Russia is now in the place where the United States was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This time the U. S. has missiles within easy range of Russia, but both have an ample supply of atomic warheads to set the whole world on fire.
These are interesting times, indeed.
Tom Bond is a retired chemistry professor and a farmer in Lewis County, W.Va.
© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.
The Appalachian Preservation Project is also handling planning for the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. Learn about it here.
Wild places and wildlife are sacred because they are evidence of a creator
By Michael M. Barrick
My love for the wildness of the natural world was kindled in the most unlikely of places – an urban neighborhood. True, it was a pre-interstate, small-town neighborhood nestled along Elk Creek in Clarksburg, W.Va., a main tributary of the West Fork of the Monongahela River. In addition, our house was one of only seven on a dead-end cobblestone street. Still, our neighbors were close. The one-mile walk back and forth to school was through neighborhoods with houses no further apart than the wing span of a small child. Narrow alleys dissected and intersected with the streets crowded with cars.
In the middle of all this, though, was my sanctuary. Our property included a swath of woods along the creek. High, steep cliffs marked the safe edge of our boundary, though that didn’t deter me and my friends from scurrying up and down them. Two ponds were under the tall canopy of trees; the foot-and-a-half wide path down to it from what we called our “upper-back yard” was overgrown with rhododendron.
It was a natural science laboratory that also served as my sacred spot – my place of meditation. It caused both wonder and wander. It offered insight into the rational and the mystical. Ultimately, it was a site of solitude.
Yet, it was also an essential part of our community. It provided a place for me and my friends to explore new things together, to take risks, to share secrets. We gathered along Elk Creek in a field as a tribe virtually every summer evening to play volleyball. Some of us even tried not to rotate from that creek side, hoping we could jump in the waste-high water, negotiate the rocky creek bed and retrieve an errant ball.
As I grew older, my childish ways gave way to very adult worries. At 18, I would spend hours in those woods pondering my future. Would the body counts from Vietnam mean that, I too, would be drafted? Why were peace-loving people such as Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. murdered? Nobody, of course, had answers to these questions, making those woods a vital sanctuary as I sorted out adult problems in what had been a child’s world. In short, it was one of the few places where I was at peace.
Then, it was destroyed. Sadly, though the creek and woods were sacred to me and many others, they were not to the state of West Virginia. They were in right-of-way for a new highway. So, at 18, my roots were involuntarily ripped up as heartless functionaries for the state attempted to “help us replace” our home. As I watched my folks, in particular my mom, struggle with this loss, a loss resulting simply from our society’s priority to move cars faster, I quickly lost faith in our institutions. I found myself lost; sure, we had a new house, but my sanctuary was destroyed – forever.
So, I moved to the largest city in North Carolina to work as a paramedic. There, the flat land and the lack of mountains only served to remind me of my lost sanctuary. Fortunately, though, an uncle on my mom’s side had settled over a decade before in the Blue Ridge foothills about two hours from Charlotte. Growing up where I had, he too had a love and respect for wild places. So, he bought about 100 acres of pristine woods, far up the Blue Ridge Escarpment. There I was introduced to unspoiled views, with hills, valleys, woods, water basins and wildlife that offer an unending display of the rich Southern Appalachian eco-system. We could safely drink out of any creek, spring or stream. Spring days offered a beautiful new surprise every day. The night was when the critters reminded us that we were only visitors and the starlit, unobstructed sky reminded us of just exactly where we fit in the grand scheme of things.
We are not, I learned, the center of the universe.
It was an awareness that led, in time, to my deeper understanding of the natural world – that it is sacred. It is sacred because it supports the very life which supports us. It is sacred because it is delicate. It is sacred because of what it offers our hearts, minds and souls (if we will accept and recognize it). Wild places and wildlife are sacred because they are evidence of a creator.
In our modern, western world, these are lessons desperately needed today. As we sit in a room and watch friends and relatives peck away at small phones and computers, oblivious even to the person sitting next to them, we quickly lose sight of our smallness in place and time.
Meanwhile, with our faces glued to the latest electronic devices, our politicians ignore climate change and, unquestioning, push us further away from the wild lands which sustain us. The experience I had 40 years ago of losing my home is repeated daily in the Mountain State and elsewhere in Appalachia – all for “the progress of man.”
Action, then, is required. There is still land to preserve. We must be educated and unified. We must then speak truth to power, and we must prepare our children and grandchildren – for this is a multi-generational battle. First, though, we must realize that not all people will change. Enough, however, can be persuaded.
To persuade them, we must begin by asserting our morally superior position. While that may, at first glance, sound arrogant, it isn’t. Why? Because we have already established that wildlife and wild places are sacred. This assault upon the sacred is a clear and present danger to all terrestrial life. So, we must not concern ourselves with being marginalized or characterized as “tree huggers.” Rather, we should embrace our conservationist heritage. It is this heritage that gave us the national park system.
There are countless ways to do this. Perhaps you could start by attending the Earth Day conferenced scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. With a theme of “Preserving Sacred Appalachia,” it will be a gathering of conservationists with one goal in mind – to deliver a unified message that Appalachia and all wild places are sacred and worth preserving. Join us. Embrace the label of conservationist or environmentalist. Live a life consistent with those monikers. Become the expert within your circle of influence. Most importantly, relentlessly spread the gospel of conservation. Will we prevail? In time, we can. We certainly, will not, however, should we shy away because of what others think or say about us. Let us not allow apathy, ignorance or greed guide our future.
© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project, a social enterprise business committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member. Learn about the Earth Day conference here.