Interdisciplinary and interfaith gathering helps strengthen collaboration on environmental issues
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Approximately 40 ecological preservationists joined together in Charleston at the St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center from April 19-21 to champion responsible environmental stewardship in the context of understanding that Appalachia – and all the earth – is sacred. Among those at the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” conference were people of faith, activists, artists, scientists, politicians, and educators.
The unprecedented interfaith and interdisciplinary gathering was sponsored by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Hickory, N.C. In-state partners included the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter and West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light (WVIPL). The Appalachian Preservation Project handled public relations, planning and logistics for the conference.
It was an intentional interdisciplinary and interfaith outreach by and to people that are devoted to preserving the eco-systems which support life in Appalachia. It brought together the region’s rich collection of seasoned, experienced preservationists. While several organizations provided speakers, the event also included numerous attendees from West Virginia and other Appalachian states determined to identify fundamental areas of agreement regarding the immediate core challenges to Appalachia’s eco-systems and key strategies for addressing them.
The gathering concluded with a roundtable discussion of the topics discussed over the course of the conference. From those discussions, participants will issue a white paper – scheduled for release this summer. The white paper will be a unified, decisive statement identifying the core challenges threatening the people and environment of Appalachia; explaining what makes Appalachia – and all the earth – sacred; and to equip the people of Appalachia with practical, effective methods to help preserve the region’s water, air, soil, habitats and natural beauty.
The keynote speaker was Tierra Curry, the senior scientist and a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. The conference kicked off with an extended trailer of the feature film, “In the Hills and Hollows,” a documentary by Keely Kernan, an award winning freelance photographer and videographer. The documentary, which Kernan is presently filming, investigates the boom and bust impacts that mono-economies based on fossil fuel extraction have on people and their local communities.
Other speakers included Susan Hedge with the Catholic Committee of Appalachia; Bill Price, the organizing representative for the Sierra Club – West Virginia Chapter; Allen Johnson of Christians For The Mountains; Angie Rosser, the executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition; Ben Townsend, a West Virginia traditional musician; Carey Jo Grace and Tuesday Taylor with Our Children, Our Future; Robin Blakeman, the Special Event and Membership Committee Organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Mike Manypenny, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates; Bill Hughes, the West Virginia Community Liaison for the FracTracker Alliance; Bob Henry Baber, a widely published Appalachian poet, novelist, creative writing teacher and mosaic artist; Barbara Ann Volk, a Lewis County landowner; Liz Wiles, the chair of the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter, as well as Aurora Lights and the Mountain SOL school; Lindsay Barrick, an artist and the Director of Programs at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church; Mel Hoover and Rose Edington with WVIPL; Autumn Bryson, an environmental scientist; Michael Barrick, the founder of the Appalachian Preservation Project and publisher of the Appalachian Chronicle; and, all of the conference attendees.
Topics addressed include Appalachia’s sacredness, climate change, water quality, the role of art and music in telling Appalachia’ story, mountaintop removal, fracking, natural gas pipeline development, child health, politics and policy. It also included times of meditation, reflection and sharing.
As the conference completed, several presenters commented on its value. Wiles shared, “The Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference was a great opportunity to re-connect with familiar faces in West Virginia’s environmental movement as well as meeting members of the faith community who are working on environmental issues in their congregations. This was a good step in bringing together all kinds of communities who care about the health of their families, their neighbors, and their local, natural environment.”
Manypenny said, “I found it very inspiring that so many came out to participate in this event, both as speakers and as advocates, in the ongoing struggle for environmental justice, our Appalachian way of life, and for our love and appreciation of nature.” Barbara Volk echoed his remarks, adding, “I found myself so inspired by the diverse group of people that are ready to shift the paradigm regarding how we affect change in this culture of waste.”
Price added, “I’ve been thinking about how the conference will benefit the work that all of us are doing. I think that the faith community can help to convene spaces where people of various opinions and perspectives can come together to get to know each other, to figure out those common values, and to work together for a better future.” Blakeman said, “The conference was a great opportunity to network with and learn from like-minded individuals.”
Hoover offered, “This partnership demonstrates that we are at a crossroads in the Mountain State. We have always known that we must work together to address the many environmental issues impacting the people and ecology of West Virginia. This conference, by joining together people of faith with scientists, educators, artists and others, sends a clear message that cannot be ignored – we are united in purpose.”
© 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.
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The power of civility on display at Jackson’s Mill
By Michael M. Barrick
JACKSON’S MILL, W.Va. – On Tuesday, Nov. 11, about 200 residents of North Central West Virginia gathered here to learn about the impact of fracking (and, by extension the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline) upon people and the earth which sustains us. A grass roots group of citizens from Lewis, Upshur, Gilmer, Harrison, Doddridge, Wetzel and other counties organized the meeting. They heard from experts who have had their air and water polluted, their peace disturbed, and their roadways made dangerous.
While outstanding knowledge and supporting materials were provided, perhaps the most successful outcome of the meeting was that it was civil.
Incivility has become such a part of our culture – from the talking heads on Fox News and MSNBC to educational forums throughout Appalachia – that we simply are unable to learn. All we witness are people shouting at one another.
That did not happen in Jackson’s Mill. That is a credit not only to the organizers, but also the well-prepared presenters and the residents in attendance.
It didn’t hurt that the subject matter is captivating. Hundreds of pictures shown on screens through an overhead projector revealed the impact of fracking upon our land, air, water and roads. Among the presenters were Bill Hughes of Wetzel County, who has become an unwilling expert on the matter over the last decade; Jody Mohr of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Julie Archer of West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Association (SORO); and, Diane Pitcock of the West Virginia Host Farms program.
Hughes’ presentation included information on the production stages of fracking, and typical problems experienced by communities because of fracking, including traffic congestion and property damage, water pollution, and air pollution. Mohr spoke about watershed and neighborhood issues. Archer spoke about the rights of surface owners. Pitcock spoke about her program, in which landowners impacted by fracking allow researchers and reporters to witness – first-hand – fracking’s impact. Attendees – which came from every corner of West Virginia – asked vital questions.
So, much was learned.
Yet, as important as the information shared by the presenters was, the most important lesson that was learned is that we can get along with one another, even on such a contentious issue. That is of tremendous encouragement for those of us determined to put an end to the madness that puts profit before people and the good earth which sustains us.
© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2014.
Once educated, we are culpable if we do nothing
“My Lord, he said unto me,
Do you like my garden so fair?
You may live in this garden if you keep the grasses green,
And I’ll return in the cool of the day…
“Now is the cool of the day;
O this earth is a garden, the garden of my Lord,
And he walks in his garden
In the cool of the day.”
An excerpt from “Now is the Cool of the Day” by Jean Ritchie
By Michael M. Barrick
JACKSON’S MILL, W.Va. – On Tuesday, Nov. 11, residents of North Central West Virginia will have an opportunity to learn from those who have been most impacted by fracking in the Mountain State. A grass roots group of citizens from Lewis, Upshur, Gilmer, Harrison, Doddridge, Wetzel and other counties will hear from the folks who have had their air and water polluted, their peace disturbed, and their roadways made dangerous.
The town-hall type forum organized by the citizens will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Assembly Hall at Jackson’s Mill, which is located between Weston and Jane Lew in Lewis County. That location was chosen because the fracking industry is assaulting the people and land of Lewis County at an alarming rate, and because Consol Energy held a forum at the same location in September that accomplished nothing except to insult the people who came to have their voices heard.
While those in attendance at the Consol forum left with more questions than answers, that won’t happen at this grass roots meeting. The organizers have made sure of that by bringing in a number of people who have become unwilling experts on fracking methods and industry tactics, neither of which are pleasant. The main presenter will be Bill Hughes, a 36-year resident of Wetzel County. Also present will be Jody Mohr of Salem, Julie Archer of WVSORO, and Diane Pitcock with West Virginia Host Farms. Other presenters, experts and community organizers will be present.
I have been privileged to work with the group of people who have put this event together and will be participating as moderator. As such, I will simply strive to ensure that we have a civil, orderly and informative meeting that allows as many voices as possible to be heard. However, that does not mean I don’t have an opinion on fracking. I do. Those who have been reading my series on hydraulic fracturing know that. As a healthcare professional and researcher – and as someone who respects the fragile ecosystems which support life, I am convinced that fracking’s harms far outweigh any perceived benefits.
We are hoping for a large audience, as the hall can seat 300 people. I am eager to see people educated, and in a civil manner. Why? Because I have seen the joy in my granddaughter’s eyes when she walks through the woods, picks up a pretty leaf or admires a lovely flower. She is fearless, holding squiggly worms and chasing after chipmunks. We have walked, hand-in-hand, in the cool of the day. In doing so, we have connected to the “Spirit in the Sky” because of what nature offers.
NASA images show that we are destroying the planet. We are killing ourselves. We cannot stand by and allow this to happen. We must set aside our differences and protect the earth which sustains us. If we do not fight, we are culpable in the destruction of our children, grandchildren and subsequent generations.
We cannot ignore the facts. So, whether it is through prayer, or writing, or music, or advocacy, or simply planting a garden, or sharing a book, we have to act. Will we succeed? I don’t know. The odds are against us. But it is our job to use whatever gifts we have to sound the alarm. Then, if we are ignored, the problem does not rest with us. But if we say nothing, just resting comfortably in our material lives, we are as guilty as those intentionally destroying the environment for profit.
Life is a gift. The earth sustains that life. So, we must act. If not us, who? If not now, when? This is our time. We cannot surrender to the merchants of death and destruction.
Come to the forum. Attend with a spirit of unity and community. Now is the cool of the day. Let us treat the earth as the garden of the Lord that it is.
© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014. Barrick is the founder of the Appalachian Preservation Project. Learn more here.