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E-M:/ FW: mindfulness: our collaboration with destruction

Enviro-Mich message from "Link, Terry" <link@mail.lib.msu.edu>

I sent this to a list I run and many readers suggested I should share with Enviro-Mich...here 'tis, recycle the electrons if you can

Over the Earth Day weekend ten days ago I was traveling through Indiana and Kentucky for talks regarding campus sustainability. While visiting Eastern Kentucky University for their statewide higher education conference on sustainability I was re-educated regarding the hidden costs of our coal consumption. I say re-educated because when we lost a dozen miners in December of 2005 the hidden costs were made much more visible. I had determined that I would take the stories and information bequeathed to me at the EKU conference and find a way to give those stories more visibility when I returned back to mid-Michigan.
But like lots of good intentions, this one got neglected for other responsibilities - release of Campus Sustainability Report, ending of the semester, and other loose ends that needed to be tied up. Yesterday I had begun preparing to draft up a paper for the upcoming "Greening of the Campus Conference" at Ball State this September. In the process I was looking for recent writings of Dr. David Orr, an MSU alumnus, noted environmental educator and leader whom I will be presenting with at Ball State. The journal Conservation Biology is a regular venue for Orr, so I perused the past two issues and printed his latest article and the corresponding responses to it. 
After I returned home last night from attendance at a local township meeting I began to read these articles and realized before finishing the first one, that I would need to put my efforts today towards this too often and easily neglected issue. 
It is not as if I had been blind to this issue. In January of 2006 I wrote briefly about the costs of coal in our issue of Footprints <http://www.ecofoot.msu.edu/newsletters/footprints.newsletter.01.06.pdf> . In our April <http://www.ecofoot.msu.edu/newsletters/footprints.newsletter.04.06.pdf>  issue I shared links to two deeply moving photo essays by Builder Levy http://www.aliciapatterson.org/APF2202/Levy/Levy.html 
and Eric Reece http://www.oriononline.org/pages/om/06-1om/Reece.html . But all this was transformed by the personal stories I heard from residents of Kentucky coal fields ten days ago. David Orr's powerful writing in the April 2007 Conservation Biology <http://er.lib.msu.edu/item.cfm?item=005382>  was just the impetus I needed to put aside other responsibilities to address this one for which each of us here at MSU and in Mid-Michigan who rely on coal are responsible. 
In 2005, Michigan imported and burned 38,101,000 tons of coal, much of it from Appalachia. While our power plant may burn this coal relatively cleanly, the destruction of the region and of the lives left in its wake should not be ignored. Every watt of electricity we use to leave our lights burning, our printers and copiers warmed up and ready to spit out printed paper we may or may not read, or our computers left on while we go to lunch or head for home each evening, is rooted in local disasters elsewhere. Even if we weren't adding CO2 and mercury to our atmosphere and all the incumbent problems with those emissions, the cost that others bear for our irresponsibility is enormous.
While miners trapped underground surely capture our concern, the removal of mountaintops - already 456 mountains across 1.5 million acres in West Virginia and Kentucky have been destroyed, leaving behind valleys and rivers, estimated to be 1500 miles in the past 25 years, filled with what coal companies refer to as "overburden" - for every tone of coal extracted there are perhaps 100 tons of overburden. Above the homes in these valleys loom slurry ponds held back only by earthen dams known to leak and occasionally fail. Local school teachers, Mick and Nina McCoy from Inez, Kentucky argue calling these "ponds" is disingenuous, as their size are clearly such that they resemble lakes, not backyard ponds. These indefatigable residents shared their own experience dealing with these realities. Their saga of government agencies, at all levels, failure to protect communities is almost unfathomable.
MSU burns coal for one reason only - it's cheaper than anything else. But the true stories behind our "cheap" coal surely show us that we and society at large are not paying the full costs of our consumption. Instead, as if Appalachia was the third world, we ignore all those costs to lives lost, landscapes ravaged, communities poisoned and convince ourselves that at least we're giving those poor folk jobs. Sustainability, if it holds any merit whatsoever, is about making visible the hidden costs to the environment, human lives, the social fabric and the economy. Once visible we can be mindful about the choices we make while recognizing all the costs. If we truly cared for the people, communities, and landscapes that are ravaged for our benefit would coal be such a bargain?
Perhaps we each need to visit the homes of our electricity feedstock to truly understand what our appetite for unbridled electricity costs. Whether we take the bird's eye view that David Orr provides in his powerful piece in Conservation Biology or visit the communities by land, we need to see the connections of our appetites with the sources that feed us energy. Perhaps we should all do a "Study Abroad" to Appalachia and understand the lives and landscapes our daily choices are making.
So do we have the imagination and the will to transform our use of energy away from reliance on fossil fuel consumption that promises to make our communities and plant unlivable, or will we continue our denial and deferral of this challenge? I believe we do have sufficient knowledge and imagination in our community to find our way out of this quagmire. The real question is do we have the will and the leadership. If we do, we might well find that rolling up our sleeves and working and learning side by side we create a better future for us all. We will strengthen relationships, build new friendships, and find more joy in work that is meaningful to us and essential for our heirs. Let's get going!!!!
Below are a list of sources provided by Mick and Nina McCoy to help us appreciate what is part of their everyday lives.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth www.kftc.org 
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition www.ohvec.org 
Coal River Mountain Watch www.crmw.net
United Mountain Defense www.unitedmountaindefense.org 
Appalachian Voices www.appalachianvoices.org 
Kentucky Heartwood www.kyheartwood.org 
Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards www.samsva.org 
Mountain Justice Summer www.mountainjusticesummer.org 

Terry Link, Director
Office of Campus Sustainability
Michigan State University
106 Olds Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824
1-517-355-1751 (Phone/fax)

One planet, one family, one future

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