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This Former Coal Miner’s Perspective on Climate Change

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, September 19, 2017

I do not subscribe to the labels being thrown out these days. I do not consider myself an environmentalist, a liberal, nor do I consider myself a conservative either. I am an Appalachian family man who cares about his kids more than the coal companies do.

I’m not naive enough to believe that companies who seek a profit from extracting coal, oil, or natural gas, tell us the truth. Instead, they stretch the truth beyond its limits to protect their investments and bottom lines. We see it every day, and miner’s face it when they are injured and seek compensation to continue feeding their families.

Being Appalachian, I also know that many politicians and charitable organizations who have come to “help” us over the years have used our poverty and suffering to gain votes and donations. It is a problem that continues to occur, and after nearly a century’s worth of exploitation from outside entities, it is no wonder we have trust issues.

People are just trying to survive day to day, and when you are just trying to survive, it is difficult to see issues as more than black and white. We don’t have time to ask questions and research answers outside of the information we receive from the most influential people in our lives—friends, family, and sadly, employers.

When it comes to climate change, people rationalize their opinions based on how it affects them. For those of us in Appalachia, the way climate change is affecting us is almost always perceived through the “War on Coal.” Surprisingly, no one seems keen enough to try to navigate around that communications framework with any amount of credibility.

Have humans caused climate change?

Yes. As coal miner’s, we should know that we have, but we aren’t the ones to blame. We only mined the coal, and often at a great cost to our health. The only reason we mined coal was because outside companies bought up our mineral rights and left us little economic choice.

If we take just a few moments to ask the right questions we can come up with the answers ourselves. According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2013 the world burned over 8 billion tons of coal. That would fill a coal train that wraps the earth 27 times. We burned it all and we’ve done it year after year.

Every day in the US, we burn over 8 million barrels (55 gallons each) of oil, enough to stretch three rows of barrels across the US from New York to Los Angeles. That fuel goes into engines and out of tailpipes. Put a balloon on your exhaust pipe and see how long it takes to fill it at idle. Don’t stop thinking about that as you drive at highway speeds where you are going. Don’t stop thinking about it as you pass other vehicles doing the same. Think about all the cars that are on the road at any given time in the US, driving down crowded city streets, interstates, even country backroads. How many trains are in operation at any given time, or cargo ships for that matter? Every day, day in and day out. How many years have we been doing this?

The world isn’t too big for us to screw up. We’ve wiped out 80% of the forests in the US in just the last 200 years. We’ve grown from three billion people to seven billion people in just my lifetime. No, I’m not a treehugger, but I’m not ignorant either.

Coal companies have made billions, if not trillions of dollars off of our coal reserves, and they want to keep it going. Politicians who get their campaign funds from coal want to keep it going. What do we really get in return? We mine it for them, they provide us short-term jobs, then file bankruptcy and get federal judges to let them out of having to pay for our retirement healthcare, leaving us to suffer from broken down bodies and black lung. For a time they did pay decent coal severance taxes, but most of that revenue was soaked up by state legislatures and used to benefit people outside of our region. What did make it to Appalachia was squandered by local politicians. In the grand scheme of things, the average coal mining family doesn’t get jack from coal. We never have and never will.

It’s time to think about our place in all of this and our children’s. It’s time to realize the truth. Anyone who tells us we need to keep mining coal is only thinking about themselves and their bottom line.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

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