Any Republican in the age of Trump from the Senate all the way down to the local dogcatcher that isn’t publicly denouncing Trump’s character, actions, and staff choices, who isn’t distancing themselves from him and who isn’t working to reform and update their party so that Trump and his evils are in no way indicative of the GOP doesn’t deserve to be elected to any single position anywhere in this country. If I meet you in a business capacity and you wax on about your love of the GOP in this day and age I am instantly considering doing business with someone else instead of you.

Another valid prefacing point—I have always (at least since I began to understand politics and engage politically) identified as “progressive” in the sense that I believe the goal of good governance is to grow, enhance and “better” (“progress”) society, to do more, be better, serve more folks more efficiently in the service of reducing poverty, social injustice, etc. I believe there are certain basic “rights” that citizens of countries wealthy enough to provide them are due—these are the benefits of living in a society, of paying taxes, of being a part of a country rather than a solitary tribe. In my opinion these rights include not only the constitutional rights and civil liberties we have enshrined in our constitution in America but also basic things that people need to survive—food, clothes, housing and healthcare. Every citizen of a wealthy country deserves a safe place to sleep, enough healthy food to survive, and medical treatment that won’t bankrupt them when they are sick.

However, in the wake of Trump and the resulting political environment I have sometimes found myself loathe for the first time in my life to self-identify as “progressive”. “Liberal” yes and I believe that entails the original sense of progressive but I’ve seen and heard such things lately that I can only believe the terms we’ve used previously are now dying due to bad associations and new connotations. I admit I once rolled my eyes at some of the old-guard liberals now so often derided as conservatives who warned of a “PC” left that was veering off the rails. But the only term I at the moment can muster for a certain segment of my fellow liberals is “Reactionary Left”. Like the Republicans of old and the conservatives of history the new Reactionary Left does not present new ideas, does not lead the way and instead reacts constantly to the other side…and increasingly not just to the other side but to those within its own ranks, attacking and purifying the inner circle to determine who is “really” a liberal—who uses the right phrases, holds the right positions, denounces all of the right (or “wrong”) things.

I don’t think all liberals are like this—nor will I commit a false equivalency by asserting that both political sides are equally bad today. What is happening on the modern right is wreaking irreversible harm on the environment, our standing in and relationship with the rest of the world, the dignity of the poor and the rights of minority groups. Making transgender persons scapegoats to score political points with a section of their base causes far more harm than us arguing over whether a person is “whitesplaining” or not. BUT—a sizeable and growing segment of the modern left is taking its eye off the ball and losing focus on the big picture while simultaneously culling the ranks and almost intentionally deterring those outside of the circle from getting on board.

A few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • A group of folks were discussing police brutality, specifically black folks slain by police with video evidence they were doing no wrong while the juries who found the officers not guilty anyway. Important issue, worth getting angry about, worth discussing and acting on to change the culture of why this occurs. A man the group knows made a comment that basically asserted generalizations occur across all lines and that ultimately he hoped we could grow to see everyone as part of a human family. Make what you will of that statement—it may certainly miss the point, it may certainly be loftier than statements seeking to fix right here right now the problems people of color are experiencing with police—but instantly this man was accused by the entire group of racism. Every—steadfastly non-aggressive, calm—word he said in his defense of not being a racist was met with accusations that he was “mansplaining” and “whitesplaining”. Does levelling these accusations solve anything? Does it convert the man to their point of view or advance the dialogue at all? No it likely just pushes him further in the opposite direction.
  • I know several vegans and vegetarians and while some are pretty chill on their choices the majority takes every opportunity to accuse every meat-eater they know of murder. To eat meat or not on philosophical, ethical, scientific, or nutritional merits is a complex debate but one sure way of not advancing your cause is to instantly insult, denigrate, or annoy the other side while simultaneously asserting your own moral superiority. If the goal is to reduce animal suffering, address the climate impact of the growing cow population, or to make people healthier there are hundreds of ways to advance each of these goals with footsteps that not only make sense and work but that come easier and more naturally to the majority of people.
  • Prior to the Oscars this past spring I heard from one person that if “La La Land” won the Academy Award it would prove once and for all the Oscars were irredeemably racist. This was after the Academy made efforts to double its female and people of color members and nominations of said categories was larger than it had been in years, possibly ever. The same person was in discussion with agreeing friends, all of whom declared they’d never even seen the movie and had no interest in it. When “Moonlight” ended up winning the same person proclaimed “of course Moonlight won” because it “depicted angry drug-addicted black women” and was about gay characters yet it didn’t “show gay sex”. This despite the fact that it was based on the author’s own life and was widely acclaimed for its depiction of masculinity and gender. This same person is a constant fount of examples of finding fault with every situation regardless of the outcome.
  • One last example though I could go on—let’s look at the recent McCain vote that killed healthcare repeal. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins were both steadfastly against the repeal from the beginning and have rightfully been receiving credit for that. Yet since it was known they were voting “No”, McCain’s last minute reveal that he too was voting know broke the tie and sunk the bill. So reporting that McCain broke the tie and ultimately “did the right thing” was a news story worth reporting. The instant backlash to these stories across my social media showed that rather than be happy repeal was at least temporarily dead, much of the left was angry McCain was getting credit for the work of women (Collins & Murkowski).

The Reactionary Left cares more about getting the terms right than getting the results right. I’ve read story after story about those on the fence who (shudder) became Trump supporters just because they got sick of the self-righteous posturing of their liberal friends. While I don’t see how you can suddenly support a selfish, lying, hateful, ignorant buffoon who is making the country and the world a worse place every day I do get why you can suddenly become apolitical or distance yourself from the modern left. Who wants to be surrounded by those who only complain about past could-have-beens (as most Democratic party meetings I’ve been to in recent time turn out to be) rather than what could-be-next’s. Furthermore, who wants to contribute to a conversation when they have to mentally check every word they may utter in fear of inadvertently offending the crowd and being cast out puritanically from the inner circle of trve liberals?

I can speak for no one but myself but the following points are what I feel, mean, and believe when I say I am “liberal”.

  • Free Speech is paramount. A person can say, write, or sing anything they wish or believe whether right or wrong. However, said person should not be able to report said speech as news if unchecked and said person is not immune to the free speech response to their original comment. If a person says some heinous shit they may as well expect the protests to come and that is part of the free speech circle. The right is trying to co-opt free speech by saying they don’t PC police your conversation. In case you have a short memory, the right was the party that got aghast at everything from the Metropolitan Museum of Art display of piss-Christ to gangsta rap and Marilyn Manson in the ‘90s. The only speech the right cares about is protecting lies reported as news (not a free speech issue) and the right to use racial, religious and sexist slurs (which can be used but which can also be called out and pushed out of polite public professional conversation).
  • Discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual identity or country of national origin must be attacked and dismantled at every turn. Every person deserves access to the same opportunities and protections. This goes for employment, housing, education, and incarceration. We live in a country where every generation forgets they come from immigrants and so discriminate against every incoming demographic. We jail people of color at astronomically larger rates than white due to racially-motivated drug policies and policing tactics. We get angry that stores say “Happy Holidays” instead of exclusively “Merry Christmas” and those who believe differently—especially if they believe in “nothing” religiously—are looked down upon almost unanimously. Hell, we maintain “legacy” preferential status for universities bestowing the grandchildren of wealthy graduates preference over first-generation college students in contrast to every other industrialized country. Yet instead of focusing with laser-like specificity on these bigger issues (and so many more), the Reactionary Left worries more about pushing out voices from the past (“who cares what dead white guys had to contribute” (e.g. Jefferson, Einstein) or present (quit whitesplaining) from the conversation.
  • Our environmental world is in danger and it is our duty to protect and repair it. No one’s jumping down from the sky to heal the earth nor is it our destiny to strip and destroy our planet on our way out. Global warming is real and we are running out of time to do something about it. Big changes are necessary from national and global standpoints. We can do what we can to cut our carbon footprint but policing the micro-actions of our every neighbor may not only not make a difference but may also make many other things worse.

I could go on with issues of war, poverty, policing, gender relations, etc. but I’m not writing a manifesto regardless of how it might sound, I just wanted to list a few key examples. These are just a few key things I mean when I proclaim myself as a liberal. Despite the fact most of us grow more conservative with age I don’t foresee that for myself in most areas, though I’m not immune to the fact that with even slightly better income and more security almost all of us lose the visceral response to many progressive impulses. I am liberal in a traditional sense and I have huge sympathy for the modern left in terms of addressing some of these other issues and growing awareness of problems previously overlooked. I believe in a more equitable world for all. I don’t scoff at the issue of language and label either—I know misusing the wrong label can hurt be it a pronoun or racial slur. My wife is a strong Ms. (never a Mrs.) with her own last name, every transwoman I know is a she, and by god I’m never calling a black person the n word (even with an a ending) no matter how close we are. I get the importance of all such issues. My issue with the focus on language is more on the pedantic, academic sense—I spent a lot of time in colleges and universities and within that context it is very important to get the nomenclature right. But it is not our duty as liberals and/or academics to take those textbook sociological and philosophical terms out into the “real” world and bludgeon folks with them—accusing them of –isms they’ve never heard of, condemning them for not invoking the right indigenous native writer’s preferred adjective at the right time. I fear that the campus experience will drift to implosion if we allow our fear of getting it right and our fear of offense push out all fruitful debate and exclude all troubling writing. I fear we will lose a generation of progressive action by culling the herd of all but the most linguistically and philosophically pure and there is simply too much at stake to let that happen.


I traveled out of Virginia, through West Virginia and across Kentucky to visit family on Thanksgiving week. You can notice a lot of things on that long stretch of road if you pay attention. A similar trek a few years ago spurred my first real blog about environmental ethics vis-a-vis Appalachian Coal Country, which you can glance at here. Back then I mentioned that a candidate perceived as anti-coal has no hope of winning office in my hometown and county, and that certainly proved true in this past election as Romney took more than 70 percent of the popular vote in most Western Kentucky counties, and I would wager that the primary reason for this is the result of Big Coal cementing a popular perception of President Obama as “anti-coal” and thus”anti-coal miners,” but more on that in a bit.

What is highly noticeable as you head through West Virginia is the type of business that does well–it’s not that much of a stretch to claim that if you need to give anyone directions in much of West VA and you mention any visible points of reference, chances are they include coal mines, strip clubs, casinos, and possibly the gigantic anti-Obama billboards that litter the highway. All across the state drivers are heralded into “Obama’s No-Job Zone,” despite the fact that the above mentioned businesses seem to be doing the same amount of business they have for the past ten years or more. I have no idea if those billboards will remain now that the election is over and the current president won’t be able to run for office again in the future, but it will not surprise me to see those same billboards remain where they’ve been for the past 4 years, stirring up anti-Obama sentiment to keep a certain populace antagonistic toward any progress or speech regarding alternative energy sources.

Coal is a fascinating subject with a long strange history and it’s amazing that it has become such a political flash point in many geographic areas in the year 2012. In the months leading up to the Presidential election and in the days afterwards countless people made their every Facebook status in some way tied to coal and the fear that the President has an agenda to take away their jobs. It is in the personal arena where people work and hope to be able to continue to do so to take care of their families that the issue of coal ceases to be one of capitalism and large-scale economics or environmental ethics and instead is one of day to day life and making ends meet. It is in this way that many big-picture thinkers fail to grasp why there is so much hesitancy in the south to embrace progressive environmental policy.

While I was in in Kentucky I heard many comments on coal. One friend said that if he ever happened to mention global warming at all, as he did in the case of recent hurricane sandy, people accuse him of “hating coal” and “wanting people to lose jobs.” I also heard that education is sorely lacking regarding transitioning to future energy sources–that people only hear “they want to take our jobs away” and never hear anything about transition employment, new job development, or even scientific rationale for such changes.. And of course, I have incessantly heard accusations that Obama wants to undermine the occupations of those in the coal industry. The President is in the undesirable position of disappointing those on practically every side of this particular issue. Those in the environmental movement have been very disheartened on his slowness to act in progressive energy policy–in 2012, as the Kyoto Protocol is fast approaching its expiration, this President has been very slow to wean the nation off of Big Dirty Energy. He has even fostered the Oil and Coal business–he really has not slowed it down, it has often slowed itself down in the internal struggle to keep up with yet another dirty energy, the much cheaper natural gas yielded from frakking. Those on the right, especially those in the coal and oil industry, have been led to believe that the President has waged an all-out assault on their way of life–$1,500,000 in Oil/Coal campaign contributions can convince a populace of anything. This is the President who never once mentioned “Global Warming” or “Climate Change” in any of the Presidential debates. But by funding other energy sources and limiting drilling on protected federal land (thank you FDR) he earned the ire of the entire industry.

The problem persists though. No amount of advertisement money can change scientific fact. Global warming is real and it is caused by the greenhouse effect–the greenhouse effect is a result of carbon emissions, which are the result of the burning of fossil fuels. Coal produces the most carbon emissions in its use in comparison with all other fossil fuels, but oil is a close second and we use more oil than coal. Changing weather patterns, melting ice caps, and ever intensifying storms are the living proof that we face due to our dependency on burning dinosaur bones. We continue to break heat records and for the second year in a row the northeast suffered through a hurricane. We are approaching the tipping point and the only way to salvage a future for life on this planet is for us to cease our use of these toxic substances. The good thing is that we can do so–we have the ability to switch to other sources of energy that are renewable and massively available–wind, solar, and other green energies. We can run cars and heat homes without burning fossil fuels but the transition time is here.

I do not wish for anyone to lose their job. Many people I care deeply for have jobs tied to the coal industry. I want those that work in the Coal and Oil industries to find fulfilling, well paying work elsewhere. I’ve had my fair share of bad jobs and I know how soul-crushing bad work can be. For those that mine and hate it, I hope the next industries will be much more to their liking; for those that truly enjoy the work they do tied with these industries, I hope they can find something they like as well or more. Transition is scary–having a bad job, having no job, having a new job, leaving a job you like, any one of these factors is a stress and I can empathize with every one of those aspects myself.  I want the workers of the coal region to find transition jobs when possible. All industries change, and all old forms resist new forms, this has always been the case. But the people of the coal field have been led to believe that they need this industry and that they cannot make it without it–this is not true. This industry has always exploited the workforce and the natural environment of every spot it has taken root, eking out all it can and then moving on. Crushing poverty remains in the areas where coal and oil “used” to employ. No jobs, no industry, no commerce, no technology and no viable way of life remains in such places when entire generations have disappeared into the mines and onto the rigs without plotting ways of life for the future  The industry only pays a solid wage now because the people came together, unionized, and fought for the right to a secure life. Now is a similar such time–the people need to take a role in their own future and be leaders in the next, new, bigger, better industry that awaits.

Here are few possible solutions for how to couch discussions on the environmental needs at hand for the coal regions. One is of financial and economic empowerment: fossil fuel dependent areas must come to view alternative energies as a challenge to build, train, and retake their place in what comes next rather than waiting and being outsourced from their own livelihood  Another way to express the issues at hand is in the area of religion. Ironically, some of the most fossil fuel dependent occupational areas in the the country are also some of the most self-identifying religious ones as well, and the majority self-designation is far and away Christian. Christian teaching and belief points to a Creator, and therefore a Creation. Many liberal churches have made “Creation Care” a central point of faith and ethics for decades now, and it is high time this idea is translated to the more conservative churches. Seeing our responsibility as human beings to care for the blessing this world is should be a no-brainer. Once the idea of the damage done by our current way of life is truly expressed, the need to make a change follows directly.Creation Care as an ethical call for action to even the most “conservative” of churches can enliven Christians to take ownership of their actions, to fight against policies and patterns that endanger, damage, and hurt life on this planet and that are already hurting some of the most vulnerable portions of humanity.

Driving out of Kentucky in the early hours of the morning I passed rolling lines of filled coal trucks. Seeing those trucks roll along, I thought of perception and how it differs so vastly. Where I look and see the perpetuation of a dangerous system, one that makes a lot of money for a group of a very few on top who pay those who do the hardest most dangerous work to earn them their profits as little as they can get away with (which thankfully for many families has been a living wage in recent generations). I see that small group on top as one fully aware of the damage they cause–even the climate science research funded by the Koch brothers turned out to second the majority opinion, and world news has reported for years now how oil and coal magnates plan new areas of development around predictions of changing patterns of weather and land. I see all that–others see a home-grown economy, a living wage, a system of  economic independence and a way to pay for their family’s needs. It’s time to merge those two perceptions–for the workers to realize they can be a part in what comes next and that they deserve a living wage no matter what energy source we must use in the modern day. I must see that any viable plan for the future involves education, training, and as painless as possible transition to good jobs. They must see that this earth is finite and that the system they work in does daily damage to it–but that it’s okay, this has not always been known. Now that it is known, it’s time to take part in what comes next. Sustainability does not mean complete abdication of what we enjoy, how we live, or where we congregate. Sustainability can be a way of life that embraces all the things we love about our life and culture but finds new ways to do those things in a way that can continue on so that future generations can enjoy them too. I can be as much of a Luddite as the next person, and there are things about traditional ways of life and resource usage that I am quite partial to. It’s about trade-offs though, and this is the biggest trade off of our time–how to dump the Old Energy and claim the new one as efficiently and non-destructively as possible. The time is running out though.

Putting Our Blinders On

April 11, 2011

The other night I saw a very funny comedian at an improv club. One comment he made near the end of his set though was that although he critiques America, he would never live anywhere else. Noting that “everything is relative” to something else, he mentioned that our problems as Americans when compared with other countries are minuscule. The countries he used in his comparison, though, were Libya and Egypt. When I got home that evening (last Friday), I flipped on the news; CNN was recounting the events that led up to the temporary decision made in Washington to avoid the government shutdown that was very close, as it was just shy of Midnight.

I note these two examples because they caused the seed that I’m working with here, that of our blinders. How often do we put blinders when looking out at the world or an issue? How many of those blinders are subconscious? How many of those blinders in fact make our life easier and (at least on the surface) “better?” Of course America’s problems (on the surface at least) appear “easy” when compared with Libya or Egypt at the moment. As the audience clapped in agreement with the comedians statement, I couldn’t help but wonder–how many people clapping, comedian included, actually have spent enough time out of the states and have enough knowledge about the systems of government and social policy of other countries to actually know that the US has it “better?” Certainly we could point a finger at particular African or Middle-eastern countries which have suffered through long-scale, seemingly never-ending wars, genocides, famines, and oppressive governments and rightly be thankful we have been more fortunate (but such a thought should result in our anger that our other neighbors do not have it better when we have it in our power as a nation to make it somewhat better, it should make us want to do something to help but it usually does not). Yet can we point at Canada, France, Switzerland, and England and unilaterally say everything about living here is better than living there in terms of quality of life, system of government, and personal liberties?  On a bigger scale, do not some of our US problems (and “solutions?”) actually serve as blinders or balms in themselves to make our short term lives seem easier when actually they are or will cause more long-term problems for us and everyone else?

Which brings me to the news when I got home from the club; one of the commentators mentioned that since the “distracting” riders were dropped, republicans and democrats were able to reach a temporary agreement; other commentators were quick to point out that those riders were not dead–they would continue to rear their heads for the foreseeable future as they represented social policy of utter importance to the republicans. What did these riders include? Well, repealing certain air safety and pollution restrictions for corporations; de-funding Planned Parenthood and other women’s health services; taking away PELL grants for low-income students to attend college, etc. Really? The fact that these can be considered valid “social concerns” showcases an enormous amount of people putting their blinders on, both as politicians and as voters who would support such nonsense. They can pretend that global warming and environmental damage is a myth, a dangerous and scary approach that continues to be popular with many conservatives who ignore scientific findings, historical research,  and daily events that prove the disastrous and irrefutable presence of increasing global temperatures and intensifying patterns of weather. By ignoring this and putting on the “Global warming is a lie” blinders, these corporations can continue to degrade and destroy the earth and the atmosphere at alarming and unprecedented rates to maximize their profits while ordinary citizens who buy into such a claim can continue to seek an idealized, though often unattainable, version of the “american dream” full of unchecked and unquestioned consumption and pollution. Buying into the “global warming is a lie” claim is actually easier in the short term and I sometimes wish I could accept such a claim as truth–realizing that the damage we as a world and the US as a nation in particular has done to the environment in the decades since WWII is tough because it makes us aware of the tragedy that can occur if we do not change our ways, a tragedy that even those in power who know the truth of global warming do little about because of the massive amount of money and lobbyists that would have things kept as is. Restructuring how and where we spend money, how we produce and distribute food, and how we train workers in the energy field is a lot of work–that the same amount of people, likely more, would find work in these new ways of doing things coupled with a better quality of life to boot is irrelevant to the corporations and politicians in power who realize that such a restructuring would limit their unchecked profit and influence to more reasonable amounts. People can put on their blinders that make them see Planned Parenthood and other women health services as abortion drive-thrus while ignoring the millions of lives saved by these clinics through the years as they’ve helped women and families who could not afford basic health-care anywhere else. Heck, people can put on their blinders and convince themselves that if a poor kid wants to go to college all they have to do is pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and go–as if every unfortunate youth can easily escape their sometimes oppressive and bleak environment of poverty and get a job at McDonald’s which will miraculously earn them enough to pay for school–and give them to the time off to make it to class!

Certainly we can be proud of being Americans, be proud of what our parents, grandparents, and ancestors have accomplished, be proud of some of the great figures are country has produced, be proud of our democracy and the rights it gives, the potential it is laden with. But we must be aware that unchecked pride in such a source can lead to dangerous nationalism, that can lead to seeing ourselves as better than “those other people” in other countries. It can lead us to assume that we as a nation have nothing to learn from the way other countries do business, government, and social policy. We can easily fall and put on those blinders, convince ourselves that what is bad is actually good, that we have all freedoms even while those freedoms are taken out from under our noses. I heard a friend the other day commenting on the horrible story of the woman in Libya who was raped and then sought help from the foreign journalists at the embassy–“women’s rights have not come as far in some of the other countries,” he said. No, they haven’t; women in many other countries have a long way to go to reach the rights and the dignity they deserve. But there are loud, popular voices in our own country that are doing their best to take away those rights from women here as well. WE have a long way to go; the rights of the poor, the immigrants, and those of “other” religions are not always secure here either.

So do like the comedian did; critique our country, but then be proud of the rights you do have. But don’t then assume that we are number one in comparison to everyone else either. We still have a long way to go.

 

On a recent trip to the town that I grew up in, I looked over the latest political ads and listened to comments people made about the upcoming election. Aside from the expected vitriol, there is also the undercurrent that I heard a few times that those who are “anti-coal” cannot win in that town.  Coal is not even an issue in this election—this is simply a presupposition held that prevents it from being an issue going into the political realm there.

I grew up in Western Kentucky; my grandfather and other relatives spent time in the mines and they hardly glamorized or praised it—it was simply what you did to put food on the table, it was a job waiting for folks in that part of the country when they came home from the war. Sometime less than 10 years ago, mining came back in a big way to that part of the state. I don’t recall too many of the guys from my older siblings generation (about 10 years older than me) being in the coal business, but I would estimate that more than half of the males I graduated high school with who remained in the county went into the mines.

Mining is dangerous work. Mining also can be fairly profitable (very profitable for the businessman at the top of the enterprise, but profitable in a working-class sense on the ground thanks to the advances that organized southern progressives earned through the unionization process), but for those doing the work it certainly isn’t as profitable as it should be weighed against the massive amount of hours most miners work and the risks they take on, especially given how much the controlling forces earn at the top of the industry.  Interestingly, it’s become a sort of “status symbol” or identifier as well, in ways that previous generations did not make it so. Even the big “Coal Miner’s Daughter” style hits focused on the stark, desperate quality of the work and were catalysts for the unionization process—such country blues songs were the unofficial soundtrack to the protest movement which attacked unfair wages (check out the magnificent “Harlan County” documentary). Now so, drive through the western portion of Kentucky and you’re apt to see dozens of bumper stickers displaying drivers as “proud wife/mother/son/cousin of a coal miner” or “10 feet from hell,” etc. 

Environmental Ethics classes and discussions rarely break through the barrier of culture—no matter how much academia fine-tunes the points of the arguments which prove the dangers that the mining, transportation, and use of fossil fuels does to the ecology of local communities and the entire planet, folks who mine still have to put food on the table and they’re unlikely to be interested in academic arguments that label their work as “bad for the earth.” They’re actually more likely to dismiss such arguments as patently false because they did come out of academia in the first place, given the current cultural climate of division. There are those strong voices, those writers and speakers from the regions they are addressing who should have more clout among such an audience—Wendell Berry, for example, who consistently understands the nuances of culture, ethics, religion, politics, and ecology and is a Kentucky native himself. Some of his work, like that which affirms the value of tobacco farming, has been looked on by some academics in a startled manner, but his arguments are cohesive and his care is for the health of the entire community from which he comes—now and later. Yet even voices like Berry’s don’t reach miners in Kentucky and even if they did, food still has to go on the table. In the post-recession era, towns that depend on the jobs mining brings have even fewer economically viable employment opportunities. 

And that’s the angle of the issue that is more of note and should be expressed to the communities dependant on mining work. I know people from Eastern Kentucky and Western Virginia who left the abject poverty of an entire community when they move away. Towns in those areas hit the coal boom in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and when the mountains had been knocked down, the pollutants pushed into rivers, and fossil fuels all extracted, the mining companies packed up and moved, taking the capital with them. Eastern Kentucky and Western Virginia fell into deep, pervasive poverty. My worry for Western Kentucky is that it will follow the path of its neighbors in this aspect—with such examples of poverty so geographically “close to home”, how is this so completely overlooked in short term politics? Granted, the type of mining done in Western Kentucky has yet to reach the overall devastation level of extensive mountaintop removal done in Eastern Kentucky, but the economic problem facing them is the same—if one generation completely focuses in a tunnel-vision fashion on short-term economic sustainability without crafting business and enterprise for the next generation, the only choice for that next generation is to follow suit: into the mines. But if this generation is the last, or one of the near last, generations to have work in the mines, the next generation is left with no job opportunities of the legitimate kind. This prospect doesn’t even take into consideration the very real aspect of global warming and ecological destruction that a reliance on fossil fuels enhances.

I’ve always tried to take up for the viewpoint of those that don’t have the time or the gumption, or even the “luxury” of considering ecological and economic issues in such a conceptual way. Awhile ago, I was part of a classroom debate on times when economic justice and environmental justice compete and seem incompatible. I immediately thought of and mentioned the issue of coalmining—economic justice insists that workers in Kentucky and Virginia be able to earn a living wage and that they be reasonably safe and secure on the job; environmental justice insists that we switch methods from fossil fuels to sustainable and clean energy, now before it is too late. These ideas compete because if we switch methods abruptly, those miners are left without a job. Therefore, a realistic solution to this problem insists that transitory work and government umbrellas move the very same miners into positions of transition work, offering them work in clean fuel. Obviously, this means that any candidate suggesting such a move will be deemed “anti-coal” by the shadow-puppet organizations (ala “Friends of Coal”) who will fund the conservative opponents. The question is, can such ideas be expressed for the truth they are to people who don’t desire to hear their truth?