From my earliest days, I visited my Uncle Glenn in the mountains of western North Carolina. Being a kid from the flatlands, industrial sprawl, and tract housing developments of Houston, Texas, I found the contrast overwhelming. I loved to hike and explore the Nantahalas and Smokies and Pisgahs with their noisy bubbling creeks and rhododendrons and mountain laurels blooming in June. Sometimes Uncle Glenn would take us up in the air in his small plane and fly over the mountains. And as a small kid, looking down on God’s creation, I thought the mountains seemed about as eternal and solid as one could imagine.
Last year, I flew from Chicago to Raleigh-Durham over the southern Appalachians, and I was overcome with tangible grief. Seen from the air, the giant grey scabs from mountaintop removal coal-mining operations had scraped enormous wounds into the green and brown flesh of the earth. I knew that mountaintop removal was wreaking havoc, but seeing it with my own eyes brought home the reality that we are destroying vast forests, watersheds, and communities in the lungs of our country to get at an 18-24 inch seam of coal.
Over 500 mountains gone forever. Over 2000 miles of pristine streams fouled and toxic. Historic communities polluted and abandoned. Cancer and disease rates among children and adults twice the level of comparable communities elsewhere. The three poorest Congressional districts in the country. The list goes on and on.
Southern Appalachia has become our national sacrifice zone and our own third world country. When do we stop this madness?
There has always been coal mining in the Appalachians, and many today defend it as the primary source of income for families in that region. But if coal mining is such a great thing, how come prosperity in the Appalachians is so elusive? Simple answer: the benefits go to owners and stockholders outside of Appalachia rather than the actual people who live and work there. And if creating jobs were the main issue, why are there fewer jobs in coal mining than before mountaintop removal began in earnest after 2000?
None of us can escape blame for this madness. All along the east coast and in the Midwest, the power plants that run our I-pods and keep the stadium lights burning bright get their coal from mountaintop removal. Go to www.ilovemountains.org and you’ll see the evidence. If we continue with no national strategy to replace coal with renewable energy, then all our elected officials and all their silent constituents bear responsibility. That’s all of us.
Mountains and living water are metaphors and emotional connections deeply engrained in our faith. When do we stop tearing them down? When the last one is gone?
On April 30, our Quaker friends are beginning a march against the banks that finance mountaintop removal. We’ll stay at some UCC churches along the way. For more info, go to www.eqat.wordpress.com/walk/ and then join us. We can stop this madness.
The United Church of Christ has more than 5,277 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.