Driving into this beautiful mountain landscape, we couldn’t help but notice many pockets of scorching poverty. Here in Appalachian coal country “Watch for Falling Rocks” postings can mean that coal is literally falling down the hillside. It’s not hard to understand why folks here feel compelled to exploit this resource for both employment and as an energy source. Wednesday evening the local Baptists hosted our group for dinner. Friendly and kind, they served up a tasty meal. I couldn’t help but notice the emblem on the hat of one diner the next table over. It read, “Friends of Coal” – a concept that gave me pause.
Coal – the fuel that powered the worldwide industrial revolution can claim much of the credit for the comfort and convenience we enjoy today. But we now know that it is also responsible for much of the world’s ills. Burning coal releases upwards of 20 different toxins into the atmosphere including arsenic, lead, sulfur and half of the mercury emissions in the U.S. Because of mercury, that beautiful northern pike you reeled in? Consume with caution. Coal particulates annually cause about 1 million pre-mature deaths worldwide including 24,000 in the U.S. alone. And the CO2 released from coal is the primary contributor of human-generated climate warming.
True “friends of coal” would concede that coal is an out-moded 20th century fuel source making workers in that industry neither healthy nor wealthy. Transitioning to clean energy sources would both clear the air and help lift folks out of poverty as well.
The renewable energy sector provides an average of 12.6 jobs per $1 million invested compared to only about 10.6 jobs in the fossil fuel industry. Couple that with 14.6 jobs per $1 million to retrofit infrastructure for improved energy efficiency and Appalachian folks can relegate coal to history while they create lasting economic opportunity for a cleaner 21st century.
Vested interests want us to believe otherwise, but a cleaner energy future is at hand. Let’s hasten the transition on this, our only home, because we’re here forever…Earthbound.