What in the world is wrong with us?! A New Year’s Eve Message

Posted December 30th, 2008 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

[Warning: this post is a bit on the long side.  But please read on through, email it to friends and networks, copy it and share it in discussion and reflection groups.  We have got to relearn how to live on this precious planet!]

I am preoccupied now with two stories.  I was going to write one more time about the fallacy of ‘clean coal’ in light of the TVA disaster in Tennessee.  But then I saw a story on the Jim Lehrer News Hour last night and was so disturbed and moved by it that I could not decide how to focus this post.  Then I found the common thread:

–what we are doing to this planet is a grievous offense, a type of violence that boggles the mind as we destroy, unravel, poison, the very fabric of life; and what many of our fellow human beings are suffering because of that ought to shock our consciences into action.

It is time for a little solidarity, friends — with Nature and with the human beings with whom we live within this fabric.


“Clean coal,” one of the most fantastic oxymorons ever invented.  Why?  Here’s one example of the vast literature on the subject: What a load: ‘Clean’ Coal? Don’t Try to Shovel That, by Jeff Biggers.

Now we have this monumental disaster in Tennessee.  Here’s a great synopsis from the NY Times of how the Tennessee Valley Authority poisoned 300 acres of land, ground water, rivers and streams, and destroyed the lives of many human beings living around the Kingston Fossil Plant.  They piled on this disaster by first lying about how much coal sludge had burst through the pathetic earthen dam, then by telling local residents that the water is safe (high levels of arsenic are being discovered, among other things), then telling them that it will all be cleaned up in 6-8 weeks.

Ilovemountains.org has it right, this is the Exxon Valdez of Tennessee, but far worse: the Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters off Alaska.  The TVA’s dump totals more than ONE BILLION GALLONS of coal ash.  For the best reporting, with photos and all, visit the ilovemountains.org website — and weep.

As the Times reports:

…in just one year, the plant’s byproducts included 45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese. Those metals can cause cancer, liver damage and neurological complications, among other health problems. And the holding pond, at the Kingston Fossil Plant, a T.V.A. plant 40 miles west of Knoxville, contained many decades’ worth of these deposits.

Now we’re supposed to believe that this is not a monumental disaster and profound health threat for the people living around this spill.  And, friends, there is simply more bad news.  There are hundreds and hundreds of these coal ash  or slurry ponds all over the coal mining regions of the east, all over the Appalachian Mountains where mountaintopping takes place.  And our precious government, that loves the coal industry far more than human beings or the Earth, does not require these ponds to be lined or in anyway reinforced.  Most of them are held back, as the one in Tennessee, by mere earthen dams.

And then it rains.  Oops, we’re sorry.

For the human side of things, view this video from one local resident who just had his life turned up-side-down (if the video does not appear, click here):

See, this is the thing.  The folks that live in these places seem far, far away from the electricity that comes into our house.   But these disasters are happening every day in various ways — mountains blown to pieces, the detritus dumped into streams and valleys, people in these communities ending up with high levels of cancer and other diseases, and all of this largely invisible to us until a disaster like this one.

We are compelled by our planetary crisis, by the enormity of the damage being done, and by the moral weight of the lives affected, to move as quickly as possible away from coal as a source of energy. Our voices must grow to be stronger than that of ‘Big Coal,’ stronger than the fossil fuel lobbyists, impossible to ignore.  The coal industry and most of our politicians are betting that we will choose not to be inconvenienced, not to pay higher prices and taxes, not to change our lifestyles for the sake of our forests, mountains, human and other living beings.  We must prove them wrong.


That’s what I was going to write about, then I saw this story on the Jim Lehrer News Hour last night:

Villages Facing Extinction From Climate Change (9-min. video)

This is the story of how global warming is threatening the island communities of Shishmaref off the Alaska Coast.  These communities are being inundated as melting ice sheets are causing sea levels to rise and storms to crash ashore tearing at the coastline and breaking it apart.  It is inevitable that many of these communities will need to be relocated threatening the end of their way of life, their culture and identity.

But an essential point is made in this video: these communities are not responsible for what is happening to them. Federal policies towards indigenous communities along with climate change caused by US, YOU and ME, are responsible.  Industrial, post-industrial, consumer society is responsible.  Who should pay?  We should.  Should we pay for the most expensive alternative, to relocate in a way that keeps these communities and cultures intact?  Absolutely.  This is a basic human rights issues.  Who must bear the onus of responsibility for curbing the greenhouse gasses leading to these disasters?  The ones who spew the most of them.

Once again, there are human beings involved here.  For too long the developed world has thought it fine to keep on developing at the cost of so-called ‘marginal’ communities in the way of our progress.  Global climate disruption is forcing us to see our approach to the planet as no longer tolerable from two rather important vantage points — our survival and our moral character.

I don’t want my way of life to cause this much suffering and destruction.  I want to find a way to go through this transition to a new way of life with the minimum cost to the planet and my sisters and brothers in places like Appalachia and Shishmaref — and Tuvalu and Bangladesh and the Horn of Africa and…

As we come to the end of this year, we can make a pledge right here and now.  For the past 8 years, the fossil fuel industry has been running our government.  It is up to us now to break with this woeful legacy.  But, as we have said so often, hope does not come with a mere taking of an oath on Jan. 20.  It is time to get involved in whatever way we can to alter the culture of this nation towards one that cherishes the Earth and all the creatures that live on it, not least of all our human brothers and sisters.

Blessings of life and hope in the New Year!


Photo credits:

TVA disaster, both photos, christopherscottirwin
Shishmaref photo from The Nome Nugget, found at: Arctic Change, NOAA


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2 Responses

  1. D.Bheemeswar

    This is very pathetic, inspite of having so many spiritual leaders, yet we are having pricing our own lives for the want of materialistic comforts. Each and everybody wants more and more of these materials like money, women, power of the chair, this all due to the fat humans have brain, we are not using it in the right direction. Society has been totally distroyed at the cost of humanity, by distructing it by the feelings of race, religion, and region. Science is for good of humans and not for distroying it and breaking the social structures. Technology is for moving forward the entire society and not just for one’s comforts.
    “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” – Hans Hofmann

    “Who is rich? He who rejoices in his portion.” – The Talmud

    There are enough cotes to show that what we should do and not by various scholars including spiritual discources by eminent persons. Still we are after the people who are in chair to get material benefits only for us, which is human tendency. We have to come out of it and also the world leaders should understand the gravity of this situation and take appropriate steps to avoid complicating the environment and reducing both mental and ecological pollution, for reducing this sort of distruction of nature.

  2. Steven Earl Salmony

    Resolution for 2009: SPEAK OUT loudly, clearly and often

    Dear Friends,

    In calling for change in our time, great scientists are speaking about what could somehow be true to wealthy and powerful people who prefer that the “business as usual” status quo be maintained. Industrial/big business powerbrokers and their bought-and-paid-for politicians want to keep things going along just as they are going now, come what may for the children and coming generations, for life as we know it, for the integrity of Earth and its environs.

    Many voices are needed to support “voices in the wilderness” like those of Jim Hansen and John Holdren, exemplary scientists who have been willing to speak truth to those with the power to make the kinds of necessary change that make belief in a good enough future at least a possibility. Assuring a chance of a good future for the children and for life as we know it is an achievable goal that will lead us to overcome the arrogance and avarice of many too many leaders of my “Not So GREAT GREED GRAB Generation” of elders.

    If too many leaders of the family of humanity choose to keep doing precisely the things they are advocating and doing now, and if we in the human community keep getting what we are getting now, then it appears a sustainable world for our children cannot be achieved. By so doing, the limited resources of Earth will be permanently dissipated, its biodiversity massively extirpated, its environment irreversibly degraded and life as we know it recklessly endangered. The current gigantic scale and anticipated growth of per-capita overconsumption of limited resources, global production and distribution capabilities, and absolute human population numbers worldwide are simply, clearly and patently unsustainable, even to the year 2050. Given Earth’s limitations as a relatively small, evidently finite and noticeably frangible planet, the projected increases in these currently unbridled consumption, production and propagation activities of the human species could soon lead the human family to come face to face with some sort of colossal ecological wreckage.

    Now is the time to speak out loudly, clearly and often about what is true for you. Forget about political correctness and convenience. Let go of economic expediency and greediness. Embrace necessary change rather than waste another day preserving the selfish interests of the small group of rich and powerful people, and their many minions, all of whom are adamantly and relentlessly defending an unsustainable, same old “business as usual” status quo.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001