On excess desire…

This poem from Wendell Berry’s Leavings collection has been particularly appropriate for me this past week both in our Black Friday celebration of consumption and in needing to be reminded of my own limits. We either live in the name of more, or we live in the name of God’s abundance and enough. And our societies’ future will rise and fall on this same awareness.

A man’s desire, overwhelming
as it may seem, is no greater
than that of the male chickadee
or the yellow-throated warbler
at his high ecstatic song, no smaller
than that of the bull elephant
or whale. And so we come,
whichever way we turn, to plentitude.
The fullness of a cup
equals that of the sea- unless the mind
conceive of more, longing for women
in disregard of the limit
of singularity, gluttonous beyond
hunger, greedy for money in excess
of goods, lusting for Heaven
in excess, not only of our worth
which would be most humbling,
but of any known human power
of delectation. And so the mind
grows a big belly, a sack full
of the thought of more, and the whole
structure of enough, of life itself,
which is never more nor less
than enough, falls in pieces.
In the name of more we destroy
for coal the mountain and its forest
and so choose the insatiable flame
over the green leaf that within our care
would return to us unendingly
until the end of time.

Robert Kennedy Jr on a sustainable future for our society…

I’m ashamed to admit that I knew nothing of Robert Kennedy Jr until about a month ago.  Not a single thing, to my great detriment.  By the way, he’s the guy on the left in the picture above, not the one on the right who cut his workers’ pay across the board last year while giving himself a several million dollar raise.

Since hearing Robert speak at a rally in Charleston, WV against mountaintop removal of coal (and specifically, FOR a sustainable future and jobs for Coal River Mountain, WV), where he absolutely gripped me with his moral and economic good sense, I’ve pursued getting to know him better.  Thankfully, there are a number of media outlets (thank God for independent media, especially! Literally, thank you God!) that carry his message and have provided a forum and a vehicle to speak good sense and a healthy future for our society.

I will be posting an extended quote of Robert’s below from a conversation on January 21st, 2010 with Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.  It is the most forward-thinking, clearly laid out perspective I’ve heard to this point of America’s energy future (for good or ill) and how we can put America’s innovative capabilities to work.  His comments take the general phrase “green economy” that we’ve all heard and know little specific about and offers specific solutions.

Simply put, Robert Kennedy Jr. has now joined the small list of voices I deeply trust to guide and shape my thinking as I live and interact in this society and world.  Here’s his extended comment,

China is going to increase its solar deployment by 2020 by 20,000%. We plan to increase ours by 37%. And understand this. If we don’t switch to renewables right now, and if this state doesn’t think about how to start switching right now, we’re going to be buying green energy technology from the Chinese for the next 100 years, the same way we’ve been buying oil from the Saudis for the last 100.

We need to get out ahead of this curve and start investing…and demand of our politicians, “Build the infrastructure in our states and start subsidizing infrastructures to compete with the huge subsidies we give to the carbon incumbents, to coal and oil.”

I’m in this industry. I’m building these plants right now. I’m on the board of a company called Bright Source, which is building the biggest solar thermal plant in the world. 2.7 gigawatts. The biggest power plant in America. We’re building it in CA, and we’re building it at the same cost per gigawatt you could build a coal plant…but once we build that plant, it’s free energy forever. Once you build the coal plant, we now have to cut down the Appalachian mountains and ship them across the country in coal cars, warp every train track in this country so we can’t have high-speed rail, build the coal haul roads in WV so thick (at taxpayer expense) that it’s costing this state $200 million a year to build and maintain them (another subsidy to coal), then you gotta burn the stuff, poison every river and lake in America, kill 60,000 Americans with ozone and particulates, cause a million asthma attacks a year, sterilize all the lakes in the Adirondacks. These are the true costs of coal. Once you build a solar plant, it’s free forever. The photons are hitting our country every day for free. All we have to do is pick them up.

You could build wind plants even cheaper than you can build a coal plant. And guess what? The Midwest of our country is the Saudi Arabia of wind. North Dakota is the windiest place on the planet. We have enough wind in North Dakota, Montana, and Texas to provide 100% of the energy needs in this country for the next 50 years.

We have enough solar in an area (and this is from the Scientific American (a peer-reviewed study) 75 miles by 75 miles in the desert southwest to provide 100% of the energy needs of this country even if every American owned an electric car. We use about a thousand gigawatts a day during peak demand. 500 of those are carbon. To eliminate those and replace them with solar and wind will cost us 1.3 trillion dollars. That’s about half the price of the Iraq war, we have free energy forever, we never have to give all that money to Iraq, and we don’t have to poison and impoverish the people of Appalachia in order to do it. This is a real solution for our country and we need to embrace it.”

That’s the best sense I’ve heard in a long time from anyone, and helps me wrap my mind around something specific rather than somewhat vague terms like “sustainability” or “green economy” that enable insidiously destructive corporations to deceive persons into believing they’re concerned about our larger society’s health.

A Charleston day…

In the lectionary today,
I read in Psalm 145.
It is a prayer of thankfulness.
It is a celebration of God’s character.

The author proclaims,
“The Lord is good to all,
he has compassion over all He has made.”

As I read this,
it seems the Lord is concerned for ALL the relationships he put into place.
Yes, the breath the human draws in and out.
Yes, the longings of the human, the dreams for success.

But also,
the trees that filter the air the human draws in and out.
The limestone that filters the water in deep underground streams.
The deer that stand,
in that stand of trees,
over there.
The water that flows, intended to provide life.

So God cares about the human,
but he also cares about
the tree,
the limestone,
the deer,
the streams.

Because they nurture the human, yes,
but even more, because He MADE them,
and CARES for them.

Today, we travel to Charleston to state:
“Massey Energy and other mountaintop removal cohorts.
Your actions are not reflective of a humble awareness of your Creator.

You are being judged as you swim in cash,
and unless you alter your industry,
you will be judged on a great and terrible day.
Embrace the sustainable future where you are merely a part of an ecosystem,
standing alone, destroying your neighbors in selfishness and greed.

The Iroquois remind us,
“In our every deliberation, we must,
we MUST consider the impact of our decisions
on the next seven generations.”

You can change, Massey.
You can govern with the leavening hand of justice and wisdom, EPA.
Join the compassionate call of your Creator.

An open letter on behalf of my brothers and sisters at Coal River Mountain

salazar jackson

I wrote this letter this morning to policy-makers as a part of my responsibility as a citizen to participate in our governance.  Massey Energy has begun blasting on Coal River Mountain, a furtherance of their immoral crusade to make a tremendous amount of money at the expense of the people of the Coal River area, the ecosystem, wise industrial policy, our society, and the world at large.

Ancient Jewish teachers often reminded us that the actions of one are intimately connected to us all through sayings like, “Those who save one life, save the world.”  In Massey’s case, it is, “Those who destroy one life, destroy the world.”  Help Massey emerge from their sickness through writing persons with the power to make this stop. Join me by clicking this link to access the form letter to send to the EPA, Office of the Interior, Army Corps of Engineers, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  Feel free to use some of the ways I personalized the letter so the recipients could know I care about specifics beyond the form letter.

Secs. Jackson and Salazar, Director Sutley, and the leadership of the Army Corps of Engineers,

I, and many friends, are writing to ask that you put a stop to mountaintop removal coal mining operations on Coal River Mountain in southern West Virginia, the area’s last mountain untouched by mountaintop removal.

The blasting not only threatens communities in the vicinity, it will also destroy a project that had rallied local residents as a prime opportunity to create permanent jobs and renewable energy. Coal River Mountain has enough wind potential to house a 328-megawatt wind farm. Every blast reduces the existing potential for clean energy, permanent jobs, and a stronger and more diverse regional economy.

President Obama spoke forcefully during his campaign of the deep need for us to invest in a sustainable future; both in energy generation (connected with energy independence) and, more generally, a way of doing industry that unites communities with good jobs and a more healthy environment over the long-term. It is a reminder that each of us is “our brother’s keeper.”

Furthermore, the blasting is occurring near the Brushy Fork slurry impoundment, which holds 8.2 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry. Should the blasting cause the impoundment to fail, nearby residents would have just minutes to evacuate before they were overtaken by a 50-foot wall of coal slurry that could cost more than 1,000 lives. Not only does blasting near this unlined impoundment increase the risk of failure, but it will almost certainly cause more of the toxic coal slurry to enter the groundwater. In nearby Prenter Hollow, dozens of residents have become ill from drinking water contaminated with coal slurry.

Mr. Salazar, Mrs. Sutley, and Mrs. Jackson specifically, you have the power to direct your agencies to work together to halt the blasting, defend the safety of the nation’s citizens, and preserve some of Appalachia’s most valuable resources. I anticipate at least hearing back from your offices to know this is a concern for you, because my brothers and sisters in West Virginia don’t have the luxury to wait this one out. “We the people” of the United States need policies that are forward-looking, sustainable, and wise in shaping the nation. Please step up to the plate on this issue.

Thank you,

Nathan Myers

My letter to Senators Voinovich and Brown

Our country is in desperate need of citizens who rise from the malaise of work and mindless television to play an active role in shaping the future of our society.  We are cynical, jaded people about the problems of the world primarily because we haven’t had a way modeled for us to find joy and meaning in working together for common goals that contribute to the common good. And when we have been riled up by perceived problems in the system, it’s primarily been led by buffoons like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and the like who don’t shape us to be wise citizens, but knee-jerk sheep obeying their command.  I’m struggling to leave that prior life of the cycle of work and distraction to contribute to my society in a meaningful way, and this is one way I’m working to shape our society..

The following is a simple letter I wrote to my Senators from Ohio.  The second half of the letter is a form letter set up by the ilovemountains staff, but the first half is my own construction. I’ve heard from groups that form letters, while better than nothing, have less effect because the congressmembers know you haven’t spent time to sit down and thoughtfully engage the issue at hand.  I am engaged, learning, and wanting to act.

Senators Voinovich and Brown,

My name is Nathan Myers, a relatively recent resident of Ohio, but already a proud one! I am writing you for two reasons.

First, and most important, there is a region in West Virginia known as Coal River Mountain which has become an area where big business, sustainable industry and energy, the needs of the common person, and environmental concern are smashing together to create a terrible situation. Big business, specifically Massey Energy, is concerned exclusively with the coal seams under the area that can feed their bottom line. This is their overriding concern. In terms of sustainable energy, this is a prime spot for a different form of energy generation for America’s future; a wind farm. In terms of the common citizen, the actions of Massey and other coal giants are shredding their way of life and utterly destroying the area for sustainable, healthy human habitations for centuries to come. And in terms of environmental concern, the destruction of these mountains, resulting coal dust, slurry impoundments, valley fill, and toxic chemicals and metals that will be released into the ecosystem, will have an effect not only on living things in the immediate area, but areas further down the watershed from Coal River Mountain.

Please stand up and be counted as a leader willing to combine a concern for industry with a concern for people and environmental issues.

Second, I am writing to ask you to become a co-sponsor of the Cardin-Alexander “Appalachian Restoration Act” (S 696). This bill is critical for protecting Appalachia’s waters from being polluted and buried by waste created during mountaintop removal coal mining.

Mountaintop removal mining involves clear-cutting native hardwood forests, blowing up entire mountaintops, and dumping millions of tons of debris into nearby streams in order to get at coal seams that lie deep beneath the surface. Already, more than 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been destroyed by mountaintop removal mining operations. For 25 years, the Clean Water Act (CWA) allowed for the granting of permits to place “fill material” into waters of the United States, provided that the primary purpose of the “filling” was not for waste disposal. As such, the CWA prohibited mountaintop removal operations from using the nation’s waterways as waste disposal sites. That changed in 2002, when the Army Corps of Engineers, under the direction of the Bush administration and without congressional approval, altered its longstanding definition of “fill material” to include mining waste. This change accelerated the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining and the destruction of more than 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams.

To stop this devastation of the nation’s waterways, Senators Cardin (D-MD) and Alexander (R-TN) have introduced the Appalachia Restoration Act (S 696)—a simple piece of legislation that restores the original intent of the Clean Water Act to clarify that mountaintop removal mining waste can not be dumped into streams. Passing this legislation would help end the destruction of the Appalachian Mountains, home to our nation’s most diverse forests and streams, the headwaters of the drinking water supply of many eastern cities, and a unique and valuable American culture that has endured for generations. Please sponsor the Appalachia Restoration Act (S 696). Thank you for your attention to this important issue.


Cincinnati resident Nathan Myers

Save America’s most endangered mountain

A call to action from the good people at http://www.ilovemountains.org/ .  Please at least read to understand their perspective, let it affect you, and if you feel comfortable, take action through calling or emailing your elected representative.  I share this information not as a disinterested individual, but as a Christian obeying the command to care for God’s creation.  The situation is dire.  As Will Samson writes in his book Enough:  Contentment in an Age of Excess,

“Men and women are stuck with a coal economy that is devastating their job base and leaving little hope for their future.  Children are leaving Appalachia in record numbers, crushing families, some of whom have lived in that area for more than two hundred years.  Throughout the coal-mining areas of Appalachia, in almost biblical proportions, neighbor is pitted against neighbor, friend against friend (Isaiah 19:2).  One family fights to preserve ancestral lands from being take and blown up to get at the coal seams below, while another enjoys ATVs and a new widescreen TV.”  (36)

Massey Energy has begun blasting on Coal River Mountain in southern West Virginia. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has stated that the mining operation on the mountain is “actively moving coal.” Workers have been seen moving heavy equipment up to the mining zones, and blasting and plumes of smoke were seen and heard near the Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment.

he Brushy Fork impoundment is an enormous retention pond holding 8.2 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry waste. If the impoundment were to fail due to the blasting, hundreds of lives will be lost and thousands more will be in jeopardy from an enormous slurry flood.

A 2006 study confirmed that Coal River Mountain—the highest peaks ever slated for mining in the state—is an ideal location for developing utility-scale wind power. Local residents have rallied around this proposal as a symbol of hope, a promise of a new and cleaner energy future, but that hope may be destroyed unless quick and decisive action is taken right now.

Please take action today to communicate with Secretary Salazar, Secretary Jackson, and the Office of Public Affairs your concern.

6,000 Acres To Be Destroyed

Massey’s plans for the mountaintop removal operation would destroy over 6,000 acres of Coal River Mountain and create 18 different valley fills, devastating the Clear Fork watershed. Over 10 square miles of the most bio-diverse ecosystem in the United States will be destroyed forever, affecting the lives of the local residents by destroying their homeland and polluting their air and water.

Wind on Coal River

A wind assessment study conducted by Coal River Mountain Watch and Downstream Stategies revealed that Coal River Mountain has enough wind potential to provide electricity for over 150,000 homes and create stable, well-paying jobs—forever.

The proposed wind farm would help diversify the local economy in an area historically dependent upon sparse, temporary coal mining jobs, pumping $20 million per year in direct local spending during construction and $2 million per year thereafter. Destroying the mountain will also be destroying one of the best wind power sites in West Virginia.

This opportunity, however, depends upon the mountain being left intact. If blasting continues on Coal River Mountain, the wind potential—and the jobs—will be lost forever.

And thank you for helping to preserve Coal River Mountain for generations to come.

Contact your district Representative.   Contact your Senator.

And if your Senator is Mitch McConnell, tell him to stop whoring himself out to Big Coal. It’s unsightly to see supposed leaders be such a puppet and lapdog of big business  (Nathan’s words here, not the folks at ilovemountains).