THE THROWAWAY PEOPLE- Resources for Eco-Awareness

Nick Clooney, in the foreword to Coal Country: Rising Up Against Mountaintop Removal Mining (Sierra Club Books, $25.95), a companion book to Sierra Club’s new feature-length documentary, remarks that his Irish immigrant ancestors moved to Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountain region in part because “it had a hundred shades of green.” It’s a striking image to bear in mind as one delves into the rest of Coal Country’s stories—how that lush, green land has turned to black—as has the now polluted air and the once-clear-running streams. Coal’s dark legacy in Appalachia—outlined in the introduction by Shirley Stewart Burns—began in the 1700s, when an abundance of coal was needed to fuel America’s industrial revolution. By the 1880s, coal extraction became the main occupation in the Appalachian region, and the workers, often immigrants who were treated like indentured servants, lost their agrarian lifestyle and their independence. “The worker frequently had no say in his own destiny because the company controlled everything,” Burns writes, including the towns, the stores and the homes. So the region became dependent on coal, even as coal companies designed ways to do without them. First came strip mining, and then mountaintop removal mining, in which “the tops of ancient mountains are systemically decapitated and dumped into nearby mountain valleys and headwater streams.”

What comes up in this book’s many personal accounts, from country stars Loretta Lynn and Kathy Mattea (whose latest album is called “Coal”), to environmental professor and author David Orr, to the many residents-turned-activists living in Appalachia, is not just the steady, horrific destruction of majestic mountains and thousands of miles of streams, but the turning of an entire community into a virtual wasteland while the rest of the country looks the other way. “This country was founded by men and women who rebelled against oppression,” writes Teri Blanton, one such unexpected activist, in the essay “One Small Voice.” “It’s ironic that we, as a people, can somehow justify oppressing the people of Appalachia to destroy a landscape and a culture, all in the name of cheap energy.”

There are many stories of idyllic childhoods spent hiking the Appalachian hills, foraging for huckleberries, riding horses, catching frogs. A time when, as John Roark writes in “Lives on the Line,” “This was the most beautiful part of the world.” Now, without the mountains to protect them, their homes are flooding, their water and air has turned poisonous, their wells have dried up, their children have been killed by coal trucks, and they spend day after day listening to the blasting and breathing the dust. Vivid before-and-after photos capture the beauty that’s been lost. Sam Gilbert writes, “What they consider us to be is throwaway people.” And he’s not just talking about the coal companies. These stories are essential, and should evoke outrage that we have allowed such exploitation—of our land and our people—for so long. —Brita Belli

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3 Responses to THE THROWAWAY PEOPLE- Resources for Eco-Awareness

  1. Mike Garrity says:

    I am glad that someone else is using the term “throwaway people”–it seems that this nation has long accepted that many of its citizen’s are “throwaway people.”

    Certainly Appalachian people are among that list, along with those who live in urban “ghettos” and now—–those who live along the Gulf Coast.

    While it sure seems that most of the people who lived in places like New Orleans’ 9th Ward and other parts of the NOLA area fall into that category- so do those who live in the other places hit hard by hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.

    You have to ask—-are we really such a great country that we so readily accept that many pockets of our country are inhabitated by “throw away people?”

  2. Randall Maggard says:

    Boy ,I wish Mari-Lynn had of told me her film that she was working on and was wanting my participation was going to be marketed as Sierra Club’s new feature length documentary. Was I ever duped…. I know I signed that release just like all those people did in that ” BORAT ” film.
    I now know that I won’t be signing any more releases and TRUSTING filmmakers again.
    She referred me to her previous work on the “Appalachians” and how the film was not going to promote an ” agenda “….was I ever misled.
    Any comments Mari-Lynn?????

    (aka Randall Maggard…the token coal guy )

  3. Randall Maggard says:

    I never did receive any copies of the film ” Coal Country “. You know the ” unedited version “. Are the students at the school in New York City going to see the entire film or just the edited version?
    Do you still have my address? I’m still waiting…..

    aka token coal guy

    I would like to have at least a copy to put on the shelf next to the “Appalachians”……for comparison purposes.

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