While recent headlines hastily declare the death of King Coal, a powerful new documentary based on seven years of investigation poignantly captures the complexities and largely overlooked stories of the enduring trauma of the coal industry on miners, their families, affected neighbors and the ravaged communities and Appalachian mountains they call home.
As one of the most timely, poetic and informed film documentaries released this year, Overburden: Two Women and the Mountain Between Them, chronicles a quintessential American journey—and the tragedy of lawlessness in the workplace and the environment—of two courageous women, formerly divided, who shed their fears and find common ground to begin the painful process of dealing with their grief, seeking terms of justice, and healing their damaged communities and mountains.
"We've all become family," Betty, a once fervent pro-coal supporter tells Lorelei, a coal miner's widow and vocal mountaintop removal mining organizer, in the film. "Don Blankenship has put us together," she adds, referring to the notorious former Massey Energy CEO. Recognizing the loss of Betty's brother in the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster, as well as her own suffering, Lorelei responds: "Too high of a price to pay, though."
As featured in Overburden—a chilling mining term that refers to the overlying rock and soil displaced, like besieged residents and miners, to reach underground coal resources—these two former adversaries will stand together when Blankenship finally goes on trial on Oct. 1 in Charleston, West Virginia, for charges of conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards relating to the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, which took 29 lives.
To be sure, Lorelei and Betty will not only stand together in solidarity for mine safety and economic diversification.
"There's a desperate need for healing in the community," Lorelei says, in one of the most poignant moments in the film, as she packs up her belongings to move away.
Healing between families, communities, and the plundered mountains in central Appalachia—and in so many other strip-mined communities in southern Illinois, Wyoming and Montana, and on Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Navajo and other indigenous lands.
Embedded for years in West Virginia, Overburden director and University of North Carolina professor Chad Stevens is not only one of the most talented filmmakers of his generation, but one of its best storytellers, who has done the tedious and indefatigable work behind the scenes to gain the trust of bitterly divided and traumatized communities, and allow his characters to speak for themselves and recount the process of such healing unfolding today. Stevens brilliantly balances the beauty of families and the mountains, amid the tension of its conflicts and demise; his footage of a bear cub, aimlessly wandering to the edge of a massive strip mine, in search of its mother, is singular in its power.
There are a lot of important film documentaries on mountaintop removal mining—a strip mining process that has literally detonated untold millions of tons of explosives to blow up the tops of more than 500 mountains and shovel up the coal with machines over the past half century. In the tradition of the Oscar-winning film documentary Harlan County, Overburden Stevens effectively transcends the "war on coal" political banter by capturing the human stories behind the daily operations of one of our nation's most misunderstood, complicated and devastating sources of energy.
Photo credit: Chad Stevens, courtesy of Overburden film
The portrait of Lorelei dispels many of the stereotypes of so-called "tree huggers" working to hold the coal industry and its sycophantic politicians accountable to various water and mining regulations. The widow of a miner who died from black lung disease, with a son-in-law in the mines, Lorelei joins a young community organizer, Rory McIlmoil, in a Coal River Mountain campaign for wind energy in an effort to draw attention for more sustainable economic development in the region. When a mining company launches its strip mining operations on Coal River Mountain, Lorelei travels to Washington as a representative of the affected residents, appealing to the Obama administration's "power to intervene."
Taking the viewer on a rare glimpse into the pro-coal circles, Betty is a matter-of-fact narrator who declares "coal is life here," and proudly posts a "Friends of Coal" sign. When the violation-ridden Upper Big Branch mine explodes in 2010, taking her brother's life in the process, Betty comes to the realization that "Massey Energy murdered my brother."
Joining efforts with Lorelei in an effort to revoke Massey's corporate charter, Betty sums up the reality of both miners and all communities affected by reckless mining: "If we don't stand up and fight, who's going to?"
Years in the making, Overburden is ultimately an extraordinary story of transformation; of two brave women who recognize their fates no longer need to be divided by outside forces that have controlled the region for over a century through fear, deprivation and outright violence, and take action for a more viable future.
With Blankenship's historic indictment—the first coal baron to be brought to trial for conspiracy charges in decades—Overburden should be required viewing for President Obama, Congress and anyone who has ever depended on coal-fired electricity.
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A massive iceberg is towering over a Newfoundland town, as climate change continues to cause dramatic and spectacular events.
The giant iceberg near Ferryland, Canada has created quite a stir and even caused traffic jams as locals stop to take pictures.
Icebergs commonly appear off the coast of Ferryland—in fact, this area called "Iceberg Alley" is famous for iceberg tours that start in May. However, this particular iceberg is unusual for its mammoth size and early appearance.
The Canadian Ice Service classified the iceberg as "large," their second largest category that includes heights of 151-240 feet and lengths of 401-670 feet.
According to Gabrielle McGrath, commander of the United States Coast Guard International Ice Patrol, 616 icebergs have already moved down the North Atlantic this year, while last year, 687 were counted by late September.
"When you look at the iceberg chart, it's truly incredible," Rebecca Acton-Bond, acting superintendent of ice operations with the Canadian Coast Guard, told CBC News.
"Usually, you don't see these numbers until the end of May or June. So the amount of icebergs that we're seeing right now, it really is quite something."
This rare climate event is only one of several reported this month. Scientists discovered a giant waterfall forming in Antarctica and an entire river in Canada's Yukon territory suddenly and unexpectedly changing direction.
Awarded annually to environmental heroes from each of the world's six inhabited continental regions, the Goldman Prize recognizes grassroots activists for significant achievement to protect the environment and their communities.
The winners will be awarded the prize at an invitation-only ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the San Francisco Opera House (this event will be live streamed online). A ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC will follow on April 26.
This year's winners are:
Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, Democratic Republic of Congo
Putting his life on the line, Rodrigue Katembo went undercover to document and release information about bribery and corruption in the quest to drill for oil in Virunga National Park, resulting in public outrage that forced the company to withdraw from the project.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Prafulla Samantara, India
An iconic leader of social justice movements in India, Prafulla Samantara led a historic 12-year legal battle that affirmed the indigenous Dongria Kondh's land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminum ore mine.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Uroš Macerl, Slovenia
Uroš Macerl, an organic farmer from Slovenia, successfully stopped a cement kiln from co-incinerating petcoke with hazardous industrial waste by rallying legal support from fellow activists and leveraging his status as the only citizen allowed to challenge the plant's permits.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Wendy Bowman, Australia
In the midst of an onslaught of coal development in Australia, octogenarian Wendy Bowman stopped a powerful multinational mining company from taking her family farm and protected her community in Hunter Valley from further pollution and environmental destruction.
Goldman Environmental Prize
mark! Lopez, United States
Born and raised in a family of community activists, mark! Lopez persuaded the state of California to provide comprehensive lead testing and cleanup of East Los Angeles homes contaminated by a battery smelter that had polluted the community for over three decades.
Goldman Environmental Prize
Rodrigo Tot, Guatemala
An indigenous leader in Guatemala's Agua Caliente, Rodrigo Tot led his community to a landmark court decision that ordered the government to issue land titles to the Q'eqchi people and kept environmentally destructive nickel mining from expanding into his community.
Goldman Environmental Prize
By Lauren McCauley
The amount of carbon in the Earth's atmosphere is now officially off the charts as the planet last week breached the 410 parts per million (ppm) milestone for the first time in human history.
"It's a new atmosphere that humanity will have to contend with, one that's trapping more heat and causing the climate to change at a quickening rate," wrote Climate Central's Brian Kahn. "Carbon dioxide hasn't reached that height in millions of years."
The milestone was recorded Tuesday at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii by the Keeling Curve, a program of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego. Since the planet reached the dangerous new normal of 400 ppm last year, scientists have warned that that the accelerated rate at which concentrations of CO2 are rising means that humanity is marching further and further past the symbolic red line towards climate chaos.
What's more, as Aarne Granlund, a graduate student researching climate change at the University of the Arctic, pointed out, the recording was taken before carbon levels are expected to reach their annual peak, meaning they could soon notch even higher.
But despite the unprecedented threat, climate action has ground to a halt in the U.S. under the leadership of President Donald Trump and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, forcing campaigners and concerned citizens to take to the streets in droves to prompt the government to do something to address the threat of planetary devastation.
Saturday's March for Science saw tens of thousands of people rally in Washington, DC and across the world to send a message to the Trump administration that governance should be based on research and facts—not ideology.
Speaking at the march in San Diego, Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 program at Scripps whose father founded the Keeling Curve, gave an impassioned speech on why legislators need to abandon the partisan effort to stymie environmental legislation, declaring: "The climate change debate has been over for decades."
Now, infused by the energy of the March for Science, campaigners are gearing up for next weekend's Peoples Climate March with a week of action that centers on creating a just transition away from fossil fuels.
"The Peoples Climate March is the next step for the March for Science, a call to get more engaged in our political system, to confront power and to demand solutions," explained May Boeve, executive director of 350.org.
"The demands we will put forward—respect for Indigenous peoples, investments in communities on the front lines of the climate crisis, transitioning from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean energy economy that works for all and more," Boeve continued, "highlight the intersections between our different struggles and the common solutions we can work for together."
Dubbed "From Truth to Justice: Earth Day to May Day 2017," the more than 50 events in the lead-up to Saturday will include strategy sessions, a massive youth convergence, the introduction of a 100 percent Clean Energy Bill in Congress and non-violent direct actions.
On Friday, activists will form "Mother Earth's red line" on the Capitol lawn to symbolize the multiple lines that must not be crossed by corporations and governments in the increasingly severe climate crisis, organizers said.
"This is about strength in unity; diverse groups of people are coming together like never before and are creating a red line of protection against capitalism, militarism and racism," said Kandi Mossett, Indigenous energy and climate campaign organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the group's organizing the direct action. "We are here to push for solutions like Indigenous rights, divestment and renewable energy as we continue to fight for a just transition away from a fossil fuel based economy."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
According to Business Insider, each pair uses an average of 11 plastic bottles and incorporates recycled plastic into the shoe's laces, heel webbing, heel lining and sock liner covers.
"The new additions to the adidas x Parley collection are another step in our journey to creating one million pairs of Ultraboost from up-cycled marine plastic," said Mathias Amm, a product category director at adidas.
The new, ocean-inspired sneakers will be available in-store and online May 10.
Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans—a team of artists, musicians, actors, directors, fashion designers, journalists, architects, product inventors and scientists addressing major threats to the world's oceans— to develop materials made from ocean plastic waste to use in its products starting in 2016. Last November, adidas and Parley rolled out 7,000 pairs of its 3D-printed shoes made from recycled ocean plastics.
To ramp up its commitment to sustainability, adidas phased out plastic bags in its 2,900 retail stores around the world, saving 70 million plastic shopping bags by switching to paper bags in its stores.
EcoWatch has extensively covered the devastating global issue of ocean plastic, which is a major threat to marine life, marine ecosystems and our own health. A staggering 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans every year.
Tens of thousands of people celebrated Earth Day Saturday by taking to the streets in a historic day of action for science and truth. A massive March for Science took place in Washington, DC, and more than 600 sister marches took place in other cities around the world.
"We are marching today to remind people everywhere, our lawmakers especially, of the significance of science for our health and our prosperity," Bill Nye, honorary co-chair of the March for Science, told the crowd in DC.
Saturday's March for Science was the perfect launching pad to a week of action that will culminate in the Peoples Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29. As Ploy Achakulwisut, PhD Candidate in Atmospheric Science at Harvard University, put it, "the Science March is about respecting science, the People's Climate March is about acting on it."
The week of action, dubbed "From Truth to Justice: Earth Day to May Day 2017," will feature more than 50 events, including the launch of visionary clean energy legislation, a speak-out of the 21 young people suing the U.S. government, massive youth convergence, direct actions and more.
"Scientists have not been eager to get politically involved, but in the face of unceasing attacks and organized denial, they're putting their credibility to good use," Bill McKibben, 350.org co-founder, said. "Now the rest of us can back them up next weekend when everyone gets to march!"
May Boeve, 350.org executive director, shared the same sentiment.
"The Peoples Climate March is the next step for the March for Science: a call to get more engaged in our political system, to confront power and to demand solutions," she said.
"The demands we will put forward—respect for Indigenous peoples, investments in communities on the front lines of the climate crisis, transitioning from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean energy economy that works for all, and more—highlight the intersections between our different struggles, and the common solutions we can work for together."
In addition to the march in DC this weekend, there will be hundreds of sister marches in cities across the globe.
Check out these amazing tweets from the March for Science:
Opendata.epa.gov—the U.S. government's largest civilian-linked data service, storing crucial information on climate change, life cycle assessment, health impact analysis and environmental justice—could face shut-down this Friday, according to people familiar with the plan.
"Last week, after numerous conversations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Information (OEI), and various technical contractors who support them, we were notified that funding is not available to continue operation U.S. EPA's flagship Open Data Web service," wrote open data scientist Bernadette Hyland—the CEO and co-founder of 3 Round Stones, a platform for publishing data on the web—in a Medium post on Sunday.
A screenshot taken from the site this morning around 7:50 a.m. shows a popup announcing the Friday shutdown.
Hyland noted in her post that the U.S. EPA Open Data Service website, which has been publicly available since 2016, provides human- and machine-readable information for more than 4 million EPA-regulated facilities, from dry cleaners to nuclear power plants. The critical service contains linked open data on 30 years of toxic releases into the environment maintained by the EPA Toxics Release Inventory Program, she wrote.
Hyland detailed how the EPA contacted her Fredericksburg, Virginia-based company and said, "We need to be ready to turn-off the EPA Open Data web service by noon on April 28, 2017—the last day of the current continuing resolution. If Congress does not pass a budget, we will be facing a government shutdown and won't be able to give technical direction to continue any work."
Reports of the EPA Open Data web service going dark spread wide Monday morning, prompting online backlash and efforts to quickly copy the data.
As the Independent explained, if the site were to shut down, this means that "citizens will no longer be able to access information on their environment and climate, keeping them from researching potentially fatal changes to their area."
It is well known that President Trump's administration has been wiping Obama-era climate initiatives off the Internet. Rex Tillerson's State Department has scrubbed from its websites the mention of President Obama's Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution and other efforts on fighting climate change.
And it emerged last week that Rick Perry's Department of Energy has significantly altered its websites on renewable energy, removing references on how clean energy technologies can reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels and help lower climate-changing emissions.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the president will sign new executive orders this week, including two on energy and the environment to make it easier for the U.S. to develop energy on and offshore.
Following a four-month battle for his life, Chris Linaman committed to sharing his story to help raise awareness about the growing threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As executive chef at a large medical center, he is also driving change at an institutional level, harnessing his purchasing power to support the responsible use of antibiotics in food animals.
Linaman is the recipient of the "Sustainable Food Procurement Award" by Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition committed to environmentally responsible health care. As part of Pew's Supermoms Against Superbugs initiative, Linaman recently met with policymakers in Washington, urging them to maintain sufficient funding for efforts that are critical to combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which has become a public health crisis. He spoke with Pew about his illness and his advocacy.
Chris Linaman. © The Pew Charitable Trusts
Q: Can you tell us about your MRSA infection and how it affected you and your family?
A: My nightmare started as a basketball injury. I'd had a successful ACL surgery and several weeks into my recovery was doing great and thought my incision was fully healed. But that all changed very quickly. After a weekend trip to visit friends, I went to sleep on a Sunday night feeling fine and woke up Monday morning to find my knee had swollen to the size of a melon. It was bright red and hot to the touch. Within hours, my MRSA infection had been diagnosed and I was in emergency surgery—the first of several surgeries I would need over the course of four days.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of my struggle to survive MRSA.
Just a few days after being sent home from the hospital, my wife found me nearly unconscious, with a swollen face and a temperature of 105 degrees. She rushed me back to the hospital and the doctors told her to begin making plans because they didn't expect me to make it. Luckily, the spinal tap showed the infection had not yet gotten to my brain. But I needed to have even more surgeries to get rid of it and I also lost my epidermis—the outer layer of my skin—over my entire body, due to an allergic reaction to the antibiotic they were using to treat me.
Ultimately, the doctors were able to get the infection under control within a few weeks, but the road to recovery was long and painful. Even after my infection was cleared and I was out of the hospital, my body was still reeling from all it had been through. My leg muscles were wrecked from all of the surgeries and it took extensive physical therapy to get me back to anything resembling normal. To help put it in perspective, my original ACL surgery had been in early May and it wasn't until mid-July that I was even able to walk around the block in my neighborhood, a feat that took more than an hour.
Beyond the physical trauma, the whole ordeal also nearly ruined our family financially and it was emotionally devastating as well. At the time, our two kids were just 2 and 4 years old and they didn't understand what was going on. It still breaks my heart to think about it. Those were the darkest days of my life and, honestly, it's hard to believe that I'm still here.
Q: Why do you think it's so important for superbug survivors to share their stories?
A: I don't think enough people realize the extent of what's at stake. People have maybe heard the term "post-antibiotic" era but don't really understand what that could mean to them and their families. While it's still very difficult for me to talk about—even today, more than 10 years later—sharing my experience can help show what that future could look like if we don't keep up the fight and do what we can today. As horrible as my MRSA infection was, I'm the "good" outcome—I survived. Way too many others have not.
Q: Why do you advocate for the responsible use of antibiotics in food animals and how have you brought that advocacy to life in your work?
A: It's absolutely essential that we have effective antibiotics available when people need them. I know this firsthand and I want to make sure that my kids never live in a world where there are no antibiotics to help them. So we need to do anything and everything we can to conserve these lifesaving drugs so that they work when they're needed—that includes making sure antibiotics are used appropriately and only when necessary—both in people and in animals.
Shortly after I recovered from my MRSA infection, I began working as the executive chef at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue, Washington and in that role I created a procurement policy for the center that prioritizes bringing healthy food to our community and gives preference to food producers who are working to reduce antibiotic use. That policy has really been the foundation for driving significant increases in the proportion of responsibly raised food we're able to source. We've gone from approximately 19 percent of our proteins being classified as "reduced antibiotic use" in 2012, up to 80 percent in 2016. And during this same time, I've seen the market for responsibly raised meats evolve as well. It's been increasingly easier and less expensive to find these types of proteins and that's part of what's made our dramatic shift at Overlake possible. It's not just small and local famers offering these types of products anymore, it's also producers on a larger scale and that's encouraging.
Q: What can individuals do to support the responsible use of antibiotics in animal agriculture?
A: Everyone can do something. As patients, we can talk to our doctors about whether an antibiotic is necessary. When it comes to reducing antibiotic use in food animals, we can all commit to doing our research and being mindful shoppers who choose to purchase products from farmers and companies that are committed to minimizing antibiotic use. Consumer demand for responsibly raised food has been a powerful force for change in recent years and together we can make sure that demand continues to grow and make a real difference.
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