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A Thousand Little Cuts in Appalachia

Insights + Opinion
A Thousand Little Cuts in Appalachia

Jeff Biggers

Six Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers are joining ranks with dozens of other legendary artists to support acclaimed filmmaker Chad Stevens, as part of a unique online auction to raise funds for his forthcoming film on mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, A Thousand Little Cuts.

Proceeds from the online print auction, featuring signed prints by contemporary photography giants like Ed Kashi, David LaBelle, Carolyn Cole, Stephanie Sinclair, Liz O. Baylen and Bob Sacha, will be donated to the final production phase for Stevens’ long-awaited six-year documentary project exploring the grassroots movement to stop mountaintop removal strip mining on Coal River Mountain in West Virginia, ground zero for one of the most egregious environmental and human rights violations in our times.

In truth, Coal River Mountain in West Virginia is not simply the most important symbol in the climate change and clean energy debate; it has emerged as the pivotal frontlines in one of the most inspiring and transformative movements for social and environmental justice in the nation. Faced with a devastating 6,600-acre mountaintop removal operation across their historic range, residents along the Coal River Valley have fought for years to galvanize a national campaign of coal mining families, teachers and students, citizens groups, business people and environmentalists, to move toward a just transition to clean energy alternatives that would sustain their land and community.

No one has had a better view of this unfolding historical drama in the Coal River Valley than Chad Stevens. One of the most talented photographers and documentary filmmakers of his generation, the Alfred I. duPont Award-winning Kentucky native has not only taken the level of artistic and journalistic inquiry to a new level; his extraordinary vision, cultural insights and investigative doggedness have inspired and influenced writers, journalists, artists and other filmmakers working on environmental and social documentaries across the country.

A Thousand Little Cuts focuses on Lorelei Scarbro, a tenacious grandmother and coal miner’s widow fighting to save one of the last untouched mountains in Appalachia.

Lorelei simply wanted to tend her garden, paint ceramic angels and spoil her grandchildren. She wanted to live out her days at home—the rolling mountains of West Virginia. Then bulldozers came, followed by blasting crews. Massey Energy was gearing up for a mountaintop removal operation on Coal River Mountain, the mountain Lorelei calls home. In 2007 Lorelei spoke out. “This isn’t coal mining,” she yelled at a permit hearing. “This is the rape of Appalachia!”

In A Thousand Little Cuts, Emmy-winning director Chad A. Stevens takes us on the journey with Lorelei as she fights Big Coal to protect her community from an encroaching 6,500-acre mountaintop removal mine and proposes a positive community solution: the first green-energy project in the region, a 220-turbine industrial wind farm.

After political lobbying and civil disobedience fail to create tangible change, Lorelei opens a community center in the heart of a struggling coal town. The center brings locals together, even those on opposite sides of the mountaintop removal debate. The cumulative effect of her efforts grows exponentially as she finds opportunities for solutions—unifying a fractured community and supporting an evolving local economy. It’s a story of change: a transforming culture, a dividing community, an awakening individual, and a family hanging in the balance.

Here’s the trailer:

In the end, Chad Stevens has given Appalachia, and our nation, a new lens to reconsider the staggering human and environmental costs of mountaintop removal mining.

Check out the extraordinary online auction of photographs and support his work.

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Jeff Biggers is the American Book Award-winning author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (Nation/Basic Books), among other books. Visit his website at www.jeffbiggers.com.

 

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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