On the first anniversary of her untimely death, Judy Bonds' legacy remains as vital as ever to besieged and largely abandoned American citizens defending their lives and land from the fallout of reckless mountaintop removal operations in the central Appalachian mine fields.
Jan. 3 is day 12,580 of the mountaintop removal mining disaster, the most egregious human rights and environmental violation in our country—and perhaps one of the most discussed but shamefully ignored humanitarian crises in our nation.
"Judy Bonds was my leader and my friend," said Bob Kincaid, president of the Coal River Mountain Watch organization that Bonds led for nearly a decade. "She helped a lot of us to learn to be proud of our hillbilly heritage, to fight for and save it. Today, on the first anniversary of her passing, we re-dedicate ourselves to bringing to an end the profiteering processes that yielded up the poisons that helped kill her. Nothing short of the outright abolition of the crime against humanity that is mountaintop removal will suffice to serve her heroic memory."
Mother Jones, the legendary miners' angel and labor leader, once reminded our nation in 1920s: "There is no peace in West Virginia, because there is no justice in West Virginia."
In 2012, Judy Bonds' work as the godmother of the anti-mountaintop removal movement in the West Virginia coalfields and as a national clean energy ambassador still burns as a reminder that that will be no clean energy policy, no climate change agreement and no social justice in the coalfields if we can't even end mountaintop removal, an undeniably disastrous and deadly strip mining process that provides less than 5-7 percent of our national coal production.
Will President Obama have a "Truman moment" and finally address mountaintop removal in the 2012 elections?
Will national green organizations place mountaintop removal back onto the front burner this year?
Will a national abolitionist campaign emerge to bolster the courageous efforts of citizens and organizations on the coalfield frontlines?
Will our nation ever create a Coalfields Regeneration Fund to assist displaced coal mining communities and work toward a just transition for a clean energy future?
As part of a year-long series on next steps in the new abolitionist movement to end mountaintop removal and all forms of strip mining—including profiles and interviews with veteran frontline activists Teri Blanton, Kathy Selvage and Bo Webb in central Appalachia, direct action organizers Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Mike Roselle, the Ramps Campaign and Mickey McCoy, coal mining widows and families like Lorelei Scarbro, legendary Congressman Ken Hechler, Capitol Hill lobbyist JW Randolph, clean energy transition expert Kristin Tracz and economist Rory McIlmoil, and numerous artists, writers and filmmakers—here's an interview with long-time West Virginia activist and nationally known broadcaster Bob Kincaid, a 9th-generation Appalachian and coal miner's son, and one of the most distinguished voices in the coalfields.
Jeff Biggers: After 40 years of devastating mountaintop removal operations, why hasn't our country brought a halt to this form of mining?
Bob Kincaid: You've asked me why we can't end mountaintop removal and, after much thought on the topic, the first thing that comes to mind is that we don't yet have enough people who WANT to end it. Not enough people recognize it for what it is: a human rights/human health crisis of monumental proportions unfolding right under America's nose in one of its most historically neglected areas.
Many have approached mountaintop removal from the standpoint of an "environmental" problem. Let's be clear: that has not worked. Neither is it likely to work any time in the foreseeable future. The end of mountaintop removal will come when, and ONLY when people recognize that it's not some negligibly esoteric debate over birds and bugs (as the multi-million dollar ad campaigns of the coal industry have cast it), but an existential struggle for the right of people living in central Appalachia to live their lives, without the looming specter of toxic waste dams and high walls, of blasting and poisoned water, of ruined home foundations and ruined human organs.
JB: What's the urgency in stopping mountaintop removal? Why should activists or citizens groups outside of the Appalachian coalfields do to join Appalachians?
BK: The science now is clear: mountaintop removal and its associated processes are killing people, deforming our babies and have been doing so for as long as it has been going on. No "mitigation" will solve the problem. There is no "acceptable" number of cancers suitable in exchange for Don Blankenship or Kevin Crutchfield's obscene wealth.
Mountaintop removal and its various other nicknames must be abolished, and abolished because the cancers and other diseases it carries are a form of human bondage. In short, the effort to end mountaintop removal must become no less an abolitionist movement than the movement to end slavery a hundred and fifty years ago, for the enslavement of a people to ANY economic effort, whether it be King Cotton or King Coal, cannot be tolerated by any society that considers itself civilized.
It is telling, then, that there is not ONE national campaign in the United States whose single-minded goal is to eliminate mountaintop removal. We have an abundance of campaigns that mention mountaintop removal tangentally, or acknowledge that mountaintop removal coal fuels power plants. We do not, however, have a single-focus campaign whose only purpose is to put an end to the Appalachian Apocalypse.
It is well past time such a campaign came into existence. Those of us who have labored long to end mountaintop removal are now prepared to shoulder the whole load going forward. We will no longer be someone's fund-raising object. We will no longer be part of a larger picture. Our world, Appalachia, IS our picture, and we are determined to show that picture to a wider spectrum of our fellow Americans, our fellow humans, until the great, moral weight of Justice demands our agony be ended.
We hillbillies ARE human, and this is our right.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.