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.
<div id="7aab6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4bff71c40172c15736f73fe73ed18078"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1330967606585593857" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Today, I’m announcing the first members of my national security and foreign policy team. They will rally the world… https://t.co/bAisIQk5P6</div> — Joe Biden (@Joe Biden)<a href="https://twitter.com/JoeBiden/statuses/1330967606585593857">1606162380.0</a></blockquote></div>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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