Monday, March 4, 2013

the true cost of coal

We're still doing a lot of talking about the elements and the periodic table around here, and though it was weeks ago that we were talking specifically about carbon and the CO2 cycle, we recently found ourselves on the landing of our stairs, talking about it again.  This is where we have hung a poster from the Beehive Design Collective, called The True Cost of Coal.  It is large. And it is heavy. Heavy like we are talking about mountain top removal, and unemployment and the serious loss of habitat and other natural resources besides coal.  We live at the edge of Appalachia, so it is a subject that is both historic and current and affects people around us directly.

credit: Beehive Design Collective
The poster itself is arranged so that you can fold it up to show first the area as it used to be - the incredible biodiversity of the forests around here, the animals and plants (mayapple! dogwood! blue cohosh!), and then you can open it up to see what is going on now - the dragline stripping of the topsoil, the destruction of the forests, the polluting of the water, and the disconnect of people to the land.
Dude, why do you have this thing hanging on your stair landing? Isn't it totally depressing??  Well, it is a feast for the eyes.  We play eye-spy, looking for beloved familiars from the woods. There is also a booklet that comes with the poster that talks about the history of the land, and the history of coal extraction and the history of the people of the land, and every time I look at it I see one new small thing that stays with me.  So, the thing that I caught last week and shared with the girls was this "aha!" about coal.  I knew of course that it is used for fuel, but I had never considered its natural role in things.  Undisturbed, coal acts like this huge filter in the earth, pulling toxins from the water:  the water that flows from the taps of Atlanta and Washington originates here (Appalachian mountains), where it's purified by underground coal seams.

credit: Beehive Design Collective
Hm. Now I'm wishing that I could tell you that we drove to West Virginia to a rally protesting moutain-top removal practices, but we didn't.  We sat and talked for a long time about how living things work together so well when they are undisturbed by people.  How the people who originally lived here on this land seemed to maintain a fair balance with the other living things here, and how that changed when new people from other countries arrived and got greedy.  How every new wave of people had newer and bigger ideas about how to squeeze the most out of the land to the point where they were willing to destroy it for the benefit of just a few people.

And then we also thought about how sad my terrarium was looking - the one without the activated charcoal, which isn't the same thing as coal, though it is another form of carbon and acts also as a filter - and how maybe it was time to jazz it up with some charcoal to see if it could thrive like the others were.

Eliza's thriving terrarium

my kind of sad terrarium

Small ideas, little reminders of things happening in the world around us...something to think about when we round the corner of the landing.


Dan said...

Coal in the earth acts as a filter! Brilliant. I had no idea.

How about this for a possible post-extraction Appalachia?

Kerry said...

That makes perfect sense. Limestone is a good filter, too.

You live in an interesting place at an interesting time.