Posts Tagged ‘University of San Francisco’

Immersed in Coal Country: University of San Francisco

By Allison Schaub, University of San Francisco

A small group of University of San Francisco students myself included and staff had the unique opportunity to visit Appalachia, an area rich in culture, beautiful landscapes and a shiny black rock called coal. We went on a weeklong trip to West Virginia through the USF Ministry Arrupe Immersion Program in order to gain a deeper understanding of the impact the coal industry has had on the region’s people and environment. We traveled across the state meeting with non-profits such as Coal River Mountain Watch who are working towards ending the state’s dependency on coal, a natural gas company called Chesapeake Energy, The West Virginia Coal Association and then ended the trip with a powerful visit to Kayford Mountain. Seeing a mountain and the surrounding ecosystems completely destroyed from mining and hearing the story of Larry Gibson, who calls the mountain his home, was a poignant culmination of our immersion.

Coal has been the biggest source of US energy for hundreds of years, but the way of obtaining it has changed drastically. Coal companies now use a type of mining called Mountain Top Removal. The tops of mountains are blasted off using explosives, leaving the coal seams exposed in order to be mined. While this type of mining is safer for the miners in comparison to the traditional underground method, the environment and people living in the area are being adversely affected and the industry has become more mechanized, therefore providing fewer jobs to the people of West Virginia. The blasted mountain or “overburden” are filling valleys, causing massive flooding across the state and forcing people to leave their homes. Those that aren’t forced to leave the areas that coal companies have moved into are exposed to an array of health risks, such as cancer and birth defects.

A message we continued to hear throughout the trip was that there is a strong love-hate relationship when it comes to the coal industry and the people of Appalachia. The state of West Virginia is stuck in a cycle of poverty because of the lack of job opportunities there. The United States is dependent on cheap energy and West Virginia is dependent on the coal industry. It is a complicated issue and we feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to obtain a deeper understanding of the energy problems our country is facing by connecting to people who have different views on the issue. It is imperative that we all need to be more knowledgeable about the effects of our energy consumption and take responsibility in making changes to create a future that doesn’t require the sacrifice of our environment and the people that live in it in order to turn the lights on.

Note from the Appalachian Institute: To learn more about the cycle of poverty in West Virginia and how people are breaking out of it, see this PBS Frontline article:  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/countryboys/readings/duncan.html

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