Quit Coal. Shut Off the Gas. Remember West Virginia.
Above: Local residents pick up drinking water from a tanker truck at West Virginia State University in Charleston, West Virginia January 10, 2013.
Every time you use energy think of the consequences, what does coal, gas, oil and nuclear bring to communities and the environment?
Occupy Radio featured a special on the West Virginia Chemical Contamination. Co-hosts Rivera Sun & Getch interviewed Johanna de Graffenreid of the West Virginia Clean Water Hub. Listen to the podcast here.
Every time your gas water heater roars to life in your basement, remember the West Virginians. Hundreds of thousands of residents no longer have drinkable water. The same chemical (MCHM) that contaminated the Elk River is also used for fracking for oil and natural gas in communities around the country. The tragedy waits to repeat itself in a watershed near you.
Every time you click on your gas stove, remember the forty-seven citizens killed by a fire caused by a train derailment in Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada. When you hear the subtle hiss of that blue flame, remember, people have been poisoned for your natural gas. Stare into the flame for a moment longer and imagine the miles of underground seams filled with fracking fluids that need only a tectonic shift to crack open a fissure into the aquifers above them. The substratum of our continent is now laced with accidents just waiting to happen.
Put your hands close to the flame. Feel the warmth of the gas companies’ promises, the politicians’ assurances, and the allure of economic stimulus for impoverished regions. Move your hands closer to the reality. Ouch! It burns, doesn’t it? The wages go to a handful of company employees. The industry leaves poverty in its wake. The toxins are left behind for generations.
Truth hurts, they say, and here’s a dose of pain: natural gas is not and never will be an “answer” to climate change. It is not a transitional energy source away from fossil fuels.
If your heart goes out to the latest victims of extractive energy, don’t just send a check or sign a petition for stiffer regulations. Turn off your gas and leave it off. Take the crisis on the evening news and place it in your own home. There is no perfect energy, but there are some that are much better than others. It isn’t easy to find ways to switch from oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy, but there are ways to do it. It may take time and tremendous effort, but no one is served by our procrastination.
When hydraulic fracturing for natural gas threatened nearby, beautiful Mora County, New Mexico, I shut off my gas stove. I bought an electric hotplate and traced the rest of my energy back to its source. It wasn’t pretty. On the one hand, there’s coal. Perhaps, near you, that entails blowing up the mountaintops in West Virginia. Near me, coal extraction involves sucking the dwindling water supply from the people of the Navajo Nation, and giving them asthma and lung cancer in return. On the other hand, our rural electric cooperative allows us to purchase wind power from the massive farms in Texas. With some concerns over bird populations and corporate renewable energy, I went with the Texas wind option . . . for now. Local solar power, the obvious solution in our sunny climate, is being held back by politics, poverty, and a lack of public will.
I know the nuances of this conversation. I’ve gone around and around about how to make the individual and societal shift away from destructive energy sources. I know the ridiculous, inner self-battles that occur when I want my home-baked cookies despite the natural gas it requires. I know how trivial cookies are when other people are grappling with the reality that natural gas heats their homes in the cold winter regions of this nation. I know that many people do not have any renewable options available through their utility. I know that renters rarely have any say in the home infrastructure changes that renewable energy requires. I know that lower income families do not have the resources to make these changes alone.
Stare into that blue flame with me, friends, for the situation before us is neither simple nor easy. Grapple with the conundrum. Understand the problems in our energy sources. Remember the West Virginians, the Navajos, and countless other communities, not as hazy memories of extinct peoples, but as living human beings who suffer from our energy use.
Remember all these things and perhaps, like me, you’ll snap that blue flame off today and start looking for other options.
Author/Actress Rivera Sun sings the anthem of our times and rallies us to meet adversity with gusto. In addition to her most recent novel, The Dandelion Insurrection, she is the author of nine plays, a book of poetry, and her debut novel, Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, which celebrates everyday heroes who meet the challenges of climate change with compassion, spirit, and strength. More visit Rising Sundance Theater.
Occupy Radio’s West Virginia Chemical Contamination podcast can be listened to here: http://occupythemedia.podomatic.com/entry/2014-01-23T00_48_03-08_00