This is an incredibly inspiring story. Not for great, flashy acts of heroism, but for its silent witness. So I will help amplify his actions with my voice.
Micklem grew up in Virginia in the 1930s. Over the years he’s watched as some of his favorite animals and birds have slowly disappeared from the landscape. He remembers first noticing these changes in the 1950s, and this is why he become an environmental activist.
But Micklem, an environmental writer and a retired science teacher, is quick to point out that the type of activism he believes in is non-violent, civil disobedience.
“It has to be conducted by people who have love in their hearts and absolutely no animosity toward the people who would oppose them,” he said.
He’s protesting environmental degradation that’s leading to climate change. In West Virginia, the major environmental degradation is caused by the coal industry. Current methods of coal extraction are actually removing entire mountains, acres and acres and acres of forests, streams, soil, rock. It’s called “Mountaintop Removal”, but it’s not just the tippy tops of a few hills here and there. It’s entire systems of hills and valleys and rivers and streams.
When I last visited my family in West Virginia, I had the opportunity to fly down from Cleveland during the day, so I was able to see for myself how devastating and widespread these operations had become. At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing below me, then I was sick to my stomach when I realized that mountaintop removal operations had become so extensive.
Some facts and stats:
- The American temperate hardwood forest ecosystem, of which the Appalachian mountains are a part, is a treasure of biodiversity, rivaled only by tropical rainforests. An old growth forest here can support 100,000 different species of plants and animals. Its waters support the greatest diversity of aquatic species of any temperate zone in the world. A single watershed in Tennessee can contain more fish species than in all of Europe. (source: http://ocvn.osu.edu/news/temperate-hardwood-forest-arc-appalachia)
- 1.2 million acres, which includes about 500 mountains, have been razed, and 2000 miles of streams have been destroyed by backfill (if not more… the data are from 4-5 years ago). (sources: http://www.southernenvironment.org/cases-and-projects/mountaintop-coal-mining-in-appalachia http://ilovemountains.org/reclamation-fail/details.php
- The Appalachian forests are currently a “carbon sponge”, that is, they sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a “greenhouse gas”, and one of the major pollutants responsible for climate change. As they disappear, and the coal from under them is mined and used, the area will become a source of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thus increasing climate change effects. (source: http://appvoices.org/2013/02/20/a-clear-connection-between-mountaintop-removal-and-climate-change/)
- Surface mining is killing us directly, with pollutants being dumped in massive quantities into the water and the air.
There’s a common saying in Appalachia: what we do to the land, we do to the people. Recently, 21 peer-reviewed scientific studies have confirmed the truth of those words. Not only has mountaintop removal permanently destroyed more than 500 Appalachian mountains, but people living near the destruction are 50% more likely to die of cancer and 42% more likely to be born with birth defects compared with other people in Appalachia. (emphasis mine)
In West Virginia, Coal is King. The local TV stations are bought and paid for by coal. Speaking as one who grew up there, I can say that it is part of our identity, but it is killing us. Like cancer.
Ronald Micklem is bearing witness to this with his hunger strike. If an 85 year old veteran and teacher has the resolve and grace to do this, what will you do? What will I do?
I’m starting here: ilovemountains is a network of local, state, and regional Appalachian organizations whose mission is to stop mountaintop removal while creating a better future for the region. Click on the link below to find out more about how you can help: http://ilovemountains.org/act/?key=57657615
And I’m also adding this widget:
It’s my first, so bear with me while I get the kinks worked out 😉