Sunday School 106: The World has Changed and Coal is a Nasty Substance

by Duane Nichols on October 4, 2014

Sunday School 106: “The alluring, controlling promise of coal

Letter to Editor, Charleston Gazette, September 30, 2014

Coal River, what a portentous name. Sounds like it might eventually be burned and take the whole world with it. Coal is a nasty substance, full of cancer-causing compounds, that once released by the magic of fire distributes poisons throughout the earth. Burning coal blocks out the sun and pours out carbon dioxide that holds in infrared radiation — a scientific name for heat. Smoke from “black gold,” burned in West Virginia, has sterilized lakes in New York and Canada.

When coal’s original connections are altered, it lets go of the sunshine that created it millions of years ago. Plastic and steel and asphalt are made by rearranging the connections conjured up by giant ferns. In spite of suicidal side effects, the root of all evil keeps the process going. Coal left alone isn’t nasty, but the love of money is a nasty, perverse and abusive love. Grandma Barker watched the fish from the top of the riverbank, in the peace and shade of the canopy of the forest, where Big Coal River ran through a tunnel of arched trees that seemed to make the very air turn green. The river was cool in the summer and drifted slowly down the valley it had been carving for millions of years. From the top of the bank, Grandma saw fish swim and the sandy bottom that was kind to her bare feet. Grandma and her father fished in Coal River. What extra they caught went into a barrel that was sunk in the bottom of the shallow side of the river. When they wanted fish for dinner, she poled the boat or lifted her dress and waded barefoot out to the barrel and grabbed a mess.

By the 1940s, so much coal had been mined along Coal River that people walked their john-boats up and down in the sandy, shallow parts, and picked up escaped pieces of coal. There was enough to heat their homes, to cook with, and to give them asthma and lung cancer. Coal made it unnecessary to haul and split large quantities of wood — a little kindling wood and some wood for the cook stove were all that was needed. With far less than half the labor, a person could extract more than twice the heat from coal than from wood. Coal gave the subsistence farmer time to do something besides labor for winter heat. That luxury, now expanded to air conditioning and such, is what has made coal so dangerous, so destructive and so controlling. The love of money is indeed the root of all evil. The desire for comfort and relief from drudgery, ensures a ready market for those making that money.

Today the mountains along Coal River are being destroyed forever to accommodate the desire for comfort, rest from drudgery and the love of money.A young, future grandma once sat blissfully on the river bank, and never imagined that someday the choice of comfort would injure her progeny and destroy their world. She didn’t live to see nearby Bull Creek, Ashford Ridge, Fork Creek, the ridge across from Costa and the edges of Kanawha State Forest, forever blown away.Choices are being made between overfed American comfort and West Virginia’s mountains, streams, wildlife, and human health.

Julian Martin of Charleston, is a retired teacher active with the WV Highlands Conservancy. He is a graduate of WVU and served in the Peace Corps.

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WV River Watch October 22, 2014 at 11:42 pm

See the new VIDEO on the Coal River Valley

“In the Coal River Valley” — Video from In the Hills and Hollows. A short film featuring Junior Walk from the Coal River Valley. The film explores his life growing up in the Coal River Valley in southern West Virginia and is part of a series about fossil fuel extraction throughout West Virginia called “In the Hills and Hollows” ….


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