Five Ways You Can Help Save Life on Earth
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5. A Clean Energy Future
On April 21, the Department of Energy announced it had awarded $452 million in federal grants to 25 cities and states to help with programs to create clean energy jobs. Proponents of clean energy are fighting for funding as a new climate bill is poised to hand away many millions more to nuclear and coal initiatives. Nowhere is the battle between clean and dirty energy as visible as in Appalachia -- where Big Coal reigns and the destructive practice of mountaintop removal (MTR) mining is blowing up whole ecosystems and destroying the communities around them.
But folks there have a vision for a different, cleaner future, in which the jobs are better and safer, too. Coal River Mountain is on the chopping block -- facing annihilation from a mountaintop removal mining operation run by Massey Energy (you may have heard Massey's name in the news lately after the deaths of 29 miners). But instead of seeing another mountain destroyed, locals have come up with a plan, and a damn good one, to cover those mountain ridges with wind farms.
"Set aside for a moment the many health and social ills of MTR--the toxic drainages, the dusty air, the undrinkable tap water--and still the economic argument alone for Coal River Wind is compelling," wrote Ben Jervey for GOOD. He explains:
A 2007 wind potential study found capacity for 328 megawatts of clean energy on Coal River Mountain, enough to power 70,000 West Virginian homes. The revenue would produce $1.7 million in property taxes that would benefit the local communities. That's over 50 times the $36,000-per-year that coal mining would generate in severance taxes, and the wind money wouldn't dry up when the coal runs out in an estimated 14 years. (The coal revenue itself flows immediately out of state.) A wind farm would also create at least 50 permanent jobs that also last long after the coal would disappear. Again, this isn't even to mention the external costs of public health and environmental quality.
One economic study found that by factoring in such externalities--health expenses, environmental cleanup costs and lost resources from tourism and ginseng harvesting--the Massey mines would wind up costing the community $600 million over their brief lifespans. Coal River Wind has the potential to rewrite the economics of mountaintop removal.
Faced with the enormity of our climate and energy problems, can replacing one coal mine with one wind farm make a dent in our quest for a more sustainable future? Of course! It makes a difference in the same way that investing $100 can change a family's life; in the same way that personally knowing your farmer makes a difference in your health and the health of your community; in the same way that starting one teach-in on the environment in 1970 drew 20 million people and awakened a country's consciousness.
So where will we be 40 years from now? Which road do we choose? How many people can we get to join us on that path?
Tara Lohan is a senior editor at AlterNet. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan.