Help Yourself, Serve Others

In my Introduction to Environmental Policy class, we watched a documentary titled Burning the Future: Coal in America. And I have seen documentaries touching this issue before but it basically talks about the coal mining industry in West Virginia, its huge influence, and the impact it brings to the communities that have been living there for generations. I have known about the problem of mountaintop removal for many years now but it was another wake-up call to see this documentary of people who don’t live that far away from us and to see how they suffer every day because of the coal companies. They are destroying natural landscapes that have been there for thousands of years, all to contaminate the drinking water sources of these rural populations. And it brought the thought of the fear that I would feel if I had to live somewhere like that. Their homes that have been passed down through generations are nearly under attack. It comes in the form of coal ash that intrudes their breathing air and surrounds their homes. It comes in the form of the contaminated water flowing out of their faucet, forcing them to haul water from safer sources, most likely paying premiums on them. It even comes in the form of blasts heard from the destruction of their homeland. Their livelihoods are changing because of these coal companies that don’t even provide much employment to the residents in those areas.

If there is one environmental issue to ever focus on, it has to be this one. We always hear about how developing nations are in need of clean drinking water and they need our HELP. But actually, living right next to the state in where the same injustice is occurring, we have no excuse in turning the other way. Cleaner technologies need to be invested in now to drive these old coal industries to bankruptcy. Our government must not allow these companies to set their agenda for them and not address these citizens’ concerns. Our closest neighbors are suffering and each and every person should be making their grievances to be heard about it. However in the world of environmental justice, or any social justice, we must not act as their saviors. We don’t know what it is like to have water inaccessible to us, to have our simplest form of sustenance to be taken from us. We don’t know what it is like to wake up from the blasts of our backyard landscape, or find your home covered in ash. This is why we must have a mindset of SERVING a community, not helping. We serve them because they know what is best for their home, not us. And as an environmental advocate, it is not about job security for this field. You want to see a day where you no longer have to serve this community because they brought themselves up thanks to their hard work and dedication. From the documentary, we see how strong these justice leaders are in these rural areas and they are not giving up. We can all bring awareness, we have nothing to lose. This is how these issues can be set on the political agenda.

Burning the Future: Coal in America-




  1. aimeecastil7 · March 28, 2016

    It is surprising to see that our neighbors in the West are struggling with environmental issues related to coal mining. Unfortunately this is an issue that is not reported in the news more than the water crisis in Flint when, in reality, both of these issues deserve the same political and environmental attention. In terms of the context, it looks like serving the community is more than just donations or posting on social media about it— serving is about being an active citizen and actually doing something about the problem through volunteering with organizations and lobbying your representative.


  2. meghannoble04 · March 29, 2016

    Emily, I appreciate this post GREATLY. Your writing is always so informative and well thought out. It helps raise awareness to your piers.

    It is awful to hear what is happening in a neighboring state, we really do seem to turn our backs on those within our own country and end up feeling as if we’ve all got it covered. Helping third world countries is always great and somewhat heroic. However we must help our neighbors as well, and serve them as you’ve said so that they can help themselves and continue the fight when no one else is there to fight with them.


  3. dstraqua · March 29, 2016

    This post resonates within me. Living in Ohio has its perks, but also its downsides. One of them is our coal industry. At home, there are two quarries that are still being operated. Here is a little post from Ohio Coal, the leading coal producer in the State of Ohio, “In 2010, Ohio Coal was produced by 31 companies from 80 mines in 18 Ohio counties, and total production increased 3.8 percent from 2009, totaling 27,201,000 tons. Tonnage from underground production exceeded tonnage from surface production, continuing a trend that began in 1995: 18,099,000 tons (66.5 percent of total production) were produced from 11 underground mines, and 9,104,000 tons (33.5 percent of total production) were produced from 69 surface mines.”. The eighteen counties highlighted…are neighbors of West Virginia. It highly angers me to know that this is going on. I can only hope that things will change soon.


  4. aheaney15 · March 29, 2016

    Well done Emily, I am highly impressed with this post. Thank you for posting a link to the video too. However, my question is, what permanent solution options are there? I know there is renewable energy, but unlike coal, it won’t last us very many decades. Do you know any?


  5. andrewwingfield · April 18, 2016

    You clearly struck a nerve with this post, Emily. There are a couple of excellent novels, published within the past decade, that really dramatize the human impact of coal mining in West VA. They are Ann Pancake’s Strange as this Weather Has Been and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. I have read both and recommend the Pancake book if you only have time to read one. It is powerful.


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