Got into a conversation with a couple of Facebook acquaintances who live in Eastern Kentucky. The subject centered on the issue of coal and the environmentally driven political pressure to phase it out as a major source of energy. It was coal that fueled America’s industrial revolution but it is also coal that became a major source of the gasses that are changing the world’s climate.
The problem in Kentucky is economic as well as environmental. In Eastern Kentucky coal has been and still is a major source of employment. Several times I’ve driven the length of US 52 that courses the border of West Virginia and Kentucky. It is coal country and if one doesn’t work for a mine, drive a truck coal truck, work for a railroad or a river barge hauling coal, teach school, work for government, or is in a medical profession, one is on welfare.
The politicians insist it’s Obama who is behind the war on coal but that war began long before Obama came on the scene. The politicians also insist that the war on coal is a war on jobs. But like so many things in our modern world it is the desire to maximize profits and technological development that are the worst enemies of jobs.
In the era of underground mining there was a huge demand for miners and armies of immigrants couldn’t be hired fast enough. With the arrival of surface mining techniques the demand for those workers evaporated as huge machines took their place and increased the bottom line for the barons of coal.
What remains in the heart of Appalachia is poverty, despair, isolation, unemployment, welfare, and substance abuse. Instead of fighting for whatever it takes to create a viable and diversified economy the politicians continue to sell their votes to the mine owners. Same seems to be true of the victims of all this, they too continue to support the very politicians who ignore what is in their best interest.
What is a very serious and complex issue, with expensive and difficult solutions, remains wrapped up in ideological politics that continue to fail the everyday people of those regions.
In my online discussion and in writing this piece my mind kept going back to a song I first heard Johnny Cash perform, John Prines’ song, Paradise. It’s all about Muhlenberg County in Western Kentucky. The lyrics talk about a young boy imploring his father to take him back to Muhlenberg County, “Down by the Green River where paradise lay.” His father replies that he’s too late in asking, “Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”
Wonder if Prine knew his words would become so prophetic? I wonder if the people of Eastern Kentucky realize that they too have lost paradise?