A Cure for Appalachia

Karen Stuebing
A wind turbine on the Clarke Farm in Athens, West Virginia

A patient diagnosed with cancer must confront a long, difficult road to recovery. The same can be said for the hundreds of mountaintops in Appalachia that have been ravaged by strip mining. America’s addiction to cheap energy has spread disease amongst some of our most beautiful natural resources. From a fatalistic point of view, we fear that Appalachia might soon die.

Once a lush, verdant landscape covered with giant trees, Appalachia is now dotted with moonscapes as the result of mountaintop-removal mining practices. The attitude that promotes capitalism at all costs, and the powerful influence of mining corporations on government, compound the feeling that entrenched interests have doomed us without offering a solution. Shortsighted decisions by our representatives in Washington on issues ranging from the environment to health care make one wonder if our system is capable of making meaningful and visionary changes. It is easy to feel pessimistic, if the past is the predictor of the future.

But the dying can still hope for a cure. The same holds true for the people of Appalachia and the mountains they call home. I hope that their vision is realized. I hope that a love of nature and a love of humanity—or just love itself—can derail the destructive force of the present “reality.”

As idealistic as this may sound, we need to mount a resistance to our current path. We need to figure out a much more sustainable way to make and use energy. We need to reevaluate the way we use the mountains—they are more useful right side up than upside down. We need to drive Appalachia’s economy in a completely different way, making use of every innovative green technology under the sun. We have to restore the rivers and lands degraded by mountaintop removal. We need to put our collective foot down and stand up to the coal industry. We need to get tough, and we need to get super-creative. We need to get the country to realize the true cost of cheap energy. We need to restore Appalachia to some of its original glory and make it a symbol of the true value of nature.

Just like the doctor who shakes his head in wonder at a spontaneous remission from serious cancer, I want to be on the other side of this in five years, shaking my head in awe at Appalachia’s miraculous recovery. Then we can share Appalachia’s story with thousands of other places in need of a cure and see if we can stimulate a green revolution the likes of which this planet has never seen. We have the tools, the knowledge, and the vision to start this transition, and with some faith, smarts, and good communication, we can reach our destination.

For the individual, the journey to the possible begins with a single step. But where does the journey begin for a nation or for the world? Only by asking the questions and exploring the answers, then demanding silence and stillness from the offended powers eager to uphold the status quo, will we find the solutions.