The Common Good

We Can't Afford Dirty Energy: Thoughts on Turkey, Appalachia, and Humility

Two weeks ago in Soma, Turkey, a coal mine explosion left 301 people dead. It was the country’s worst mining disaster, but it wasn’t the first — and it wasn’t the last, as multiple fatal accidents have happened in the two weeks since. The last time a mining disaster caught the world’s attention, we watched and waited and prayed during the rescue operation for the miners in Chile.

In Turkey, people protested in the streets of Soma — protested against Soma Mining for letting this happen, against their government for loopholes in safety rules. In response, the police issued a ban on protests and locked the city down. The ruling political party proudly announces that it has inspected that mine 11 times in the past 5 years; Soma Mining denies negligence. And the families of 301 persons mourn their losses.

This isn’t a faraway problem. In the United States, we don’t do as much traditional mining as we used to — instead, we do mountaintop removal. This has a human cost, too, in more insidious ways. The people living in Appalachia have higher rates of respiratory illness, cancer, kidney diseases, skin ailments, and more. And the landscape, which has the fingerprints of God in it, is being blown apart.

Psalm 95:4-5 says:

“In [God’s] hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are [God’s] also. The sea is [God’s], for [God] made it, and the dry land, which [God’s] hands have formed.”

There’s really no place on God’s creation safe from our pursuit of coal, oil, and natural gas. We send men and women down into the depths of the earth to retrieve it and some of them never come back up. We blast off the heights of the mountains, and no human hands can restore those age-old skylines. We drill at the bottom of the sea, and when we make a mistake, it sometimes takes us weeks to plug up the hole, and people, birds, and sea mammals die.

It’s safe to say we’re out of our depth here. I’m not an engineer, but I know that when we get all we think we can get out of a fossil fuel pocket, we keep inventing ways to get more and more of it; each time, the risks and the costs seem to rise. I enjoy electricity as much as the next person, but there are better options waiting around for us to use them. These options were given to us by God too, and in abundance: the wind and the sun. These options put good people to work, without sending them into the bowels of the earth or the sea and without polluting our air and destroying our health.

The next verse of Psalm 95 tells us how to respond to the wonders God has made:

“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”

Humility, bowing down, and worshipping are meant to be our responses.

What do I mean by humility? Some people will tell you that I expect you all to live in the dark — that I want you to sell all your possessions. Well, Jesus did ask someone to sell all their possessions once, but I’m not asking that of you.

I’m asking for someone else’s humility: the people who, from positions of power, keep asking us to sacrifice sons and daughters on the altar of “Drill, Baby, Drill.”

People tell you that we’re in a “War on Coal” and without coal and oil and gas our economy will suffer. But that’s such an oversimplification and such a denial of the hopeful God I worship, that I have to disagree. God didn’t create a dark world; God gave us a sun that fills our world with light, and he gifted many of His children with creativity and math skills, and at this point, the tools we need to move toward a cleaner energy grid, with wind and solar and more, are waiting to be used. The fact is, I don’t want you to sit in the dark; I want everyone, including the men and women whose labor supplies us with the energy we need, to come into the light.

God offers us hope, but all around us we’re being told a different story. The Koch Brothers spend their money trying to squash renewable energy standards in states like Ohio. Soma Mining Company tells the people of Turkey how careful they are while leaving wives and mothers and children to cry over their dead loved ones.

There’s a better way, and all we have to do is speak up and ask for it. We are lucky here in the United States: the police don’t come in and shut down a town anytime we protest. Our leaders depend on our opinions and our support.

To all those who say we can’t afford clean energy right now, there’s a long answer — I could talk about how cheaply I just switched my utility bill from fossil fuels to 100% wind or talk more about the Koch brothers.

But there’s also a short answer: we can’t afford dirty energy. It’s costing precious lives. We need to respond to the wonders of God’s creation with humility and obedience to God’s will — which is for all God’s people to live and for us to care for the sick and needy. Sometimes caring means pulling people out of a coal mine, and sometimes it means not sending them there in the first place — especially not when we have better options.

Liz Schmitt is the Creation Care Associate at Sojourners.

Photo: Przemek Tokar/Shutterstock.com

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