Thursday, February 23, 2012

Documentary: Burning The Future: Coal In America

Burning the Future: Coal in America examines the explosive forces that have set in motion a groundswell of conflict between the Coal Industry and residents of West Virginia. Confronted by an emerging coal-based US energy policy, local activists watch the nation praise coal without regard to the devastation caused by its extraction. Faced with toxic ground water, the obliteration of 1.4 million acres of mountains, and a government that appeases industry, our heroes demonstrate a strength of purpose and character in their improbable fight to arouse the nation's help in protecting their mountains, saving their families, and preserving their way of life. Written by David Novack

With the rising price of oil, industrial nations such as the United States and Canada continue to seek other sources of energy that are both cheap and plentiful. For the United States, the coal of West Virginia is seen as a secure source of domestic fuel. Promoted by the US coal industry as a "clean" source of energy, residents of West Virginia tell the rest of the world, the effect of coal mining on their communities. The large coal mining companies such as Massey Coal, have changed their mining practices and now mine coal through a method known as mountain top removal. Mountain top removal is exactly that - the removal of the top portion of a mountain to completely mine a shallow coal seam. The mountain top is then replaced with the left over fill. However, what the rest of the United States doesn't know is how damaging mountain top removal is to the beautiful West Virginia mountains. Besides destroying the delicate Appalachian ecosystem, mountain top removal has poisoned the groundwater of countless communities, destroyed ecosystems and damaged the health of those living near the mining operations and the coal slurry ponds.

This film is an eye-opening account of how individual families have been adversely affected by the coal mining. It brings the viewer into the personal nature of the devastation that families who have lived in Coal River Mountain, West Virginia for centuries, have experienced. Maria Gunnoe, whose family has lived in these mountains for generations, shows viewers how her life has been impacted by the extensive coal mining operations. It was disturbing to see the massive environmental devastation from the open coal mines and to see that even after the mountains are "restored", the Appalachian ecosystem is changed forever. Having a background in hydrogeology, I was horrified to see how the slurry ponds and the coal waste is destroying the groundwater supplies for millions of communities in the eastern US. I did not know that 50 percent of the electricity in the United States is generated using coal.

Made in 2008, I wondered what progress activists have made in the past 3 years or so. A second documentary, The Last Mountain, was shown at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Activists like Maria Gunnoe are determined to save the last mountain and continue to fight Massey Coal.

Below is the trailer for The Last Mountain.

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