About the Mining Disaster

Apr 12, 2010 11:00 AM ET

About the Mining Disaster

My heart goes out to the miners and their families who suffered in the West Virginia mining disaster this week. A number of things associated with the tragedy bother me. Here are three of them:

1) CNN reported that the owner of the mining company had been cited repeatedly on safety violations. And what I heard next really bothered me - it appeared that rather than adhere to the citations, the company fought them. Huh? Here's my guess, that company will be out of business soon due to not being able to pay for the lawsuits they are about to experience in the coming months. Had they complied in the first place, it is possible that those miners would be alive today. Simple arithmetic.

2) A miner was interviewed post accident on the CBS Evening News. He said that he can't wait to get back to work and that "we need coal, we need to get back in that mine. Hey, I can't put a windmill on my front lawn now can I? We need that coal". Huh? It reminds me of a passage from David Suzuki's biography where he interviewed a logger in British Columbia; Suzuki asked the logger if it bothered him that the logging was sustainable, the loggers response - "it will bother me if I don't feed my family next week". Which leads to my third thought.

3) If a tobacco farmer was told in 1970 by the Surgeon General and 98% of doctors that smoking causes cancer, the tobacco farmer would have denied it. Why? Because the tobacco farmer depended on people smoking for his income, despite the negative health impact on peoples lives and the cost of the health care system. Same thing with the miner interviewed on CBS - his livelihood depends on digging coal out of the hills of West Virginia. What then if that stops?

Therein lies our dilemma in addressing environmental issues such as climate change - we need to act fast and carefully (hopefully that is possible) towards making sure that people dependent on carbon based extraction are taken care of in the transition through education, training and appropriate allocation of renewable resources, such as incentives for establishing manufacturing centres for renewable energy in areas that will be affected as we wean of fossil fuel based energy.

Hey, if it was easy to do, we'd all be doing it. The challenge is doing it and making sure that the miner on the news can look back in three or four years from now and be happy with a well paying, safe job manufacturing wind turbines in West Virginia, or, dare I say, maybe Northern Alberta too!

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