Tuesday, February 12, 2008
[From time to time we invite guests to blog about initiatives of interest, and are very pleased to have Mr. Kennedy join us here. – Ed.]
In 1810, Thomas Jefferson wrote to a contemporary, "No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in its effect towards supporting free and good government." Almost 200 years later, Google provides us all with unprecedented access to the world’s information. In Appalachia, nonprofit organizations are using that information in innovative new ways to reveal the destruction caused by mountaintop removal coal mining, and to demand for the people of Appalachia the "free and good government" that Jefferson envisioned.
If the American people could see what I have seen from the air and ground during my many trips to the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia: leveled mountains, devastated communities, wrecked economies and ruined lives, there would be a revolution in this country. Thanks to Google Earth, you can now visit coal country without ever having to leave your home.
Every presidential candidate – and every American – ought to take a few seconds to visit an ingenious new website created by nonprofit organizations in Appalachia that lets you tour the obliterated landscapes of Appalachia. By entering your zip code into this amazing new website, you learn how you're personally connected to mountaintop removal. Americans from Maine to California can see these mountains and the communities that were sacrificed to power their home. This puts a human face on the issue by highlighting the stories of families living in the shadows of these mines.
The site uses Google Maps and Google Earth as interfaces to a large database of power plants and mountaintop removal coal mines. A November 15, 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the site as one of the most cutting-edge uses of these powerful tools. And today, the Google Earth Outreach program is launching a featured case study about this project, along with additional resources for nonprofit organizations, in order to help spread the word and make these tools even more accessible to the public.
Each day coal companies detonate 2500 tons of explosives – the power of a Hiroshima bomb every week – to blow away Appalachian mountaintops to reach the coal seams beneath. Colossal machines then plow the rock and debris into the adjacent river valleys and hollows, destroying forests and burying free-flowing mountain streams, flattening North America's most ancient mountain range. According to the EPA, 1,200 miles of American rivers and streams have already been permanently interred, leaving behind giant pits and barren moonscapes, some as large as Manhattan Island. I recently flew over one 18 square-mile pit – Hobet 21 – which you can now tour in Google Earth.
We are literally cutting down the historic landscapes where Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett roamed and that are so much the source of American's values, character and culture.
Mountaintop mining poisons water supplies, pollutes the air, destroys hundreds of miles of North America's most ancient and biologically diverse hardwood forests and permanently impoverishes local communities. For too long, this devastation has been hidden in the remote poverty-stricken communities of Appalachia. This new website finally exposes this national disgrace for every American to witness. Wherever you live, you have a connection – and a responsibility.