The writer and philosopher Wendell Berry, armed with little more than a copy of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and his conscience, has been camped out for three days with a handful of other activists in the governor’s outer office in Frankfort, Ky. Berry, who is 76 and the author of a number of important books including the “Unsettling of America” and “Life Is a Miracle,” has been sleeping on the floor of Gov. Steve Beshear’s reception area since Friday night with 13 others to protest the continued blasting of mountaintops in eastern Kentucky and the poisoning of watersheds, soil and air by coal companies.
The extraction and burning of coal in 26 states is perhaps the most urgent environmental concern facing the United States. Nearly 40 percent of our CO2 emissions come from coal-fired plants.
If we do not begin to regulate and control the coal companies and plan for a future without coal, there will be no possibility to thwart the spiraling effects of climate change. Hundreds of thousands of acres, as well as major watersheds, have already been turned into poisoned wastelands, especially as coal companies blast away mountaintops for the last seams of coal. Communities in the coal fields have been poisoned out of existence by the release of mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, manganese, beryllium, chromium and other carcinogenic substances into the air, soil and water. Hundreds of communities are now ghost towns. The health effects in the country’s major coal fields, where the water running out of the tap is often so rancid it is undrinkable and cancer and respiratory illnesses have reached epidemic levels, are spreading far beyond the coal fields. These toxins migrate to us all.