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April 26, 2011

Big Coal vs. the World


For Sierrans and other Americans engaged in the intense fight to defeat the power and influence of Big Coal in our country, there is seldom time to think what Big Coal is up to in the rest of the world.

I had the good fortune to travel to India this month with a Sierra Club delegation and meet India activists from across that country fighting Big Coal as their rapidly developing country decides which energy path it will take. One week after my return, two Indian activists visited the Appalachian coal fields of Virginia.

Our shared experience upon visiting the coalfields and power plants of our respective countries is that wherever coal is extracted and burned, intimidation, poverty, and oppression follow. The circumstances of people living in the coalfields and in the shadows of coal fired power plants are more severe in India than they are in ours, but the similarities are striking.

Our Indian friends were struck by the evident poverty as they drove through the Appalachian coalfields and hollers of southwest Virginia. As they exchanged stories with residents of Wise County with Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, they also saw the dark side of American politics -- public officials and government agencies that put the interests of Big Coal over the health and safety of their own citizens.

They told us that when people from India visit the US, they only see places like Washington DC, and are lead to believe that coal development played a role in creating universal wealth and prosperity. Knowing that the same type of intimidation they face in India still occurs in the US after 150 years of coal "development" undermines the corporate line that coal can help the poor.


Most encouraging, though, in these conversations between people from very diverse cultures was the shared commitment to social and environmental justice for the citizens of the world's coalfields.

It is Sierra Club's hope that by connecting activists across the world, we can all share our knowledge, tactics, and strategies to fight and defeat Big Coal wherever a dragline scars the earth or a smoke stack poisons the air.

(Photos taken by Nicole Ghio.)

-- Glen Besa, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Director


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