It Ain’t Real Till the Scientists Say So

January 14, 2010

In his Grist article “Science confirms that blowing up mountains harms mountains,” David Roberts expresses completely justified protestations (“Who woulda thunk it?”) of the obviousness of the damage done by mountain-top removal to get to coal:

“It might seem obvious, but as the media will tell you, “opinions on shape of earth differ,” so it’s helpful that a group of scientists has come along to assess the existing body of research on the subject. . . . To me, the most amazing part of all this—and clearly the scientists are amazed as well—is the fact that there’s never been a comprehensive assessment of MTR impacts before. We’re blowing up mountains and we have no idea what the consequences are! The mind boggles. It’s like the whole country is just discovering Appalachia.”

Wait… ?? “We have no idea…” until scientists tell us? Do you have eyes in your head? The pictures make it abundantly clear, not to mention seeing the real thing. Any other senses of perception? Some idea of what the mountain looked like just a little while ago? Did you notice birds or other critters, trees and plants? Memory? do you have a short- or long-term memory? “Just discovering Appalachia” . . . ?? History or geography? Do you do any of those? Have you ever studied anything at all?

The “media” — vague term, shorthand in this case for “major corporate interests” and those interests are, of course, profit (an interest shared by [major corporate] media is and big business) — will tell “you” anything you’ll listen to, anything they can get you to buy. Scientists are now telling us, so it’s true — but it’s science that government and the media don’t want to be “constrained” by.

However, folks in Appalachia have been living — and protesting and documenting — exactly this for decades if not a century, especially women. I grew up in North/Central Alabama — from the mills of Birmingham to the strip mines on the way to the Warrior River — I’ve seen the poisoning and destruction first hand, even though the damage from more modest strip mines is nothing compared to mountaintop removal. Ah, yes, but that’s “anecdotal.”

But it’s not real, it doesn’t count, unless scientists say it, particularly to each other, whereupon the media and the government can appeal to some kind of relativism to fail to take seriously what the scientists say — after all, it’s not the homes of media moguls and pundits and government officials, it’s not their lives, their children, their forests and mountains that are destroyed, they don’t have to see it and it therefore isn’t real for them, while apparently endless and cost-free advantages and privileges are in fact visible and tangible every moment of their busy and profitable days.

And we’re back to my previous post, and what MLK, Jr. had to say about the moral dangers of our wealth and privilege, and our wanton destruction of lives, human and otherwise, both at home and abroad. Although he spoke specifically against the war in Vietnam, it is the same arrogant pursuit of profits and things before people and the living world, making people and the living world objects that those with power are free to exploit, that motivates the violence against the earth and against those who dwell therein:

“Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

“This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

“We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world — a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

Nor do you have to be a Christian to speak for truth and right, for the weak and oppressed, to speak truth to “power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” And, indeed, the truth will out, whether we wish to be constrained by it or not, in the disasters we make of the earth. Our actions speak truths about us; their results are the truths that we will live or die with.

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