By Tyler Offerman
Kentucky has long been known as an energy producing state, since coal was discovered here in 1750. That means that Kentucky started to produce energy that fueled our nation's growth since before our nation even existed! But for some time now, our state's energy economy has been stumbling and failing to deliver a healthy and robust economy with jobs that benefit our communities and environment. Brad Plumer recently wrote a piece in the Washington Post about why Central Appalachia's coal industry is in decline; from the mechanization of coal mining and the transition to mountaintop removal strip mining, to the rise of and competition from low-sulfur coal mining in the West and fracked natural gas from across the nation, to new EPA regulations on harmful polutants and greenhouse gas emissions. There are many reasons why the Appalachian coal-industry is in decline, a fact that many of my peers cheer as being a victory for the environmental movement. But it is important for us to think about the impacts of this industry in decline.
In many Appalachian communities, coal is still king. The coal industry has done an amazing job of creating the illusion of monolithic economies in both eastern and western Kentucky. A lot of these economies are centered around coal because coal corporations have driven away most other industries, both in the energy sector and outside of it. While we need to take back our economies so they can be diversified to create lasting and stable opportunities for all Kentuckians, it's important to remember that these economies are made up of people. With these coal-centric industries stagnating and failing to diversify, what will happen to the people that depend on them. Many of whom do not want to depend on coal, but have no other choice. Where will we go to find jobs as the coal-industry fails us? How will we pay our mortgages? Feed our families? And for us young people, how will we stay in Kentucky? For generations Appalachia has suffered from brain-drain, when young people move away due to lack of opportunities. For too long the choice of young people in many parts of Kentucky has been "Work in the mines" or "Get out of dodge". Young people in Kentucky are now faced with an even tougher choice since there will now not even be the "Work in the mines" option, with Kentucky having lost tens of thousands of coal related jobs in the past 20 years and even more loses on the horizon.
That is why young Kentuckians are taking our destinies into our own hands. We believe that Kentucky can continue to be an energy producing state, one that is not toally dependent on coal or natural gas, neither of which are the energies of the future. A renewable energy economy is the only thing that will be able to create the manufacturing and energy jobs that are desperately needed in Kentucky. Young people will not stay and watch the coal industry collapse, but we will stay to help build a healthy, thriving and green economy. An economy with wind-turbines on mountain ridges and on the banks of the Kentucky river. An economy that values the promises of pensions and worker safety. An economy that has growth and inovation at it's core. That's why this year Kentucky youth will work with thousands of our peers and neighbors to push for renewable energy legislation that sets that stage for the birth of Kentucky's new energy economy.
Will you stand in solidarity with us? Sign our petition: http://bit.ly/17rsvgZ and help us build the movement!
By Cara Cooper
This week actions and events will be happening all across Kentucky for the KY Student Environmental Coalition’s Shifting the Power Week of Action. This is a collaboration of young people across the Commonwealth to bring forward the message that failure to clean up pollution, end dangerous and dirty extraction practices and invest in truly renewable, clean energy technology and infrastructure is a direct threat to their generation’s future and the lives of those who live in frontline communities where polluted water and toxic air is the day to day reality.
“There are ways that we are all to blame for what is happening around us, and doing things like switching your light bulbs and recycling are very important. But it is also important that we hold the government, corporations, and even our communities responsible for the role that they play as well” said Tyler Offerman, an organizer with KSEC. “This is why we are organizing on our campuses and in our communities and why we are having this week of action, to make sure that people know our futures are on the line”.
The “Shifting the Power Week of Action” is meant to highlight the depth and the breadth of the youth environmental movement in Kentucky and the wave to shift the power back from greedy corporations and dirty industries to the people who are impacted by the by these polluters. Events include a film screening and petitioning for local sustainable foods at Northern Kentucky University, collecting signatures of support for renewable energy and green economic development at the Louisville Bardstown Farmer’s Market, a sustainability teach-in and discussion of local environmental issues at Western Kentucky University, a film screening and collecting signatures of support for a sustainable projects fund at Murray State University, collecting petitions in Lexington outside of Rupp arena for Friday’s Wildcat game to oppose using coal severance tax money from being used for arena renovations instead of going to impacted communities, a Reality Check event at Morehead State University looking at facts and myths about renewable energy in Kentucky, and a letter-drop to the University of Kentucky’s president demanding investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency
“Climate change is a reality for my generation, as is air and water pollution”, said Offerman “the real question is can we adapt and make the changes that need to happen to keep us from reach a point of catastrophe or do we continue down the path that we are on, full speed ahead without so much as a plan”.
These efforts are only the beginning and young people across Kentucky will continue to push for a cleaner, safer, and healthier future for themselves and the planet. This generation not only has the most to lose from rampant pollution and climate change, it also has the most to gain by ending these practices and transitioning to a just and sustainable model.
The Young Kentuckian is a blog of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition where youth share their work and ideas for Kentucky's bright future.
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