The True Cost of Coal

posted by scott parkin

My friend and mentor David Solnit often talks about “a movement of movements.” He describes them as a convergence space where we experiment with and test our resistance to power. In this convergence space, we’ve created “healthy biodiversity of an ecosystem of resistance.”

Through my travels in the movement of movements, this ecosystem has been best articulated by a collective of artists, activists and cultural revolutionaries from Machias, Maine known as The Beehive Collective. The bees often create massive intricate graphics that explain complicated issues from free trade to Indigenous resistance to colonialism and corporations. They use art and creativity to build our analysis and the “ecosystem of resistance.”

As we’ve moved from global justice to anti-war to climate justice, the bees have illustrated and explained our struggles and now they’ve spent the past couple of years creating their newest graphic: “The True Cost of Coal.

This graphic tells the story of Appalachia. It tells the story of mountaintop removal and coal.
The region has a unique history and our friends in the Beehive Collective have told the story in five chapters:

  1. Prehistory
  2. Colonialism and industrialization
  3. Modern corporate colonialism
  4. Appalachian resistance (my favorite)
  5. A vision of the future, post coal and mountaintop removal

No humans are represented, but instead they use the images of animals, insects and machines to show the human and ecological drama wreaking havoc on coalfield communities, folks downwind and downstream of coal-burning power plants, and all of us faced with catastrophic climate change.

To me, Appalachia has a haunting beauty. Its mountains and forests are alive with ghosts of the past and future. When I visit there it’s almost like I can feel their presence. From the Trail of Tears to the Battle of Blair Mountain to recent fights over mountaintop removal, the land and its ghosts call for justice. For over a hundred and fifty years, King Coal has waged war on her land and people. Before that the colonizers waged their own war against Appalachia. “The True Cost of Coal” captures this spirit.