With the nuclear disaster following last week’s earthquake and tsunami continuing to poison the people, air, water, farmland, and cities of northern Japan–we have been presented with a tragic reminder of the dangers of our energy dependence.
In 1979–not long after the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania–farmer, author, and activist Wendell Berry participated in an act of civil disobedience to stop the construction of a nuclear reactor along the Ohio River in Indiana (construction was eventually halted). In an essay describing his reasons for protesting the plant Berry writes:
“The people of this area, then, are expected to sacrifice their health–among other things–to underwrite the fantasy of ‘unlimited economic growth.’ This is a decision not made by them–but, rather, made for them by the power companies in collaboration with various agencies of government.” (Berry, The Reactor and the Garden, 1979)
Meanwhile fossil fuel alternatives, like coal and natural gas, pose continuing threats to human and environmental health. Here, in western Pennsylvania, and down the Ohio River, smoke stacks from coal fired energy plants pump mercury and other particulates into the air. Practices that the American Lung Associate estimate kill nearly 13,000 people a year.
Proposed laws to regulate some of these practices face strong opposition from industrial and political forces. Add to these the impacts on our global climate from the carbon emitted into the atmosphere–emissions coming from the Ohio River Valley and its chain of coal fired power plants and industry–and more than just the health of those with plants in their backyards is sacrificed.
Starting tomorrow in the polluted Monongahela Valley I will be spending the next few months visually documenting energy production along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers–the polluted arteries of America’s heartland.