I know that most of our conversations dwell on technical analyses of the greenhouse effect, organizing drives to stop one pipeline or another, and legislative campaigns to put a real price on carbon.

And all that is vital. It really is.

But if we’re searching for the missing link needed to get us to a fossil-free world, I have this gnawing sense that the most important thing is something we almost never talk about: the underlying sensibility that we are one community, that we are all in this together.

This was brought home to me reading a West Virginia Public Broadcasting story, “Shafted: Dark Future Possible For Miners Who Kept Our Lights On” (excerpts below). The piece describes the immoral legal games that bankrupt coal companies are playing to pay profits before making good on the pensions owed to their retired workers—pensions that are in the range of only $500 a month!

The understanding that we are one community—which was an integral part of our country’s formation—has become anathema to our modern society that has lost its moorings (social media notwithstanding!). Unless we do something to upend dysfunctional habits, that failure of empathy will stand in the way of our uniting together to overcome existential threats, no matter how much analysis, organizing, and lobbying we do.

We have moved from barn raisings on the prairie to lifeboats in the ether. We have accepted the rending apart of our society when interconnectedness is the sine qua non of bringing about the greatest transition in history in less than a human lifetime.

If we continue in this way, we will be as guilty through our indifference as those who are assiduously erecting their personal lifeboats. While working for a fossil-free world, we must also extend our empathy and organizing resources as a movement to those who will otherwise lose and lose badly in the march to renewable energy.

Shafted: Dark Future Possible For
Miners Who Kept Our Lights On (Excerpts)

By Rebecca Schimmel • July 11, 2016
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Rebecca Schimmel

Rebecca Schimmel

Listen to the story:

Miners in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia who helped keep the country’s lights on are worried that their retirement benefits could go dark as a result of a wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry. They hope Congress will approve a bill called the Miner’s Protection Act to shore up the pensions and health benefits promised to union miners.

The bill has been bottled up in the Senate’s Finance Committee…..

Joe Holland has been with the United Mine Workers of America for four decades. He … is among more than 43,000 retired union miners in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia whose pensions may be at risk due to a wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry, and health benefits for thousands more are also vulnerable.

“I think the fear that you can see in their eyes from some of these folks, I do think it’s inhumane,” Holland said…..

Peabody, the country’s largest coal mining company, declared bankruptcy in April. Eight years earlier Peabody created Patriot Coal for its eastern U.S. mines.

“Patriot was set up to spin off Peabody’s significant liabilities including liabilities for miners’ pension and health funds,” [West Virginia University Law Professor Patrick] McGinley said…..

“The company personnel has took our health, our vigor, our youth. And now we’ve got old and they want to push us to the side like we’re useless,” [said Kenneth] Vincent [an underground miner for more than 20 years].

Read the full story here.