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September 29, 2011

Reaching Across Oceans to Fight Coal Together

WV_Indian Delegation14
This is a guest post from Soumya Dutta of the India People's Science campaign. Soumya came to the US last week as part of a delegation seeing just how badly coal has impacted the US as well. (See the Day One post here, and Day Two here).

Sept. 28, 2011- Appalachia

Coal was the seed for the industrial society that we live in, but some seeds grow up and up to become big nasty weeds. And coal grew and grew and grew – till all of us anywhere on this planet are now entwined in the vice-like grips of coal-mining, coal-for-steel-cement, coal power. The once-upon-a-time Black-Gold has turned into the biggest Black-Death – slowly strangulating humanity by its huge air pollution, large-scale water contamination or its global climate changing CO2 emissions.

MTR Trespass Site But people hit by this black death are turning around and fighting back. Whether it is the dirt-poor communities in Angul district of Odisha in poor India, or the economically much better-off but equally impacted communities in the prosperous US – in Appalachia, all of us are realizing the necessity to move away from this dirty-death. In a sense, coal unites us in India & the US.

Over 50% of both our electricity supplies comes from coal, though poorer India relies on dirty coal for a much larger share of its total energy supply than richer US, as coal has been artificially kept ‘cheap’ by all kinds of hidden & not-so-hidden subsidies.

In India, electricity from dirty-coal goes mostly to the better off urban and richer rural people, while over 40% of Indians are still without a connection – but most of the environmental and social costs are borne by the same energy deprived – the tribal people & the rural poor. Diseases and death, loss in agriculture production and fish-catch, forced-displacements from home and farms, contaminated ground and surface water...the costs keep rising.

Corporate coal-miners and power producers have long transcended national boundaries, to plunder wherever they can reach, from nations far away – to feed their ever-increasing lust for black profit, spreading black death as widely spread as India, Australia, Indonesia, USA...

People fighting back are also getting united, reaching across the oceans.

WV_Indian Delegation13 There was instant rapport and friendship when Amulya from Odisha, India narrated the destruction and the struggles of coal-affected communities there – to the residents of Blair Mountain in the Appalachia. It struck an instant chord with Wilma, who is old in years but bubbling in energy and carrying on the struggle in her indomitable Cherokee spirit.

And the Indian coal-fighters were inspired by the story of Jimmy, who in spite of advancing age, living alone at the cutting-edge of the planned mine and being offered two million dollars to leave his home standing as the last post against a powerful mining company – is holding on.

When Vaishali from Maharashtra's beautiful Konkan coast - WV_Indian Delegation12threatened by 16 new coal power plants and the world's biggest nuclear power plant – emotionally spoke about the heroic struggles of Konkani people, who produce the loveliest and costliest mangoes along with cashew and fish-catch that sustains them well, it brought tears in the eyes of our Appalachian friends.

I narrated how Himalayan communities have fought and stopped a captive coal power plant close to the pristine glaciers in Himachal, and how these communities are not only resisting, but developing sustainable collective alternatives, thus resisting the fragmentative strategies of big corporates. Kathreen's 15-year-long struggle against mountain-top-removal seemed familiar to both Devi and Shankar, who has helped communities resist big-coal for over 15 years, taking legal and technical means.

Delegation 1_1We the Indian coal-fighters left Appalachia with the infective hope and laughter of Pat from Fayetteville, and the intervening lands and oceans between India and the USA are no longer insurmountable barriers for the bonds of friendship and solidarity of struggles.

-- Soumya Dutta

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