A Few Things Ill Considered

Hansen arrested in coal mining protest

James Hansen was arrested today for trespassing at a protest against mountaintop removal coal mining in Coal River Valley, West Virginia.

Today Top Climate Scientist James Hansen and Actress Daryl Hannah were Arrested in Effort to Stop Mountaintop Removal

Also arrested was former Representative Ken Hechler, Michael Brune of Rainforest Action Network, Goldman Winner Judy Bonds and more than a dozen Appalachian residents and allies

Protest on the heels of Obama administration’s new policy on the destructive coal mining practice

The question is: does this diminish his scientific integrity or credibility and will this be on balance a good thing for the public battle to bring about effective global warming policy?

The story, received via email is below:

COAL RIVER VALLEY, W. VA–At a peaceful protest on mountaintop removal today organized by coalfield residents and Rainforest Action Network, leading climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, actress Daryl Hannah, former Representative Ken Hechler, Michael Brune, the executive director of Rainforest Action Network, and Goldman Prize winner Judy Bonds were arrested along with dozens of Coal River Valley residents and allies. They risked arrest by crossing onto the property of leading mountaintop removal coal mining company, Massey Energy–purposely trespassing to protest the destruction of mountains immediately above the Coal River Valley community.

This is part of a string of increasingly dramatic protests on mountaintop removal and comes after the Obama Administration’s announcement that the EPA will reform, but not abolish, the aggressive strip mining practice. Tuesday’s protest is happening just days before a Congressional hearing titled, “The Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining on Water Quality in Appalachia.”

“I am not a politician; I am a scientist and a citizen,” said Dr. James Hansen. “Politicians may have to advocate for halfway measures if they choose. But it is our responsibility to make sure our representatives feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not what is politically expedient. Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, should be abolished.”

Two weeks ago, the Obama Administration announced steps to end the fast tracking of certain mountaintop removal coal mine permits and to add tougher enforcement in Appalachia. However, it remains unclear what, if any, improvements this will have on-the-ground in Appalachia or elsewhere. Without a significant change in policy, mining companies will continue to destroy historic mountain ranges and bury community’s drinking water in toxic waste.

“Every day, mountaintop removal mines use more explosive power than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima,” said Bo Webb, an organizer of today’s protest and a Coal River Valley Resident. “West Virginians oppose mountaintop removal in our communities. This is not our traditional way of life, and we do not support the destruction of our land or our communities.”

Coal companies who engage in mountaintop removal mining are clear-cutting thousands of acres of some of the world’s most biologically diverse forests. They’re burying biologically crucial headwaters streams with blasting debris, releasing toxic levels of heavy metals into the remaining streams and groundwater and poisoning essential drinking water. According to the EPA, this destructive practice has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of forest by 2020.

“We are all complicit in mountaintop removal whenever we turn on our lights, so we are all responsible for ending it. Mountaintop removal, the world’s worst strip-mining, is unacceptable. Period.” said Michael Brune, executive director of Rainforest Action Network, a lead supporter of the action today. “This is not a practice that needs to be reformed. It is a practice that needs to be abolished. By sacrificing the Appalachian Mountains for the country’s coal addiction, we undermine future investments in 21st century clean energy solutions that will protect our planet, produce more jobs and preserve our natural resources.”

Mountaintop removal coal provides less than eight percent of all coal produced in the United States, and could be replaced with energy efficiency initiatives or renewable energy sources, instead of permitting massive environmental destruction of historic mountain ranges and essential drinking water for a relatively tiny amount of coal.

Recent studies have shown that the Appalachia Mountains could support commercial scale wind energy facilities, which would bring long-term, sustainable jobs to the region – but only if the mountains are left standing. In West Virginia, jobs from mining account for just 3.3% employment in the Mountain State – that is less than 20,000 jobs total. A recent University of Massachusetts study found investing in clean energy projects like wind power and mass transit creates three to four times more jobs than the same expenditure on the coal industry. The wind power sector has grown to employ more Americans than coal mining as demand for clean energy has jumped over the past decade.

Comments

  1. #1 Jim Eager
    June 23, 2009

    Well, of course we know the wattbots and the denialsphere will shriek that this proves that Hansen has abandoned scientific objectivity, and perhaps he has, but the real question is: is that a bad thing?

  2. #2 frog
    June 23, 2009

    Oh no — The Scientist isn’t an Apollonian God, a brain in a vat, lacking any political or social activity outside of his lab.

    So, so sad. Does this mean I can disregard the opinions of psychologists because they have families, physicists who play sports, or biologists who eat?

  3. #3 Phil
    June 23, 2009

    RP Jr will be apoplectic, so it can’t be all bad ;-)

  4. #4 croghan27
    June 23, 2009

    “Does this mean I can disregard the opinions ……. physicists who play sports …….”

    Only if they support the Yankees.

  5. #5 dhogaza
    June 23, 2009

    Well, of course we know the wattbots…

    Watts is calling for him to be fired (again, at least the second time this week alone), so at least NASA’s mail servers will be busy …

    For those of you unfamiliar with US law, it’s well-established that an ordinary employee of federal agencies (as opposed to those in the Army, etc) can express their opinion on their free time to their heart’s consent. Getting arrested alone isn’t cause for firing, either (get rid of the drunks in the Senate, and what would be left? :).

  6. #6 dhogaza
    June 23, 2009

    (why has blockquote formatting gone bonkers at scienceblogs, used to work fine?)

    A clarification – then can freely express their opinion, as long as they do not attempt to portray that opinion as being an official position of the agency they work for.

    This doesn’t stop employees from being harassed or reassigned for doing so, particularly in the USFS and BLM, but Hansen’s high profile and Watts can bleat all he wants, it will have no effect.

  7. #7 Adam
    June 23, 2009

    The question is: does this diminish his scientific integrity or credibility and will this be on balance a good thing for the public battle to bring about effective global warming policy

    On balance, I agree with Jim Eager. Denialists, and especially any with a forum in the mainstream media, will probably moan and whine. Most people will just shrug it off. Afterall, it’s not like he gunned someone down in church.

    Besides, its kinda nice to see one of those brainy, elitist eggheads get out of his ivory tower for a while and actually get his hands dirty ;)

  8. #8 dhogaza
    June 23, 2009

    Well, seeing that there’s a retired US Congressman from West Virginia among the crowd that got themselves arrested, I can’t really see that there’ll be any mainstream negative reaction to it.

    The conservation community has a long experience with such actions here in the West, if the tactic resulted in negative results it would’ve been dropped by mainstream groups years ago.

  9. #9 Adam
    June 23, 2009

    dhogaza -

    Well, seeing that there’s a retired US Congressman from West Virginia among the crowd that got themselves arrested, I can’t really see that there’ll be any mainstream negative reaction to it.

    Well, for what its worth, I still consider Fox News to be mainstream.

  10. #10 Survival Acres
    June 23, 2009

    Actually, this points to one of the problems with scientists in general. What Hansen did was show that scientist must start standing behind what they believe. Few will actually do that, which make their claims disregarded by so many.

    Words without actions are worthless words. Hansen demonstrated that actions are now necessary (and always were).

  11. #11 dhogaza
    June 23, 2009

    Well, for what its worth, I still consider Fox News to be mainstream.

    So mainstream they can’t get a broadcast channel (though that hasn’t stopped Murdoch for his non-news prograns) that would be subject to FCC regs.

    Well,wait, what I mean is that Murdoch has those channels but is unwilling to be subjected to the FCC regs that would result.

  12. #12 Marion Delgado
    June 24, 2009

    Fox news is so mainstream they’ve repeatedly fought in court for the right to lie directly to their audience, order their producers and reporters to push a line of the day from the Republican Party, and fire anyone who refuses to lie to their audience without having any other cause to fire them. And by “in court” I mean “including the US Supreme Court.”

  13. #13 bluegrue
    June 24, 2009

    @Jim Eager
    wattbot wrote, with regard to Hansen’s “I am not a politician; I am a scientist and a citizen.”

    No Jimbo, you are an activist and advocate for a cause.

    Note to NASA: Now can you fire this guy?

    @Marion Delgado
    Could you please give links or hints? I’m looking for stuff like that. So far I “only” found Jane Akre and Steve Wilson vs Fox in Florida. TIA

  14. #14 Jim Eager
    June 24, 2009

    bluegrue, that would be what the headwatt himself wrote, but the wattbots are of course out in force in the comments.

  15. #15 Jim Eager
    June 24, 2009

    Hmmm, maybe that should be megawatt? ;^)

  16. #16 bluegrue
    June 24, 2009

    Jim Eager, I thought you meant Watts as a generic for a part of an echo chamber, but your usage of wattbots makes more sense. They even set up a facebook group
    “Fire James Hansen” with Monckton, Courtney, Archibald, D’Aleo and others as admins.

  17. #17 bluegrue
    June 24, 2009

    Here’s the link to that facebook group, I broke it in the previous comment.

  18. #18 Hank Roberts
    June 24, 2009

    >Akre and Wilson

    Lost. The actual case ruling is surprisingly hard to find — anyone have a full link?

    As I recall, the Florida court there ruled that the owners of the news business did legally direct their reporters to print what the owners wanted the public to believe, regardless of the facts the reporters had discovered — the owners have no obligation to the public to be accurate about what they publish as newsy.

    http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/2000Q4/lawsuit.html

    http://tampabay.bizjournals.com/tampabay/stories/2005/01/03/daily9.html?page=1

    “… an appellate court accepted Fox’s defense that since it is not technically against any law, rule or regulation for a broadcaster to distort the news, the journalists were never entitled to employee protections as whistleblowers in the first place.”

  19. #19 Zuska
    June 24, 2009

    The question is: does this diminish his scientific integrity or credibility and will this be on balance a good thing for the public battle to bring about effective global warming policy?

    Really? That’s the question? Diminished in the eyes of who – complete idiots who are unable to look at those photos and see that the complete devastation of massive amounts of the landscape is a bad thing? Or people who, you know, don’t actually have to live in the area where this shit goes on? This whole notion of “oh, we just collect data, we don’t have actual opinions about it” is nutters.

  20. #20 coby
    June 24, 2009

    Zuska,

    I do think that will be the major question in the public policy debate. This is not an endorsement, rather an observation!

    The first part (“does this diminish his scientific integrity”) is pretty simple: no. As for credibility, that is in the eye of the beholder.

    I personally agree with you and admire the hell out of Hansen for getting out of the lab with terribly important and urgent warnings. It is however not easy to know how it will end up playing out and if in the end it will render his opinions more or less compelling to the public, especially after the atrocious media filtering this issue will receive.

    In his shoes, I think I would do the same thing, because when it is hard to know what the most effective thing to do is, going with what is clearly the “Right Thing” is always best.

  21. #21 bluegrue
    June 24, 2009

    Hank, I think this is the link you are looking for:

    http://www.2dca.org/opinion/February%2014,%202003/2D01-529.pdf

    The key sentence:

    Because the FCC’s news distortion policy is not a “law, rule, or regulation” under section 448.102, Akre has failed to state a claim under the whistle-blower’s statute. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment in her favor and remand for entry of a judgment in favor of WTVT.

  22. #22 dhogaza
    June 24, 2009

    They even set up a facebook group “Fire James Hansen” with Monckton, Courtney, Archibald, D’Aleo and others as admins.

    And the wuwtbots are now up in arms about an EPA economist who wasn’t invited to the CO2 pollutant review party, screaming up suppression, etc.

    While simultaneously calling for Hansen to be fired.

    Odd ducks, those.

  23. #23 Paul H
    June 24, 2009

    Well Monckton has for a longtime made allegations of suppression of free speech regarding global warming sceptics. See for instance his complaint to Senator Rockerfeller and his comments on radio talk shows following his recent expulsion from the Energy committee hearings on Waxman-Markey. But does anyone need to be educated about Monckton’s general lack of logic or self consistency.

  24. #24 Chris S.
    June 25, 2009

    Wow, Darryl Hannah’s let herself go.

  25. #25 bluegrue
    June 25, 2009

    Psssst, the woman in the photo above is _not_ Daryl Hannah, [this](http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/15/DarylHannah2009-2.jpg/220px-DarylHannah2009-2.jpg) is. ;-)

    Back on topic, I am not sure, whether Hansen is doing himself and the fight for CO2 reduction any good with his metaphor of “death trains”. It makes it way too easy for deniers to take the words out of context and paint him as a raving lunatic.

  26. #26 Chris Winter
    June 25, 2009

    “They even set up a facebook group “Fire James Hansen” with Monckton, Courtney, Archibald, D’Aleo and others as admins.”

    Monckton is an admin? How does he have time, between testifying before legislative bodies, writing op-ed pieces, and developing abstruse theories “disproving” global warming at his Highlands retreat?

  27. #27 Chris Winter
    June 25, 2009

    Coby wrote: “The question is: does this diminish his scientific integrity or credibility and will this be on balance a good thing for the public battle to bring about effective global warming policy?”

    I’m sure this will diminish the perception of his scientific credibility, at least with some scientists — much as Carl Sagan did by protesting. (Sagan was arrested in January 1987 at the Nevada Test Site, along with actor Martin Sheen and some 430 other protestors.)

    Other scientists will support his civil disobedience, and rightfully so. When a man spends his entire career being a proper scientist: doing research, publishing papers, attending conferences, staying out of the public eye — and finds his careful work documenting a worldwide problem being ignored, even suppressed, because of its policy implications — in my judgement he has no choice but to speak out.

    It’s a tougher question how his actions will be perceived by the public. People right now are concerned about their jobs and their livelihoods. But my guess is that on balance public opinion will support him, because in general the public recognizes the tendency of corporate elites to get careless with the environment.

  28. #28 crakar14
    June 28, 2009

    Was Hansen there protesting the distruction of the mountain top or because it is a coal mine or both?

    As a skeptic i can say that this does not diminish Hansen (in my eyes at least) he believes in things strongly and wants to make a stand. This does not change the facts surrounding AGW. My personnal opinion (for what it is worth) is that Hansen honestly and sincerely believes in AGW (as opposed to some others)but is a little unhinged from reality at times, but as i said honest and sincere.

    Just my thoughts

    Crakar

  29. #29 dhogaza
    June 29, 2009

    Thank you for sharing, Crakar. I’m sure we’ll treat your thoughts with the respect they deserve.

  30. #30 Terri
    December 29, 2009

    Help!! I have information about plans for a coal strip mine being started in the Weiser State Forest near Numidia, PA. This is in a watershed. We hiked the area this weekend and found the core sample sites. This appears to be a hush hush thing that most locals don’t know about. Is this something someone at NRDC could check into? Thanks.

  31. #31 PaulinMI
    December 31, 2009

    Terri,
    That’s great. I’m glad to see we’re increasing our domestic energy production, stimulating the economy and providing jobs for the locals. They’ll be so pleasantly surprised!

    How can I help?

    (By the way, I think most coal mines are in a watershed.)

  32. #32 Food Insurance
    August 23, 2010

    The unfortunate thing about clear cutting the top of the mountains is that it will never recover for thousands if not millions of years. Once that top soil is gone, there in no way plants will ever be able to establish.