by Sarah Riccardi-Swartz
There’s no whitewashing the dark environmental effects of coal mining and fracking in West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia. Most assuredly, coal is toxic—for the environment, for local economies, and for life more broadly the Mountain State. In “An American Guilt Trip,” his recent article for Public Orthodoxy, Dr. Fr. John Chryssavgis draws on a brief trip he took to West Virginia in order to witness first-hand the cost of “black diamonds.” As an anthropologist, I’m tremendously supportive of scholars conducting ethnographic research in order to think through broad societal questions and problems. However, as someone who has just returned from twelve months of living in West Virginia for my dissertation research, I am also deeply attuned to the problematic ways in which we scholars often talk about or even for Appalachia and its inhabitants. For those of us who work on issues of environmentalism in its various expressions, even adjacently, I worry that sometimes we fall prey to colonialist assumptions of privilege, often subconsciously, that feed into our narratives of communities dealing with ecological devastation. As someone who works in the social sciences and humanities, I wonder how we might highlight issues of the Anthropocene in a way that critically examines toxicity as it relates human neglect for the environment, while also being mindful of the other crucial sociocultural issues of power at play historically. This is important particularly when we approach regions such as Appalachia that have long been subject to external mechanisms of power that mine the area for its natural resources while suppressing, subjugating, and stigmatizing those employed as extractors. Continue reading
by Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis
John Steinbeck once wrote: “There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation . . . There is a failure that topples all our success.”
In an effort to witness first-hand the financial, social and personal impact of “black diamonds”—the benefits of which we all enjoy, but the cost of which we all irreproachably disregard—I decided to meander through the unparalleled beauty of the Appalachians in West Virginia, among the oldest mountains on the planet. I wanted to see for myself the origins of the benefits I enjoyed living in my home in Maine. It is easy for Americans, especially environmentalists, to ostracize the coal miners, who, by the way, smashed every stereotypical image I had and instead displayed an unassuming charity and disarming simplicity. Nevertheless, I saw them as tragic pawns in the coal and fracking industries from which all of us reap the benefits with our cozy comforts.
There is good reason why West Virginia has been labeled “almost heaven.” Today, it is eerily close to hell. Continue Reading…
by Nikolaos Asproulis
The ecological crisis is nowadays the most urgent problem facing humanity. It is a complex threat, which puts at risk not only a part of the planet but the entire environment, endangering the very survival of the human species and the natural world. As a result of extreme egocentric interpretations, since medieval times, of the biblical narrative of the world’s creation (Genesis 1-2), humanity has adopted a way of life that assumes a dominating role and position in the world. For many centuries now, humanity has followed a path of utilitarian exploitation and overconsumption of natural resources, being indifferent to the preservation, protection, or survival of the wider universe. It was only in 1967 that Lynn White, in his classic now article, clearly pointed out the historical responsibility of Christianity for the ecological problem, thus bringing to the fore the spiritual and religious aspects of the issue. Since then, many Christian churches and traditions in the West would embrace (though not always successfully) their responsibility, cultivating, either through their institutions or through ecumenical organizations (e.g., the World Council of Churches), the necessary initiatives to address this multi-faceted crisis (Cf. Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Laudatio Si, 2016). Continue Reading…