October 25, 2011

While fighting coal, I keep in mind the coal miners

I worked incredibly hard today to raise awareness about my Beyond Coal campaign on campus at the University of Iowa. I gave a quick pitch to a couple classes about it, and stood in an outdoor walkway with buckets of the very coal and oat hulls burned on campus - all the while, collecting student names in support of urging the University to extend their efforts just a little and commit to stop burning coal on campus completely. 

We have good training on how to best do all of this - its grassroots organizing, basically - making connections with people. That said, I am very friendly and informative in my approach to these strangers, and brief, because all are scurrying about their day. 

Now to my point herein. Most people are receptive and interested in what we are doing and why. To the issues tied to coal, some are rightfully eager to support us, some are impartial or empathetic, a few are opposed, and a few are nearly clueless. Of course, I can’t read everyone’s mind, especially if they choose not to talk to me. 

I had a brief encounter with a young student today who was disinterested in supporting, saying “you gotta think about the coal miners”. I actually do, and immediately told him “I do,” but he made off on his way, adding “my grandfather was a coal miner” as he reinserted his earphones. 

This is ricocheting around inside of me and I’m compelled to spill it here. I think because coal harms people and the environment from cradle to grave, it needs to become a thing of the past as we yearn for a better future. I can’t give you all the answers, but I can tell you my ideals. I want people to create and get jobs and careers in the industries of the future. I’d love nothing more than to be able to pull every coal miner out from their black-lung shackles and give them training and jobs in renewable energy. I’d love to get a coalition of these wind and solar companies together to hire fossil fuel industry workers with priority. Plain and simple idea, right?  Lots of political will to encourage, but an idea filled with possibility nonetheless. 

In fact, the longer we wait to kick the dirty coal habit, the fewer coal miners there will be to employ in this fashion because as the coal industry progresses, fewer and fewer Americans are needed to do that job. 

As I help the nationwide youth-led climate movement chisel away at coal consumption on American campuses, I do think about the coal miners. I think about them a lot.