A Community-Capacity Road Trip to Renewable Energy & Sustainable Business


Throughout this humble correspondent's productive work on Justmeans, examples of Appalachian models have appeared, ranging from the academic to the grassroots, all of which represent legitimate potential templates for social transformation in the direction of renewable energy and 'business better.' An interesting offshoot of such profiles appears here today.

Before 'getting down to brass tacks' regarding the recent activities of a bunch of diligent 'worker bees,' however, THC, as is his wont, will proffer some ideas that both might 'whet the intellectual appetite' for a transparent comprehension of this sort of activity and could provide critical underpinning for this sort of investigation. Complexity and interconnection are not only inescapable, but they are also the only basis for potent thinking, in this view.

So saying, an interesting tension exists in much of the grassroots political work of the past six or seven decades. Prior to that more modern period, encompassing the lives of most JustMeans readers and THC, no duality or sense of resistance was discernible, or at least not much.
"Which side are you on?" clearly delineated a system of class injustice, in which workers schools at the Highlander Center and elsewhere taught that winning the class battle has to be the primary focus. Even today, such a view sits well enough with the likes of THC, although a contrariety does exist, a sense of potential 'paralysis of analysis' and concomitant immobility when movement is essential, as readers shall see.

Before exploring such a notion, though, the vital centrality of class conflict itself, which THC has gone to some lengths before to denote, bears a brief affirmation. Many are the analytical resources, that speak to this point, including such volumes as this humble correspondent has seen fit to review extensively, like The Great Evasion.

Especially in the South, when--incorrectly, other bases of conflict seem to assume a higher priority, a level appreciation of how overarching class really is must come to the fore in order for any strategic or tactical progress toward reform to happen. While-versus-Black; male-versus-female; immigrant-versus-native; every movement in the region, from labor to civil rights to social justice to environment and beyond, has had to confront this tendency to miss class-conflict and focus on these other diversionary skirmishes. THC has witnessed this, over and over, personally, as well as pointing to sources that also provide testimony in this regard.

Still, especially among students and the young, a critique of such analytical reliance has emerged. Such ideation at times invokes anarchists as forefathers and grandmothers. At times, such thoughts are 'off the cuff.'

One youthful rebel stated his restlessness like this. "(T)he deliberatived democrat claims that parties to political conflict ought to deliberate with one another and through reasonable argument try to come to an agreement on policy satisfactory to all. The activist is suspicious of exhortations to deliberate because he believes that in the real world of politics, where structural inequalities influence both procedures and outcomes, democratic processes that appear to conform to norms of deliberation are usually biased toward more powerful agents. The activist thus recommends that those who care about promoting greater justice should engage primarily in critical oppositional activity, rather than attempt to come to agreement with those who support or benefit from existing power structures."

This youngster has put in some hard hours, late at night, contemplating a truly anarchic ideology. And implicit in the POV thereby articulated is something akin to class domination. The only point that THC and others would make is that, all too often, a 'pluralist' and hence dividing-and-opening-up-to-conquest formulation results from the positions of this 'defense of activism,' in which the problems and prospects of vegetarians and poodle lovers receive equal place as the struggles and priorities of working people fighting for their lives.

Especially on some campuses, adequate reflection about this kind of issue seems to be occurring as in a recent manual that spoke of "Student Resistance to Entrepreneurialization As (a form of) Class Conflict." This author goes on to develop the argument in an interesting fashion.

"(I)n attempting to discuss the university, they have ignored the university. A lot has been written about the presidents, regents and businessmen who run them, income characteristics of students and the various assumed ideals which drive student protest. Far and few between are there actual attempts to understand the causes of the breakdown of the universities and what part students have played in them as students. As the entrepreneurialization of US-based universities offers evidence of the productive relationship of the university to capital accumulation, it requires that we reevaluate our understanding of what students mean in a capitalist society and student political organization. Are students merely "privileged," "workers" or a combination of both and more? Is student political activity, to the extent that it disrupts the operations of the university, a subsidiary or complementary part of class conflict?"
In any event, as this story tumbles closer and closer to the topic of today's venture, the explication of coal, a point of this additional and prefatory information might be useful to state. For those who want sustainable business or renewable energy, the issue of strategy is all-too-often totally ignored, at the great peril of ever accomplishing much.

Having taken a brief side-trek around some of the political and conceptual issues that circumscribe attempts to attain reform--or even revolution--and to impact consciousness, THC and his readers are ready to ponder a trip through 'coal country' again. In today's journey, folks will encounter an assessment of the 'externalities,' the hidden or disavowed costs of coal, unlike anything that most folks have had access to before, except perhaps in other essays of this humble correspondent.


Having already had a very quick look at "The True Costs of Coal," when last THC looked into the planetary marvels emanating from Maine via the Beehive Design Collective, some viewers will recall the robust intricacy of Beehive Design Collective(BDC)work. Moreover, folks may recall of the powerfully community-based integrative approaches that BDC members bring to their efforts.

So saying, the desire of this humble correspondent to proffer adequate background on the most recent Appalachian perambulations of these brilliant apiary troopers-for-justice ought to make sense. Such a filling-in of what underlies the present moment might begin with THC's own 'story of coal,' at least in the sense of offering a sense of timeline and general development, so that BDC narratives appear in context.

Marion King Hubbert reaches back across time to orient folks to the initiation of coal in human history. "Throughout all human history until about the thirteenth century, the human race, in common with all the other members of the plant and animal complex, had been solely dependent on the contemporary solar energy which it had been able to command. ...The episode of our present concern began when the inhabitants of Northeast England discovered that certain black rocks found along the seashore, and therefore known as 'sea coles,' would burn. Thus began the mining of coal..."

A science teacher corrects Hubbert's anglocentric view, presenting evidence of coal use in Rome and China 2,000 years back, and its utilization by Hopi potters around the same time that the English began to burn it. He also refers to the development, James Watts improvements of steam engine techniques in 1769, that revolutionized coal use and tied its employment forever to the development of industrial capitalism.

In terms of those lands and peoples that are the predecessors to the USA, coal initially was a 'found object' of occasional utility, beginning in the early 1700's, with smatterings of mining from that period as well. Systematic mining operations first began in Virginia in 1748, when "fifty tons were purged from the earth" for shipment abroad.

From the outset, environmental toxicity accompanied the work, with acid drainage and unhealthful air both elements of contemporary commentary from the late eighteenth century on. At the same time, from then until now, coal has contributed considerably to the business of America, becoming overwhelmingly important in coal regions--Virginia's number one cash export remains coal to this day.

Feedback loops--between coal and railroad extension, between coal and steel production, between coal and war-making capacity, among others--initiated, as early as the war between the states, to an ongoing upsurge in coal production that culminated in output of half a billion tons per year or more from the period at the end of WWI until WWII. Hubbert's Nuclear Power and the Fossil Fuels shows this in graphical form. Today, the U.S. output has approached, and occasionally topped, one billion tons per annum.

In Appalachia, even with the tremendous decline in deep mining, such as the complete shutdown of Drummond Coal's Alabama mines in order to open non-union operations in Colombia, coal remains a key commodity in capitalist production. With the development of highly invasive strip mining operations, coal in fact has experienced an economic resurgence, particularly in Central parts of the region such as West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky.

According to Department of Energy analysis, overall regional production has remained steady since roughly 1970, at about 400 million tons per year, with only a slight diminution in total tonnage expected between now and 2025.

At present prices, roughly $70/short ton, these facts determine that coal represents a $30 billion per year industry, just in the three sub-regions of Appalachia, in which the Beehive Design Collective is focusing its attention and intentions. Moreover, 55,000 miners, about two thirds sub-surface workers, make their livings from mining in Southern and Central Appalachian sub-regions, with another 8-10,000 employed in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
All of these empirical factors are the structural skeleton of mining, from a microeconomic perspective. That coal miners die in the mines every single year; that others contract disabling disease or face debilitating injury, simply never enters this SOP depiction. These numbing numbers of class carnage are much less horrific than once they were, specifically because of miners' and the United Mine Workers of America(UMWA)'s militant struggles for health and safety in their work.

Nevertheless, the inherent dangers of going deep into the earth, or of using high explosives to 'move mountains' in the land's high places, mean that some mortality and morbidity--living, breathing, singing, loving men and women dead or severely injured and disabled--will always accompany this business. This 'cost' is not fully reflected on the coal business balance sheets, if only because the 'cost' of a human life, when slick lawyers and bean-counting legislation comes into the picture, is less than even a fraction of that life's true worth.

Moreover, of course, the miners themselves pay-off for their own deaths, through union-dues, and the rest of the working-class of consumers pays for this lethal and unaccounted coal-charge through our taxes, which support elderly and broken-down miners in various ways. Tens of thousands of online citations document these mortal risks that miners face.

But only a fraction speak honestly about the critical role that the United Mine Workers of America(UMWA) has played in making mining safer. Thus, a Popular Mechanics 'investigative report' bemoans the ineffectiveness of fines, hopes for better machines and technology, and basically gives up. The article only once mentions UMWA, in the form of a safety rep who accuses mine-operators of soul-sucking greed.
The Department of Labor talks of the way that legislation follows disasters, echoing what this humble correspondent has noted before, that 'dead miners make the most effective lobbyists for safety.' But not once does this Mine Health and Safety Administration acknowledge that its very existence stems in part from union struggles.

Fewer than one article in twenty speak more than in passing about union involvement in such struggles. One of these that does, that every single JustMeans reader should read as if it were scripture, emanates from the soulful pen of Mary Jo Shafer.

As one collier put the matter, "a union," especially, "makes a difference when it comes to health and safety. The health and safety pluses of unionization stick out for retired miner Sam Gilbert, too. ...(who) has worked at both union and nonunion mines. ...With the union, workers had protection if they complained about safety lapses, he said. Today, 'if you complain you end up in unemployment.' ...'Employees who work in a nonunion mine are afraid to speak out at all about health and safety,' said Bobby Ray Hicks."

These are all retired miners; they have little if anything at stake in supporting the union. They speak from experience, from a sense of having been able to have a little more strength and potency in their lives and communities because of the solidarity-factor: 'the union makes us strong.'
This humble correspondent, in the right time and place, unloads criticism galore on all manner of labor unions, even as he remains as solidly pro-union(as in 100%+ solidly pro-union)as is humanly possible. The twisted and dark complexity of labor history is very familiar to THC. He's heard narratives of murder and corruption to curl the hair and induce the gag reflex all at once, from credible witnesses who backed off from telling a complete tale because THC's professional bona-fides simply did not offer enough protection against potentially lethal retaliation.

But the only alternative to being pro-union is being anti-union. And today, more than at any time in this country's history--here's a clue: JustMeans readers should pay careful attention because the clue phone is ringing--today as much so as in Germany in 1932, to be anti-union is to be fascist.

This very brief--but, ah, again, way too long for many folks--interlude includes far too little about brave miners and their heroic struggles. THC has offered a bit further background on this matter before, and the time may yet be better to consider more closely these matters of labor history, the working class, and the possibility for social justice, and social democracy, in America.

Suffice it here to say, that, first of all, along with the Highlander Center, UMWA was from its founding in 1890 one of the few organizations to recognize the insidious and self-destructive effects on workers of White supremacy, standing for equal rights long before such a stand was 'fashionable.' And second of all, the mineworkers made the struggle for national legislation about health and safety, organizing rights, and bargaining rights possible for all other workers, although those rights are sorely at risk right now, and vicious perfidy looms should their destruction ever come to pass.

Furthermore, of course, the unaccounted debts of coal include hideous, at times possibly irreversible local environmental damage and toxicity. This inherently ties in to the miners' struggles for health and safety, for anyone who pays much attention to the matter, since one of the hugest sources of injurious conditions in mines is bad air, and the improvement of technology and organization to reduce toxic effluents inside mines goes hand in glove with attempts to decrease air pollution impacts of coal in transport and combustion.

Miners want to keep their jobs--or at least have a chance at decent paying and gratifyingly complex and demanding work, but they live downwind more than most citizens do from all the externalities of horrifically destructive coal operations. They are not anti-environment; they are not pro-pollution.
They are, in fact, cautious, politically savvy about not being used for someone else's agenda, and progressive. Gene Trisko is merely one of UMWA's hundreds of voices that make this clear, for those who are willing to look and listen. He speaks here in an interview with progressive environmental journalist Ken Ward, in an article entitled "Coal and Copenhagan: a View From the UMWA."

"There are several other US labor unions here who share our views, but I’m reluctant to characterize their positions since they speak through their own representatives. (Clearly), the UMWA has friends in Copenhagen. Along with other US unions, we also have been communicating our views in private meetings with high-level officials of the Obama Administration."

In addition to the air and water and 'carboniferous' impacts of coal, of course, the recent wholesale devastation of hundreds of thousands of Appalachian acres, through the most rapacious instantiation of strip mining imaginable, has legitimately caused regional residents to accuse America of treating mountain communities and non-carbon treasures their as 'sacrifice zones' for the bad habits of the rest of the country. The problem with such a view, without qualification anyhow, is the lack of class context.

Dozens, or perhaps hundreds or thousands would be more accurate if one were to expand beyond the direct witness of this humble correspondent, of cases exemplify this critically important point. One of them concerns a recent, slickly beautiful and heartsickeningly informative, publication of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, "Appalachian Heartbreak."

This publication details, in dispositive fashion for all and sundry to consider, the economic rapine and environmental plunder wrought by coal companies that employ 'mountaintop removal mining,' an initiative promoting hell-on-earth in one way, shape, form, or fashion. Not once, however, does this document mention the UMWA; not once class conflict; not once social justice; not once environmental justice.

It speaks about problems to which it believes it already knows the answers; it talks at the people affected as if its analytical acuity ought to make up for a lack of community engagement. It will fail, repeatedly, to organize a movement for social transformation that can win. It will fail, generally, except for either those cases when its law suits and other 'interventions' serve the capitalist class to which it directs its appeals, or those instances when, like blind hogs, it gets lucky and stumbles on a truffle.

This pamphlet, subtitled "time to end mountaintop removal mining," is full of interesting points and occasional incisive analysis. It speaks trenchantly and incisively about poverty and the cruel cupidity of coal companies.

"Consider Kentucky, where the coal industry generated a total of almost $528 million in tax revenue in 2006, yet ended up costing the state $642 million in subsidies that same year—a net deficit of $115 million. The annual median household income in Boone County, which is West Virginia’s biggest coal producer, is $25,669—only about half the national average of $50,200, even though the price of coal has risen 823 percent over the past decade. In Virginia, the seven coal-producing counties pump out more than 40 million tons of coal a year, but they remain among the poorest counties in the state. In Wise Country, for example, approximately 9 percent of people live below the poverty level, which is nearly double the Virginia state average."
The only evidence of any kind of explicitly class conscious relationship that NRDC has with the miners is their joint endorsement of the Apollo Alliance, a slick and well-orchestrated clean-energy/clean-jobs initiative.

Perhaps this humble correspondent, stretched and strapped as he is, missed the boat of the buddy-up connection between the group that says it wants to fight environmental rape, and the one organization with the most possible clout to prevent that particular case of crime.

If not, however, and NRDC truly wants to win this fight, its marching orders must include working with and through this basic organization of human progress in the USA, the UMWA. It's either that or come up with a better miner's union.

Just so as to balance this bill-of-goods, NRCS is a member for quite some time of the Blue-Green Alliance profiled, extolled, and criticized in these pages. In its Blog their, it mentions organized labor a lot. THC recommends a big old dose of community engagement and an even larger administration of class analysis to bring about superior results in the future. 'A word to the wise is sufficient.'

Appalachia Rising, which the Beehive Design Collective and NRDC both heartily endorsed, clearly operates on the basis of community engagement. Its list of supporting organizations includes many that THC recognizes. It seems to be missing any union backing, nor is the Highlander Center or Project South on the list. Mike Ewall's Environmental Justice Network is on board, but not Lou Zellar nor the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League nor Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Passion, purpose, and stand-up activism are present. An assertion of power is present. But if a strategy is manifest, THC is missing it. Not a whit of class analysis appears, albeit almost all of the text is congruent with a class assessment, save for making the class-linkages explicit. That's one thing that analysis does, to make linkages explicit.

Hopefully, this humble correspondent will be able to follow up this article with a more thorough profile of Appalachia Rising; among the questions that would be lovely to pose is this one. "How's it going?"

THC delves briefly into this enthusiastic expression of apparently analytically inchoate but clearly articulate and thoughtful attack on another ecocidal coal company crime because the Beehive was abuzz with being a part of the recent three day "Appalachia Rising" protest in D.C., which included a non-violent, direct action component and a broader Voices from the Mountains conference.

And potent analysis is something that BDC does very well. This results from a principled commitment to incorporating community and working class voices into all that the worker bees do, voices that not only add to the narrative and metaphorical purpose of the work at hand, but also lead the way, initiate the perspective on display, and otherwise provide the capacity to make the story come to life.

Thus, while THC's conversations with these hard-to-catch apiary honey-makers have been brief, and no clear cut meta-strategy emerges from his very humble reading of their brilliance, their efforts always shine with class consciousness, interrelational thinking, a transparently beautiful sense of history, a powerful expression of narrative that allows grassroots strategies and actions to emerge, and more.

All of their projects thus 'grow,' organically, from people who are suffering injustice and oppression and who seek to empower themselves and capacitate their communities, whether in relation to Plan Colombia, opposition to the WTO, or, as today, in relation to "The True Cost of Coal." They operationalize a form of Community-Based Participatory Research, the praises of which THC has consistently sung. When a reader views their beautiful booklet, this is what she sees; this is what he hears.

"You hold in your hands an echo of discussions, story-tellings, and song-sharings that have taken place since 2008 between the Beehive Collective and community organizers, activists, and folks in Appalachia whose lives and livelihoods have been impacted by Mountaintop Removal coal mining (MTR). These exchanges of inspiration and information were collaboratively woven together into a tapestry of illustrated graphics, designed to strengthen & support critical reflection and strategic action in defense of the Appalachian Mountains--and the cultural and biological diversity they nurture."

'Hard to get holt of' or not, these folks are amazing, bringing beauty and culture and community and political hope and human progress and love-for-the-mother who bore us all in one package, and then some. Readers may stay tuned; this is certainly not the last that these beautiful flying critters have heard from THC.


Summarizing a document so alive that it nearly lives and breathes inevitably works an injustice of some sort. But summing up is one of the special things that those in the sandals of this humble correspondent must do, so here goes. "The True Cost of Coal(TCC)" bubbles like a life-giving spring, waters that can help to heal scars and wounds as deep as the deepest mine shaft, as vicious as a purposely pummeled biosphere.

The story starts prior to opening, as both the web-version and an actual presentation clarify. Interconnection and dialectic are everywhere, as action yields reaction, the past joins the future, and readers, viewers, listeners confront the nature of human understanding and choice.

In overview, the process envisages "A Landscape of Power and Extraction," which alludes both to the vast natural life-potential that the region represents, bringing together mountains and rain and plants and animals and soil among the richest--perhaps, simply, just 'the richest'--on earth, and to the current political economy that interacts with the region, plundering and pillaging with impunity. The text is lyrical and spare.

"As a resource-extraction colony within the UnitedStates, Appalachia is sacrificed and poisoned in the name of cheap electricity for consumers and consolidation of power and wealth for corporations and government. Biological and cultural diversity are threatened while the spiral of climate chaos and unnatural disaster looms menacingly above."

Next, much to THC's delight, TCC called forth the multiple 'ancestries' that underlie Appalachia's wealth--entire forests from long ago, embedded in the coal face, lush forests, teeming rivers, complicated clans of human cousins in juxtaposition. Here, culture, agriculture, history, and natural history all meet precepts of deep ecology--the cyclical balancing of scales that people can meet and honor or try to rob, insodoing destroying their own lives.

The second piece of the 'body fabric' of TCC, "Colonization," briefly contextualizes the National forces of the early U.S.A. in attacking and removing most native human presence. The Trail of Tears, much more complex and important a series of phenomena than TCC can muster, nonetheless receives a powerful presentation here as an important step in defenestrating Appalachia generally.

The subsequent portion of TCC, "Industrialization--Coal Powered Wealth," starts off by noting the sway of capital and its imperial proclivities. It continues by showing the forms of domination, both in "Land Grabs" and "Labor Grabs" and the way that the UMWA led the way in resistance to these efforts at enslaving dominion. It also speaks, lovingly and lyrically, of community resilience through music and dance and mutuality in life and struggle.

This section, given that TCC acknowledges an 'Appalachian tradition' of long stories that are simply unavoidable if the yarn in question is to work its mythic magic, is anomalously deficient. Nothing appears about the regional resistance to slavery and secession; little or nothing is apparent about the inside forces that actively embraced oppressors; nothing about populists, socialists, communists, and assorted other 'pinkish' radicals prances across the stage; nor does either the progressive inauguration nor the reactionary culmination of the New Deal, especially in the form of TVA, participate in the show.

The following part, "Mountaintop Removal," begins with an important internal summary, that guarantees that this effort is beyond valuable, since assigning a dollar sign to truth is like putting a price tag on a human heart. "colonies like Appalachia were sacrified on the altar of “the greater good”- progress, power, and prosperity. And just as rural places gave birth to the modern industrial world, the rising powers of government, banks, and big business also shaped the profile of Appalachia, transforming a region rich in traditions of land-based self-reliance into a job-centered mono-economy," which TCC views as coal alone, but to which THC would add lumber, tourism, and the Nuclear-Fool-Cycle where appropriate.

This vital piece of this document then shows the horrific impacts of MTR, tying these to that thread of class conflict which ever seeks to replace pesky workers--especially such roughnecks as the miners--with docile machinery, and then illustrating the strategic development of capital's vision, vis-a-vis the human tribe remaining amid the detritus of MTR. The tactics in this war-plan of the rich include 'development' of decimated land, 97% of which remains denuded of its former vitality, the remainder turned into Wal-Marts, golf courses, and the primary thriving economic sector in the region after coal, prison construction and operation. 'Useless eaters,' the people displaced in this planned process of plunder, receive their eviction notices. None of this can leave behind a sustainable environment, of course, but that is neither a priority, nor even a concern, of the ruling classes.

The central rubric of TCC follows apace, "The Death Cycle of Coal: Combustion, Consumption, and Climate Chaos." Noting that 'only in the ground' does coal serve an environmentally friendly 'carbon-filtration' purpose, BDC's grassroots worldwide process shows up to powerful effect here.

The story expands to include the U.S. military's imperial purpose, which often revolves around, and definitely uses up, strategic energy supplies. Perhaps the story ought also to include the fact that surrounding Appalachia, at every turn, are the training and logistical and storage and support facilities for this same complex of military and industry, often with manpower supplied from marginalized Appalachians themselves.

TCC includes data and graphical yarn-spinning here as well about coal and the carbon load in the planetary atmosphere. In sophisticated and accurate fashion, it also shows that the extraction of coal connects inextricably with the loss of production capacity, as both coal's toxicity--save for electricity--and the jobs that it creates are packed up and shipped abroad, where environmental and labor regulations are paltry or absent.

In these dire straits, in which Americans cannot help but recognize the impossibility of a sustainable future, the only consolation is more stuff, which capital delivers in mind-numbing varieties of ways. Often, the only critical response to such a 'death-cycle,' a la "Kilowatt Ours," is a superficial 'greenwash.' TCC's response to such formulations is particularly potent. "We need organized, collective action to transform a sick society and economy, so we’re changing the system, not just our lightbulbs!"

The following material, "Community Impacts," develops two sub-sections which such outside purveyors of assessment as NRDC and Sierra Club also excel. Thus, "Waste" and "Unnatural Disasters" include material already widely-dispersed, about 'clean coal as a dirty lie,' about erosion and soil and biosphere evisceration, about environmental health morbidity and mortality, and more.

But TCC also takes a reasonable stab at some of the political economic underpinnings and dialectics immanent in choices about coal; in proceeding in this way, TCC immeasurably improves on materials much slicker and more impressively 'researched.' The sidelight on legal drugs such as oxycontin, for instance, by itself is worth the price of admission many times over.
The penultimate panels, the climactic energies of the effort, appear in "Resistance." Here, as my dad is still likely to drawl in some resurgence of his hillbilly roots, we 'get down to brass tacks.' The necessity of cross-border, cross-cultural, and multi-issue alliances manifests itself. The dangers and harsh repression and difficult organizing environments facing those who choose life over surrender appear in stark terms.

Still "community power" can overcome "coal power," both through legal forms and through direct action and community capacitation and organization. Most critical in this section is some prototype of a class assessment, "We Are NOT All in This Together," in which the 'masters-of-the-universe' who own coal, finance capital's plans, and administer community destruction are opponents in this process over which the rest of humanity has little choice--either bow down or fight back.

The denouement to this marvelous meandering tour, "Regeneration," provides practical guidance about how actual improvements in devastated landscapes and communities are plausible. This humble correspondent will leave to readers the enlightening task of considering "Bioremediation," "Reclamation," and "Solidarity Economies," rich in fact and analogy for transition away from doom.

THC notes that this part of TCC also includes a sidebar on "Representation," about becoming the media and taking back storytelling and establishing the frames of reference for our lives and struggles. Since this is the point of his own "Peoples Information Networks," THC would like very much to strategize and develop such thinking further. Though the work that he has done in this regard has not shown up on JustMeans for the most part, not fitting neatly with considerations of energy and 'business...better,' this is a realm about which he has thought, 'long and hard,' as his hillbilly forebears liked to say.

Like master wordsmiths everywhere, TCC's creators end at the beginning, just as they noted at the outset their touching on the conclusions. "No place on earth should be a sacrifice zone for the profit or luxury of any other, and no people -anywhere- are disposable. While folks fight like mad for their lives and lands, we are all in a perpetual moment of opportunity to get together, imagine, and build a million creative solutions to the problems of this very dire historical moment. And fortunately for us, we don’t have to reinvent the (water) wheel! Appalachians (like these Carrion Flies) have been saving the seeds of sustainable lifeways for generations, and, like landbased people everywhere, they have lots to teach us about how to use our resources wisely and build our communities from our own life energy and beyond coal."

The completion of "The True Cost of Coal" opened the door for the Beehive to hit the road. And that they've done. Since May, when the project was nearly ready, the tour schedule has included 140 discrete dates, of which exactly 20% have occurred in the South.

Thus, whereas a union-environmental coalition such as the Blue-Green Alliance has visited the South not once, these intrepid buzz-swarms have been in and around the Southern mountains twenty eight times in six months. Just that choice, and THC recalls that Ms. Emma from BDC made sure that this point about choosing to return was clear, speaks volumes about this group's commitment to 'walk-the-walk' as well as 'talk-the-talk.'

The remainder of this article's body portion will examine what sort of honeyed reception the Bees received, if any stings were necessary, and what trees and forests and other landscapes did not receive the good graces of these flying beacons of consciousness and democracy. This humble correspondent fully anticipates missing important details here, but, as noted already, getting in touch with the Bees has proved next to impossible, so only the echoes of their passing are available for review.

Late Spring and Summer's pair of actions aside, though THC has an awful hankering to look into a 'Mountain Justice Summer Camp' in June, the recent spate of gatherings and blendings and speak-outs began in early October. Whatever shows up here is a mere pittance of the possible, but perhaps something useful will come of the effort anyway.

A search by this humble correspondent in regard to eleven of the twenty six remaining scheduled stops, one or two of which seemed to involve more than a single day, did not turn up any commentary that contained more than the Bees' own publicity. Several sites did have some nice photos, and at least a couple of blog entries seem mysteriously to have disappeared, despite the fact that this is all of very recent vintage.

That the web is not abuzz does not prove a lack of stirring impact. On the other hand, THC would surely have appreciated a call or an e-mail, so that he could have helped spread the word, whatever is coming out of all of this 'swarming' activity. In any case, he'll be headed over to KSU on Tuesday, in order to take a gander at things with his own two eyes.

Just as the task of THC involves an unattractive necessity of summation to begin, so too this humble correspondent's labor must end with critique, also not a thrilling prospect, even to one who was so naturally "born a critic," according to his own dear mother, in the case of work so beautiful and dearly beloved. Nevertheless, because THC truly does stand, in walk and talk, for gaining what Vermonters and BREDL followers and WAND proponents and Bee-Swarming soul cousins all say that they want, and that he really also wants to attain--a measure of social justice, economic viability, equal opportunity, creative innovation, and so forth--THC has little choice except to be thorough and pointed in his observations at this juncture.

A transformative effort must contain several components at least adequate to achieve the hoped for shift. While in reality, this complex evolution of revolutionary potentiality contains enough disparate elements to require many volumes to parse, today THC examines four such pieces.

The first consists of intention and point-of-view. Without a recognition of the need for transformation, and of the basic dialectics underlying that need--historical, class-related, and more, all of the energy of discomfort and complaint will yield little more than temporary upheaval and occasional displacement.

In terms of consciousness and vision that support a longer-ranged process, Beehive Design Collective is little short of magnificent. Literally, individuals and collective around the world could study in BDC's schoolhouse.

In the second place, on the other hand, the employment of rigorous--even truly scientific--methodologies to dissect and comprehend the sources and events that elicit both our intention and POV must likewise become a central tenet of this work. Otherwise, false premises and inadequate conception will crucify attempts to accomplish reform and justice.

In terms of an analysis that is simultaneously complete and robust, BDC has created some beautiful materials. However, in various ways--some of which averred to above, others of which THC will await the favor of a reply to discuss--these buzzing bees have missed or misinterpreted critical evidentiary and evaluative aspects of their tale.

The third central transformative step consists of both a process of and articulation of the bases for engagement with collaborators, communities, and other collectives, and then finding ways to actuate such connections. Without steps akin to these, one may end up with lovely stories, but the true soul of art--which is ever to guide people to the present paradoxes of living well, will be utterly absent.

In terms of such a process of engagement, BDC and TCC generally merit high marks once again. However, the lack of UMWA presence, of an organized labor component or at least a clear statement of invitation in regard to both extant and nascent forms of workplace democracy, is a critical deficiency. More might be worthwhile to discuss here, but that's what follow-ups are for, especially when no one has returned outreach in a while.

Finally, no attempt to accomplish a transition, a social revolution in one form or another, can ever proceed except by chance or by strategy. Chance will win out only 'by chance.' Otherwise, any strategy will crush no strategy. This thinking is inevitable given the inherent aptness of the recognition above, 'we are not all on the same side.'

In this vein, in terms of a political strategy for achieving goals such as an end to mountaintop removal, BDC's outpouring of passion and pain and love and honey is unfortunately missing the meat and potatoes. Hopes that organic agriculture and food coops that are springing up might guide future communities, and notions that renewable energy has vast potential, and criticisms about poor value-judgments--such as a 'too-much-stuff' addictive personality affliction--simply don't come close to a strategic plan. Nor do they invite such a process, separate from, but a necessary offshoot of, the general process of engagement.

This last admonition applies with special force to every aspect of 'progressive' activism in the USA just now. The lack of any such comprehensive 'marching orders' and 'plan of battle' means that, even if in a particular case results exceed expectations, that in the longer run, the more humane, more beatific, more socially just approach will lose out to opposition forces that are clearly strategically grounded and tactically disciplined.

What exactly is a political strategy? While a bit more about this matter shows up just below, for purposes of this juncture, folks might consider a political strategy to be similar to a 'game plan.' Since the only rationale for politics is empowerment, a 'game plan' here must therefore mean that, given the array of factors in play right now, manifesting the resources, actions, and planning to achieve empowerment equals an effective political strategy.

And, "Lord knows," as THC's West Virginia granny was likely to say when she had a burden to acknowledge, this humble correspondent is quite capable of being a total doofus who misses what is obvious. Still, THC sees no evidence of a political strategy in this work: zero. Lots of talk about action occurs; tremendous and heartfelt idealism is present; beautiful and thrilling mythos and artistic engagement are omnipresent. But no plan for victory is apparent.

What that might consist of ought to be the number one purpose of folks who want a movement for transition to gain traction. A process-orientation is laudable, but it will do nothing to move toward victory without a strategic orientation, meaning that "the strategic action," what BDC indicates at the outset of TCC is a priority, will not be possible, except by serendipity--a wildly unlikely strategy, to say the least.

A political strategy for eliminating MTR would need to contain two components, at a minimum. These two pieces might look and sound something like this:

*"First, we will democratize coal and energy production generally, such that miners and communities in the coal fields and communities adjacent to power plants have equal input as or greater sayso than coal companies and their investors, both over development and use of resources generally, and over the acceptability and priority of specific projects in particular;"

*"Second, we will mobilize masses of citizens, ranging from veterans to injured miners to the unemployed to students, to take direct action in defense of human communities, social justice, and holy mother earth."

THC would not say that this is a great, or even a good, strategy--it certainly is skeletal in its presented form. But it is something akin to strategic thinking, which by its nature turns people's thought to the larger issue. "How in heck are citizens going to win out over plutocratic thugs, the gang-banging banksters, and the 'forces of disorder' that they command?"


Beehive Design Collective, far from taking easy outs and focusing on facile formulations of complicated problems, has engaged to grapple with some of the roughest, most tenacious contradictions imaginable, in terms of doing basic class-conscious analysis and then attempting grassroots outreach and networking. If anything about this aspect of the Bees' buzz is lacking, it consists of a pair of important elements.

The first concerns the need for combining historical and political economic assessment in a more detailed way. Thus, for example, in order to oppose coal, one must know more about how it came to hold its predominant position. What, in other words, were the social and political elements of the technical decisions that led to coal's primacy?

Here is an example from this humble correspondent's own life. THC's granddad, who managed to stand the sense of the roof falling in to work as a miner for one month, ended up a union pipe-fitter and strong proponent of many things progressive and quite a few reactionary as he hunted and fished and worked and cavorted through life, siring THC's father in the process.
We would sing "over the river and through the woods" when we visited the home to which he and grandma retired--obtained via his good union pension. In the Winter, a then 'state-of-the-art' coal stove kept kith and kin toasty. I would rise and sit next to it, while everyone else snuggled in on the bitterest nights. This does not represent regress or noxiousness, far from it. Such devices continue to warm folk throughout the region who face dark days and cold nights.

This portion of coal's history, and the political economic realities of its inception--and of deconstructing such usage and replacing it with something equally serviceable, must happen if the lyrical loveliness of TCC is to have political potency, as opposed to merely artistic cachet. Similar in-depth explorations of the technique and politics of mine safety are also missing from the Bees' work; lacking a counter to what MHSA presents on this topic, superficial and completely lacking in any class content, but highly attractive and competently put together, will reign as accurate disposition of such a topic.

Along similar lines, BDC and TCC both could use more regarding those aspects of regional history, such as Highlander Center and TVA, that show the dialectical dance between efforts in favor of community and justice, and efforts that prop up or move forward established agendas of wealth and domination. An understanding of such phenomena, both in terms of possible models and modes of evolution, can spell the difference between surface commentary and story-telling that becomes deeply applicable to ongoing conflict and possibility.

Even descriptively, expanded versions of the Bees' output might touch on various updates that focus more closely on such matters as renewable energy's multiple possibilities. Wind's upward surge, for instance, now means that more wage-earners produce, service, market, and install wind technology than participate in the entire solid-carbon-fuel cycle.

Such amplifications of the bees' graphics and mythos could also further the already extant recognition, on the part of TCC, that many apparent 'resuscitative' technologies for coal are, at best, dangerous and fraudulent. Such attempts as coal gasification, dangerous and toxic, might show up in such 'second takes.'

Additionally, the Bees' willingness to take up class-conflict as a central issue, their at least initial ability to demonstrate class-prejudice and warfare on the part of capital, simply must be something that they take seriously enough to follow up in a coherent way. This means, no matter how much the campuses of Berea and Warren Wilson beckon, no matter how comfortable the bees themselves feel among other, relatively well-off and 'conscious' youth, that these buzzing swarms must find a way first to make the miner-connection permanent and then to grow it to include a sense of working class upheaval, and even movement more generally.

Mary Jo Shafer and this humble correspondent are merely a pair among millions who can point these brilliant little bees to the ears that need to have access to the beautiful buzz that they have manifested in "The True Costs of Coal." Such polite and persistent class-conscious networking would no doubt present much greater chances for discomfiture and angst, but it also promises payoffs otherwise completely unavailable.

Finally, this humble correspondent, in casting about for material--not that he needed more, for goodness' sake, but just because his nature is to look a little further, came upon an odd--oddly harsh and oddly interesting--iatribe against the buzzing swarm. The author persistently takes BDC to task.

"In the conclusion there is a vague call for some 'better world' being 'envisioned,' yet no mention of what this world is. Is it a more regulated capitalism? Marxism? A socialist society? Perhaps anarchy? The difference between these systems are vast and tremendously important. The Beehive Collective’s rhetoric references numerous ideologies with all the purposeful vagueness of a politician."

Leaving aside this invective's own vagueness--THC looked a bit at the blog--this criticism lacks substance for several reasons. Most importantly, the author does not make clear what his own inclinations are and how his own preferences might manifest themselves, especially in relation to the substantive questions--about coal and class and community and power--that these able little bees do raise.

Another correspondent of the virtual, unfolding conversation took this naysayer to task and opened the floor to his own, larger audience to seek their perspectives. He had at least one well-reasoned response to the critic.

"The Beehive Collective is purposefully refusing to forward a particular political ideology or agenda. Why? Because their artistic process is rooted in listening to people with a diversity of strategies and beliefs. Their positionality is not one of decision-making or movement leading–they’re storytellers and media-makers."

Then again, this defense brings to THC's mind his above comments about the importance of strategy. Everyone involved in the conversation to transform society, at least inasmuch as he or she is other than a dilletantish dabbler, bears some measure of responsibility to articulate a strategic sense of how changes might come to pass, what coalescence of forces are necessary to catalyze upheaval, effective resistance, and successful rebellion or transition.

Clearly, the negative comments of the first blogger elucidate nothing strategically useful. But the Bees are arguably also lacking in that department. Below, THC will discourse briefly about what such additions to the process might entail, how they might come into being, and what they might contribute.


To 'let the people lead,' a notion which implicitly emanates from the entire Beehive Design Collective approach and way of thinking, more than just standing aside must happen. This humble correspondent would be the first to note that structural impediments--laws, technocratic cults, bogus requirements of at best ephemeral 'expertise,' and more--not to mention social blockades, create almost insuperable barriers to grassroots leadership in the United States.

More than such positive and passive blocks are at work in the lack of community capacity here, however. Education--and by this THC means less math than social studies and history, less science than mythology--has become so paltry that the capability to think straight is often either so attenuated as to be largely absent, or the articulation of correct analysis is hard for people to make clear.

Thus, the BDC's routines--which like Highlander Center's contain many elements of popular education and powerful boosting of the conversational and dialogic capabilities that are so often missing in America's ailing collectivities today, especially among working folk--provide critical and presently often absent pieces of an empowerment puzzle. In this way, BDC powerfully advances popular leadership.

In relation to the aforementioned impedimenta, though, Beehive's materials lack substance. The way that elections have replaced participation; so-called hearings have substituted for policy-making; and punditry both vapid and misleading has taken away(except in Vermont and a few other special spots) critical interaction, debate, and community-centered dialog: none of this makes much of a showing, let alone an expository framework to explain how it has happened or what people might do about it.

Of course, in every single essay of this humble correspondent, a good-faith attempt transpires to provide these missing analytical pieces, and to suggest alternative ways of conceptualizing, analyzing, and studying such matters. In his interaction with models for advancing popular power, THC takes liberties in suggesting necessary additions and such.

Yet another missing part of the whole assemblage of political potency, as THC notes a couple of times above, is this idea of developing a political strategy. Now, were THC much good at this himself, he might write less and spark more action. At the same time, one aspect of strategic acuity must always be acute analytical effort; in that sphere, perhaps, this humble correspondent continues to contribute.

In any event, as he has the privilege to see such passionate and honest purpose of the Bees show up regularly, THC has begun to ponder this whole issue of strategy. A plan to win some definite outcome, goal, or contest is something that, as a player of all manner of games, he understands well enough.

How to apply that to political events here shows up transparently for the first time, elicited by the buzzing from the apiary under consideration today. Beatric Heuser has cobbled together an interesting tome on this topic--The Evolution of Strategy: Thinking War From Antiquity to the Present.

Heuser's effort in many ways appears to follow along the lines of a literature review, though she has her own 'ax to grind' eventually. For our purposes today, which is to take THC way outside his comfort zone, and to proffer something in the semblance of advice about strategic thinking to those who might use it much better than he would, a source that Heuser consults seems excellent to paraphrase.

'Strategy aims to develop an overarching conceptual framework. While strategy involves this conceptual dimension, it must also manage to develop and direct the working classes' power, including the use of whatever level of action is necessary to achieve a solidification of that power, which in turn becomes a lever to gain specific ends that currently are under the more or less complete control of capital.'

Having reached just such a 'strategic' juncture, this humble correspondent turns again to the severe caviler from above. He severely chastises Bees in a way that THC finds neither accurate nor fair. However, lacking a strategic dimension, the work of BDC--for all its beauty and heart and potent militancy, might end up meriting a depiction not altogether different from what this critical fellow, Keith Spencer by name, propounds as legitimate.

"In an unquoted earlier section, the Beehive Collective bashed 'greenwashing,' yet their solution is precisely that: a bourgeois utopian society where the colonial trust-funders can still feel gritty and urban while gentrifying, while retaining their own naive consumer fantasies–albeit powered by solar panels and their own dishwashing. The resulting image is both beautifully ambitious and shallower than the canvas it is drawn on."

Again: THC finds Mr. Spencer's avowal shallow. Unless the bees find a strategy to guide the way out of the brutal wilderness of class-conflict and imperial hegemony, however, his critique will resound with many folks, possibly including quite a few coal miners and workers who depend much more on a weekly pay check than do the Bees and those who buzz around them.