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Power down in solidarity with all creation


I can still recall my first reaction upon seeing a mountaintop removal site created by a strip-mining operation: “Whoa! This isn’t right!”

It’s difficult to imagine any other response to the out-of-kilter sensation induced by standing in the middle of several hundred acres of flat earth -- where a mountaintop used to be -- surrounded on all sides by the peaks of neighboring mountains.

Not that the sites are necessarily eyesores. I’ve visited a number that were actually attractive in their weirdness: Canada geese swimming lazily in a specially created pond, wildflower blooms, even grapevines trained onto nicely fashioned trellises. Nonetheless, my overall impression invariably is that God didn’t create it this way, and God probably had the best idea.

The environmental and social problems created by this invasive type of mining may be familiar to NCR subscribers who read “The slugfest over strip-mining” in the Oct. 16, 1998, issue. Strip-mining causes disruption of watersheds and the resulting loss of community water supplies; destruction of mature forest ecosystems and the difficulties of preventing erosion; interruption of wildlife food supplies and habitats; and fragmentation of rural communities.

People in Appalachia are crying out against the permits being issued for these operations, many of which are now running into the thousands of acres. Numerous organizations, including the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, have joined in endorsing a resolution presented by the Commission on Religion in Appalachia opposing mountaintop removal.

The Catholic Committee of Appalachia launched a campaign last fall in solidarity with those homes and ways of life being impoverished by this mining practice and in affirmation of the community of creation. Many Christians and other persons with ethical objections to the destruction of our mountains feel that political protest, while absolutely essential, is not enough. We long for ways to bring our day-to-day decisions and actions in line with our moral principles. Our campaign, called “Powering Down: A Less is More Proposal,” offers one avenue to move in that direction.

The proposal states that the Catholic church has a strong tradition of encouraging the faithful to make Friday a day of sacrifice and self-denial. In keeping with that tradition, and with the church’s call to solidarity with the poor and its call to respect creation, the program suggests that persons abstain as much as possible from the use of electricity and fossil fuels on the first Friday of each month. This can be a time to reflect upon our society’s level of power consumption, which renders assaults on the environment “necessary.” It can also be a time for thinking about the masses of people in the world for whom access to such electrical power is limited and inconsistent.

Health concerns and work requirements will not permit everyone to incorporate all the suggestions. Where appropriate, some intentional acts of solidarity might include:

  • Reducing the use of heating or air conditioning;
  • Turning off the television or radio;
  • Eating a cold meal, or sharing a single-pot meal with others;
  • Using public transportation or car-pooling;
  • Arranging office work to reduce computer use;
  • Making and using a solar cooker (plans available from the Catholic Committee of Appalachia office).

The plan states, “While this is a proposal to forgo simple conveniences for a day, we suggest that it also be embraced as a day of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) -- a day to lay down the bustle and allow our lives some fallow time, consciously opting for the community of creation, for ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, the world and all that live there.’ ”

“We often become slaves to the laborsaving devices meant to liberate us and use the time we have ‘freed-up’ for other tasks and busyness. The feeling that we have too much to do and too little time is epidemic.”

“As a monthly Jubilee, a Power-Down Day could be a step in recovering the concept of Sabbath as a time for re-creation.”

By observing this day of abstinence, we can take time to be with family and friends, to reconnect with the natural rhythms of sunrise and sunset, from which our culture and our lives have become increasingly isolated. We want our actions to embody justice and respect, and Powering Down can help us take the first steps toward that aim.

The proposal is already striking a chord. Todd Garland, director of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, reports that over 10,000 copies of the brochure have been distributed among church and community organizations. He invites others concerned about the people and environment of the region to join in this observance. For copies of the brochure or more information, contact the group at P.O. Box 662, Webster Springs, W.Va., 26288; phone (304) 847-7215; E-mail cca@access.mountain.net

Carol E. Warren writes from Webster Springs, W.Va.

National Catholic Reporter, February 12, 1999