Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Tragedy in West Virginia, and in America

Most of us are aware of the terrible event in West Virginia that killed over 25 people working at a Coal Mine owned by Massey Energy.  The loss of human life is of course a tragedy to the families and the community where these people lived.  It's also a tragedy for America.  The tragedy for America is that while most of us will shake our heads and perhaps say a prayer for the fallen and their families, most of us will go about our business without really thinking about this in the context of our collective accountability for this.  Oh, I know, "I didn't kill those people!"  "It wasn't my fault!"  "Those people knew the risks of the job"...   Of course, all of this is true to a point.  These were adults who made a decision to take on a profession that is fraught with risk and danger.  However,  it's not that simple in my view. 

It can't be surprising to anyone that mining is extremely dangerous.  Oh, it's not dangerous to the owners, the investors, the upper management that work in Finance, Human Resources, IT, etc. 

It's dangerous for the line workers and supervisors and rescue teams.  The people going down into those holes to bring up pieces of earth that power our computers, our electric grid, our microwaves, our TV's.  That's who is at risk.  Seriously, a profession that as a matter of course has trained "rescue workers" as part of it's normal complement of employees should give a signal to us all about how dangerous a profession this is.  It should make us think twice about our never ending thirst for energy.  It should remind us that because of our appetite for power, people put themselves at serious risk to their lives.   It should do all of these things but it doesn't.  That's a tragedy as well.  The abiity for us to collectively become detached from things like this and not take some level of responsibilty, however small is the norm and not the exception.  Every day, much of our lives and how we live them are made possible by people like coal miners.  People who put themselves at serious risk to their health, their lives and their sanity all so we can live like we do.  It's not considered heroic, but should be.  Statistics quoted from the Foundation of the American  Thoracic Society
show that between 1979 and 1996, over 14 thousand people died from Black Lung disease, a condition that afflicts coal miners more than any other group.  That's roughly 2 people per day dying from this disease.  While it sounds small in comparison with the people who die each day from the flu or an automobile accident, it's still someone perishing as a direct result of mining for the purposes of providing power to the rest of us.

We owe a serious debt of gratitude and reflection on our use of energy to these people who every day, year after year, put themselves thousands of feet into the ground and put their lives at risk so we can watch "Fox News" or "Jerry Springer."

Think about that, and turn the lights off when you leave the room.