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Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue"

James Hansen in front of Kayford Mountain, a mountaintop removal mine site

A few weeks ago a friend and photographer J. Henry Fair sent me a link to a photo essay that will be in his new book The Day After Tomorrow: Images Of Our Earth In Crisis.  The pictures were of a scientist I first met when I was a graduate student, Dr. James Hansen.  Jim, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies and one of the leading climate scientists of our age, had recently driven with Henry to Kayford Mountain in West Virginia to protest the scourge of mountaintop removal coal mining.  Indeed, over the last five years Jim has been crisscrossing the globe educating people about the perils of global warming due to unchecked fossil fuel consumption.  These activities have included testifying on behalf of citizen's groups suing large corporations, writing personal letters to many of the world's leaders in hopes of influencing their energy policies and, on occasion, getting arrested during peaceful protests.  In short, he is an activist, a label he proudly embraces, even in the face of much head-shaking, even scorn, from some of his fellow scientists. 

Like Hansen, William Morris excelled at and became a world leader in his chosen profession (in his case Arts and Crafts, later referred to by him as "ministering to the swinish luxury of the rich").  And, by the second half of his adult life, he also had become an activist, founding the British socialist party, fighting for worker's rights, and laying the foundation for today's "green" movement.  No doubt many of his upper-class family and friends likewise shook their heads in disbelief and dismay.

Shuttered stores at night in Whitesville, WV

If you are the least bit curious about global warming and whether you need to worry about it, I recommend you read Hansen's engaging two page essay Activist (follow this link then look for the line beginning with "Aug. 25, 2010").  When you find the "Hypocrisy" quote about half way through you will begin to understand the full might of the short-term political and economic status quo when it comes to the energy industry.  Not all of us are cut out to be activists but we can all be part of an educated citizenry.

Finally, the coal miners of West Virginia understandably advocate strongly for their jobs and livelihood.  In "Art and Socialism", a talk given by William Morris in 1884, he asks "What are the necessaries for a good citizen?  First, honourable and fitting work.  The second necessity is decency of surroundings, including:

1) good lodging,
2) ample space,
3) general order and beauty.

He goes on to elaborate on these three requirements including, for the third, to say "Order and beauty means that not only our houses must be stoutly and properly built, but also that they be ornamented duly; that the fields be not only left for cultivation, but also that they be not spoilt by it any more than a garden is spoilt; no one for instance to be allowed to cut down, for mere profit, trees whose loss would spoil a landscape; neither on any pretext should people be allowed to darken the daylight with smoke, to befoul rivers, or to degrade any spot of earth with squalid litter and brutal wasteful disorder."

Storefront at night in Whitesville, WV

I can't help but think that if Morris was alive today he also would be in these sad bleak towns of West Virginia, with Hansen and Fair, working to establish new economic models based on craft and agriculture.

James Hansen in front of Marsh Fork Elementary School, which is adjacent to a Massey Coal processing plant.
Thank you Henry for letting me share some of your very moving photographs.  Looking forward to the book!