West Virginia, America's coal capital, struggles with global warming science curriculum


I don’t see the problem. On the one hand, you have all of the scientists. On the other hand you have all of the lobbyists. Who can say which side knows more about science?


“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

Upton Sinclair


Speaking as a West Virginian, this is not quite true.

Coal dominates politics, but it actually contributes surprisingly little to the economy. Most money generated by coal – the vast majority of it, actually – goes to out-of-state mine owners. Very little coal money stays in state, and while the amount of coal being removed from the state is high, the number of people employed by the industry is historically low. If you have ever driven through the coal fields – say in McDowell or Mercer county, which is ground zero – you’d think you were driving though a third-world county.

The places where coal is biggest are a lot poorer than, say, the eastern panhandle, where there is no coal money.


Interesting. What are the largest/most profitable industries in West Virgina these days?

I don’t know, does an economy have to be benefitting from an industry to be dominated by it?
Regardless, important point.


Interesting. What are the largest/most profitable industries in West Virgina these days?

That’s the problem – pretty much none.

A lot of the economy (if not most) is driven by the pork that the late Sen. Byrd brought to the state (I mean, how many other land-locked states have big Coast Guard facilities?). Last time I checked, the two biggest employers were the school department (and keep in mind that WV usually ranks 49th or 50th in educational rankings, dukeing it out with Mississippi for the bottom spot) and the Highway department. In both cases it’s mostly funded from Federal dollars.

Between schools, highways, and a plethora of Federal facilities a lot of people get paid, but none of those make any kind of profit that would allow any kind of re-investment in the state’s future. You could argue that the schools are an investment in the future, but for that to really be true they’d probably need to rank other-than-the-absolute-bottom.


There’s also the Marcellus shale under much of the state. Extractive industries dominate WV, where profits go out of state and locals get inherently short-term work. WV was originally ripped by timber extraction – nearly the whole state was logged off. There are a relatively few well-paying jobs while the resource lasts, and the “well-paying” part is a lot more visible than the “few” part.
One thing that really hurts me about mountaintop removal mining is that the forest overlaying the coal is just bulldozed into valleys, destroying the hollows. That same area could be used for growing black locust, a fast-growing native tree with energy density comparable to coal, giving WV a sustainable energy industry with a lot less impact. Plus: the hollows being destroyed are prime habitat for ginseng, one of the only things we sell to China (besides coal). I would guess that the combined costs of wasting the trees and destroying the hollows exceeds the market value of the thin seams of coal recovered (not to mention the poisoning of headwaters of pristine streams). But there’s an already existing pipeline of coal wealth for the financial hierarchy, and that overrides steady livable income for West Virginians.


I agree, and would add: WV is actually placed nicely to have a thriving tourism economy – it’s pretty “wild” by east coast standards, has good skiing and some of the best white-water rafting in the country, and it’s just a few hours from major east-coast metropolitan areas. And tourism is a pretty sustainable economy.

Mountaintop removal, if continued at intensity, will really screw that up.

What I’d really like to see, though, is WV’s largest cash crop (cannabis) made legal. I actually talked to some of our legislators about that a few years ago, but they so lacked any vision on that score…


Interesting discussion with you and @Alvin. Skied Snowshoe not long ago and had a grand time, both mountaintop and driving in/out. It’s really a beautiful state, and quite shocking when suddenly you’re driving through a mountaintop mining operation with destruction and chaos all around, then turn a corner to be back in a verdant forest.
I hope, but I don’t expect, the “ski village” operators are in-state so the money stays there…

And I’m guessing a little Visine isn’t going to help…

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