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Care for Creation, Care for Workers

Many of us remember the disaster at the Sago Mine in Upshur County, West Virginia in 2006. Thirteen miners were trapped underground by a coal mine explosion, and the rescue process was delayed for hours by the dangerous conditions. For those in the community who were listening to the story unfold, it was especially harrowing. After first hearing that all but one of the trapped miners had been found alive, they then learned that a terrible miscommunication had occurred and in fact all but one of the miners had died. The pain of the members of the Tallmansville community, where the accident took place, is hard to imagine. Waves of it spread throughout West Virginia and the entire Appalachian region, which has sacrificed so much to the coal industry: the quality of their air and water and soil, the stability of their land which is now more vulnerable to flooding and erosion, and the health of their families and children. 

And yet in West Virginia, as in many mining states, yard signs and bumper stickers proclaim many are “Friends of Coal” and remind us that “Coal Keeps the Lights On.” Coal mining has been an important part of West Virginia’s rich culture and history. Despite its destructiveness, coal has formed the economic basis of many Appalachian communities. Many West Virginians are rightly suspicious that their already suffering communities now face the disruption of moving away from what has become, for them, a way of life to a clean energy economy that could leave them behind. But when we transition to clean ener
gy, must these communities and families be left behind?        

In their recent People’s Pastoral, The Telling Takes Us Home, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia summarizes their ongoing dialogue with Appalachians experiencing injustice as a result of environmentally destructive industries such as mining and fracking. “Fear of losing or not finding work is worsening in many parts of Appalachia. It is not difficult, for example, to find the stories of the loss of coal mining jobs. A drive through the once bustling towns of “coal country” will tell those stories. […] This loss of livelihood, without anything to replace it, is an old story in Appalachia which has only worsened with time.” 

As our country transitions to a clean energy economy, we cannot ignore the problems fac
ed by the workers who rely on fossil fuel industries for their livelihoods. If we leave those whose lives are intertwined with mining with no alternatives to turn to, we fail to fully answer our call to care for creation and care for the poor. As Catholics, our obligation to repair the damage done to the environment is inextricably linked to our obligation to return dignity to disenfranchised workers and their communities, because both are part of God’s creation and honor God by their existence. It is vital that our vision of a green economy include rebuilding the communities and lives that will be affected by the economic and social changes brought forth by the transition. 

To learn more about the challenges of a transition to clean energy and to enter the discussion about how to effectively address those challenges, we invite you to watch our webinar, "Just Transition: Shrinking our Carbon Footprint While Leaving No One Behind." The webinar focuses on the disproportionate burden poor and vulnerable communities bare as a consequences of climate change, particularly in Appalachia. It examines the shift away from a fossil-fuel based economies and its effect on communities based around fossil fuel extraction industries through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching. 

Our duty to care for creation includes our a duty to care for workers. We are called by our Catholic faith to have a catholic solution. And we also invite you to pray this prayer in the hopes we may move closer to God’s “vision of wholeness” for creation: 

Vision of Wholeness 

God of grace, 
creator of a wor
ld of plenty, 
the heavens declare your glory 
and the earth your generosity. 
In love, you created us 
and in your likeness you made us to be partners in creation. 

In greed, we have turned away 
and have marred your image in us to fashion a fragmented world. 

Renew in us your vision of wholeness, 
that the rich may restore wealth to the poor 
and the poor share blessings with the rich.  

Revive in us a passion for justice, 
that the tyranny of profit be quelled 
and whispers of freedom find voice. 
Refresh in us our sense of calling, 
that we may follow Christ in serving others  
and live simply with those who simply live. 

Prayer by Annabel Shilson-Thomas, Courtesy of CAFOD Prayer Resources   

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