Thursday, August 20, 2015

Connections - Breaking Clean 2015 Final Blog



Connections by Rustina & Nick Mullins 

On May 31st, 2015 we packed our little Toyota Corolla full of camping gear, clothes, cameras, presentation gear, and of course, ourselves and set off on a two month long journey to the furthest western regions of the lower 48 and British Columbia. Over the 62 day long tour the odometer of our car increased by some 9,300 miles (15,024 km), to destinations entirely unfamiliar to us except from what we’d seen in magazines and on television. We met with the wonderful hospitality of hosts who would provide us 27 nights of comfortable rest in their homes, and we’d spend 18 nights camping outdoors and 16 nights in hotel rooms thanks to either the generosity of the Cumberland Museum and the Sierra Club, or due to extenuating circumstances concerning the weather. But many people have asked us  “Why the Pacific Northwest? Why so far away from home?”

It was indeed a question we asked ourselves many times. Last year, the Breaking Clean Tour focused on traveling around the eastern half of the United States sharing our family’s story in order to raise awareness about mountain top removal coal mining (mtr). Sometimes we’d have a specific ask to write congressional representatives and support various bills that would stop mtr. But many of those people were already working on their own issues, spending their time dealing with the problems most immediate to their communities. It gave us a great deal to think about over the next school year, and through our courses, we realized the need to connect all issues and find the focal points that best achieve all of our goals.


Having heard through social media about the proposed coal export terminals along the west coast, we became intrigued with the activism taking place there and thought that perhaps our story could aid people in seeing the broader issues of coal. As we made our way across the country, we saw several coal trains heading back and forth to the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, each  symbolizing the destruction that had occurred to mine it and the pollution that would be released when it would be burned at its final destination. To see and understand this—to connect the issues as we have—bares with it a strong dose of realism as well as resolve in fighting against the injustices we are bestowing upon coming generations.

Our journey truly began in Colstrip, Montana where such resolve was steeled when we were honored to speak out against the Tongue River Railroad that would open up mining in the Otter Creek area. Lending our voice to people of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and local ranchers in Montana started a new chapter for us, forging connections that needed to be forged.


I spoke to our own experiences and the truth about “job creation” and the “economic benefits” coal mining companies often tout. I tried to relate that impacts to the land and people would not be worth the few years of employment the mining operations would give, and that the mine would not just effect the people living in southern Montana. It would affect people from the mine all the way to the Pacific Ocean and beyond.

While we had a vague understanding of what we hoped to accomplish with our tour, this moment and others forged what would be the overall purpose of the tour—to help people make connections and begin looking at a bigger picture.


St. Louis, July 30th 2015 | Photo Courtesy Missouri Beyond Coal
As we shared our history and struggles with people, we asked our audiences to think about what they were fighting against, whether it be coal trains, export terminals, power plants, or even pipelines, and to then think of  how they would be helping more than just those living in their own backyards. This message was broadened even further to asking people to think about all environmental issues and their cultural causes.


Making connections between what we have, what we need, and all the issues we face is the only truly effective means of positively affecting the future. From the ranchers and First Nations people in Montana to people living on Vancouver and Denman Islands to those living near Surrey, British Columbia, Bellingham, Seattle, and Longview, Washington, Portland, Oregon and all along the way, we each have understandings and lessons that must be shared. 


The 2015 tour is now over and we have much to remember and consider as we enter into our final year of college. Venturing forth we are left with the question of what to do next. We certainly hope to continue this mission in whatever form it may take, reaching larger audiences at institutions of higher learning perhaps. Whatever does happen, we hope to continue to make connections between people, the resources they choose to use, and the necessity for us to all break clean from a terrible future.

This tour could not have been accomplished without the help and contribution of so many people. 


Esther Livingston & Staff
Center for Transformative Learning | Office of Internships | Berea College

Dr. Chris Green
Loyal Jones Appalachian CenterBerea College

Kate Rooth, Brian Sewell, Thom Kay, Cat McCue
Appalachian Voices

Dena Jensen and Sandy Robson

Stephanie Smith

Richard Jehn

Dr. Frank James

Joann Kerr
Sustainable Northeast Seattle

Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky

Lucas Schuller

Wendy & Ken Boothroyd

Jamie Folsom

Mark Haim

Mary Edwards & Don Marsh
The Sierra Club
                Mike Scott & Alexis Bonogofsky – Montana Chapter
                Aaron Isherwood – National Headquarters
                Sara Edgar – Missouri Beyond Coal

Homestays:
The McRae Family and Rocker Six Ranch
Janice and Maurice
Wendy and Ken
Bob and Dotty
Richard
Terri
Jasmine & Jared
Mark and Katherine

And our countless donors who without your financial assistance, we would have never been able to complete this tour!!!!

Thank you all!
The Mullins Family

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Former Coal Miner Seeks Just Energy Transition | Sierra Club

Photo Amanda Elkins: bellamandaphoto.com
Nick Mullins is a former fourth-generation coal miner from Georges Fork, a small valley in the far southwestern tip of Virginia near eastern Kentucky. After leaving the mines at age 30, Nick embraced a new environmental ethos, and has become a voice for the region about the effects of coal culture. The Planet recently caught up with him to talk about his life after coal mining and how he and his family are using their story to educate others and facilitate a dialog about coal in all
corners of the country.

You have been traveling this summer across the country, sharing your story as a former coal miner. Tell us about the experience of the “Breaking Clean Tour” and what your goals have been for the project.

Our experience has been phenomenal. We’ve had the honor of meeting hundreds of people dedicated to protecting the health of their communities, as well as witnessing first hand the generosity of people willing to take our family into their homes. It’s uplifting to see so many people dedicated to the same goals as we are, just in different locations with different issues. There are several goals within our tour, but perhaps the most important has been building connections between communities and the issues they each face. By presenting our personal story of the impacts coal extraction has had on our lives, and our life’s journey since then, we hope to open people up to the broader understanding of environmental justice we have come to know over the past few years. So often we find ourselves intently focused upon the issues closest to us that we sometimes forget the bigger picture. As we have learned, everything is connected and we must realize the work we do affects people living elsewhere--sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. Along the way we spend time getting to know the communities and initiatives people are taking towards sustainable living and environmental justice issues. This helps us to continue broadening our own understandings while giving us the chance connect people and spread new ideas to new places.

Nick Mullins, a former coal miner, now speaks out against the industry
Photo by Jay Buckner

You planned, specifically, to travel to the Northwest to share the stories of coal miners. What was your reasoning behind traveling to this particular region?

The Pacific Northwest is in a unique position to determine the future of mining operations in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. As US thermal coal continues to lose ground to natural gas and renewable energy within the electrical generation sector, mining companies are seeking to extend coal’s profit viability in foreign markets by constructing coal export terminals along the west coast and shipping the coal overseas. We felt it was important to learn from organizations working to stop the construction of export terminals and to share with them a better understanding of how that work will impact local mining communities who are being impacted by coal extraction.


You stopped in at Sierra Club headquarters in San Francisco, where I was fortunate enough to participate in a compelling conversation about the future of coal in Appalachia. What has the dialogue been like with various people and groups to whom you’ve spoken?

What we’ve found is that the majority of our tour presentations are given to like-minded people. In most cases, the discussion becomes solution oriented with many people focusing on the necessity for renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels. From there we try to bring energy efficiency to the forefront of the conversation as a more easily obtained start to a long term and just energy transition. This ultimately leads us into a conversation about our culture and how it is influenced by cheap energy. Communication strategies and public education then become a focal point as we discus better ways to connect with a larger demographic, including many blue collar workers and their families, and how to correlate energy efficiency into the everyday financial struggles many people face.

What has it been like for you, a former coal miner, to now be speaking against the industry?

It’s been complicated. As we progress towards a coal free future, I am fully aware of the economic implications it will have back home. There are few job alternatives for Appalachian people due to the mono-economy created and maintained by the coal industry. To say that coal mining families are facing a difficult financial situation would be putting it lightly. At the same time however, I realize that there is much more at stake than the short lived economic prosperity coal mining provides to
Appalachian communities and others. The health issues associated with coal pollution and the impending problems of global climate change are enough reason for me to speak at length about the need for a just energy transition.

With the coal industry in decline,  particularly in the Appalachian region, the question has become, “What is the future of coal?” What industries or initiatives do you think could benefit the region both culturally and economically?

Energy efficiency is perhaps one of our best options in alleviating the economic distress we are seeing in coal mining communities. Not only would making homes and businesses more energy efficient provide hundreds of jobs with livable wages in building trades such as carpentry, masonry, electrical, heating and cooling, plumbing, and so on, it would also decrease energy costs. Appalachian people were once known for their ability to sustain themselves on very little, enjoying their freedom from various economic constraints. I believe that once people are reminded of their heritage and are faced with the inevitability of coal’s decline, we will begin to see the resiliency Appalachian people are known for. There are several organizations working to help in this transition, including the Mountain Association of Community Economic Development (MACED) which focuses a great deal on alternative economics based on energy efficiency and renewable energy, and Grow Appalachia, an organization that works to increase local food production in the central Appalachian coalfields and surrounding areas.

Your time on the road is coming to an end within the next few days. How do you plan to keep a project like this going? What are your next steps?

My wife and I are entering our senior year at Berea College in Kentucky which will make it challenging for us to maintain the level of activism we were able to achieve over the summer. Our hope is to combine assignments and projects with our activism in a way that will allow us to finish our undergraduate degrees. Once we’ve graduated, we are hoping to continue the tour, perhaps through starting a non-profit organization and raising funds. We would like to take our message to new audiences, especially younger audiences at various colleges and universities, perhaps even high schools, all institutions we have been unable to reach due to our own educational commitments during the same time of the year.
Image Source: 
Amanda Elkins - bellamandaphoto.com ; Jay Buckner

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Quick Updates

Just dropping a couple of quick updates. We're back home in Berea, having actually arrived home on August 1st after 62 days on the road. It's been a whirlwind to get settled back in, get the kids ready for their school year (starts Wednesday!) and of course, prepare ourselves for our senior year at Berea College. We are working on a final post to cover the last part of our trip which included presentations and radio appearances in Columbia, MO and St. Louis. Thanks for your patience and support!

-Nick 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Day 58

Today is day 58 of our tour. It is the 58th day we have been gone from home, the 58th day of meeting new people, seeing new places, and now, seeing some old in a new light.

We have just two more presentations to give: Columbia, Missouri at the Boone County Government Center on Wednesday, July 29th at 7 p.m. and the last presentation of the tour in St. Louis at the Schafly Branch Public Library on Thursday July 30th at 6 p.m.

Also in line are two radio shows:

Evening Edition with Mark Haim
KOPN 89.5 - Listener Supported Radio
Tuesday, July 28th at 6 p.m.

St. Louis on the Air with Don Marsh
KWMU 90.7 - St. Louis Public Radio
Thursday, July 30th at 12:00 p.m.

Wish us luck as we wrap up the final week of our tour!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Seattle to Portland to San Francisco and Beyond (days 35 through 54)

It has been nearly 20 days since our last post and much has happened. Admittedly, as the tour continues and we deal with hectic schedules we tend to use down time to focus on the family through various outings and activities.

Following Seattle, we moved on to Portland where we stayed with some wonderful people, Jasmine of the Columbia Riverkeepers and her partner Jared, a 3rd generation longshoreman. We were in town for the anniversary of the Longshoreman Strike of 1934 and we were able to give presentations in Longview, WA (potential site for the Millennium Coal Export Terminal) and Hood River, OR. We also made time to tour the Columbia Ecovillage and see what people can do with existing apartment complexes and copious amounts of permaculture.

Following our week spent in Portland, we made our way down the southern coast of Oregon and into Northern California where we saw the splendors of the Pacific crashing against rocky shores and the majesty of the coastal redwood forests. We then spent a day in San Francisco showing the new documentary Blood on the Mountain to friends at the Sierra Club and Earth Justice.

Over the past week we have slowly trekked back east, taking time to enjoy the beauty of nature within the Yosemite and Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks, hoping to re-center ourselves following a month of recalling the destruction of our own home in the Appalachian Mountains. Today, we find ourselves in Frisco, Colorado, continuing our trip back east, looking forward to giving our last two presentations off the tour in both of Columbia and St. Louis, Missouri before finally going home after 61 days on the road. 

It would be misleading to say that this tour hasn't weighed on us. We have gone between hope and despair. We have met truly wonderful people who give so much, and we have seen the larger crowds of consumers streaming through the cities. We've found ourselves in awe of nature and in the jaws of industry. What we have seen and continue to see over the course of this tour will take a great deal of time process.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bellingham to Seattle (Days 29-35)

Resilience at the Crossroads of Racial and Climate Justice at the Daybreak Indian Cultural Center, Seattle, WA
We are so often amazed at the way our journeys intersect with events and organizations. Finding that our initial schedule just happened to coincide with the Tongue River Railroad EIS hearings in Eastern Montana, the Miner's Memorial Weekend in Cumberland, BC, the Sustainability Festival on Denman Island, and most recently, an event titled "Resilience at the Crossroads of Racial and Climate Justice" in Seattle, all seems to strain the concept of coincidence.

But it is no coincidence that much of our tour has intersected with First Nations of the Pacific Northwest who are working to protect the lands and waters for future generations. Thanks to the efforts of our friend Richard in Bellingham, we were able to meet with officials of the Lummi Nation and were honored to have Jay Julias, a Lummi Nation Tribal Official, speak at our presentation in Bellingham.

The First Nations have always been a particular focus of our travels, beginning when we spent time with the Dineh elders on the Navajo Nation who are facing relocation by Peabody Energy's mining operations there. Each time we meet nations and their people, we become very much aware that we are family of white European decent, not because of the way we are treated, but in our own understanding of the horrors our people have perpetrated against native cultures.

When we give our presentations about Appalachia, about mountain top removal mining and the life cycle of coal, about the larger issues of all fossil fuel extraction and use across the world, it always feels ethnocentric. We speak in terms of how our lands and waters have been polluted, but in the back of our minds, we know it was never ours to begin with. We should not own the lands or the waters. Our only connection to the land should be the same as those who protected it for thousands of years...to ensure that ecosystems remain that future generations will depend upon as the ecosystems depend upon them for protection.

We cannot change the history of this country nor the effect the Europeans had upon the First Nations people. What we can do is acknowledge what has been done and fight for the injustices against all people of all races, nations, and cultures. We can encourage people to learn from the First Nations so that they may take care of the land and our children and our children's children will have a future to look forward to.

As we journey further south and into the heart of the jobs vs. environment debate in Longview, Washington and Hood River, Oregon, we hope to carry a similar message to those who work hard to provide for their families. We should be working just as hard to provide our children a clean and healthy future as we do today to provide them with food and shelter.











Monday, June 29, 2015

Back on the Mainland (Days 25-28)

Over the past several days we've found ourselves back on the mainland where we've met the hospitality of some wonderful folks with whom we have shared our story and learned from.

We gave two presentations in the past few days. The first of which was given at the Ocean Park
Community building to a group of local citizens who are against the increased coal trains that would result from a proposed coal export terminal giving coal companies the ability to sale  U.S. thermal coal over seas.

The ultimate purpose of the meeting was to give the citizens a chance to talk to governmental candidates about what they plan to do concerning the local coal issue as well as other environmental factors affecting them. The organization, Communities and Coal, who put together this meeting also put together an additional meeting in North Delta at the Trinity Lutheran Church near the location of the purposed coal terminal. Both of our presentations were well received, and people appreciated hearing our story.

None of the residents living along the train route wants the increased train traffic. The fact that the government has not done a proper health impact study deeply concerns many of them with the health impacts caused by the trains. Coal has an impact on people's health no matter if it is the area it is being extracted, in transport, or where it is being burned. We discussed some the health impacts in the "cradle to grave" lifespan of coal ranging from the methods of extraction to the processing and then burning of it. Our main message to the people was to make connections  and to look to the bigger picture. While stopping the coal export terminal from being built will help their own community, it will also help communities all along the train route, and even in the Powder River Basin, to preserve their health and the health of generations to come.

On Saturday, we attended the Whatcom County Sustainability Festival to see how people can reduce the need for fossil fuels. There were vendors from various areas of sustainability set up to discuss solar energy, worm composting, cob building, and hemp building products. There were organizations challenging people to look more into their energy use and see where they can cut down that usage. One booth that caught my eye was the Exploration Academy, which is a high school that has been in operation for 20 years and has a curriculum focused on sustainable living.

Speaking, sharing, and learning with citizens of the areas we have been visiting has been a truly
wonderful experience for our whole family thus far. It is truly amazing uplifting to see so many people working to protect their communities and interested in living more sustainably, and though we have already spent time with friends and created connections with wonderful people and organizations, our journey is far from over though. The fun has only just begun.