Wednesday, January 28, 2009

India and Appalachia

What Jeremy talked about in class tonight:

and more about the US exporting

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thoughts on Margot's lecture and on the movie

Thoughts on Margot’s lecture: it was very informative and inspiring. The figures she quoted gave me an excellent overview of the energy situation in America, and suggested how much we are still reliant on fossil fuels and unsustainable forms of development. Her observations on America’s untapped wind and solar potential also made me realize that there is much that can still be done to radically transform our energy situation. I’m definitely considering taking classes in this area in the future.

Thoughts on the movie: I have always enjoyed documentaries – but The Appalachians was without doubt one of the best ones I have watched. It was very well made and intrigued me with its vivid depiction of the Appalachian mountain people, their incredibly rich music, the social, political and economic problems and opportunities that define the region, the environmental problems associated with strip mining and worse, mountain top removal. I loved the country music.

The documentary helped me better appreciate the tensions among the coal industry, the landowners and the environmentalists. Mountain top removal is the perhaps the most cost-effective way to extract coal, but it devastates the mountains. Furthermore, the remedies proposed by the coal companies tend to be superficial – “Reclamation is like putting lip-stick on a corpse”.

At the same time, the coal industry employs many people who would otherwise have been out of work. But the solution should not be to yield to the unions and to expand the coal industry – doing so would only worsen the underlying problem of structural rigidity. With the rise of environmentalism and the development of alternative energy sources, coal has likely become an industry in long-term decline. Instead of hiring more coal workers to solve this unemployment problem, the government can explore several alternatives that instead reduce reliance on the coal industry. For example, emphasize education and vocational training. The less skilled workers may have to work in mines because they do not have the education or vocational background to work elsewhere. This goes hand-in-hand with the development of alternative energy industries in the region to create new kinds of jobs.

I was very touched by the Appalachian people’s attachment to their land – their lives are closely intertwined with the mountains and they deeply cherish the hills they call home. I can’t wait to see the Appalachian mountains for myself!

Tina's Third Post

I found the history of the Appalachian area really interesting. It was helpful to see pictures the old mining towns with the company store. I never really thought about the different racially segregated camps until the video. It was interesting that the companies would tell lies about each camp so that they would not necessarily get along. The coal companies knew that this would prevent unionizing. Overall, I appreciated a deeper look into the lives of these people in the past and how it has shaped our perception of them today. As I said in class, I still wonder how the young people feel about their hometown. It is easy for a documentary to portray the region in a good light in the sense that it is a much older, wilderness, place with country music and a great sense of home. However, I would like, for myself, to talk to these people to see how they think.

In addition, I wonder what people in this area think about the future of the region. Yes, coal will continue to be an important part of the electricity mix for years to come. However, unless carbon capture and sequestration takes off, coal is still an environmental concern and a climate change hazard. Some forward thinking governors, like in Arkansas, have thought about turning their states more into renewable energy. I wonder if there is any thought in the future about how to improve the region’s economy to eventually phase out coal.


Environmental Service Opportunities in the Area?

Hey! We all like the environment! We all like service!

Does anyone know any opportunities in this area that are environmentally related? It can be as simple as planting trees (I really want to plant something) or teaching kids about recycling. I want to get involved, and I know lots of other people that would like to as well. Or we could do something as a group, or not if everyone's schedules are too out of whack.

If you all have any ideas please let me know! Either on here or in class

See y'all soon

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thoughts on the documentary

The movie was very informative and entertaining, not to mention, had an excellent soundtrack. The most fascinating things I found out from the movie were the demographics of Appalachia; I had no idea that it was ever an immigrant or black destination. One often hears about both groups in the context of urban migration and immigration, not mining company towns. I had also never heard about the racial tensions that existed in corporate mining towns, or that companies even promoted it, but it makes a lot of sense. I've read a bit about the same situations in factories in Chicago and other manufacturing cities across America around the same time. My question is how internal relations in former coal towns work now; whether much of the same population from the 19th and early 20th century remains, and whether they have integrated since the decline of the coal mining industry.

The second portion of the film I found interesting was the focus on music. I had no idea that "country" music originated in Appalachia; thinking about Appalachia in this context makes me think that what many Americans consider a backward part of the country has been one of the most artistically influential in American culture. So much of what is distinctively American in music can be attributed to Appalachia. However, as the documentary reminds us, perhaps nothing really is truly America. After all, country music arose out of Scottish, Irish, and African influences. That is a true wonder, how unexpectedly inclusive something like music can be.

Two posts/No easy answers

Hey Guys!
I'm catching up on blog posts, too. I really enjoyed Margot's lecture last week; she was fun to listen to because she clearly really knew her stuff but also had interesting facts that I hadn't hought about before. (Like the Dakotas etc.)

I felt like watching the movie gave us a lot of new information about the Appalachian area to process. The most interesting part for me was learning about the way that the major coal mines succeeded in completely screwing over the local economies. The movie made it seem like the blame for poverty lay almost entirely in the hands of these companies, so I'd be interested to think more about this: did anything else contribute to it? Why is it that Appalachia didn't recover as easily as other areas faced with similar issues have? Is it because the economics of coals been such a roller coaster ride and the economy in the area has been tied almost solely to coal for so long? Another thing I found interesting was when the movie talked about how the people in Appalachia hated it when the public eye turned to the area with LBJ and JFK, and was thinking about how this adds to the complexity of the issue. The more we learn the more complex this issue seems to become. The biggest, glaring, and unsolvable question being how the economy in the area can be strengthened if the country is to transition away from coal--their major resource? What would be the best policies to help the area without seeming like it is out of pity and offending some?

In terms of preconceived notions, I'd say the thing I'd heard of most about Appalachia was the extreme poverty coupled with a lack of education, which makes it hard for the area to lift itself out of rural poverty.

Also, heres an article on coal you guys might be interested in:

A note on the readings

Just a note as you read the second reading: We will be visiting Pike County, KY and Boone County, WV - the areas where coal has the most economic impact.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Some "uncommon" views about coal

Hi all!

In thinking about coal in the region and some of the local views on coal, I suggest you check out the West Virginia Coal Association website (

I particularly encourage you to read Joe Lucas: "Get to Know the Benefits of Coal"  Just a little taste, the first two sentences are "A Charleston Gazette article...on the future of coal-fired electric plants suggests that West Virginia's residents may potentially oppose new facilities...  The answers may reflect a serious and all-too-common misunderstanding of the issue."

This website shows one of the view points about coal that we will most likely encounter during our time in Appalachia - views that are pretty uncommon around the Stanford campus.

Also, Helen - if you couldn't get enough of The Appalachians it's for rent at Green :)

Movie Response

Hi all,

As a history nerd, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I don't mean to scare you guys, but I probably could have watched the whole mini series through. Anyway, the inside perspective was definitely helpful, and I noticed the way the movie kept Appalachia in focus while the "outside world" was kept in the background. I guess part of what I took from the movie was this sort of cultural rift. However, I think one of the aims of the film was to show how this rift is bridged in many ways. I think that was one main point of the music segment. Namely, what we think of as "country" music actually has origins in Appalachian culture, and that is something that is known to the entire U.S. Another main point the movie made was that Appalachia is very much tied to the rest of the U.S. and is not just completely isolated. Not only musical and cultural ties, but economic ties also exist. Coal is the obvious example, but the movie also discussed the growth of tourism and attraction for new residents. Keeping these ties in mind, the movie also made it clear that the people of Appalachia have their own unique culture and values and that this culture is very much invested in the land itself. Because of this, and also the long history of coal domination in the region, I think that introducing new industries or methods of using the land will have to be very carefully thought out. Also, including the local people in the process seems like an essential component to any successful progress away from coal.


I have Hillbilly music stuck in my head

Hi Everyone!

Hope the week is going well. Before I forget, my thoughts about the film:
I think Appalachia has a rich history of forgotten people who even today, I believe, are misunderstood. They seem to have had a lot of stereotypes pushed upon them - it was interesting the discussion of reaction to presidential campaigns that passed through the area and shed light on some of the unseen territory of the country. The people of the region resented the stereotypes of poverty pushed upon them. I think the people of Appalachia have very strong values, perhaps due to the predominance of religion. I'm not sure what I think about that yet... Anyway, I think the people have great heart, and have been tough to stick it through the hard times. I look forward to interacting with them this spring!


Appalachia Film

Ciao Tutti-

I really appreciated the film's historical analysis and felt like I gained a broad overview of the region. For me one of the most interesting aspects was the clarification of coal mining dates. I actually did not realize that the mountains remained somewhat untouched for such a long period of time until large-scale coal mining revived and mountaintop removal began in the 1970s.

Another observation, which we briefly discussed, is the Appalachian residents' close-knit community and connection to the land. This resonated with me because I grew up in a very small seaside town south of Boston and can't go to the local grocery store without running into a high school friend, middle school teacher, or member of my church. I have a deep connection to the ocean and passion for marine life, so I really liked the film's emphasis on Appalachian community culture and sentiment for the land.

See you all next week,

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"We got rights too, Mr. Stripper"

One of the most interesting quotes of the movie came from one of the professors. When talking about government intervention in Appalachia, he said that the American government "rediscovered" Appalachia during LBJ's Great Society. After a healthy dose of attention during the New Deal, I sensed a popular sentiment that the Appalachian region felt abandoned by the government as it struggled through the 1940s and 50s, rough times for the area as the country began to become less and less dependent on coal.

In all, I was intrigued by the evolution of the relationship between Appalachia and the rest of the country. The region was clearly disparaged for a long time ("Hillbilly music"), ignored for some time ("people didn't realize that there was poverty outside of urban regions, too"), and occasionally acknowledged (i.e. the Tennessee Valley Authority, JFK's visit). I'm looking forward to learning more about the modern attitudes and prejudices that exist between Appalachia and the surrounding region.

Two, two, two posts in one

I've been remiss in my blogging, so in this post I'll attempt to atone by--well, by writing a grossly oversized post (I tend to go on, sorry), but actually by giving both my reaction to last night's film and the preconceived notions that I had previously entertained. Last week's blog was also meant to have a reaction to Margot's lecture, so I'll get to that first.

Firstly, I am very grateful that Margot took time out of her schedule as a professor and a mom--both roles being evident that evening--to talk to us about energy in America. I chose this ASB trip because I hardly know anything about the topic--again, I am remiss--and it interested me to learn how our energy sources are divided up (85% of energy come from fossil fuels? No wonder there's a crisis!) and what sort of potential there is for green energy, if only it got more support... and/or if the Dakotas were closer to anything. It amazed me to hear Margot say that our energy problem could be solved (solved? Solved!?--or did she not actually say "solved" and that was just how I expressed it in my notes...?) with wind farms in the Dakotas, if only it wouldn't cost so much build transmission lines to link them to the major power grids. Oh, money. I suppose the current economic situation won't help further the Dakotan wind farm idea. I wonder if overall these hypothetical wind farms would be a cheaper (literally cheaper, environmental costs aside) way to provide America with energy than how we're getting our energy now? Money is everybody's main concern, it seems, so could money actually be a long-term incentive to harvest the Midwestern winds?

And what about solar energy? If my notes are truthful, she mentioned that solar power has the greatest green energy potential today. (The idea brings to mind that scene in "Gattaca" with the solar panels... and if it's in a movie, it must be cool.) Somewhere in my mind I scarcely believe it--the part of my mind where my worldview was cemented as the Pacific Northwest--but, assuming she's right, that is amazing: amazing that we're not taking as full advantage of that resource as we could be! After all, even Margot's son knows that all of our energy--and that is a tremendous amount of energy--comes from the sun. I was talking to my roommate last night about the future of solar energy and we agreed that, the way technology works, pretty soon we're going to have such efficient solar panels that we could power a flying car with just a discreet panel somewhere on top. That makes me think: is the future of solar energy one of solar power plants--like the vast array of panels in "Gattaca"--or in consumer-level energy production? Margot mentioned that most solar panels are in fact on people's roofs and whatnot, for their own use (and to sell the extra back to the power company), but might that change? Of course, the more homes providing themselves with power, the better, at least in sunny areas, but will actual power plants also rise?

Clearly, it's green energy that interests me the most, here. I suppose in many ways I hold the fossil fuel industry in contempt (I know, I know, not the right, open-minded attitude): not only is oil and coal extraction and combustion detrimental to the environment, but I associate the process of obtaining them (especially coal) with exploitation of the human element, as well. My image of the coal-producing regions of America--well, basically Appalachia (I'd never thought of Montana, for example, as containing substantial coal reserves until the Family Feud game)--was one of great poverty and hardship caused, or at least exacerbated, by the arrival of unfeeling, anti-union, abusive coal companies. In my mind, people matter, and the Earth matters, and anything that damages either or especially both of them, like the coal industry, quickly crosses the line into "pure evil" territory. This is my prejudice.

The video we watched last night somewhat confirmed my bias against the coal industry in Appalachia, except for one thing: that people were proud of their coal mining past. One of the singers they showed sang a song where one of the lines was about how she was proud to be a coal miner's daughter. I wonder: how much of that is the assimilation of coal mining into the people's tradition of Appalachia, and how much of it is the psychological need to love what you can't escape? I mean, you've got to be proud of something.

Another thought that kept occurring to me while watching the movie was one unrelated to the coal mining industry. I had never thought of country music--what I think of country music, at least--as being derived from "hillbilly music." The mountain music that we heard in the film was exactly like what I would call bluegrass or, better, folk music--not what I would call country, which seems to me to be a more western style. But, seeing as I know little about music in general, and virtually nothing about country music... I really don't know where I'm going with this, but it kept occurring to me as we watched the film.

Wow, did I go on! I could probably write more but I had really better stop. I apologize, guys! How embarrassing...

Anyway, see you next week. Ciao!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Movie Response: Appalachia in its own words

The documentary did a fabulous job integrating history and memory into one narrative. I was really impressed by the filmmaker's ability to get a cross-section of Appalachia, from the famous (Johnny Cash), to the simple coal miner. Each had their own story to tell, and I appreciated the opportunity to hear about the region from people who experienced the hard times and the joyful times of living in the mountains.
After watching this movie, I'm really intrigued to see how people really live there. Other than coal, what do people do nowadays in the region? The movie didn't really answer my questions about how the people feel about their situation right now. What are the residents' priorities in terms of development, and how do they want these goals achieved? Like other people mentioned in class, I'm looking forward to interacting with more young people, in addition to hearing the oral history of the past.

Helen's Post II: The Preconceptioning

Hey all,

I definitely learned a lot last class. Both from the talk and from the game (as you could probably tell by my incorrect answers). I got kind of depressed when Margod talked about how available alternative energy resources are, like the wind resources in the Dakotas or in Massachusetts, but how logistical (power grid) or political (homeowners) difficulties are preventing development. Then I realized, at least they're out there, and people like Margod - and all of us - know about it! That's at least part of the battle...

As for preconceived notions...I guess I have kind of a lot but none of them add up to a complete picture, and I never really thought they did. I've always known Appalachia as the poorest area in the U.S. I think we as a nation have just sort of accepted that as a fact. "Oh Appalachia! Where poor people live." I don't think I had really connected coal mining and appalachia though. I knew that coal was important to that region, but I just never made the leap. I always thought of Appalachia as too rural and that coal was more of an industrial town type thing. Now I know better huh! I've always grown up with jokes about how Virginia is a hill billy state, but I haven't ever really taken the whole - "It's the only state where you can marry your cousin! Haha they're such rednecks!" (which I don't even know if that's true) - thing seriously at all. Well I'm really last minute on I guess I'll see you all in about an hour!

The Great Appalachia

Hi everyone,

It's Zhe. Nice to hear from all of you guys!

Last week, I much enjoyed listening to Margot last week (and watching her son run around). It was great to review the various backgrounds of energy in both America and in the world. This gave a solid foundation on which to delve into future topics and further details. We did a good job getting into aspects of each of the several types of energy sources and various problems, concerns, or controversies around them. Margot brought about some great points that I hadn't thought about like: the already-built grid infrastructure in Texas, large amounts of research into cold fusion, and the question of who's going to pay for transmission lines. I learned a lot last class and enjoyed it.

I have been to West Virginia once before, on a weekend trip during my Stanford in Washington program. During that trip, we were able to hang out at the yearly Apple Butter festival, complete with a parade and various booths down around the main street and park. Going into that trip, I was unsure what to think. I had a vague notion of country and rural aspects. Now, with a clearer preconception of the area, I would definitely recognize the fact that most of the area has small-town characteristics. The community is stronger and the environment is different. It seems that the people will be more self-reliant, due to the lack of large cities or amounts of people. Growing up in these areas, I would guess, would present a different personality and upbringing than my own in suburbs. The consequences of this may different perceptions and viewpoints on national topics and debates. The idealism is one that I would imagine to be different than my own from Stanford and my hometown of Berkeley, CA.

Reading for next week

The two readings for next week can be found at the links below.
This document should be read in full
Read pages 22-76 of this document (more explanation in class)

Tina's 2nd Post

I try not to have preconceived notions of places that I travel since I feel like an open mind will allow me to better understand the area once I have arrived. However, I can’t help thinking, like my other fellow students, that I would probably have no other opportunity in my life to visit such a place. West Virginia is often described as impoverished, poorly educated, and highly enthusiastic about coal. It is quite different from my home state of California, and I am glad to have the opportunity to explore such a place. I’m sure that I will experience the charm that West Virginia has to offer. I’m sure that since I’m a fan of the outdoors, West Virginia’s wilderness will definitely impress me.

As for last week’s class, I was very impress with Margot’s vast knowledge of the energy industry. It is nice to know that such an eloquent, caring professor advises our class. As for the game, I saw the same pattern over and over when it came to countries and their energy usage. I wonder about the implications of merely a handful of nations holding most of the energy production and consumption on the planet. This cannot be sustainable, yet there are still many countries which need to develop. This is surely a problem for energy conscious students of today to try to tackle in the future.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Preconceptions, or lack thereof

Unfortunately, I missed last class' lecture, but I still found Energy Family Feud interesting. In terms of coal politics, the most surprising was the difference between the lists of states with the highest coal reserves and states that extract the most coals. I did not even know that some of the states with high coal reserves were coal-rich states at all; the effects of aggressive extraction policy became more evident during the game.

As for preconceptions of Appalachia, I have almost none. The strongest memory I have of thinking about Appalachia is when trapped coal miners in West Virginia in 2006 made national news. I remember thinking, there are still coal mines in America? And coal miners can lose their life over their work? It had not only never occurred to me, but I had hardly ever even thought about the coal mine industry in Appalachia. Additionally, like many other students, I had heard of the poverty in Appalachia and the lack of first-world amenities in some parts of it, but once again, it was never something I could imagine.

Preconceived Notions

In general, I have often fallen into the trap where I view Appalachia, like many other regions of the United States, as merely flyover country. The reason why I chose this trip, beyond my interest in the topic, was to make sure that I could correct my misunderstandings about the people and the places that exist in that part of the country. I'm extremely concerned that without trips like these, people living in the same nation simply won't be able to communicate on a mutually intelligible basis. In light of the new movement towards a national energy policy, I feel that it's important for me to understand the basis from which other Americans approach this topic. My preconception of Appalachia as a generally anti-environmentalist region is bound to change through our future discussions with activists in the region.

P.S. Woods Institute Energy Seminar

This interdisciplinary series of conversations about energy hosted by the Woods Institute for the Environment seems pretty interesting. Click the link for the winter schedule!



Ciao Tutti,

Happy Inauguration Day!

I was really impressed by Margot's enthusiasm last week, and she seems like a wonderful faculty sponsor. I love meeting professors who are so happy to work with undergraduates.

As for my preconceptions of Appalachia, well, to be honest, after reading Jeanette Walls’ memoir, The Glass Castle, I think of poverty. The author vividly describes enduring part of her childhood in the mining town of Welch, West Virginia, a harrowing experience.

Here are two other books (novels) I very much hope to read before we leave:

Clay's Quilt, by Silas House
River of Earth, by James Still

Both seem to have received rave reviews as canonical works of Appalachian literature, and will give us a sense of what the region is like told from the perspective of those who have lived there.

A presto, Haley

Reactions to last class, preconceived notions of Appalachia

Hi everyone!

I really enjoyed the game we played last class. It was pretty interesting how the countries/states that were major players in one category could be counted on to be major players in others (which helped when we couldn't think of answers to the questions!).

Also, Margot gave a great summary of the world's energy as it currently stands. I hope to one day be able to recite all the figures as she did!

In terms of preconceived notions of Appalachia, I know the Tennessee Valley Authority operates there and they use a lot of coal, but everything else is probably a stereotype in my mind constructed from news snippets and cartoons set in the mountains there. For example, "Appalachia" evokes images of mountain climbers in lederhosen living in huts and chopping down trees. Don't ask... Also, I know the 13 colonies were settled east of the Appalachia and it was a big deal when they started expanding west. I wonder to what extent that first movement affected how the Appalachia stands today.

In any case, I look forward to learning the truth about the region next class and hope to soon eliminate any images of lederhosen and mountain goats.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

The biggest story you guys aren't hearing about

A coal sludge spill in Tennessee 50x larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

A few of the many YouTube videos on the subject:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cape Wind Project

This came up during Margot's lecture Wednesday. The project just cleared one significant hurdle, and this article also sums up all the issues around the project well

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Last First Post

Ciao Tutti,

I apologize for posting so late. However, I promise to make an exciting post about literature of the Appalachia region very soon.

I have never been to Appalachia before, so like many others, I expect an immersive learning experience that will expose me to the region's complex energy issues. As others have commented, I hope to gain a better understanding of coal as well as the potential for alternative energy sources in Appalachia. I am also concerned about how coal mining has directed affected humanity.

Another hope is that our group will foster a strong dynamic and solid friendships- I think one of the best aspects of group travel over an extended period of time.

Finally, this trip will fantastically complement the Overseas Seminar in Doha and Dubai in which Tina and I participated this summer. Qatar’s income is largely dependent upon its natural gas reserves, among the biggest in the world, but is just now looking into other sources of economic diversification. Our group was shocked by the sheer size of Ras Laffan Industrial City, where we marveled at two highly intricate LNG trains and the great challenge of managing all aspects of such a mega-project. Dubai, on the other hand, has completely moved beyond energy and is now embracing tourism. What is the fate of energy in Appalachia, and in our country?

I hope to be an environmental writer someday, so this trip will certainly give me a great background in science communication.

See you all very soon,


Economics, Politics and Business

Similar to what some of you mentioned, I am particularly interested in the interactions of energy issues in Appalachia in three major areas: economics, politics and business.

Energy is probably the next big thing for our generation - President Hennessy launched the $100 million energy institute the other day; the panel discussion that followed emphasized the tremendous importance of this sector and the accompanying breath of opportunities that will almost certainly follow.

To what extent can energy development in Appalachia play a part in this process? As Jimmy mentioned, West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the nation. My guess is that the coal industry will accelerate on its path to long-term decline, as this article ( suggests. Is there some way for West Virginia to ride the Green Energy revolution?

Hello Hello!

Hi everyone, it's nice to meet all of you and I'm excited for this upcoming quarter! I'm looking forward in this course to explore the issues of coal in America. What benefits and costs does it have, especially through the lens of a future of more renewable, sustainable energy? What are the politics behind coal? Coal is such an abundant resource in America that it is not going away any time soon. How are parts and political regions of America linked and dependent on coal? If they are too connected, in what ways can a transition be brought about? Generally, my interests are in the transition away from coal and what that is going to entail. I'm looking forward to getting nitty-gritty into the details about the region and how more general ideas will specifically affect the area.

See you soon!

Titles are hard to come up with

A quick perusal of wikipedia reveals that by most metrics, West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the nation. It has the third lowest per capita income (ahead of Arkansas and Mississippi) and the lowest median household income. Only 15.3% of West Virginians have a bachelor's degree, which is the lowest percentage in the country. Maybe it should go without saying, but clearly any energy policy must be cognizant of the regional economic situation. Since coal is the most abundant natural resource that West Virginia has to offer, to what extent are coal and coal mining practices responsible for the situation? How will the West Virginian economy change as America's energy policy begins to (ostensibly) shift away from coal? I'm interested in this question from both the macro and the micro perspectives - how might the state's economy as a whole change, and what do these changes mean for individuals?

I think the latter is the most meaningful insight that I hope to gain from the trip. I can always read about Appalachia's economy in the newspaper, but I think seeing firsthand the impact on the people will be valuable. I'm also looking forward to gaining a variety of perspectives (industry, government, civilian) on the problem of energy development. I think sometimes Stanford can be a bit insulated from contrary viewpoints, and I hope this trip will paint a more accurate picture of the spectrum of differing opinions.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Hey Guys!

Basically like a couple people before me I just expect and hope to learn as much as I can about the complexity of the energy issues in Appalachia. I'm excited to learn about what various factors set this situation apart from other areas and to understand whats going on there, how the issue might be approached etc.

The article that Sam just posted is actually related to what I'm most curious about. Clearly the residents in the area wouldn't object to more energy sources if it could make it cheaper (depending on what type of new energy was brought in), but I'm wondering what type of barriers there might be in bringing in renewables etc. that are present specifically in this area. I'm curious to learn whether the residents are open to transitioning the energy sources regardless of cost, and what the biggest hurdle to overcome would be (such as how much power the mining companies might have).

I'm also super excited to get to visit all these states for the first time!

Nuclear Power in Appalachia

Nuclear power is something we aren't going to talk about much in this class, but it looks like it might be set to become another major piece of the energy game in Appalachia:

How Energy Changes Lives

Hi everyone!

My course expectations are simple: to soak in as much knowledge as possible about the role energy plays in everyday lives. I have heard there is a correlation between poverty and lack of access to reliable sources of energy -- I wish to study the extent to which this is true. This past break, I visited a number of small organizations working with rural development in India. A major problem they faced was the availability of electricity. In particular, we saw a women's development center that teaches sewing skills. As the center grew and sewing machines needed power, they installed solar panels to make up the difference. Further, in the same area, there was a computer center that taught basic skills. Their main barrier was continuous power to run the computers. 

To what extent do these same limitations affect Appalachia? Does the fact that coal dominates the area cause poverty to strike the area as well? But also, how difficult would it be to solve those problems? Would implementing greener technologies have a positive impact upon lives, or simply assuage green-thinking policy makers?

I am also interested in all the questions you all posted below, and look forward to joining your efforts to finding the answers!


Monday, January 12, 2009


I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey two summers ago, but what I experienced of the mountain range was quite limited. I met a few thru-hikers and section hikers, people who basically hike the entire trail from Georgia to Maine in one go or in sections. I had never been much of a nature person, having spent my whole life in a city, but to the hikers who I met, the Appalachian Trail occupied a place of incomparable ethos. I look forward, with our coursework and our trip in March, to understanding yet another identity of the Appalachian Mountains. I have never been to Appalachia, like many of the other ASB participants, and I suspect it may be as different physically, materially, and culturally from my hometown as any place could be within America. I expect to be a bit surprised now and then, and perhaps to even have a hard time envisioning the things which we are reading about and discussing. However, I don't doubt that once we arrive in West Virginia, things will fall into place once the physical landscape is in front of us.

I'm very interested in understanding the role of coal in Appalachian's everyday lives. That constitutes my biggest question: how can an outsider see the position of the coal industry from local community institutions, structures, relationships? I also am very interested, more on a macro level, the authorities involved in coal mining. If America were to transition to alternative energy sources, who will make the call? Will the federal government encounter insuperable state or local authorities? I imagine the easiest way to successfully transition is for there to be vision of an alternative energy future in every level of governance, in which case, my question will be: how can we promote this vision at all these levels?

Needless to say, I'm excited!


To me, the word “expectation” is so demanding. Yes, there are many things I would like to see out of this course, but expecting things and predicting things, I feel, will ruin any pleasant surprises. So I guess I would like to say that I “hope” to learn more about coal while travelling to some place that I have never been. Hopefully, by the end of this trip, I will have a better understanding of how coal, an energy resource so despised by environmentalists and conservations, can still serve an integral role of the economic life in this area. Additionally, I would like learn about carbon capture and sequestration and other “clean coal” technologies to be optimistic about the future of coal. Gloomy doomsday thinking only deters people from actually stepping up and solving the greater problems of our day, so I would like to see where the problems are in our energy policy and how people are actually trying to deal with them.

As for questions, I quickly realized that there is great incentive in blogging earlier in the week since many who have blogged before have already said what I wanted to say. So hopefully I can think of something interesting to ask instead of merely repeating what I’ve read below. I guess I’m interested in working conditions and safety issues in coal mines. Do people get black lung disease today? How likely is it that a worker is stuck in a mine that is caved in? Do they receive extra compensation for the perceived safety risks? A lot of people, even environmentalists, often disapprove of nuclear due to the risks of a nuclear meltdown. However, even at 3-Mile Island, no one ever died. When I think of the thousands of coal miners in China everyday that lose their lives or limbs, I wonder if it is worth it. But yes, I realize that China and West Virginia are very different. I have no idea how coal mining works, so it’d be interesting to know.

Also, as an environmental engineer, I worry about the (ground)water quality. I mean mine tailings have been notorious for destroying the water supply of nearby neighbourhoods. Many former mine sites in the country have eventually made it on the Superfund list to be dealt with for the next couple decades. Clean up efforts must be enormous.

The people, the feasibility; can we make some difference?

Let's hope the cut in coal prices helps us and makes the plea for renewable energy more welcomed.
Ram has got me thinking about whether the people of the region are informed about the advantages/disadvantages of establishing renewable energy resources. Are the people in the region educated about energy and energy resources in the region? In last class, it was said that a government representative was hesitant to meet with us because he thought we might be too assertive about renewable energy and not have an open mind to coal. Is this the common belief? Does the average Appalachian know about the benefits of coal and renewable energy? Do they even care, or have a say in what happens to the land around them?

I think my biggest question has to be about how renewable energy and coal compare as energy sources for the Appalachian region. The area is known for producing energy from coal, but does this mean that other energy sources can be just as productive in this region? They both have their advantages, but when things such as money needed to start renewable energy projects, and the efficiency of these sources come in to question, how does renewable energy compare as an alternative? In conjunction with Anna, is it more feasible to change; does it make sense?

In terms of my expectations... I hope to actually see a difference made because of our visit, and directly observe the steps the region is taking toward sustainability and environmental preservation. ++I'm just really excited to see this place!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What do they really want?

My biggest question, as an outsider coming into a region, is what the people who actually live there want for their future.
I, along with many other people, have ideas about the green energy path that America should embark on. At Stanford, it's a basic assumption that people are pro-wind, pro-solar, and pro-.... anything else that happens to be green. As we head off to that region, I think we might need to take a step back, and realize that not everyone is going to be a convert to the norms within the Stanford bubble.
My goal during the trip is to talk to people, just regular people, living in Appalachia and ask them what they think about coal, the environment, and their future economic development. I personally don't know anyone from that region, so I'm interested in hearing what everyday people have to say about the phenomena that we'll be encountering.

Coal Prices

Here is a short article about the current state of coal prices in the United States.

It looks the coal industry, unsurprisingly, is as affected by the downturn as any other.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hey everybody,

Like Anna, I've never written a blog post before (in English. We used to do them in Spanish class in high school sometimes).

My question is inspired by the State game we played in class. If Appalachia stretches over all that area, how do the energy resources vary? There must be a lot of variation between regions, right? How will that affect the ability to find alternative, green energy sources? Or, is there one specific region of Appalachia that represents what one typically thinks of as Appalachia? If not, are we just focusing on one region, and if so, why?

I really don't know very much about how coal specifically harms the environment, and how it specifically influences the community in Appalachia (I only have a general idea), so I definitely look forward to learning more about that. What I'm most excited about though, is learning how alternative energy sources in the area could help alleviate dependence on coal.


Blog #1: In which things turn out better than I thought they would

Well! I've never written a blog entry, and frankly, I don't often read them, either--so we'll see how this goes. We're supposed to write about our course expectations and questions we hope will be answered, which is unfortunate, because I have often found that I have a hard time articulating what I expect from a course. I read a course description (or hear about it from somebody), go "Hey, that sounds cool!" and then I sign up for it, if I can... and all I really expect is, well, that it will be as cool as I thought it would be. I guess it's because I'm usually more concerned with the process, rather than working towards an end--if I make the most of the process, the end will turn out all right.

(Is it just me, or does this sound a lot like a cop-out? Darn.)

That said, I do have one question--so far--that I hope will be answered: does the Appalachian region have potential for environmentally sound energy production? Of course it is notorious for strip mining, mountaintop removal, and other destructive ways of accessing the coal that is found there, but is the terrain suitable for any other sort of energy production? Even if you could, say, top the hills with windmills instead of razing them, would it be viable from an economic standpoint? From an energy production standpoint? Could the region produce a comparable amount of energy while better preserving the environment? Would the installation of cleaner coal mining techniques impact the local economy? What impacts does coal mining have on the socioeconomic status of the region? What does coal do to people? Is it as bad as the movies, documentaries, and even that one "hillbilly opera" I saw on a high school theater field trip make it out to be? Does the romanticization of the Appalachian coal mining culture have any effect on... anything? Much of Appalachian culture is portrayed as steeped in tradition; how much resistance to change is there at ground level, as opposed to the corporate or political level?

Gosh, that turned into several questions, didn't it? And hey! I suppose now I could say that I expect the course to shed light on some of them.

I also expect the course to be cool.

Ciao, folks.