Paradise Lost

Appalachia is home to great natural beauty, but also devastating resource exploitation.

Appalachia is home to great natural beauty, but also devastating resource exploitation.

Juxtaposed with lush, green forests and towering mountains lie gas wells, fracking drills, and dilapidated houses and motor homes.  It’s always been this way though, as Appalachia’s natural beauty and abundant resources have not materialized into wealth for most of its residents.  In fact, Appalachia’s poverty rate stands at 16.6 percent, compared to the national average of 14.5 percent.  True, the region has made progress in recent years, but inequality remains high, leaving us with the question: how can an area blessed with so much natural wealth be cursed by so much poverty?

Directly west of the Eastern Seaboard, Appalachia extends from New York in the north to Alabama in the south.

Directly west of the Eastern Seaboard lies Appalachia, which extends from New York in the north to Alabama in the south.

Encompassing all of West Virginia and parts of twelve other states, Appalachia boasts a population of more than 25 million people, 42 percent of whom live in rural areas.  The region didn’t come into the national spotlight until the 1960s, when a shocked John F.  Kennedy traveled to McDowell County, West Virginia to campaign for the upcoming election, prompting him to promise the residents aid if he became president.  And he stuck with his word: with his first executive order, JFK created the modern food stamp program to alleviate the hunger he witnessed in the West Virginian backwoods.  But JFK’s assassination put a wrench in his plans for the Appalachian region.  However, his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, also took up the cause, waging his War on  Poverty with a special emphasis on  Appalachia.  As a testament to the success of LBJ’s work, poverty in the area has fallen nearly 15 percent since 1960.

But fast-forward several decades and the fight is not over. Although much of Appalachia lags behind the rest of the U.S. economically, Central Appalachia, comprised of West Virginia and parts of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, bears the brunt of rural poverty.  Its people are plagued by a poverty rate three times the national average, prevalent prescription drug abuse, the shortest life span in the nation, cancer and chronic depression, and to top it off, in non-metro areas of the region, people live in mobile homes at three times the national rate.

But how has it come to this?  Undoubtedly, the mountains of Appalachia have always somewhat isolated Appalachia from the rest of American society and all its wealth and advancements, but continual natural resource exploitation prevents residents from making poverty a thing of the past.  While the timber and coal mining industries dominated the landscape for decades, in recent years, fracking has come to the forefront, at the expense of many Appalachians.  Fracking, a process that attempts to recover gas and oil from shale rock, drills deep into the Earth, injecting a high-pressure water mixture into the rock to release the gas inside.  Despite providing the nation with a steady source of energy, fracking has dire implications in Appalachia.  A Clark University Study “found local clusters of gas wells disproportionately impacting the poor, elderly and those with lower education in West Virginia. Most concern about proximity to gas wells stems from the potential for air pollution from drilling and leaks, and water pollution from the mix of chemicals pumped into the ground, radiation from the fractured rocks, or methane.”  More indirect consequences also arise, as landlords seek higher rents from gas workers, preventing local people from renting inexpensive homes and driving some into homelessness.  Furthermore, each fracking well requires at least five million gallons of water, depleting local resources, hurting aquatic life, and polluting water.

It would be one thing if fracking companies drilled only remote mountaintops, but thanks to the muddled concept of mineral rights, people now find their backyards prey to corporate profits.  But first, some history: once the American Revolution came to a close, buyers flocked to the Appalachians and snatched up residents’ mineral rights through gold, charm, the legal system, and occasionally fraud, meaning that many Appalachians no longer owned the land right underneath their homes.  The ramifications of this still hit home for many, as some Appalachian residents now find companies drilling for gas under their property because of decisions made hundreds of years ago.

A useful theory to keep in mind while discussing Appalachia is that of the ‘resource curse,’ which has also plagued many developing countries.  The theory goes that massive energy resources can bring jobs and income to the local population, but also can sprout up weak governance, lower education levels, impacts on human health, and environmental degradation.  Sadly, in Appalachia, these negative impacts are real and present, but the supposed benefits remain elusive.  This is because fracking companies opt to hire out of state workers, such as those from fracking intensive states such as Texas and Oklahoma, over the less experienced local population.  And what’s worse is that the state governments do little to regulate the big industries, essentially allowing fracking and other resource extraction companies to run the region.

In the midst of so much suffering, it’s easy to classify Appalachians as just more people needing our tax dollars.  But it’s important to look past statistics and see the human face of the issue.  This summer, I traveled to West Virginia with my high school, and the people I encountered possessed great courage and faith.  But perhaps most surprising, and inspiring, was the tremendous love of life I witnessed in the face of appalling living conditions.  Fracking may blow off the mountaintops and the elements may weather down houses, but the strength of the people of the Appalachians remains constant.

The answer doesn’t always just lie in diverting national funds or creating powerful federal programs.  Instead we can look to the roots of the issue by taking steps such as regulating fracking industries, eliminating state corruption, investing more in environmentally friendly energy sources, and diversifying local economies.  We’ve made incredible progress in Appalachia before, so let’s do it again.

Appalachia may never be the industrial heart of the nation or a place where tourists flock to, but it doesn’t need to be.  With abundant natural beauty and resources coupled with a determined population, hope still exists for the region, despite abounding poverty and exploitation.  If we take action now, Appalachia doesn’t have to become just another paradise lost.

”Sources”

Barrick, Michael M. “A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking.” Appalachian Chronicle.  N.p., 19 Feb. 2015. Web. <http://appalachianchronicle.com/2015/02/19/a-dirty-dozen-reasons-to-oppose-fracking/>.

Bienkowski, Brian, and Environmental Health News. “Poor Communities Bear Greatest Burden from Fracking.” Scientific American. N.p., 6 May 2015. Web. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/poor-communities-bear-greatest-burden-from-fracking/>.

“Central Appalachia.” (n.d.): n. pag. Housing Assistance Council. Web <http://www.ruralhome.org/storage/documents/appalov.pdf>.

Drake, Richard B. A History of Appalachia. N.p.: University Press of Kentucky, 2004. Print.

Gabriel, Trip. “50 Years Into the War on Poverty, Hardship Hits Back.” The New York Times.  The New York Times, 20 Apr. 2014. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/21/us/50-years-into-the-war-on-poverty-hardship-hits-back.html>.

Gray, Keturah. “Children of the Mountains Struggle to Survive.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 13 Feb. 2009. Web. <http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=6865077>.

“Hunger and Poverty Fact Sheet.” Feeding America. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger /hunger-and-poverty/hunger-and-poverty-fact-sheet.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/>.

{{Information |Description= The Monongahela National Forest; Photo taken from slopes of Back Allegheny Mountain looking east |Source=self-made |Date=17 August 2007 |Author= Valerius Tygart }}

Map of the Appalachian region of the United States, from the Web site of the Appalachian Regional Commission, at http://www.arc.gov/images/regionmap.gif PD-USGov

“Resource Curse,” Poverty and Appalachia; Lessons in Research, Data and Politics.” Journalists Resource. Harvard Kennedy School, 22 Apr. 2013. Web.<http://journalistsresource.org/studies/environment/energy/natural-resource-curse-poverty-in-appalachian-america#>.

“The Appalachian Region.” Appalachian Regional Commission. N.p., n.d. Web.<http://www.arc.gov/appalachian_region/TheAppalachianRegion.asp>.

“What Is Fracking and Why Is It Controversial?” BBC News. N.p., 27 June 2013. Web.  <http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-14432401>.

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for speaking up for the disadvantaged.

  2. Interesting you should bring up the heatrige recipes concept. Molly O’Neill just put out a cookbook/story book called One Big Table. She traveled all over the country collecting stories of families and the recipes that go along with them. Great stuff. Similar to what you were thinking. Haven’t seen one that’s just focused on the South.

  3. I’m not easily impressed but you’ve done it with that posting.

  4. Lilla Elisabeth …Du behöver ju inte läggas in pÃ¥ sjukhus även om du blir bunden till sängen. Min svägerska fick hem en sjukhussäng och en specialmadrass, morfinpump och dagliga besök frÃ¥n hemsjukvÃ¥rden för att fÃ¥ hjälp med tvätt och pÃ¥klädning.Tänker pÃ¥ er allaLisen

  5. Now when was an income too much? If a 5 percent markup will be honest, why don’t you consider Ten percent? Is a 25 % markup unjust? Would one hundred per cent income become unconscionable? If the income margin be linked with the cost of any money, or perhaps if it is in connection with industry cost

  6. Quan cierto lo que dices… en mi familia tampoco ahi demasiado baúl de recetas a excepción de las croquetas de mi bisabuelo malagueño y los borrachuelos que una vez al año hacen mis abuelos para repartir a la familia.Esos recuerdos de familia preparando una comida que se disfrutará sentados a una mesa es de los mejores… con lo que nos podemos considerar privilegiados…Me gusta tu receta por el cariño con la que nos las explicas y por su sencillez…Gracias

  7. #96 Fast Eddie,but none of those option arms are in New Jersey. :PActually, I thought most of those option arms were on the West Coast, AZ, Las Vegas, and Florida.

  8. option 3 is the option i think would be the best way forward regarding credit car minimum repayments, i will not put unnecessary pressure on vunerable people woth high levels of borrowing.

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