Unfortunately, it Takes a Lot of Mining (in Rural Areas) to Reduce Climate Pollution

Although there are some Big Fossil Fuel die-hards out there still denying the realities of economics and ecology, it’s become clear that much of the electric grid is going to be supplied by an increasing percentage of solar and wind production in the coming years. Driven by demand for cleaner production and actual cost advantages over fossil fuels in many places, wind and solar power are on the rise.

That’s a good thing if you’re one of these “crazy people” concerned about cleaning up climate pollution. After all, reducing fossil fuel use and dependency in order to cut the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a cornerstone of nearly all science-based strategies for addressing climate change. When the cleaner energy is cheaper than the dirty energy, it’s a no brainer, right?

Here at Keep It Rural, I’m inclined to think that the “clean energy transition” is going to be one of the biggest opportunities for rural communities for years to come. The job creation potential is huge. Localized pollution reductions are needed. And local public sector facilities (like schools and municipal utilities) can reduce their energy spending over time by generating much of their own power.

There are also considerations on the other side of the ledger, from likely decreased employment in coal (already a long-term trend) to the not-so-great environmental impacts of clean energy production in all phases. One of the most important factors is the availability of raw materials—metals like lithium, cobalt, rare earths, steel and copper—to support clean energy manufacturing.

That means mining is going to continue/ramp up somewhere in the world, and where and how that mining takes place is going to matter.

One such place being discussed for mining expansion is Alaska’s remote “Ambler Mining District,” where, according to public lands reporter Adam Federman, “in the final months of the Trump administration, the Department of the Interior approved a 211-mile industrial access road that would run across much of interior Alaska to the Ambler mining district, a massive but remote deposit of high-grade copper and zinc.”

Federman’s in-depth reporting on this topic, “How Joe Biden’s Green Agenda Threatens the Alaskan Wilderness,” was featured in last week’s Politico Magazine. I urge you to, at the very least, click through the photos and maps to get a feel for the place and people of this region. This is a masterpiece of reporting and digital storytelling, one of my picks for “rural story of the year” if that’s a thing.

The topics covered are numerous and critical: Native American sovereignty and traditional ways of living, rural economic development, environmental pollution, wildlife health and habitat, outdoor recreation, public lands and wilderness protections, demands for conservation compared with the need for raw materials. The list is long.

Can we achieve a cleaner, greener energy future without creating more rural sacrifice zones? We shall see. Balancing these needs is going to be a frustrating mess most of the time. On occasion, through policy and discussion and transparency, maybe we’ll get it right. Mostly, I’m afraid, the exploitation and extraction will far outweigh the benefits of the project. And it will take additional excellent reporting like Federman’s to sort it all out.

Rural Reading List

Our rural reading list for the week sticks with the themes of rural economies, land use, policy and climate change. Check out the following:

Covid Hits Wildfire Fighters Even Harder Than Last Year

This Stateline report, published in the Daily Yonder, documents this summer’s joint struggles with Covid-19 and increased wildfire activity in the West.

Many Rural Regions Finding More Reasons to Fast-track EV Infrastructure

From the Yonder’s “Radically Rural” column, Caroline Tremblay explores the impact of electric vehicle infrastructure in rural.

In the Democrats’ Budget Package, a Billion Tons of Carbon Cuts at Stake

An Inside Climate News update on the climate change provisions within, and the politics of, the Democrats’ budget reconciliation package currently moving through Congress.

They Couldn’t Drink Their Water. And Still, They Stayed Quiet.

This New York Times op-ed explores a rural family’s wish to stay somewhat quiet about the fracking industry’s impact on their local well and water system, even as they call for industry accountability to local people.

One More Thing: ‘The Holler’ Is Making Rural Media in the Ohio Valley

Mr. John Russell of Appalachian Ohio is a not-so-ambitious person-with-a-plan. He wants to generate low-budget working class content for the masses. And it appears to be working. (Click on the picture below to watch.)

YouTube video

Russell, who I’ve worked with on a few things and befriended on the internet, is active in a variety of avenues related to rural politics and progressive issues. He recently had a viral internet moment when a post about relative wealth and insane levels of wealth inequality generated more than 9 million views on a variety of social media platforms. That’s a lot of eyeballs on wealth re-distribution, at least where I come from.

It’s worth checking out what The Holler is trying to do. Russell describes it this way:

We’re from the Upper Ohio Valley and make videos about politics for rednecks and hippies everywhere…..The Holler is proudly biased. We think working people make the country run and deserve nice things. Those who run afoul of the working class will be mocked without mercy.

I enjoy intelligent content delivered through snark and hand-drawn notes and charts. Keep up the good work, John (and all of you other rural people out there trying to master video production). We need all the help we can get speaking out against misinformation and disinformation these days.

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