26 April 2010
BY Mark Nowak
Miners from Utah to sub-Saharan Africa to China's Shanxi province die, in part, for us.
Anderson Cooper is talking to coal-mining families and politicians in West Virginia again. Ever since that explosion ripped through an underground mine in Montcoal, it seems people all across America are discussing the dangers of mining.
If you watched the news during the recent disaster, you may have heard television anchors and reporters speaking about an "exceptional" tragedy, a once-in-40-years catastrophe that took the lives of 29 coal miners in southern West Virginia. Yet if we look at this tragedy from a global perspective, the tragedy in Montcoal looks, unfortunately, all too typical.
Since the Sago, West Virginia disaster over three years ago, I've been tracking deaths in the global mining sector on my blog, Coal Mountain. Rarely does a day go by when I don't have to add more names and stories to this death roll. Mine collapse kills 16 in northwest Tanzania. Six bodies found in Xinjiang mine collapse. Worker dies in Australian nickel mine. And these are just a few of the headlines from the days since the Montcoal disaster.
What happened earlier this month happens almost every day somewhere in the world: Miners are killed at work. And why do they die--or for whom? Miners from Utah to sub-Saharan Africa to China's Shanxi province die, in part, for us. As consumers who walk the aisles at WalMarts, dollar stores, and suburban shopping malls, we fuel the extraction of coal and other minerals every time we purchase items that are intimately connected to miners around the world.
Every time you purchase something made in China, your item more than likely was made not only in a factory with its own horrific labor conditions, but a factory powered by electricity produced from coal. And each year in China, several thousand miners are killed as they extract that "black gold" from deep inside the earth.
Similar stories can be told about objects in almost every room in your house. To extract precious minerals like diamonds and gold in South Africa, for example, miners risk their lives every day--including 76 miners whose bodies were found in an abandoned Harmony Goldmining Co. mineshaft in Free State last year. And tin? From the precarious and brief lives of Indonesian "tin divers," to the five child miners killed in a collapse in southeast Congo earlier this year, tin extraction is likewise written in blood.
One of the many lessons we must learn from the 29 miners who lost their lives in Montcoal, West Virginia is that our patterns of energy use, as well as how we shop, are intimately tied to those who risk their lives each and every day deep beneath the Earth's surface. As we begin to discuss the changing economy and our spending habits in the post-boom period, it's also time to think more about where the products that clutter our bedrooms and basements and boardrooms come from. And who is risking and losing their lives so that we can have them.
Distributed by OtherWords
Mark Nowak is a documentary poet, social critic, and labor activist. Nowak is a 2010 Guggenheim poetry fellow and serves as the Director of the Rose O'Neill Literary House at Washington College. His writings include Shut Up Shut Down (afterword by Amiri Baraka; Coffee House Press, 2004), a New York Times "Editor's Choice," and the recently published book on coal mining disasters in the US and China, Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009), which Howard Zinn called "a stunning educational tool. Nowak was featured at the Split This Rock Poetry Festival in March.