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The mountaintop

| Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I have been to the mountaintop, and it was not as high as it should have been. Staring down at what more closely resembled a squat hill than a towering mountain, I was entirely underwhelmed. It had taken a long time for my Appalachia group to get here v— a narrow, winding road that seemed to go nowhere followed by a guided hike to see this unimpressive “mountain.” But there was more to its story than the sad hill that it was now.

The mound that we were all looking down on used to be a lofty, proud mountain, taller than the one that we were currently standing on. But its richness led to its own destruction. The coal that was hidden inside was irresistible to the coal industry, and unconcerned about the communities below, they destroyed the mountain to get it.

Mountaintop removal is a destructive technique used to extract coal from the mountains of Appalachia. It destroys the mountain, leaving only a mound as the gravestone of the once majestic and flourishing mountain. The communities in the area surrounding the site receive the harmful pollutants, forcing many to move. Those that cannot are forced to deal with the negative health consequences that follow, with the children being the most strongly and negatively affected.

Natural gas is not friendly to the local community either. The current extraction techniques inevitably lead to leakage of these natural gases which pollute our atmosphere and further contribute to climate change. The chemicals that are leaked during fracking can harm almost all parts of the human body: the skin, eyes, brain and the cardiovascular, respiratory and immune systems. These chemicals are also carcinogenic, meaning they have the potential to cause cancer and other DNA mutations.

Four hundred million dollars of Notre Dame’s endowment are currently invested in the fossil fuel industry that is killing the Appalachian region and wreaking havoc on the environment. Notre Dame could instead invest in innovative green energy and technology in the region, which could help create a new economy with lasting jobs in a growing market. Appalachian coal jobs have an approaching expiration date, while clean-energy jobs will continue to grow and expand. If the region continues to depend on fossil fuel extraction, it will be locked in a future of economic decline. Our money is paying for the harm being done to these communities, the people that Notre Dame has sent students to Appalachia to know, learn from and love.

When hearing the statistics of how the people in the Appalachian region are affected by fossil fuels, for many Notre Dame students — myself included — there are faces to go with these numbers. After all, these are the people that laughed with me, taught me how to use a saw and shared their stories with me. The people being affected are our friends, and Notre Dame’s investment in fossil fuel industries is directly harming the people who accept us all into their homes and hearts every fall and spring break.

Emily Clements


March 20

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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