Lexington's footprint on Norway's glaciers

By Erik Reece

I just returned from two weeks of traveling, often on foot, through Norway, my ancestral homeland. I did most of my hiking in the Jotunheimen National Park, the troll-haunted backdrop of Ibsen's drama, Peer Gynt. All throughout the Jotenheimen, melting snow was creating quiet green lakes and wild mountain streams.

One day, I climbed the stark and beautiful Mt. Fannaraka with an older Norwegian named Victor. He asked where I was from and when I said Kentucky, he replied, "Don't you have a problem there with, how do you say it, mine stripping?"

I said we did indeed have a problem with strip mining, and I briefly explained mountaintop removal.

"That would never happen here," Victor said, "We would never let corporations have that much power." Then he added, "In Norway, we always think of our grandchildren's generation."

The following day, Victor and I, along with a guide, walked across one of Norway's many melting glaciers. I could see a deep crack in its ice and could hear water rushing beneath it. When we reached the bottom, I asked the guide if global warming was having an effect on this particular glacier. He pointed to a boulder 50 yards away and said, "Five years ago the ice reached over to that rock."

Flying home, I could see out the plane's window a much larger, and more ominous melting glacierthe Greenland ice sheet. Six hours later, I was back in Lexington, the city that, per capita, is contributing more to all of that melting than any other city in the United States.

There was a pile of newspapers waiting for me, and I caught up on what I had missed namely that our lieutenant governor, Daniel Mongiardo, thinks Kentucky needs more mountaintop removal strip mining, not less, and the University of Kentucky has received $1.4 million to study the process of turning coal to gas.

So while the glaciers of Norway and Greenland melt, the mountains of Kentucky undergo their own destruction, and the coal derived from that brutal process accelerates rising temperatures and rising sea levels.

What is the connection here? Everything.

In the long shadow of climate change and resource depletion, nothing exists in isolation.

Much of what I have read this summer concerning Gov. Steve Beshear's energy plan and the University of Kentucky's research to (as Odyssey magazine recently wrote) "break oil's choke-hold" still speaks of coal as the answer to, well, coal.

But one cannot break the choke-hold of one fossil fuel with another, and in any case, coal contributes more to climate change than oil. Therefore, when our leadership presents us with "alternative" or "clean" coal technologies, we must ask these three questions of any new power plant:

Does it burn coal that comes from a strip mine?

Will it release carbon dioxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide or particulate matter into the air?

Can conservation and energy efficiency make the building of this plant unnecessary?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," then the plant should not be built.

Currently, I don't know of a single coal-fired power plant in the country that meets these criteria, nor do any that are in the planning stages.

Which is to say, we are still letting corporations and their political hirelings determine our future at the expense of Kentucky's, and the country's, grandchildren.

While Norway receives the highest marks in the world according to Yale University's Environmental Sustainability Index, I do not believe one nation's success can be grafted onto another country. We have to solve our own environmental problems, in our own way.

This should include research into switch-grass biofuel, reforestation, and wind and solar energy. Such research should be accompanied by the political will to connect more integrated, self-sufficient communities with attractive public transportation, and with the private will to practice conservation.

I have been told before, and may be told again that if I think Norway is so great, I should move there and stop complaining about Kentucky.

My answer is that Norway is not my home; Kentucky is. But there is an art and an ethic to dwelling in one's place indeed, the root of the word ethics means "to dwell."

Dwelling responsibly, with pride and reverence this, I think, is work we are now called to begin.

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