Posted by Kristin Tracz
on Aug 23, 2010 | Comments Off on Redefining Appalachia
A post by the folks at the City University of New York's Institute for Sustainable Cities. We'd love to keep conversations about rural-urban linkages as they relate to an Appalachian Transition going! As always your thoughts, comments and feedback welcome.
Solutions journal has a special issue on the future and transition of Appalachia that is both inspiring–in its discussion of the potential for a resilient, localized, vibrant economy and upsetting–in its disclosure that while coal extraction has “largely defined the public image of Appalachia, the industry is at an all-time low in terms of employment—it represents less than two percent of all jobs—and economic impact. ” This is upsetting not because of the fact alone, we should actually feel rather positive that this destructive industry represents only 2% of the local economy. What is so upsetting is the countless amounts of money and lobbying efforts that have gone into keeping Appalachian citizens–and Americans at large–convinced that coal mining is important, irreplaceable and extremely significant in economic terms.
Full with a lesson on the basics of David Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage theory to a discussion of the vision for a more sustainable Appalachia, this article outlines how it came to be that Appalachia became synonymous with mountain top mining, rapid environmental destruction and risk with limited return, that somehow gives the allusion of infinite return, and of course, how this place can be and is being saved. The key concepts from the piece are below, but I would highly recommend a full reading.
While coal mining has largely defined the public image of Appalachia, the industry is at an all-time low in terms of employment—it represents less than two percent of all jobs—and economic impact.
Efforts to diversify the central Appalachian economy, underway for more than 30 years, have had some success. But until very recently these, too, have operated within the paradigm of globalization and comparative advantage, with little attention paid to ecological concerns or building long-term wealth.
The national focus on growth and the inducements to unfettered consumption—what might be called the culture of “ubiquitous abundance”—have helped maintain the position of Appalachia as a provider of cheap energy, fiber, and other products, which, in turn, has led to enormous social and ecological problems.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, a more sustainable economy has begun to emerge, led by community based, entrepreneurial nonprofits, key local and state officials, and innovative local businesses, often linked through networks of production, markets, and peer learning.
This sustainable economy is diverse, with enterprises emerging in several sectors, including food and farming, forest-based enterprises, and renewable energy/energy efficiency and green building.
The common and defining characteristics of this sustainable economy include: nurturing ecological sustainability, often beginning with restoration; building local assets, both infrastructural and institutional, that spawn innovation and self reliance; building relationships between consumers and producers based on regional economies and markets; and generating broadly held local wealth in order to decrease poverty and dependence and increase community resilience.
Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.