This week Big Ideas For A Small Planet (Sundance Channel 9pm Tue July/10) explores some connections between spirituality and the eco-system. Three very diverse approaches are featured.

We start with Reverent Fletcher Harper, who heads up ‘Green Faith’, an interdenominational group dedicated to bringing a sense of ecological stewardship into the religious world. In a fascinating segment we get to watch him in action talking to a group of young Jewish school children. He has a unique approach that certainly is action over words. How better to explain the problem to young malleable minds than through a demonstation, he takes a large trash can ‘borrowed’ from the synagougue and empties it into the floor.

The kids then get to sort it into piles, paper, plastic, food, etc. Now there is nothing that kids of any faith like better than getting dirty, and that’s what they do.He goes on to explain that almost every pile they have created either could be eliminated or reused. Plastic cups could be replaced by reusable ones, and paper could be recycled. I am sure that a lot of parents were cursing the Reverent when the kids got home that day. There is nothing worse than being nagged at by a 6 year old.

Segment Two involves Judy Bonds who is a co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch, a West Virginia based activist group dedicated to stopping the destruction of the Appalachian mountains by strip mining coal from the mountain tops. The videos showing the before and after effects are to put it mildly absolutely shocking. The companies involved in this wanton destruction should be held accountable. We see beautiful lush mountains transformed into a bleak lifeless moonscape. I had the opportunity to chat briefly with Judy about the situation:

How long have you been involved with Coal River Mountain Watch?

I have been with Coal River Mountain Watch for about 8 years now. And it is hard to estimate how much personal time I have spent being an activist.

You showed a very disturbing series of photos that revealed the result of strip mining. From gorgeous and lush, to a moonscape. How much of the West Virginian mountains are at risk?

There is really no way to guess other than the fact that a spokesman for the coal association says that 43 of West Virginia’s 55 counties have mineable seams of coal. Every mountain that has coal is at risk, not just in West Virginia but also in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and parts of Maryland. Any mountain that has the curse of coal is at risk. It is estimated that unless this is stopped, that a swath of land a quarter of a mile wide that goes from New York to San Francisco will equal the amount of mountains destroyed in the lush central Appalachian forests.

Although it was not mentioned in the program, I understand that it was as a direct result of the strip mining that drove you from your family home. Can you tell us a little about the circumstances?

I was drove away from my home in the hollow by the danger of irresponsible mining, that included strip mining, blasting, a huge earthen toxic sludge dam upstream from my home, extreme water pollution, black water spills and fish kills, coal dust and health dangers to my family. My quiet, peaceful home in my hollow was turned into a mining operation. Now, I don’t talk a lot about my family as I have had death threats. A member of my family has had to physically defend himself. I don’t care about myself but I don’t want my family to be targeted. 

In this day of environmental awareness, I find it hard to believe that wanton destruction is still permitted, are you making progress in stopping it?

We are making progress both lawsuits and in public outrage. We have a bill in Congress as well ‘The Clean Water Protection Act’, HR 2169.
Mountaintop removal strip mining had been a “dirty secret” that the coal industry and the coal friendly politicians have kept quiet for too long now.
We are traveling to colleges to educate and motivate students about theses issues along with a very personal question ‘how will they be able to sustain themselves on this planet if we continue to trash it’? More and more people know about this evil now.

What can we all (not just local folks) do to help stop this terrible situation?

Bless you and thank you for asking….
GET THE WORD OUT! Educate everyone! Talk about mountain top removal and ask them “where does your electricity come from”. Tell everyone that every time they turn on their light switches…they are blowing up our mountains and homes….
Call and write your own elected officials and say “stop blowing up Appalachian Mountains and poisoning people”. There is a better way to produce energy. Ask for, no, even better, demand renewable energy now!

Write letters to the editors, help conserve energy, and please check out our website and order one of our t-shirts that says “Stop Mountaintop Removal”…Save the endangered Hillbilly” For more information on how to help please visit and

Clearly this is a lady on a mission, and I do hope that she is successful, the Appalachian’s are a wonderful part of the country, the current legacy for our children is nothing more than a lifeless grey flatland. Research shows that so far 300,000 acres of lush forest have been destroyed, and over 470 miles of rivers and streams no longer exist.

The final segment this week involves a unique Florida based company, Eternal Reefs. Death is something that eventually we all have to face. A question that very much is of a personal nature is what should be done after we die, cremation or internment. I was surprised to learn that each year we bury 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid, 90,000 tons of steal and 30 million board feet of wood. From an environmental perspective this is not good. Eternal Reefs has a solution, using cremated ashes and liquid concrete they form artificial coral reefs, even in death you can help the eco-system.

If you cannot get the Sundance Channel on your local cable, most of the segments can be viewed online.

This is the last of this seasons Big Ideas For A Small Planet, but the hot rumor is that they are currently working on a new set of programs. I think Sundance should be congratulated on producing a very fine and timely series. I may just be a reviewer, but I have learned a great deal by watching.

All pictures courtesy of The Sundance Channel and Coal River Mountain Watch

Simon Barrett

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