Last year, a pair of anthropologists traveled to central Appalachia to talk to locals about the so-called “War on Coal.” They trekked across nine counties in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, recorded hundreds of conversations, and published the results in a report for the Topos Partnership, a public interest communications firm.
Appalachians told the researchers they want independence, and they believe independence comes from work. Work used to come from coal, but mining jobs are fleeing the region. In the last five years, Kentucky and West Virginia shed 15,000 coal jobs.
“When we have coal, then we have money put into our communities, but when you don’t have coal, your coal miners leave. They go places,” said a woman from Logan County, West Virginia. Coal miners could make upwards of $80,000 a year, and they spent their hard-earned dollars at the grocery down the block and the bar around the corner.
As coal departs, Appalachia is being forced to reinvent itself. Amid reports of economic decline are stories of rebirth, of communities reclaiming their independence.
Kentucky tech startup Bit Source is hiring out-of-work coal miners and teaching them to write code.
“The realization I had was that the coal miner, although we think of him as a person who gets dirty and works with his hands, really coal mines today are very sophisticated, and they use a lot of technology, a lot of robotics,” Rusty Justice, the firm’s cofounder, told NPR.
State officials are working to extend high-speed internet access to the Eastern Kentucky to support more ventures like Bit Source that provide well-paid jobs to coal veterans.
Clean energy and energy efficiency
Analysts say the shift to clean power will create more jobs than it eliminates. Enterprising coal workers are trying to bring a few of those jobs to Appalachia…
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