The Sirens are Sounding: Will we Heed Them?

I am not sure when we as a world community will wake up. Two devastating tornado outbreaks within a month’s time in our nation with the allegedly rare EF5 tornadoes packing winds of over 200 miles per hour seem to be as good as an alarm bell as any I have heard.

Climate change is a reality.  It is not just a made up myth to scare little children before bedtime or to make block buster movies like The Day After Tomorrow.  We are facing massive climate change.  The floods in Pakistan, Australia, and Midwest; the uncontrollable fires currently in Texas, Russia, and Africa, record breaking temperatures, record breaking snowfalls; these are all pointing to dramatic climate change.

Firemap 11 May 2011 — 20 May 2011  Source:

I know we all laughed about global warming when we had record low temperatures and snow in the Deep South this passed year.  But with an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes an increase in temperatures and an increased ability for the air to hold more moisture. So it makes sense that precipitation will be more than usual.  And it makes sense that parts of the earth will be scorched of what little moisture is left preparing the land for fire which releases more CO2 into the air—a vicious cycle.

So what will it take for humanity to wake up and take steps to drastically reduce CO2 and other emission gases?

Bolivia took a bold step in that direction when it passed laws that reflected their indigenous people’s values.  This small South American country passed legislation that equated mother earth to have equal rights as humans. These rights include: “the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.”

Bolivia’s Vice-President Alvaro García Linera stated. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”

We need to follow Bolivia’s lead.  Our seventh principle states, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”  This principle is in harmony with the actions that Bolivia has taken.  We, as Unitarian Universalists can no longer afford to have nicely worded principles that we can simply point to. We need our actions and our behaviors to reflect these principles not only in our daily lives but also in our activism to change our society towards one that is also in harmony with Mother Earth. In short, we need to be radically progressive in embodying our principles if we want a planet that is conducive to sustaining not just life, but human life.  Blessings,

Rosa Coal Mine in Alabama

The city of Birmingham was built seemingly overnight on the iron and steel industry.  It was a boom town for employment.  Part of the reason for this rapid growth early on was the presence of iron ore, coal, and limestone all within close proximity.  These are essential in the making of steel.  Birmingham was called the “The Pittsburgh of the South.” 

Steel production is no longer the prominent industry in Birmingham but steel is still made.  Three of the major steel producers have strong presences in Birmingham and there are talks of major expansion in the next several years of their facilities.   One of the reasons behind these plans is the reinvestment of the Rosa Coal Mine Project by MCoal Corp. based in Vancouver, British Columbia,  Canada. 

There has been increased interest again in coal as an alternate energy source since the invasion of Iraq seven years ago.   And so companies like MCoal have been looking at coal deposits that have not been fully tapped such as the coal that is in the Rosa Mine.   This particular coal field had been stripped mined in the late 1960’s and 1970’s but the main coal fields have not been.   Resulting in a coal field that is ideally suited according to MCoal for augur type mining.  They believe Rosa Coal Mine will be able to produce 1 million tons of coal  per year within the next 5 to 7 years for a total of 5 million tons of coal to be  recovered. 

 This all sounds wonderful at a time when Alabama, along with the rest of country, is facing its most critical economic crisis in over 80 years.  The project is expected to provide about 25 local jobs for the next 3-5 years. However there is a damper on all this expansion talk.  What is the impact of augur mining on the people who live in and around Rosa Coal Mine, including the city of Birmingham?  

The mine is located within 100 feet of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River, a primary source of water for the city of Birmingham.  Augur mining results in toxic water sludge that will be dumped into the river and enter into the aquifers underground. 

Locust Fork at Black Warrior River

Locust Fork at Black Warrior River

A study done by West Virginia University on the effects of coal mining on the health of the community found there was a 70 percent increase in kidney disease, a 64 percent increase for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) such as emphysema, and a 30 percent increase in hypertension.  The study compensated for the likelihood of increased chronic illnesses because of lack of health care and increased tobacco smoking in these communities. The study noted that COPD increased by 1 percent for every 1,462 tons of coal mined.    The study concludes “The human cost of the Appalachian coal economy outweighs its economic benefit.” 

At what price do we state the monetary gains are worth the loss of human life?  What is an acceptable loss?   A three percent increase in COPD and kidney disease?  A ten percent increase?  A 70 percent increase?  If my math is correct and I won’t vouch that it is … but with the statistics given above,   1 million tons of coal divided by 1,462 tons would yield a 683 percent increase in COPD and that is just over the course of one year’s projection.   Of course such mathematics can’t possibly be accurate to reality but even if these statistics were only 10 percent right,  this is still an increase of 68 percent. Is 5 million tons of coal worth the risk of increasing COPD in a given population–for the creation of only 25 local jobs? 

We already have a broken health care system in this nation.   Costs are out of reach for most people and that is for people who have health insurance.   Insurance companies know these statistics and base their costs on regional projections.  Guaranteed health insurance costs will rise in the northwest  corner of Alabama because of this renewed mining effort. 

This connection seems to be lost on MCoal.  Or perhaps they were aware of it since the permit announcements that require public hearings did not get public notice in the press until it was time for the hearings to take place.   The first permit was filed May 5 2009 with the newspapers  picking up the story on July 1.  The public comment period ends on August 1 2009.   There is a petition that can be signed today located at  this site

There has got to be a better way than destroying human life to make a buck.

Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 11:45 am  Comments (1)  
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When I first moved to Mississippi and Alabama, I noticed after the leaves had fallen from the oak and other trees, these round balls of green in the trees.  I had never seen this in trees in Chicago or in New England so it seemed strange to me.  I knew this was not a form of lichen or Spanish moss that is associated with the south.   When I mentioned this to others, I would sometimes get a nonchalant answer.  It was obvious that my new southern neighbors paid this strange sight no mind.  And they couldn’t understand why I thought this was so unusual.


The balls of green were the American Mistletoe.  One of two varieties that grow in North America. The Dwarf Mistletoe grows along the pacific west and southwest.  There are over 1300 species worldwide.  This is a hemi-parasitic plant which means that it is not entirely self-sufficient.  Once it has matured it no longer produces the sugars it needs through photosynthesis  and embeds itself into the bark of the host tree.  When looking at mistletoe in a tree, it looks like it is a natural branch of the tree only that its leaves are evergreen and it produces a whitish sticky berry. 

While long thought of as a parasite that eventually destroys its host, it turns out this plant is actually mutually beneficial to its host and the diversity of the ecology of the forests.  The Mistletoe provides shelter for nesting birds and small animals.  And several bird species feed on the seeds to survive the harsh winters.  There are also three species of Butterflies known as Hairstreaks that are totally dependent on the mistletoe for their existence.   The one pictured here is the Great Purple Hairstreak and the American Mistletoe is its feeding ground.

Most of us know the role that mistletoe plays in our Winter holidays.  It is prominent in Winter Solstice celebrations and Christmas celebrations.   But I had no idea it was so prominent a species in the American south.  And it is vital to a healthy forest ecology.

Published in: on December 27, 2008 at 1:04 pm  Comments Off on Mistletoe  
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Hurricane Creek

I am beginning to get know more of my surroundings in Alabama. I was recently introduced to the Friends of Hurricane Creek Newsletter. This is a piece of land near Tuscaloosa that needs some loving care.  It is as E.O WIlson of Harvard University and native Alabaman states one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet.  Watch the video of E. O. WIlson standing near the bank of Hurricane Creek as he describes this valuable heritage to us.  And listen to the variety of birds singing in the background.   Blessings,  

Published in: on September 13, 2008 at 2:25 pm  Comments Off on Hurricane Creek  
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Earth Day 38th anniversary

As I write this, it is almost Earth Day. I remember the first Earth Day celebration, 38 years ago. The church I attended as a teenager participated in Earth Day with an all day clean up of Orange Square, the small park across the street from the church and as I recall there were some talks held at the church on the importance of being good stewards of our planet.

Today, Earth Day is more than just cleaning up the litter that we were too lazy to place in trash receptacles. And lazy does not even acknowledge the full weight of that act; there is a strong tinge of arrogance attached to littering as well. And privilege.

Arrogance that comes from centuries of teachings that human kind was to dominate and subdue the earth to our will. Privilege in that we were the superior entities on this planet and not simply animals like the whale or the grizzly bear.

Today, we are realizing, albeit slowly, that we are not the masters of our planet. We are an interconnected, interdependent species with all of life on this planet. Our survival depends on the survival of even the smallest creature or plant. The difficulty in this realization is that our society wants instantaneous consequences. We want to see results immediately and that is not how the planet works. Slowly poisoning our eco-system takes time for it to show up in the environment. And we are even slower to realize that we had something to do with it.

Mutated frogSeveral years ago there were reports of frogs either disappearing or having increased deformities. Pictures of frogs with extra appendages or lack of appendages began to show up on the internet. Some of the frogs were sterile. It slowly dawned on people that perhaps this was the result of DDT and other pesticides and chemicals being used. The reason these effects showed up in frogs is because amphibians have a shorter life cycle than other more complex animals. They also have a skin membrane that is purposely conducive to absorption of moisture—moisture that may be contaminated with chemicals such as pesticides.

Could it possibly be that our use of chemicals are also having profound effects on our DNA as well but because our life cycle is slower it will take some time before it shows up in the human species? Or has it already appeared and we are blind to recognize it as such? Why is it that autism incidence rose 1342% since 1993? And Asperger’s Disorder has an even higher rate of incidence. It simply cannot be because we are better at diagnosing these disorders. Could our pollution habits have a connection to the rise of these and other disorders?

I am not suggesting a conspiracy theory here. I am, however, asking questions of where our arrogance to our planet has led us to. Whether we like to think so or not, we are part of the ecosystem of our planet. The only difference is we have the profound ability to impact that ecosystem and us along the way. It is time we become conscious of that impact and change our behaviors. Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond

Published in: on April 19, 2008 at 6:44 pm  Comments Off on Earth Day 38th anniversary  
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