Created by Google Earth Outreach and two regional environmental groups — Coal River Mountain Watch and Appalachian Voices, a Boone-based organization that publishes a newspaper — the Coal Mountain component is one of 15 stories that will be featured at the United Nations Climate Change Conference Dec. 7-18 and at the Google COP15 Web site. According to Appalachian Voices, the three-dimensional stories are "designed to help international representatives visualize climate change and features a region or group that is devising local solutions. The Coal River Mountain [section] focuses on a proposal by local residents to create a 320-megawatt wind farm on the mountain as an alternative to the mountaintop removal mine."
Here are more details from the App. Voices press release:
"Google Earth has made it possible for us to show the world that this mountain is a symbol of hope," said Lorelei Scarbro, a resident of Coal River Valley and the tour's narrator. "If we can save this mountain and begin developing sustainable jobs and renewable energy, maybe we can have an impact on the climate crisis that faces us all."
According to a study commissioned by Coal River Mountain Watch, the proposed Coal River Wind Project would provide $1.7 million in annual revenue and create jobs for the community; pursuing wind instead of mountaintop removal mining would also prevent the release of 134 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere-an amount equivalent to adding 1.5 million cars to U.S. highways for a period of 17 years.
Scarbro-a resident born and raised in West Virginia and whose father, grandfather, and husband were all coal miners-lives on property that borders Coal River Mountain. Massey Energy, operators of the mine, are currently blasting less than 200 yards from an immense earthen impoundment holding 8.2 billion gallons of toxic wet coal slurry, causing concern in Scarbro and other residents. If the impoundment were to fail, Massey itself has estimated that almost a thousand people in the valley below could lose their lives.
"We don't live where they mine coal," Scarbro has said. "They mine coal where we live."
To date, over 500 mountains in Appalachia have been impacted and nearly 2,000 miles of headwater streams have been buried and polluted by mountaintop removal coal mining.
During the tour, Scarbro explains the scope of mountaintop removal coal mining plans for Coal River Mountain and discusses the ridge's wind potential. High-resolution videos of blasting, colored overlays and informational charts provide visual methods of conveying the issue.
The tour also introduces viewers to other Coal River Valley residents and relays images of some health problems residents in these neighboring communities face.
"The Google Earth tour of Coal River Mountain will show the delegates in Copenhagen what's at stake," said Appalachian Voices' Executive Director Willa Mays. "Coal River Mountain is ground zero in the fight against mountaintop removal coal mining, and represents the choice between a clean energy future and the threat of climate change."
Appalachian Voices, based in Boone, N.C., is a regional organization that works to solve environmental problems having the greatest impact on the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. Coal River Mountain Watch is a West Virginia-based group united to protect the Coal River Mountain region and promote the Coal River Wind Project.
To view the tour online, visit google.com/cop15 and at YouTube.
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