Ten Years of Appalachian Voice

Anyone who has been paying any attention to the news lately knows that the planet is getting warmer and environmentalism is getting cooler. Magazine covers with people dressed in shades of green have been popping up like kudzu. Newsweek put this headline on its cover: “The New Greening of America: From Politics to Lifestyle, Why Saving the Environment is Suddenly Hot.” The New York Times informed us in a special section that “green is the new black,” always in fashion. On the cover of their special green issue, Vanity Fair magazine called for “a new American Revolution.” And perhaps most improbably, a movie that featured former Vice President Al Gore giving a presentation about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, was one of the surprise hit films of the year.

As someone who has been working almost all my life to solve environmental problems, I am encouraged and hopeful about this upsurge in concern for the planet’s life support systems. At the same time, as someone who has spent almost all my life in rural areas and red states, I can’t help but wonder whether this buzz is just an urban phenomenon, or if it’s percolating out into the places where I live and work. In New York City green may be the new black, but here in the South, is green the new camo?

For ten years, the Appalachian Voice newspaper has been a source of environmental news of, by, and for the people of Appalachia. With a small budget and a dedicated network of volunteer distributors, we’ve worked hard over the past decade to inform the people who live in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains about the biggest environmental issues facing our region. We publish the newspaper 6 times and year and distribute 75,000 copies of each issue across 6 states. People pick up the Appalachian Voice at coffee shops, universities, and health food stores, as well as Wal-Marts, grocery stores, and gas stations.

In those ten years, we have found that people throughout Appalachia love the mountains and are concerned about the environment, regardless of their religious or political persuasion. The Appalachian Voice has featured stories about the many ways we Southerners enjoy the outdoors, including fishing, hunting, boating, hiking, gardening, harvesting wild berries and plants, and just relaxing. Knowing how to sustain yourself with what the land provides is a skill passed down through generations and is a point of pride here – in the immortal words of Bocephus, “country folks can survive.”

Unfortunately, this way of life is threatened by major environmental assaults on Appalachia’s land and people. For the past decade, the Appalachian Voice has covered these stories through honest, unflinching reporting about regional environmental issues, including the destruction of over 450 mountains by mountaintop removal coal mining, sickness and loss of tourism revenue due to severe air pollution, the impact of global warming on the mountains, and the uncertain fate of public lands. We have also reported on examples of good stewardship, like NASCAR driver Ward Burton’s passion for conservation, local business that make a profit while protecting the environment, and the quiet victories of the many small land trusts throughout the southern mountains.

Finally, we have told the story of what’s at stake – Appalachia’s irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage. From bluegrass festivals to modern-day moonshiners, from endangered wildflowers to white-tailed deer, articles in the Appalachian Voice have shared with readers the rich tapestry of life that makes this region special. We have also chronicled chapters in our region’s history that are too often neglected in our schools and textbooks, like the armed conflict during the struggle to unionize the coal mines on West Virginia’s Blair Mountain, which was recently named one of America’s Most Endangered Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation due to proposed mountaintop removal operations.

As part of our tenth year, the Appalachian Voice has taken these stories into the digital age. Earlier this year we began posting complete issues of the newspaper on our website, www.appalachianvoices.org. We also launched the Front Porch Blog, an online companion to the Appalachian Voice that provides visitors with a daily, interactive source of Appalachian environmental and cultural news. You can comment on the day’s news and discuss it with fellow readers, and also learn about upcoming events on our calendar.

Publishing this newspaper is only one part of what we do at Appalachian Voices. Our staff of 10 works hard every day, together with members, volunteers, and partner organizations, to solve the environmental problems that we cover in the Appalachian Voice. We have accomplished a great deal, including serving as one of the leaders of the coalition that passed the landmark North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act (one of the strongest clean air laws in the nation) and launching www.iLoveMountains.org, an innovative online campaign to end mountaintop removal that has received national media attention and was just recognized as one of the nation’s best internet sites for a nonprofit cause.

We are making progress, but we also face tremendous challenges. As fears grow about the security of oil supplies around the world, some are pinning their hopes on coal to meet the nation’s future energy needs. A new generation of more than 140 coal-fired power plants is currently on the drawing board nationwide, which would lock Appalachia into another generation of devastated landscapes and communities. Development pressures increasingly threaten forests and wildlife in the southern mountains. Air pollution is still a big problem here, and we have a lot of work to do before the views are clear and children and the elderly can breathe easily.

Fortunately, more and more people are joining us every day. It’s not just people in New York and Hollywood who are concerned about the environment. Right here, in the hills and hollers of Appalachia, regular people like you and me are stepping up and asking what they can do to help. I know this because they call our office, write us letters, and send us email by the thousands. And we bring these issues to thousands more, not only through the Appalachian Voice, but also through presentations at Rotary Clubs, churches, and county commission meetings across Appalachia and beyond.

They are conservative and liberal, young and old, rural and urban, and they all have one thing in common – they care deeply about the future of our mountains, and they want to make sure we leave the land prosperous, beautiful, and healthy for our children and grandchildren. For some of these good stewards of Appalachia, green is, in fact, the new black. For others green is the new camo, and others wouldn’t be caught dead in any shade of green, thank you very much. They are the voices of Appalachia, and they are the voices for Appalachia. Their ranks are growing, and we invite you to join them, and to read their stories here for another decade, in the pages of the Appalachian Voice.

Mary Anne Hitt serves as executive director of Appalachian Voices.


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