Wednesday, August 24, 2011

THE LAST MOUNTAIN / Staff Review by Dave Paiz

"The epicenter of the climate change battle in the United States is Appalachian coal, and the epicenter of the battle around Appalachian coal is Coal River Mountain."

- Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council

In the opening moments of Bill Haney's new documentary, "The Last Mountain," the president of the West Virginia Coal Association makes the snide and vaguely contemptuous assertion that most Americans don't know where their electricity comes from, and that they even see it as some kind of entitlement.

While there may be a kernel of truth embedded in that statement, that hardly justifies the ongoing destruction of the Appalachians by those who value profits more than people. Once you blow off the top of a mountain, it ceases to be a mountain. And once you blow the top off an entire mountain range, all that's left is a desolate field of rubble and a variety of health and environmental woes that didn't exist before. And situated in the center of a field of toxic rubble that used to be mountains lies West Virginia’s Coal River Mountain, the titular focus of the film.

"The Last Mountain" is easily one of the most compelling environmental documentaries I've ever seen, and makes a strong case that the war between Big Coal and average citizens struggling to preserve their environment, their health, and a sustainable future for their children, has implications that concern us all.

The key to making a really good documentary is to present the subject from as many different angles as possible, and Haney manages to present the fundamental views of all parties that have a stake in this fiercely heated conflict.

Currently, nearly half of America's electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants, and roughly 1/3 of the coal needed to keep those plants running comes from the Appalachian mountains.

The coal industry has determined that the fastest, cheapest way to extract the coal is by literally blowing the tops off the mountains, using enough explosives each week to equal the bomb that leveled Hiroshima. Unfortunately, in their relentless pursuit of short-term profits, they've largely ignored the long-term damage done to the environment by way of flooding and pollution of area waterways, as well as numerous accounts of cancer and other insults to human health many believe are directly associated with the coal industry's practices.

What began as a local struggle has grown into something much bigger, and become a major focus of longtime environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who features prominently in the film.

As the debates surrounding climate change and corporate control of our democracy grow louder with each passing day, "The Last Mountain" couldn't be more timely. It's a classic David vs. Goliath story that pits ordinary citizens from all walks of life against a monolithic and seemingly implacable foe with the power to buy off politicians at the highest levels, break the law, shape the scope of public debate and manufacture consent as it deems fit.

If you’re not already dead inside, the film will shock, sadden and enrage you, before finally showing an inspirational glimmer of hope offered by sustained, non-violent civil disobedience and the transformational long-range potential of renewable energy sources.

The Last Mountain plays Wednesday, August 24th at 7:30PM only, as part of our ongoing One Hit Wonders series.  This screening is co-presented by The Southern Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce.  A post-film panel discussion will take place with the following local environmental experts:
ARDETH BARNHART, Program Director of Renewable Energy at UA, formerly with AzRISE
PABLO GARCIA-CHEVESICH, researcher/consultant in watershed management specializing in land reclamation & erosion control
VINCENT PAWLOWSKI, 27 years in engineering, holder of a new degree in Sustainable Community Development from Prescott College
DAVID SCHALLER, President of his energy & climate consultancy after a lengthy career with EPA, specializing in Sustainable Development & Climate Change
KATHERINE KENT, owner of the Solar Store, will moderate the panel.

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