For two centuries, coal has powered modernity — our railroads, our steel mills, our laptops. The people of coal regions have delivered grueling, high-risk labor while watching their landscapes be transformed by mountaintop removal, open-pit mining, and a panoply of toxic waste problems. In exchange for bearing these costs, the coal industry offered miners and their families a good livelihood as well as a sense of purpose and identity. But now, as most of the world decides to leave coal behind to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, what should we do about the local communities that have grown so reliant on coal mining and coal-fired energy production? Prop them up with subsidies? Move people out and let the towns decay and crumble? Given how much resentment over the coal exit has fueled the rise of right-wing populism, the stakes are high. But the implications are more than just political; they speak to a deeper moral reckoning with the tradeoffs we have made in building the world we inhabit.
14 Dec 21