When I was in Mongolia for World Environment Day, the topic of how the government would protect the traditional nomadic herder lifestyle while also taking advantage of opportunities for rapid economic development, such as mining and wind and solar power, was a huge focus of conversation. It remains to be seen how well these plans will play out, but it was clear that this focus on protecting the rural, traditional way of life was truly important to political leaders and respected by members of the business community we heard from.
I thought of this when watching the preview to a new documentary called Things of Intrinsic Worth, which focuses on the ways coal mining is harming the livelihoods of Montana ranchers. The feature-length documentary by filmmakers Carly Calhoun and Sam Despeaux tells the story of father and son ranchers Clint and Wally McRae and how the proposed Otter Creek coal mine and nearby coal ash ponds are threatening their way of life.
Clint McRae explains why they are speaking out about this issue:
"For 40 years the citizens of southeast Montana have been repeatedly asked to absorb the impacts of natural resource extraction. We have done our part. We have sacrificed the loss of water, land, property, and quality of life for others to enjoy electricity at the flick of a switch. We have given enough, and the time has come to say no more."
“There is something inherently wrong for a private, for-profit corporation using federal eminent domain to condemn our property so coal can be exported to China. I seriously question that this is in the best interest of the public. This is an agricultural issue, a private property rights issue, and is one more example of how Montana landowners are under attack by energy interests. All this to fuel China’s economy?”
Filmmaker Carly Calhoun explains the global implications of Montana's coal development:
Proponents argue that the Otter Creek coal mine, which would be one of the largest strip mines in the West, is a huge economic development opportunity with the potential to create jobs and revenue for the state of Montana. But, the McRaes and their neighbors, Native American tribes, citizens across the West, and people concerned about the implications for the climate believe that the negative impacts are too great. They say that the profits will go to the coal and railroad companies, while the pollution will effect us all and exacerbate climate change, and communities from Montana to the Pacific Northwest will be left to pay the price with damaged water, air, wildlife habitats, sacred cultural sites, landscapes, and livelihoods. With 10% of the world's coal reserves sitting under Montana and a proposal that could lead to Montana serving as a coal colony for Asia, the stakes are high.
The filmmakers are currently raising funds on Kickstarter to pay for the film. Projects like this are an important tool in spreading awareness about the challenges facing farmers and rural communities due to groundwater contamination and the negative consequences to our continued system of externalizing costs of energy production. Check out the Kickstarter page for more information and to help support the project.