What Democrats are Still Missing About Appalachia

It’s like clockwork. Every time a presidential election occurs, the issue of climate change and arguments about fossil fuels become a central theme. Obviously, it’s a topic that’s given particular attention from the people of Appalachia.

Many Republicans take the position that the earth is warming, but they are somehow not convinced that human beings are exacerbating the problem. Democrats cater to the powerful environmental lobby, everyone digs in their heels and the same old fight occurs over and over with no substantive policymaking taking place.

The scientific community has identified this issue for more than 30 years. It wasn’t fake then, and it isn’t fake now. It is true Democrats have taken a more aggressive approach to trying to address the problem, for which they should be commended.
In a “60 Minutes” interview recently, climatologist and geophysicist Michael Mann put it this way.

“There’s about as much scientific consensus on human-based climate change as there is about gravity,” Mann said.

Still, Democrats are missing the mark in Appalachia, which in recent years has become more politically potent because of its impact in key swing states. “Renewable energy” is the darling catch phrase, and energy solutions that center around renewables are at the heart of the Democratic platform.

Their problem is every time people in many parts of Appalachia hear that language, they also hear an unspoken assault on the coal industry and fossil fuel industries that are a strong part of the region’s economic health. Therefore, the solution – from either party – cannot be that climate goals are to be achieved at the expense of the livelihoods of the people of Appalachia and the fossil fuel industries.

Democrats and environmentalists can obviously stick to that messaging, as long as they don’t mind getting their brains beaten out politically in areas where coal and other fossil fuels are king.

There are some inconvenient truths when it comes to fossil fuels and America’s reliance on them for energy. Fossil fuels make up nearly 65 percent of all energy generation in the United States, so – unless people want to go without electricity about four days out of seven – fossil fuels must be part of America’s energy portfolio and there has to be a long-term transition.

And that transition will never be supported in Appalachia unless it is accompanied by something else … jobs. Truthfully, many people who work in the fossil fuel industries might be just as content with equivalent paying jobs making solar panels or wind turbines or having jobs related to hydropower.

But what is absent in the debate on climate change has been a consistent and detailed message for how the people of Appalachia can transition to new economies. In fairness, efforts related to job creation with renewable energy are occurring in parts of Appalachia and some of those regions are already trying to reinvent their economies through their own, independent transitions.

But there is a reality to face. The pace at which climate change needs to be addressed must be consistent with the amount of investment and job creation for renewables in the very areas that environmentalists believe are the culprits for increased greenhouse gas emissions.

People in Appalachia understand the issue. They understand that coal and other fossil fuel industries are dirty and that climate change is real. They know because it’s been those people who have been in the mines, on the railroads, and in the plants who have powered this country for generations.

So if Democrats want to find a receptive audience to their environmental goals in the very areas they need support from politically, they better refine their message and start finding a way to push along investment and the diversification of Appalachian economies.

Copyright 2020 Rick Greene. Greene is an award-winning columnist and editorial writer, and the editor and publisher of Southern Ohio Today. Green can be reached at [email protected]