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How my Friends in India and China are Helping Save my Alaskan Backyard from a Dirty Coal Mine

By David Johnson, Mat-Su Carbon Crew, Palmer, Alaska

My backyard is a filthy hole in the ground. Or at least that's what Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. will make it, if they get their way.

Saving my backyard isn’t going to be easy, but I’ve made it my personal mission to help unite my neighbors here in Palmer, Alaska and make it happen. Plus, I’m getting a little help from my friends in our “global backyard” by linking with allies in India and China.

The media tells us a lot about the global competition with China and India, but really we are all in the same fight. How about flipping that narrative on its head with a little global cooperation? That's why I got my local fledgling group, Mat-Su Carbon Crew, to join the Great Power Race, a global race to green campuses between US, Chinese and Indian youth. I used the opportunity to bring legitimacy and a louder voice to my passion. We can all reduce, reuse, and recycle to help mitigate Co2 emissions.

After a long campaign the results were broadcast live last week from the UN climate negotiations in Cancun the winners of the Great Power Race were announced. My crew won the prize for “Most Collaborative Team” of nearly 1000 campuses. Let me tell you how we did it:

We identified problems and created awareness and solutions.
Students worked together in unity and collaboration.
We set an example of tolerance and determination.
We supported each other through our communication.
We inspired, we motivated, and we cheered in celebration.

Since 1997 Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. has been trying to build an 8,000 acre open-pit disaster in my backyard. Why? To get at 14 million tons of high grade coal beneath the surface. That's right, 14 million tons, and there is more all over our Valley. Now mine after mine is lining up to hack out their piece. If we stand a chance of stopping climate change we cannot allow them to dig up this coal. They have already begun exploring and could be fully operational by 2012. This mine must be stopped.

This short video of Palmer resident Dale Zirkle speaks to the effects on families living at ground zero, literally feet away, from the proposed Wishbone Hill coalmining site.

For the past seventeen years the Wishbone Hill area has been my playground. We own the resources in Alaska and what we are trying to tell the powers that be as clearly as we can is that: “We know that you want it, but we are not done using it yet.” To save my backyard I have steadily been increasing my involvement, and the sound of my voice, in this growing resource extraction issue.

This summer another student and I went to a Mat-Su Borough Assembly meeting where there was a vote on extending the lease for the mine company to make their new mining road. We wanted to speak to them about our concerns, but the place was packed and we waited for three hours to speak. We were shocked and disappointed as they carried out the vote without public comment.

Galvanized by the desire to make our voices heard we began building local coalitions and organizing as part of the Great Power Race. We demand to be heard and will continue to work to preserve the health of our community. We have a vision for Palmer, Alaska and it doesn’t include coal mining.

Thus far 35 homes in the residential community next to the proposed mine site are living completely off the grid. More will follow and why not a new ski resort powered by renewable energy? A new trail complex to provide outdoor recreation to a multitude of users from hikers, bikers and bird watchers, to the horse and dogs made of both meat and metal? Why not add community gardens, a woodlot and compost business, campgrounds, rock hounding, additional B&B’s, and fine dining? The possibilities for a healthy and clean energy future in my backyard are endless.

 

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