March 25, 2003: My friends Mike and Teresa are folksingers.
I love the songs they sing, and the sound of their voices
and guitars. One of their favorites is a song called "Paradise"
by John Prine. The refrain goes:
Daddy won’t you take me back to
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay?
I’m sorry, my son, but you’re too late in asking,
Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.
I’ve never been to the Appalachian coal
fields, but from what I’ve heard and read, the song
pretty well sums it up. The coal trains hauled away the coal
-- and the money. The local people were left with holes in
the ground and polluted water.
I imagine the coal industry looked like a good thing when
it started. Those mountains must have been a hard place to
live at farming. Coal would bring money and a better standard
of living. But it didn’t turn out that way. The money
never seemed to make it down to the local folks, and when
it was all over, they were as poor as ever.
I wonder if the same thing will happen here in Kansas. Will
I someday sit in a cramped factory-town apartment and reminisce
about the rural Kansas I once knew? Will I have to tell my
boys it’s too late to go back? Hog factories, mega-dairies,
toxic waste incinerators, landfills, lead smelters, military
bases, power plants: To industries like these our clean air,
clean water and open spaces are resources to be mined like
coal. They can use it up, wear it out, haul it off, and leave
us with the mess, just as broke as we are now.
Yes, I know we all have to make a living. I live here, and
I have to make a living. But someday my boys will have to
make a living, and, if I’m so blessed, so will my grandchildren.
They will need more to work with than polluted aquifers and
The "big stinkers" are also big liars. Our challenge
is to see through the promises of "economic development"
to the exploitation that lies beyond; to ignore pious spouting
about "sound science," and base our decisions on
good sense. And we must find ways to use our resources sustainably,
so that the profits from their use remain in the communities
to which the resources belong, and so that our kids can use
Mike and Teresa sing another song, which Mike wrote, called
"Blue Kansas Skies." The refrain goes:
I’ll take my stand
In the promised land,
Underneath the blue Kansas skies.
I think Mike is right. I think we need to take
a stand here. May our skies always be blue.