Friday roundup, April 29, 2011

April 29, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

In this April 1974 photo provided by the U.S. National Archives, miners line up to enter the shaft at the Virginia-Pocahontas Coal Company Mine #4 near Richlands, Va. The photo is part of Documerica, an EPA project during the 1970s in which the agency hired dozens of freelance photographers to capture thousands of images related to the environment and everyday life in America. Modeled after Documerica, the agency has embarked on a massive effort to collect photographs from across the United States and around the world over the next year that depict everything from nature’s beauty to humanity’s impact, both good and bad. (AP Photo/U.S. National Archives, Jack Corn)

The U.S. EPA has made a global call to photographers to submit photos of the environment around them, and an AP story about the project includes some interesting photos from the coalfields.  Here’s another one:

In this Oct. 1973 photo provided by the U.S. National Archives, Mary Workman holds a jar of undrinkable water from a well outside her home near a coal mine in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/U.S. National Archives, Erik Calonius)

Meanwhile, this week in China, eight coal miners died when the underground operation where they were working flooded.  Xinhua pointed out:

This accident is the third coal mine accident in Panxian County this year. On March 12, a gas explosion at an illegal coal mine killed 19 workers.

On March 28, a gas leak at another coal mine in the county killed eight workers and injured three.

In Kentucky, the AP reported that the families of two miners killed last year in a roof fall at Alliance Resource Partners’ Dotiki Mine have sued the company, saying production was emphasized over safety at the mine, which had been cited hundreds of times for safety violations.

Miners wait at the entrance to the Webster County Coal Dotiki Mine No. 4 property in Nebo, Ky., Thursday, April 29, 2010.  (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Unfortunately, AP reporter Brett Barrouquere explained the MSHA report on this tragedy this way:

Three months later, MSHA cited the mine operator, saying Alliance Resource Partners properly followed the roof control plan at the Dotiki mine. But MSHA said a non-detectable formation of slippery rock called slickenslides or slips caused the roof to cave in an unsupported area being mined.

The federal report says the collapse couldn’t be foreseen at the massive coal-mining complex in Kentucky. MSHA cited the mine for failing to adequately support the roof, causing a section up to 76 feet long, 19 feet wide and up to 10 feet thick to fall in.

What the AP report didn’t make clear is that MSHA cited the company for not detecting the potential roof control problem and taking steps to avoid it injuring or killing workers. Specifically, the MSHA citation said:

The roof was not adequately supported or otherwise controlled to protect persons from hazards related to falls of the roof … The mine operator failed to detect the presence of slickensides, which dismembered the overlying shale and sandy shale beds and caused the roof to fall.

And here in West Virginia, the state Supreme Court upheld a $1.9 million verdict against Massey Energy in a case brought by an injured miner. You can read the decision itself here. And, the Coal Mine Board of Safety Appeals suspended the mining license for a year of a worker who faked credentials to work as a mine foreman. It’s worth noting that this is another case where the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training sought a permanent license ban, but was overruled by the board. Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story about this particular individual.

There were a couple stories this week from the folks at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Emily Corio reported on efforts by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining to restore red spruce forest in the Monongahela National Forest, and Jessica Lilly had a piece about the continuing court battle of coal miner Mark Gray, who says he was fired for refusing to do unsafe work.  And I was sad to hear that our friend Erica Peterson is leaving W.Va. for a public broadcasting job in Kentucky. Best of luck to here, though.

There were coal company earnings released this week, including those for Arch Coal, Peabody, CONSOL, International Coal Group and Patriot Coal.

Taylor Kuykendall at the Beckley paper wrote up the latest coal outlook from the U.S. Department of Energy, reporting:

This year’s market outlook says coal will still be the largest source of energy generation into 2035, but production of Appalachian coal is predicted to decline substantially.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s “Annual Energy Outlook,” current data suggests Appalachian coal production will decrease “substantially from current levels, as coal produced from the extensively mined, higher cost reserves of Central Appalachia is supplanted by lower cost coal from other supply regions.”

(Haven’t we read about these projections somewhere before?)

Out west, the Billings Gazette reported:

An estimated $2.8 million annual tax break for a Roundup-area coal mine, stuffed into a coal-tax bill by Gov. Brian Schweitzer a week ago, won final approval by lawmakers on the last day of the Legislature — but not before some last-minute lobbying turned around a vote to kill it.

The tax break, which Schweitzer inserted into Senate Bill 266 a week ago, benefits the Signal Peak coal mine south of Roundup by cutting in half its gross-proceeds tax on mined coal for 10 years, starting this year.

Schweitzer’s changes to the bill, adopted by the Legislature on Thursday, also extend the same tax break to any new, underground coal mine for the first 10 years of its operation.

In the wake of this week’s terrible death toll in the storms across the U.S. southeast, it’s worth remember global climate change’s impact on extreme weather events. Read recent posts from Joe Romm, Andrew Revkin, and the Huffington Post. See also this guest post on Climate Progress.

Meanwhile, Greenwire (via The New York Times) had one piece about coal plants’ ability to meet new EPA regulations on toxic air pollution, and another piece (subscription required) about American Electric Power’s efforts to short-circuit clean air protections with congressional action.

Finally, a reader pointed out this piece by Bill Leonard, professor of church history at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, about mountaintop removal:

Appalachians discovered faith up hollows, on mountain tops, by cold clear streams, and in deep lush valleys. They’ve spent years renegotiating that faith with strip mines and strip malls, slag pits and condominium complexes, polluted rivers and manhandled mountains. They mirror the world, moving as fast as it can to undo sacred space across the globe.

Today, the creature, not the Creator, “makes waste mountains and hills and dries up all their herbs;” the creature, not the Creator “makes the rivers islands and …dries up the pools,” (Isaiah 42: 15), questionable conduct with no end in sight.

So as the mountains continue to crumble, perhaps we’ll have to hedge out bets on Isaiah 72:3: “May hills and mountains provide your people with prosperity in righteousness.” Maybe not, O Lord, maybe not.

That’s all folks … have a good weekend.

14 Responses to “Friday roundup, April 29, 2011”

  1. Thomas Rodd says:

    There are some well-meaning but also somewhat exaggerated remarks about the “cost of coal” on an environmental blog sponsored by the National Geographic Society, at:

    The NGS blogger suggests that the geographic correlations found by Michael Hendryx between poor health and coal production in Central Appalachia, and associated human and economic costs, are proven causal relations. They are not. The blogger also suggests that coal mining and transportation and use do not involve lots of good-paying jobs, and substantial revenues to local communities and governments. They do. The blogger also uses data about when coal production may “peak” to imply that there is not still a large amount of mineable coal in the US. There is. (Of course, most of this coal will never see the light of day, because humanity is shifting to other forms of energy, albeit too slowly.)

    This sort of exaggeration from the “anti-coal” perspective is certainly less egregious than the steady stream of outright fabrications and denials that come from the folks who own the coal under West Virginia’s mountains and their allies in the fossil fuel industry. Those folks walked away from a reasonable compromise in the form of cap-and-trade. Therefore there is now a comprehensive, multi-front, and ever-escalating “war on coal”– including a PR war. This NGS blogger’s comments are an example of that war. “Truth is the first casualty of war.”

    The fossil fuel industry brought this situation on themselves, and we should have no sympathy for the wealthy coal owners and their agents who created this situation – including the well-educated lawyers in Charleston’s office towers who helped fund Don Blankenship’s “Science Denial” rallies. We should have sympathy for the coal miners and other hard-working people who are caught in the crossfire of a war that the coal owners started and that will only escalate until a climate deal is struck. Meanwhile, politics in the coalfields — and civic life and economic progress — are a minefield of uncertainty, distortion, and deception.

    Eyes wide open!

  2. rhmooney3 says:
    The 84TH anniversary of the Federal NO.3 Mine Explosion was held on SATURDAY, APRIL 30, 2011 at 1:30PM at the Friendship Babtist Church on Pickhandle Hill Road in Everettville, Monongalia County, West Virginia, only 8 mile south of Morgantown. . . . The Everettville Historical Association would also like to thank corporate sponsors Consol Energy for donating the nearly 25 acres of land where the Federal #3 Mine once operated for the Miners Memorial and the Miners Memorial Park.

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I know this is a pet peeve of yours … but I have a hard time seeing what is so outlandish about this particular blog piece you cite … especially regarding its references to the Hendryx studies.

    You wrote, for example:

    “The NGS blogger suggests that the geographic correlations found by Michael Hendryx between poor health and coal production in Central Appalachia, and associated human and economic costs, are proven causal relations. They are not.”

    I don’t see the word “correlation” in the NGS piece anywhere … and here’s what was written regarding the Hendryx papers:

    “Hendryx has found that the heaviest coal-mining regions of Appalachia are worse off in just about every way compared to neighboring regions, similar in every other way except that they are below median in terms of coal production. The above-median coal-mining communities of Appalachia are also far worse off compared to the rest of the country. In making his calculations, Hendryx looked at a range of indicators, including health, education, poverty, environmental conditions, unemployment, and mortality rates. All told, Hendryx’s found that mountaintop removal mining’s economic cost to Appalachian communities totaled roughly $42 billion per year in lost health and lives.”

    It appears to me that this blogger simply accurately recited the findings of Dr. Hendryx … you may disagree with those findings, or with the conclusions that Dr. Hendryx and others have drawn from them. But in this case, you’re off base in attacking this particular blogger.


  4. Thomas Rodd says:

    Ken: the blogger says, as you quote: “mountaintop removal mining’s economic COST to Appalachian communities totaled roughly $42 billion per year in lost health and lives.”

    Respectfully, I think this is neither what Hendryx claims to have shown, or what his research shows. That is, to say that these ‘$42 billion dollars’ of identified and quantified negatives in areas that have MTR mining are the proven “cost” of, or caused by, MTR mining, is inaccurate.

    These negatives are present in areas that have MTR mining, possibly; although my impression is that Hendryx did not separate out different types of mining when he did his calculations. I would have to check that.

    More importantly, I have never heard Hendryx suggest that a causal as opposed to an associational relationship between coal production levels and health negatives has been proven. “Correlation” was my word to describe the associations that Hendryx found between coal production and poorer health outcomes.

    There are a number of other plausible explanations for many of the health differences seen in areas with higher coal production. One is the depopulation/demographic change that has occurred in some of those regions. The latest remarks by Hendryx that I have seen had him saying that the poorer health outcomes could come from lower socio-economic status, too.

    The bottom line, as I see it, is that the blogger tells his readers that Hendryx is a world-class expert on the negatives of coal mining, and that the dollar-value “costs of coal” that the blogger describes are solidly proven, etc. I’ve been reading here long enough to know neither of these assertions is true.

    (And the blogger makes some other misleading suggestions, as I have identified in my first comment, about how much coal is available to mine, and about the benefits of coal.)

    Hendryx’s research presents a good antidote to the “coal mining is just great for local communities” statistics of the coal industry, but people who are against MTR or want to otherwise emphasize the negatives of coal mining sometimes take his limited and tentative work and blow it way out of proportion — IMHO. The blog post I referred to is a pretty good example of that. Folks can read it and decide for themselves.

  5. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Thanks for your response … thanks also for pointing out this blog post, which I had not seen prior to your comment.

    You are right that Dr. Hendryx in this cost-benefit study did not present MTR-specific figures … he didn’t break it down by type of mining.

    But that report did in fact conclude:

    “The human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits.”

    The study is online here, … so folks can indeed decide for themselves.

    Dr. Hendryx is very clear:

    “First, despite the significant associations between coal
    mining activity and both socioeconomic disadvantage
    and premature mortality, it cannot be stated with
    certainty that coal mining causes these problems. It
    is not possible to determine what the economic and
    public health outcomes would be in these areas in
    the absence of mining.

    “However, given the literature
    on the impacts of social disparities and the previously
    documented problems of coal-dependent economies,
    such a causal link seems likely.”

    In my judgment, having read all of his studies and talked to him numerous times about them, you are blowing the limitations of his work way out of proportion. Are they absolute proof of a causal link? Dr. Hendryx admits no … but are the findings very, very strongly suggestive of one … absolutely.

    I remain fascinated that someone with your depth of understanding of what science does and doesn’t do for us is such an articulate and passionate advocate for the science of climate change, but yet such a harsh critic of the clear direction the science leads regarding the health impacts of coal mining on the communities where it occurs.


  6. Thomas Rodd says:

    I wish I knew why I react so strongly against people making statements like “the human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits” — and expecting the statement to be given the respect that should be afforded statements of scientific fact. But I do. I’d love to debate it with Hendryx sometime.

  7. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    The Hendryx paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal, and is entitled to the respect such scholarship deserves.

    There’s no such thing as a perfect scientific paper. They don’t exist. And if you read the actual paper, you’ll see that Dr. Hendryx spells out the weaknesses in his data and his methods very clearly.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “statements of scientific fact.” But all conclusions in scientific papers are based on data, observations, evidence, and methods of study that are spelled out in the paper … Hendryx included all of those things.

    You should give his work the respect it deserves … which is not to say you can’t find flaws in it. But you shouldn’t disrespect it as thoroughly as you do, unless you have some more concrete evidence of flaws that aren’t discussed in the papers and haven’t been discussed on this blog before.


  8. Thomas Rodd says:

    Ken: I’m always glad to engage you on this issue, although we don’t seem to make much progress. Nevertheless:

    “The human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits,” says Hendryx, as quoted by you.

    The difference between this kind of statement and climate science is night and day. When climate scientists describe global warming and document and predict extreme weather, sea level rise, etc., they talk about as scientists about the behavior of natural phenomena — not the economic costs and benefits of these phenomena. There are economists like Lord Stern who make a stab at evaluating the cost and benefits of different scenarios; those estimates are necessarily somewhat speculative and controversial. (The competing evaluations seem to be “really bad vs. nightmare catastrophe” for every scenario that would meet with the blessing of the WV Coal Association.)

    Hendryx’s findings say: people today are sicker and live less long in Appalachian coal-producing areas. We are not sure why, but pretty clearly it has something to do with the fact that these are coal-producing areas.

    I don’t think anyone can argue with these findings; I certainly would not. You could probably find such negative clinical conditions/legacy human costs in similar regions with a boom-and-bust extractive industry, around the world. You can sure see it within five miles of my home. The question of exactly why is complex. Having done a lot of reading in epidemiology, I think the largest explanation can be found in demographic and historical factors, with a large dose of the status effect. Hendryx does not disagree with this possibility. I am somewhat skeptical about the idea that toxics are the key reason, as some coal mining critics argue.

    I am quite skeptical about efforts to use this data to try to say as a “scientific” statement: “The Appalachian coal mining economy is a bad thing overall.” To me, that’s silly. And yet that’s essentially what “the human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits” says.

    A few rhetorical questions illustrate the reasons for my skepticism. Does the “human cost of coal mining” include the electricity that powers a dialysis machine in Cleveland that keeps people alive? Does the “human cost of coal mining” include a person having a job that allows them to live where there parents live, instead of moving away? Does the “human cost of coal mining” include the thousands of miles of steel rail, made with coke from coal, that allow freight to move across this country to allow goods to be purchased cheaply? There probably isn’t a public building or school in Charleston that isn’t a result of coal mining — the snazzy Clay Center is probably mostly built with coal money (surplus value skimmed from the work of coal miners.) Is this part of the “human cost” of the Appalachian coal mining economy?

    Hendryx is neither an economist nor a political scientist nor a historian, and he appears to be outside of any claimed expertise in purporting to do an overall balancing and assessment of the “costs v. benefits” of coal mining in Central Appalachia. Moreover, his peers in the public health area have validated nothing more than his demographic work, as far as I can see, and not the sweeping conclusion that you quote.

    It seems to me that the statement that “the human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits” is not at all a scientific conclusion, but a value judgment – and that like most such judgments, and as is usual in complex economic and public policy matters, the glass is half full or half empty depending on whose axe is being gored.

  9. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    No, we don’t seem to make much progress. In part, that’s because your criticism skips around. One day, it’s that you don’t believe he has data or that his methods aren’t very good in looking at the health impacts (he outlines the same flaws in the paper, as any good scientist does).

    Another day, it’s that you don’t think he included everything he should have in the economic impacts data (he acknowledges there are things missing).

    Another time, you just question the whole idea of anybody ever trying to quantify this stuff.

    I’m not sure which of these — if any — you really believe. My own reading of your comments is that you don’t think people who oppose mountaintop removal and want it stopped are concerned enough about the impacts on local economies of such actions. So, when you read things like that NG blog, you have a knee-jerk reaction to it.

    That’s understandable … I see that as well, and trying to get people to talk about all of this is a big reason I started this blog in the first place. But there’s also plenty of evidence that a shift toward a cleaner energy system could provide many economic benefits — if only our state leaders would consider working on those issues and projects.

    In addition, your comparison to the climate science is interesting … Efforts to predict future climate impacts of various levels of greenhouse emissions are certainly ever bit as complicated as epidemiology or economic impact studies … and in fact, all studies of each of these areas are only as good as the data available and the methods used. All of them contain varying levels of uncertainty. I don’t think even James Hansen would say that the computer models of future climate are as perfect as you make them sound.

    And actually, the findings of Hendryx’s studies are very similar to the work that’s been done in many other places about the health impact in coal-mining communities. Dr. Hendryx includes references to those other works in his footnotes.

    Your questions about various things that run off electricity assume that there are no alternatives to coal … and of course, you know that’s not the case.

    And, since I know you’re a huge fan of John Alexander Williams, you might want to compare the Hendryx findings to the way Dr. Williams sums up the coal industry in his “West Virginia: A History” —

    “Persons who have studied the impact of coal mining on different societies from Silesia to northern Japan have usually concluded that coal has been a curse upon the land that yielded it. West Virginia is no exception. In its repetitive cycle of boom and bust, its savage exploitation of men and nature, in its seemingly endless series of disasters, the coal industry has brought grief and hardship to all but a small proportion of the people whose lives it has touched.”

    In fact, I believe you quoted this same passage on this blog not so long ago …

    Dr. Williams, when he wrote that, didn’t have the scientific data you say Hendryx should have before writing his peer-reviewed papers … yet you not only accept, but praise Dr. Williams. In fact, what Dr. Hendryx has done goes quite a ways toward quantifying the issues Dr. Williams wrote about.


  10. Thomas Rodd says:

    Ken, I agree: Dr. Hendryx has well quantified some of the the “grief and hardship” that John Alexander Williams wrote about. (I spent a couple of days with Dr. Williams this month, and he remains a fierce debunker of the posturings of the people who have ripped off West Virginia.)

    However, ever since I first read what some people were taking from Hendryx’s studies — support for their concerns about toxics and cancer clusters, etc., from mining — I have been pointing out that there are other recognized and to my mind more likely causes of such disparate health outcomes than toxics.

    Hendryx since then has amplified his explanations of the possible causes of his findings to include the status effect, and socioeconomic/demographic factors like migration. But I don’t see that amplification being noticed much by folks who have (rightly) have poisons on their mind.

    I have more recently seen, via the NGS blogger and some stuff here, that Hendryx is apparently presenting not just his his public health data, but also offering conclusions in the area of economics, where his cost and benefit assessments, and ideas about what it is proper to “weigh,” are far outside of his area of scientific expertise — and to my mind, somewhat far-fetched. I know what grief and hardship are, but I don’t think anyone knows how to quantify the “human benefit” of having a job or not having to move away from home.

    To fuel their attacks on coal, bloggers like the NGS guy further exaggerate Hendryx’s findings, and his economic conclusions — in the service of a noble cause, for sure, which is to weaken the political power of the fossil fuel industry, in order to try to prevent a planetary catastrophe for humankind.

    For reasons I won’t get into, I don’t think in the long run this exaggeration is good for either science or policy.

    Why doesn’t Hendryx get on here and defend his own work and discuss the way it is being spun?

  11. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I don’t speak for him, but from what he’s written, and what he’s told me in interviews, I’m not sure that Dr. Hendryx would agree with you on this.

    Have you read his most recent paper, Ecological Integrity of Streams Related to Human Cancer Mortality Rates, published in the journal EcoHealth last April? Here’s the conclusion from it:

    “We tested the prediction that the ecological integrity
    of streams would provide an indicator of human cancer mortality rates in West Virginia, USA.
    “Regression and spatial analyses revealed significant associations
    between ecological integrity and public health. SCI was negatively related to age-adjusted total cancer mortality per 100,000 people. Respiratory, digestive, urinary, and breast cancer rates increased with ecological disintegrity, but genital and oral cancer rates did not. Smoking, poverty, and urbanization were significantly related to total cancer mortality, but did not explain the observed relationships between ecological integrity and
    cancer. Coal mining was significantly associated with ecological integrity and higher cancer mortality.”
    “Spatial analyses also revealed cancer clusters that corresponded to areas of high coal mining intensity.”

    It doesn’t appear to me he’s backing off from the original conclusion in the study I quoted above in our discussion here. And, while Dr. Hendryx concedes there are other possible explanations, he does not — based on the data and his review of it — believe that those other explanations you mention are what is going on here.

    That most recent paper, for example, concludes:

    “We detected significant influences of known socioeconomic
    risk factors (smoking, poverty, and urbanization)
    on cancer mortality, but these factors did not account for
    the observed integrity–cancer relationship. Nor could we
    explain our observations as a statistical effect of spatial
    autocorrelation within the study area. Instead, our study
    demonstrated that the ecological integrity of streams was
    significantly related to public health in nearby areas.

    Given that, where is this “amplification” that you discuss? It doesn’t appear in Dr. Hendryx’s published papers — where such nuance would be most likely to be discussed in detail.

    Just as important, from my discussions with Dr. Hendryx, I know he is a firm believer in the “precautionary principle” when it comes to public health … In one discussion a few months ago, he suggested I read this paper,;jsessionid=CCAF7561D8939F38BB7979E5564D33BD?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.01109871 on that topic. Interestingly, that paper concludes:

    “Although there are some situations in which risks clearly exceed benefits no matter whose values are being considered, there is usually a large gray area in which science alone cannot (and should not) be used to decide policy.

    “In these gray areas, status quo activities that potentially threaten human and environmental health are often allowed to continue because the norms of traditional science demand high confidence in order to reject null hypotheses, and so detect harmful effects.

    “This scientific conservatism is often interpreted as favoring the promoters of a potentially harmful technology or activity when the science does not produce overwhelming evidence of harm.

    “The precautionary principle, then, is meant to ensure that the public good is represented in all decisions made under scientific uncertainty. When there is substantial scientific uncertainty about the risks and benefits of a proposed activity, policy decisions should be made in a way that errs on the side of caution with respect to the environment and the health of the public.”

    Great discussion.


  12. Thomas Rodd says:

    I am a big supporter of the precautionary principle, and I can’t argue with the above. I agree – tough and good discussion. You are absolutely right that Hendryx has nailed with numbers what John Williams said thirty years ago.

  13. Soyedina says:

    Tom, the idea that stream health and human health are positively correlated is nothing new. The difference between “ecological integrity” and “stream health” is up to the definer of the terms, as I persistently insist here values are often institutionally defined and socially determined. Ecological integrity involves biological monitoring of stream communities, stream health involves human use dimensions that are by definition fuzzy and not a direct function of the number of mayfly genera in 50 meters of stream.

    Not sure if you can access the full paper here or not but this is a fantastic editorial on the subject by Judy Meyer in 1997 JNABS.


    A healthy stream is an ecosystem that is sustainable and resilient, maintaining its ecological structure and function over time while continuing to meet societal needs and expectations. The concept described in this paper explicitly incorporates both ecological integrity (maintaining structure and function) and human values (what society values in the ecosystem). Stream ecologists who want their research to contribute to improving conditions in flowing waters require concepts like stream health, which will stimulate researchin directions that will be more effective in restoring and preserving the unique organisms and ecosystems they study. Determining what is a healthy stream requires integrationof stream ecology with disciplines such as economics and political science, because a concept of stream health must take into account the human attitudes and social institutions that are a part of the stream’s societal watershed.New and fruitful directions for stream research lie in developing operational measures of stream health, which include the human dimension and move beyond identifying symptoms of ecological stress, and in elucidating the ecological processes and human actions that maintain stream health.

    The conclusion of this paper is a wonderful summary of the problem and a clear argument for a dialectical approach

    “Value-laden concepts like stream health offer fruitful research directions for stream ecologists who seek to contribute to the solution of environmental problems. To assess health, one must include the human componentbecause human actions are responsible for much of the environmental deterioration.An integral concept in stream ecology over the past two decades has been that of “the stream and its valley” (Hynes 1975). This concept has served the discipline well, but it needs to be expanded to include human society and the social institutions that are an integral part of that valley. Studying land use and the effect of human activities on forests and soil erosion is necessary but not sufficient.It is also necessary to include the human institutions that interact with the stream and that control its future condition: laws and the their enforcers, management agencies, industries, conservation groups, and the culture and values of private land owners. A pristine stream in a politically unstable setting or with no supportersis not a healthy stream because it is not sustainable. The stream and human society are interdependent parts of the same system.”

    The issue should not be about how existing infrastructures can be tweaked to adjust human health values, mediated through water quality or ecological integrity. This infrastructure has produced this problem in the first place.

    I don’t understand your frequent insistence that the lack of a “causal pathway” is somehow a sufficient argument to refute the spatial autocorrelation of these different human pathologies (human health and ecological integrity of streams as a function of human land use). Human health and stream health is reduced in areas with more surface coal mining. The industry is attempting to distract attention from that persistent stubborn fact by introducing non-sequitors about causal pathways and pounding the table about which economic analysis is the best. There can never be a sufficient level of detail to meet those objections, not just for this but for any scientific explanation, whether climate change effects, evolution, etc. That’s because these objections are frivolous.

    That said, identifying a pattern of correlated pathologies doesn’t imply any specific solutions. Denying the pattern doesn’t solve anything either and I am offering that there are good reasons to not do that, reasons which are more less empirical even if not fully explained.

    Much can be made of the ecological fallacy and trotting out the old “correlation causation” chestnuts but I think that really is not a problem with the inference so much as it is a misunderstanding of what a scientific explanation can actually explain. You might enjoy this essay from a perspective that I think is more akin to the holistic “stream and it’s valley” stream and landscape ecology perspective that motivates the legislation behind the Clean water act, watershed thinking and that is argued by Meyer in the JNABS link. From that perspective, generalizations about how landscapes heavily utilized for natural resource extraction tend to have reduced environmental health of both people and the ecological communities (which until the industrial revolution) sustained human populations are on solid ground, despite the inability to track the fate of every single selenium ion or sulfate particle on it’s way to the ocean.

  14. Soyedina says:

    That “essay” link didn’t work. If you find “Isadore Nabi on the Tendencies of Notion” in The dialectical biologist (Richard Levins, Richard C. Lewontin) the entire essay is reprinted there.

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