When there’s opting for energy sources here at home as opposed to the hostilities and invasions abroad related to oil consumption, these domestic alternatives have resulted in a different sort of human carnage. Though more subtle and pervasive and not exactly front page headlines, and leading to deadly practices like gas ‘fracking’ below and mountain top coal mining above.
Which is why stepping up to the plate with cautionary environmental documentaries such as The Last Mountain by filmmakers like Bill Haney (The Price Of Sugar, American Violet) is so crucial. Especially in the absence of principled politicians and concerned media.
And while we seem to be the constant recipients of a sensory overload of on-air weather reports broadcasting intermittent natural disasters, those disasters may not be so natural after all. Mountain top coal mining, which in this film’s title refers to Coal River – the final exploited peak in West Virginia to be depleted of its top soil in the process – has in effect destroyed the natural ability of their earth cover to absorb rainfall. Resulting in the increasingly common destructive occurrence of rivers overflowing their banks, and the catastrophic flood disasters with growing casualties in their wake seen all too frequently on the evening news.
At the same time, the release of coal wastes from mountain top mining has poisoned well waters in communities below, and led to skyrocketing illness and cancer deaths. The prime villain caught on camera in this film is Massey Energy – as the coal company’s head CEO propagandist Don Blankenship dismisses the negative side effects as acts of God, while sabotaging and neutralizing the miner unions – and as politicians fall into line through lobbying activities exposed as ‘legal bribery.’
In alternating scenes, the irate community corners and confronts suspect complacent politicians, though to little effect. So is there any hope? Veteran environmental movement leader and legal activist Robert Kennedy Jr. certainly seems to think so, as he advocates tirelessly on camera for the local populations. Even if his maternal grandfather’s family fortune – mom Ethel Skakel Kennedy’s dad – was derived from those carbon based products.
And while Kennedy’s recollections in the film about first being turned on to ecological concerns as a boy when on nature outings with Uncle Jack, RFK Jr.’s passion for the environment in truth may primarily reside elsewhere. Namely as a result of his 1983 heroin bust and subsequent sentencing to environmental movement community service that first led him into an enduring passion for ecological justice. And that could have been just as compelling in its narrative urgency.