One can hardly imagine the existence of society without various sociological issues that it has to deal with. Developing a set of social practices and social institutions helps to solve such sociological problems as allocation of resources (wealth, power), organization of material existence of the society (work), the establishment of belief systems (patriotism), principles of a social membership (community membership).
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It so happens that the sociological issues are often reflected and carefully examined in various literary works. And it also happens that these works if do not manage to prevent the emergence of these problems but at least evoke the public interest to them that serves as a springboard to solving the problem.
The book Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness by Erik Reece is one of the most prominent works where the crucial problems of society are revealed. This work studies the process of mountaintop removal and its consequences in Appalachia from October 2003 up to November 2004.
Being known for his powerful essays on fundamental political topics, the University of Kentucky English lecturer, Erik Reece this time stresses on the problem of the ecological problem the consequences of which are devastating for society.
The problem of ecological disaster and sociological impacts related to it is not a figment of the author’s imagination. The real facts that Reece gathered from the research serve as the basis for the book. The author was inspired to write about the radical strip mining and the devastation of Appalachia after spending a year watching the Lost Mountain situated in Eastern Kentucky. This mountain was the only industry for one of the poorest places in the country. The coil extraction went along with the systematic obliteration of a peak located in the North American rainforest. The remarkable diversity of flora and fauna was systematically destructed for the mercenary purposes of people.
After the year of observing the systematic decimation of a single mountain the author of the story concludes that “strip mining is not just a local concern of a radical issue, but a mainstream crisis that involves everything from corporate hubris and government neglect to species extinction and poisoned groundwater to class conflict and landscape destruction” (Reece 2006:3).
What attracts the reader’s attention from the first pages of the book is the author’s considering the problem of ecological disaster as his personal one. From the author’s evaluation of the problem, it is obvious that the author’s soul was greatly stirred.
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On the one hand, Reece describes the environmental problem from the point of view of an ordinary observer (for example, the story starts with mentioning the fact that the author was interested in the problem just because of his idleness), on the other, he presents a large number of exact facts and data which help him to ensure the reader of the seriousness of the problem under consideration. Reece says that he has visited the mountain at least once a month, hiked over a hundred miles, explored the summit’s flanks, and descended along its headwater streams (Reece 2006:9). This contributes to the author’s credit that, in its turn, influences the generally positive perception of the book.
Moreover, Reece grew up in Kentucky; therefore he could observe the radical change in the Appalachian landscape that took place during several years. Reece combined his perception of the drastic change caused by removing the mountains into mine coal with his abilities to render the seriousness of this change to the reader.
The thesis that the author makes in his book is about the price of cheap energy that humanity might pay. The thing is that though the energy got from the mining industry seems rather cheap, it is not completely priced yet. The sufferings that the people in the mountain region have cannot be compared with the material pleasure from the coal industry. The price that humanity pays for the benefit from the mountain is human lives and environmental costs.
The people whose lives depend on the coal industry are often depicted in the book as poor, undereducated, without real political clout. One of the most impressive episodes from the book deals with a woman who committed suicide because of the damage caused to her garden. The coal company refused to help the poor woman – this is how they treated the people who were the main power of the work of the mine. The author depicts all these people with the purpose to attract the authority’s attention to this and similar cases.
The money got from the coal industry development should be returned to the region thus helping the citizens to get better jobs, repair their homes and roads. The author’s fear is that one day the life of these people will be described in the same dark colors as the ex-mountain was described. “… and then the color drained away, the trees dropped back. I suddenly was watching a black and white movie. All I could see below me was a long gray flatland, pocked with darker craters and black ponds filled with coal slurry. It wasn’t just here and there–the desolation went on for miles… A vast circuitry of haul roads wound through the rubble.
It looked as if someone had tried to plot a highway system on the moon.” (Reece 2006:119) – this is the author’s first aerial glimpse of the area. When Reece compares the former landscape and the one that is now in front of his eyes he says: “The sharp contrast between these two landscapes, heightened by the fall color and the gray mine site, gives me the strange sensation that I am standing on the edge of Creation, on a thin membrane between the world and the not-world. It’s as if the Creator had been busily composing this variegated forest and then suddenly knocked off for the day, right where I’m standing” (Reece 2006:123).
The destruction of the 300-million-year-old mountain symbolizes the ruin of any possible plans that local inhabitants might have concerning their future. On the one hand, the destruction seems so unnatural, on the other, it is so realistic and horrifying that cannot be neglected. It is quite natural that there are only a few defenders of the vandalism depicted in the book. And this fact by itself helps the reader to hope for the best regardless of the horrifying events that the reality holds in its store.
In the foreword of the book, we read: “To know about strip mining or mountaintop removal is like knowing about the nuclear bomb. It is to know beyond doubt that some human beings have, and are willing to use, the power of absolute destruction…”(Reece 2006:3). And even the thought of this absolute power horrifies and calls upon action.
We believe that the author makes an implied appeal to everyone who reads his work. The audience is not restricted to some authority; everyone should think over the problem and look for its solution. One mountain has already disappeared and it is just the beginning of the disaster. The drastic results may be forecasted even today. The book makes an attempt to do it and warns every reader against being indifferent to the problem.
“The story of how the richest ecosystem in North America is being destroyed, and how some of the poorest people of the United States are being made poorer by a coal industry that operates with little conscience and constraint” (Reece 2006:10) states that we live in a world of wounds. The land around us is dying. This deplorable fact needs radical change. Lost Mountain encourages people to start this change as soon as possible. The more concerned with the environmental disaster we are now the more chances to stop the destruction of the environment we will have later. As the interconnection between the ecological problems and the sociological problems discussed in the book is obvious, the interest in finding the solution to the problem increases. When people take care of the environment the environment will surely take care of them.
Reece, Erik. 2006. Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness. Riverhead Hardcover.