John McCarthy on 'The Last Mountain'

America's editors are always on the lookout for ways of alerting their readers to important developments regarding the environment.  So when our film critic John P. McCarthy asked if we wanted a review of the new movie 'The Last Mountain' we said yes immediately.  The film takes a hard look at the environmental effects of a controversial new mining procedure and the way it has cost the poor and working class a great deal.  McCarthy's article begins:

In 1971, when John Denver first sang about West Virginia’s natural beauty in “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” mountaintop-removal coal mining was not being practiced. Had it been, lyrics such as “miner’s lady, stranger to blue water” and “teardrops in my eye” would have had even greater resonance.  


The new documentary “The Last Mountain,” catalogs the harmful affects of this violent extraction method. According to statistics cited by the director Bill Haney, mountaintop-removal mining has “destroyed 500 Appalachian mountains, decimated 1 million acres of forest, and buried 2,000 miles of streams.” Evidently, the Bush-Cheney administration made this form of destruction possible in 2001; by changing two words in the Clean Water Act of 1972 the government enabled Big Coal lawfully to use the practice. The industry responded with gusto, and in the process showed how they prize corporate profits above the well being of the land, water and people.

While making this case, “The Last Mountain” also profiles local activists and concerned parties from outside West Virginia, who have fought to prevent the mining of Coal River Mountain, the final parcel—all 6,000 acres—in the state’s Coal River Valley. Yet Haney is not interested in crafting a nostalgic lament. This is advocacy cinema aimed at instigating change. That explains the sometimes incendiary language, one-sided argumentation and a reliance on anecdotal evidence that does not necessarily establish causal links. It also accounts for a lack of hesitation about addressing the political roots of the problem.

Read the rest here.

James Martin, SJ


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