Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Five point four million tons--a coal ash spill

Technically, this doesn't really qualify as a lapse of memory, I suppose. At least not my memory. Because, when news that, on December 22, 2008, 5.4 million tons of ash generated from fifty years of coal burst through a dike near Kingston, Tennessee, threatening farmlands and the nearby river, I really wasn't aware of it. I don't doubt that it made the national news. I do doubt that there was any sort of sustained coverage of it.

Here's the link .

What I find myself objecting to here is the idea that if you miss a couple of nights of evening news, in the holiday season--I mean, I work in retail and this was three days before Christmas--a disaster of this magnitude would simply disappear from our collective view is outrageous. It not only has implications for the lives and livelihoods of the people of that region, it spreads outward to hundreds of other coal ash storage sites across the land, raising questions of their safety, and it reaches backward and forward in history into the nature and wisdom of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and by extension, to the nature and wisdom of many other government led schemes. I use the word 'schemes' deliberately, as I've noticed on the BBC that this is quite a neutral word when it comes to big ideas dreamed up by government or business, but as an American, I can't really hear the word 'scheme' and fail to be concerned.


  1. "Scheme" simply means "plan" in British usage, yet it nonetheless never fails to add a note of unintended interest whenever I come across it.

    One is tempted to reflect on how disasters entered the public consciousness in the days before mass media. These days, one wages a psychic tug of way between keeping one's self aware of disasters such as this, and being deluged by media overload. I understand this may not be the best attitude to have in my business.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  2. Yes, it's not really that I expect to be up to speed on everything all the time. Nor do I always see the value of knowing. But I am kind of flabbergasted when a very major disaster happens in some part of the U.S., and I don't even register it.

    I remember reading somewhere about how slowly the news of some major disaster would reach others acoss the sea in the days before telephones and telegraphs. Learning of a shipwreck months after the event was not uncommon. I suppose that learning nothing at all was even more common.

    But somehow I expect the slowness made the impact of events actually register more deeply. Thought could gather around an event and find meaning in it. I suppose we do that now as well, but as all too soon we are off to the next thing, it seems unlikely to be all that profound.

  3. Once we said payers and wrote sacred texts. Later we composed folk songs. Now we watch CNN and erect "impromptu" memorials.