Mark Utley

Mark Utley is the leader of the Cincinnati band “Magnolia Mountain“, a self-proclaimed original American roots music group. The 8-member band combines genres of folk, country, bluegrass, blues, rockabilly, and rock and has produced two albums and is currently working on its third. The reason I am featuring them is because they recently produced a compilation album of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Alabama musicians called “Music for the Mountains”. The album, released February 2011, was coupled with a live concert to raise funds to fight against mountaintop removal (MTR), with ALL proceeds split between anti-MTR organizations Ohio Citizen Action and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

Mountaintop removal is a form of coal mining in which entire mountains are blown up to get to coal reams. The coal is then sifted out of the debris, the mountains are left permanently flattened, and runoff waste water from the process (containing coal dust, silica, heavy metals, diesel and ammonium nitrate) pollutes drinking water sources and waterways, permanently destroying ecosystems and cultural lands. Mountaintop removal has become a favorite of coal companies, like Massey Energy, because it takes less time and employs less people, allowing their executives to reap even higher profits. The practice occurs in West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky. Some of the energy received in neighboring states is fueled by MTR (find out if your utility company uses MTR coal here).

More than 500 mountains and 2,000 miles of river have been permanently destroyed & polluted by MTR, all to produce only 5 to 7% of our nation’s coal. Utley says:

Appalachians committed no crime other than living someplace where greedy bastards wanted to take over…This area is a part of people, it’s destroyed and left in an unclaimable state and the people that (use MTR mining) just leave, they don’t care. The only place this happens is in the Appalachians. If they tried to do this in the Rockies or the Sierras out west, people’s heads would explode.

Polluted drinking waters have led to deaths of residents and a recent published study has found that people living in close proximity to MTR mines experience higher rates of birth defects. Despite such evidence, coal companies still deny their causal link. With little pressure from the Obama administration, MTR continues. Activism against MTR has thus largely remained a grassroots effort, with Appalachian residents and organizations such as Ohio Citizen Action, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Coal River Mountain Watch and Appalachian Voices taking the lead. The strategy is people power- and successful events like Music for the Mountains’ sold-out concert are creative ways of exposing the issue and gaining populous support. I appreciate artists like Mark Utley for their contributions to a cause outside their art form, getting people involved and spreading awareness about this horrific form of energy extraction.

To read more about mountaintop removal:

BUY YOUR CD HERE! (I’m going to get one too)

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Yolanda Kondonassis

My favorite aspect of this blog is finding individuals that weave environmental consciousness into their coexisting interests in creative and dynamic ways. One example is Yolanda Kondonassis, who has melded her love of the harp with her passion for environmental stewardship. I discovered Yolanda through our local classical music station, WCLV. She was speaking about her respect for the natural world and its inspirational role behind several of her albums. For example, her compilation “Air” is a musical representation devoted to the element with a portion of the proceeds going to the Environmental Defense Fund. I was thrilled to hear of her commitment and efforts to publicize and encourage a sense of ecological awareness.

Yolanda is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM- yay Cleveland!) and is the head teacher of harp at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the CIM. When asked how she became interested in conservation amidst her busy career, Yolanda says, “I think when you become a parent, you start to think in new ways about the future and what kind of world we’re leaving for the next generation.” She believes (and I strongly agree) that music may help motivate people to be more responsible, because “the power of art and humanity can often inspire action in ways that mere facts cannot”. She also says that in dealing with existing environmental issues-

These are not problems we can sit back and contemplate while we wait for everyone to agree on causes and terminology. We must act now to create change in the ways we use and abuse the earth. Whether we are able to create policy, find solutions, inspire others, or just recycle in our own homes, we must all do whatever we can to participate in saving the earth from the dire consequences of doing nothing…The signs are so clear. We must get our act together before it’s too late. Help be part of the solution.

One of Yolanda’s solutions along with her music was publishing a children’s book called “Our House is Round: A Kid’s Book on Why Protecting the Earth Matters,” which is a visual, instructional guide for kids on how to be earth stewards and why it matters. In addition, she offers her own list of 12 things she thinks we can all do to ensure a better future for the planet and ourselves:

  1. Learn about the environmental challenges we face.
  2. Recycle.
  3. Make sure your tires have enough air in them.
  4. Replace your standard light bulbs with energy-saving bulbs.
  5. Avoid buying products in lots of packaging.
  6. Take a slightly shorter shower – heating water uses a lot of energy!
  7. Adjust your thermostat – down 2 degrees in the winter and up 2 degrees in the summer.
  8. Turn off all your lights and equipment when not in use.
  9. Take your own reusable bags to the grocery store.
  10. Switch to reusable water and drink bottles.
  11. Plant a tree (or several!).
  12. Talk to your family and friends and encourage them to be part of the solution.

In summary, I think the best way to showcase her talent for inspiring action through art is to provide a link to her music. Here you go and thanks again for reading!

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Lori Babbey

If I had any initial fears of not finding (online) enough grassroots people to feature in this blog, those fears dissipated in my serendipitous discovery of Lori Babbey. Right when I wanted to feature a woman and talk about hydrofracturing, I stumbled across a local Ohio news article featuring her activism!

Lori Babbey is a Paris Township (about 1 ½ hrs southeast of Cleveland, near Canton) resident who is making sure that her surrounding community knows the dangers of “fracking”- a horizontal natural gas drilling method that pumps millions of gallons of water + chemicals at high pressure into a well to break up shale and then extract the gas – which releases hazardous, undisclosed substances into the shale, sometimes pollutes groundwater sources, and harms other bodies of water when its residue is disposed. The procedure of fracking has already polluted water sources and harmed human health in states like New Mexico and Colorado, and has recently spurred enormous controversy in New York and Pennsylvania for its pollution problems and trickery in the purchasing of rights to individuals’ land. Like NY and PA, Ohio overlays the Marcellus Shale, a natural gas source. With economists predicting political + economic pressure on natural gas drilling in the next few years as a result of increased foreign oil prices and with new Ohio governor/former-Lehman Brothers managing director/Fox news contributor Kasich calling the Marcellus Shale a “godsend” for Ohio, it’s likely that fracking could become a common practice in the state. Activists like Lori who notice fracking fouls and listen to experienced communities’ stories of the resulting environmental and health impacts of the practice are trying to inform citizens of the risks before they suffer any deleterious consequences.

While I couldn’t find any sort of online profile of Lori, she pops up in numerous local news stories around her region in Ohio for her repeated attendance at community meetings to educate the residents and resist the fracking companies’ take-over. Just the kind of grassroots person this blog wants to feature! In lieu of me describing her main points to the community, here’s a letter she wrote herself!

Sept. 24, 2010 letter published on Vindy.com (Youngstown, OH news):

“Beware of new drilling methods

Natural-gas drilling opera- tors [sic] have been aggressively pursuing landowners in northeastern Ohio, as well as the rest of the state, to quickly get them to sign leases to drill using well fracturing technology, also known as “fracking” or “fracing.” The oil and gas industry is quick to assure landowners that this is a safe drilling method that has little impact on the environment. This same industry has lobbied so heavily that it is virtually exempt from all basic environmental laws to protect the public. If they’ve spent millions to exempt themselves from regulations that are meant to protect us, do you think they have something to hide? There are no long-term, independent studies to show the effect this type of drilling has on our environment; however, mountains of evidence exist to show that people in hundreds of rural areas have had their water tables permanently contaminated, their health destroyed, and their properties have become worthless.

Well fracturing requires the injection of millions of gallons of fresh water, sand and toxic chemicals. The water is taken from nearby underground aquifers or trucked in. The toxic waste fluid left behind is injected back into injection wells and capped. Common sense dictates that eventually this toxic waste will permanently contaminate our underground water sources. The toxic fluids left underground during the drilling process (estimated at 20 percent of the fluids) have nowhere to go but into the nearest water source. During the actual drilling process, heavy truck traffic increases exponentially on neighborhood roads, as well as light and noise. County taxpayers end up bearing the burden of paying for road repairs.

In addition, in some states lending institutions are no longer financing new mortgages on properties that are under lease. Signing a lease could potentially prevent a future sale or second mortgage of your home. (See “Houses for Shale” published June 3, 2010, Pike County Courier)

Natural-gas well fracturing is a huge public health issue that is in the hands of a few property owners.

Don’t let the lure of cash cloud your judgment. By allowing gas “fracking” we will leave a legacy of death and destruction of our environment, our wildlife and our way of life. Please stop the mad dash for gas.

Lori Babbey, Newton Falls”

I thank Lori for her efforts to inform the public. So here you go, Ohio. We’re in a for a real debate these next few years, so get informed! Protect your rights, water, and health.

Some interesting & informative resources on fracking:
A Colossal Fracking Mess (Vanity Fair article about fracking)
Hydraulic Fracturing FAQs (with link to Gasland- the documentary!)
What is Hydraulic Fracturing? (diagram)

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