The PC Green
Missing Mountains and Earth Quakers
Last month, Penn Charter was delighted to host Ingrid Lakey, Quaker environmentalist and founding member of Earth Quakers Action Team (EQAT). Ingrid met with a variety of classes over her two-day residency, including my 9th grade biology class and the Green Club.
Ingrid discussed her life trajectory from a Philly Quaker upbringing that focused on simple living to becoming an outspoken environmental activist. A funny anecdote from her childhood: “simple Quaker living” included her family making their own brown, crumbly bread, leaving Ingrid longing for her friends’ fluffy white bread in the cafeteria. So many metaphors and puns come to mind! Maybe... Quaker SPICES make great citizens, not bread; or ... living simply might not be fluffy, but is often healthier and more sustaining; maybe... Quakerism is high in fiber? I’m just riffing here...
We also learned how Ingrid’s perspective and sense of environmental duty took a turn for the serious once she became a mother. After watching Coal Country, Ingrid was struck by the injustice being inflicted upon Appalachian communities by coal companies practicing Mountain Top Removal (MTR) coal mining. The plight of these underrepresented and often impoverished people, who suffer the severe health, environmental, economic, and social consequences of this brutal form of coal extraction, left her shaken. As a new mom, she thought about the new moms in “coal country” that had to decide whether they should bathe their babies in water tainted with arsenic. Ingrid decided she had to get involved.
For those of you unfamiliar with Mountain Top Removal coal mining, it’s hard to believe, but the name is very accurate: mountains -- yes, whole mountains -- are dynamited to smithereens so that coal can be sifted from the resulting rubble. Mountains are removed. It’s as bad for the mountain as it is for the valley where the toxic leftovers are dumped, the streams into which those leftovers leak, the watersheds through which those streams run, and so on down the line to the ocean. Visit here for more info about the hazards of MTR from EQAT’s website. Visit here for a video from the Smithsonian Channel about the scale and machinery of the process.
Ingrid also met with students from the Middle and Upper School Green Clubs over lunch. We discussed EQAT’s campaign to end MTR by focusing its actions on PNC Bank’s financing of the major coal companies that use this process. EQAT was deliberate in identifying the specific slice of climate change that they would challenge and just as deliberate in identifying PNC’s financial support as the most effective target. Learn more about this campaign here. This led to a talk about how students can gather momentum to tackle issues important to them, and Ingrid had some great advice. She encouraged us to “find places of hope” where we can be optimistic of our chances of impacting a real change. And once that optimism and effort pays off, Ingrid says it’s paramount to “celebrate success.” Write articles, make posters, have parties, and have fun to celebrate the positive impact that you have on the world. The Green Clubbers present took this message to heart.
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about environmental justice and even more time trying to get students to think about such heavy issues, I am deeply grateful for the Quaker experiences, thoughtful advocacy, and optimism that Ingrid offered us. It’s such an inspiration to hear from someone putting her passion, morals, and Quakerism to work on behalf of suffering people hundreds of miles away.
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