Canaries and Coal Mines – Podcast #009

Years ago, coal miners used to take a canary with them when they went down to the mines. If the dangerous gases, like carbon monoxide and methane, rose to the level of killing the canary, then the miners knew it was time to get out.  That powerful vision of a bird, a winged creature of beauty, delicacy and vibrant color, a bird of song being dragged into the bowels of the earth, into the toxic dust, into the darkness, paints a drab picture of how humans have used nonhuman animals for their own purpose, missing the majesty of the nonhuman animal altogether. The animals were simply a living insurance policy.  Canaries had already been trapped and for years for their song and beauty and have been used extensively in research in neurogenesis and song encodification.  Whatever Nature’s purpose was in developing the canary, Man’s purpose was much more limited.

Going into the mines in the days before there were appropriate safety measures and ventilation systems was indeed a dangerous occupation.  But the minute human beings decided to take a bird into the mines, a system of domination and subjugation was unleashed. Whenever such an hierarchical structure is put into place, destruction is sure to follow.

Not only were canaries commodified but so were mice, horses, boys, minorities, immigrants, and impoverished mountain people.  My own grandfather worked in the mines when he was only a little boy, something that is difficult to grasp when I reflect on the lives of the children in my family.  Here is Podcast Appalachia to gives us some background on the history of coal.

~~~~~~King Coal: Podcast Appalachia~~~~~~

The first principal of the Abolitionist Approach is right of animals not to be property. Introduction of the property status of animals in the mines was soon followed by the same callous use of human animals, with the mining companies holding almost complete control over the lives of their workers.

The mining industry has developed ways to get the coal in every more radical and destructive ways. Mountain Top Removal literally blows the top off of mountains, with the remaining detritus falling into the streams and valleys below, wreaking havoc, destroying habitat and animal lives, and killing human beings when heavy rains literally flood the mountain hollows.  Short-term benefits for a few and adverse consequences for the many, especially for those without a voice.  Just like in the animal rights movement we have those who try to change only the perimeters of the existing system of dominance, the coal industry has its proponents of clean coal.  Here is an NPR podcast on that topic:

~~~~~~~~~~~NPR: Clean Coal

This will be a very clean operation. We need to go deeper and deeper. There will be no problems.  Sound familiar? The situation in the Gulf of Mexico with the oil leak, the situation with our diminishing coral reefs, the situation with the increasing extinction of animal and botanical species, and the ongoing slaughter of billions of living beings for the appetites and use of human beings. The metaphor of the canary in the coal mine is a potent one, an animal designed to soar against the blue sky, confined to darkness, unable to spread his wings, much like the chickens used for egg production. There are millions of animals who lives lives of extreme desperation as they are forced to stand on cement or lay in their own waste, all due to the hubris and insensitivity human beings.

A poem from William Wordsworth comes to mind,

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Misshapes the beauteous forms of things–
We murder to dissect.

In the last podcast, I discussed how regulations do not necessarily protect animals. The animals in a protected category were actually the ones most hunted, because their status put the biggest price on their heads. As long as animals are property, there is no way to keep them safe. What is needed is a shift in thinking and the only way I know to get there is through the Abolitionist Approach.  The canary in the coal min has served as a warning about how a system of domination can bring destruction. Now the only question is this: will we listen?


Bright spots on the animal rights front:

Vincent Guihan’s We Other Animals blog and Animal Emancipation forum

Vincent Guihan interview on Veganacious

Vegan for Life Podcast

LiveVegan videocasts – Trish Roberts


Podcast Appalachia – King Coal

NPR Podcast on Clean Coal

It’s Hot in Here – Get Off the Coal Train

Canary in a Coal Mine by the Police

Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford

The Tables Turned by William Wordworth

I Love Mountains (dot) org’s video with Woody Harrelson on Mountaintop Removal