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July 22 2011

University sculpture upsets Wyoming coal industry

University accused of ingratitude by one of its main funders for choosing to exhibit 'Carbon Sink' by British artist Chris Drury

The sculpture was always going to be hard to ignore – a giant 36-foot whorl of silvery logs and lumps of black coal in front of the main campus building at the University of Wyoming.

But British artist Chris Drury thought his commentary on the connection between the coal industry and dead trees would merely generate some polite on-campus debate in Cheyenne.

Not anymore. Drury's work, Carbon Sink What Goes Around Comes Around, sits in the heart of coal country, Wyoming, which mines more coal than any other state in America.

The work's existence and the links it draws between coal, climate change, and the pine beetle infestation that is devastating the landscape of the Rocky Mountains, has set off a debate about artistic and academic freedom, with the mining industry and Republican state legislators expressing outrage that a university that got money from coal would dare to turn on it.

"I thought it was a fairly innocuous thing to do," said Drury . "But it's kind of upset a lot of people here. Perhaps it was slightly more obvious because it is slightly more crucial in this state. But this is a university so I expected to start a debate, not a row."

He said he got the idea from a conversation with a scientist who complained that nobody was drawing the connection between the daily coal shipments from Wyoming, and the pine beetle infestation that was killing the region's forests.

The beetles are endemic to the Rockies but with climate change the region no longer gets the plunging temperatures that used to kill them off. Milder winters have allowed the beetles to live on and eat their way through the Rockies, stripping the bark off lodgepole pines from Colorado to British Columbia.

Some of the logs used in the installation were still crawling with beetles.

But as Drury charts on his blog, his comment on the connections between that calamity and coal was too close to home.

By day three of construction, the mining industry was accusing the university of ingratitude towards one of its main benefactors – in what some have seen as a veiled threat to cut funding.

"They get millions of dollars in royalties from oil, gas and coal to run the university, and then they put up a monument attacking me, demonising the industry," Marion Loomis, the director of the Wyoming Mining Association, told the Casper Star-Tribune. "I understand academic freedom, and we're very supportive of it, but it's still disappointing."

Then two Republican members of the Wyoming state legislature joined in, calling the work an insult to coal. The subject of university funding also came up.

"While I would never tinker with the University of Wyoming budget – I'm a great supporter of the University of Wyoming – every now and then, you have to use these opportunities to educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from," Tom Lubnau, one of the state legislators, told the Gillette News-Record.

The university said it was standing by Drury's work, although it was not necessarily endorsing his message.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


February 13 2010

Ukraine miners: Coalfaces

Coalmining has hardly changed over the last 200 years. Photographer Gleb Kosorukov captures labourers at one of Europe's largest pits as they return to the surface after a six-hour shift.
View the video here

On the night of 30-31 August 1935, the ­Soviet miner Alexey Stakhanov set a new record for coal production. Working deep inside the ­bowels of a mine in eastern Ukraine, ­Stakhanov managed to hew out 102 tonnes of coal in five hours and 32 minutes. This was 14 times more than the standard daily norm.

Although it later emerged he had help, ­Stakhanov's super-human feat became a synonym for heroism and communist endeavour. In a matter of months the "Stakhanov" movement had spread across the Soviet Union, with workers and farmers urged to set their own norm-defying records for personal productivity.

Seventy-five years later, miners still work at the mine where Stakhanov set his record. In a series of 100 remarkable portraits, the Russian photographer Gleb Kosorukov has captured the Ukrainian miners on their ­return to the surface from a six-hour shift ­underground, amid dust, dirt and artificial light. Most of the miners agreed to be photographed for the project. A handful refused. They were indifferent to Stakhanov's record, ­Kosorukov says. They regarded themselves as underpaid. They were also deeply cynical about their c­ountry's ­eternally feuding political leaders.

"Oil and gas have been so much in the news in recent decades. Coal has almost ­disappeared from the territory of Europe. People imagine that it doesn't exist any more," ­Kosorukov says. "In fact, coal is responsible for a major part of the world's energy. I wanted to make coal visible."

In practice, coalmining has hardly changed over the past 100 or 200 years – miners then, as now, face an omni­present fear of death.

"It's an archetype of the working class. It ­encapsulates all the things we think about working class. Miners face extremes in their profession. Mortality is high," Kosorukov says. "There is a little bit of heroism in their life. In some ways they are modern saints. They know that some day they may never come back from the mine."

The photos were taken in September 2009 at the Stakhanov mine, 40km from the ­eastern industrial town of Donetsk. The mine was named after its most famous ex-employee ­following his death in 1977. It is part of a c­omplex of four mines owned by the state.

Production has fallen since Soviet times, from 1m tonnes a year under communism to 375,000 today. There are fewer miners, too: 2,381 compared with 10,000-12,000 in the mine's heyday. Little has changed, however. The miners continue to use the old Soviet equipment.

And yet despite this production decline, Kosorukov argues that coal will continue to play a crucial role in the world's energy needs. He also sees it, moreover, as the answer to Ukraine's energy problems at a time when Russia regularly uses gas as a weapon against its smaller neighbour.

"Coal is responsible for more than 40% of the energy produced by humans, more than twice exceeding respective figures for oil and gas. Because of the restrictive security limitations put on development of nuclear power plants, the situation will hardly change in the near future."


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Ukrainian miners: Portraits

These images form part of a series of 100 stunning portraits by photographer Gleb Kosorukov of Ukrainian miners as they finish work



July 16 2008

TERRA 437: Democracy & Action from Burning the Future: Coal in America

In our final installment from Burning the Future, we learn how individuals organizing on a grass-roots level can make a difference! Citizens, lawyers, physicians, and even pilots all come together in support of a common cause: stopping mountaintop removal in West Virginia coal mining.

July 09 2008

TERRA 436: Global Warming from Burning the Future: Coal in America

This week's excerpt from Burning the Future: Coal in America examines the effects of coal on global warming. Coal-burned power plants are the largest CO2 emitters in the United States, and US emissions of carbon represent 25% of the world's contribution to global warming. Is clean coal the answer? Watch and find out!

July 03 2008

TERRA 435: Burning the Future: Coal in America PREVIEW

Do you ever wonder where the juice to charge your iPod was produced? Like over half the electricity in the United States, it probably came from a coal-fired power plant run on coal from the mountains of West Virginia. This reliance on coal raises a score of questions about people, land, and a region's future. In the first of a three-part series of excerpts from "Burning the Future: Coal in America", we meet some of the West Virginians affected by our country's coal policy and see some of the health and ecological costs wrought by it.
TERRA 435: Burning the Future: Coal in America

Do you ever wonder where the juice to charge your iPod was produced? Like over half the electricity in the United States, probably from a coal-fired power plant run on coal from the mountains of West Virginia. This reliance on coal raises a score of questions about people, land, and a region's future. In the first of a three-part series of excerpts from "Burning the Future: Coal in America", we meet some of the West Virginians affected by our country's coal policy and see some of the health and ecological costs wrought by it.
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