Coal powered the Industrial Revolution along with entire regional economies focused on its extraction. Though crucial to the past, coal’s future days are numbered. Deposits will be scraped dry, if not first obsoleted by market forces and alternative sources of energy. As fuel priorities shift toward sustainability, so must the communities of coal country. After Coal examines the renaissance of mining towns in eastern Kentucky and South Wales, drawing parallels between both sides of the pond.
We learn where so many mining jobs went and why they can never return, phased out by automation and the import of cheap coal from elsewhere in the world. We meet folks with deep personal and familial roots in the industry. A multi-generational miner uncertain of his future. A professor who was the first man in his family to choose a different career. A miner turned farm owner – with bonus tanning bed – lamenting that his old job had probably been the best in the country. In these stories, coal signifies prosperity and identity – an emotional complication to the pragmatic challenges of its decline.
Said challenges are shown to be well met with locally driven innovation. Dove Workshop, founded by a group of women within a former coal office, provides education, child care, and other supportive services. The Higher Ground arts collective invokes the power of community theater to explore subjects rarely discussed otherwise, from ethnic and sexual diversity to sentiment about coal itself. Expedition companies thrive on nature’s beauty and create more jobs in response to increased tourism.
Balancing breadth and depth, After Coal adeptly summarizes the socioeconomic challenges of transitioning away from fossil fuel extraction. It shows the importance of understanding both these overall trends and the particular needs of each community, and supporting ground-up change to take pride in.