Larry Gibson, the West Virginia activist who built a movement from his will to save a mountain, died Sunday from a heart attack while working on his home. He was 66 years old and had become the face of the fight against mountaintop removal. Gibson makes one of his last appearances in Chris Hedges’s and Joe Sacco’s new book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. He toured Hedges and Sacco around his community and described what’s happened to the land:
“Living here as a boy I wasn’t any different than anybody else,” he said. “I thought I was the luckiest kid in the world, with nature. I could walk through the forest. I could hear the animals. I could hear the woods talk to me. Everywhere I looked there was life.… Now there is no life there. Only dust.”
When Gibson moved back to his family home on Kayford Mountain after being forced into retirement at General Motors, mountaintop removal was just gearing up. Thirty years later, 500 mountains across West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky have been stripped of trees and flattened. The constant explosions in one typical week in West Virginia, report Hedges and Sacco, equal the cumulative power of the blast over Hiroshima. The human toll from coal—from the emissions of dust, not to mention working in the mines—stands at 24,000 people a year lost to coal related diseases. Gibson told Hedges and Sacco: “That’s eight times bigger than the World Trade Center. Nobody say anything about that… Coal kills, everybody knows coal kills. But, you know, profit.”
I had a chance to talk with Chris Hedges about Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt soon after it came out. Part one of the transcript is posted below. In this conversation, Larry Gibson comes up as one of those who fights on against tremendous odds, regardless.
Over the years, Gibson’s home on Kayford was vandalized. One of his trailers was littered with gunshots. Two of his dogs were shot. He told Hedges and Sacco how in 2007, one of his family cemeteries was bulldozed in front of him by Massey Energy operators as he was giving a tour to visitors. Today, the campaign to end mountaintop removal, or MTR, has gained national attention, forcing the Obama administration’s EPA to issue new rules for protecting mountain streams. Those rules are now being challenged in court.
What kept Gibson going? He told the two authors:
I’m not a highly-brained guy here.… don’t have a lot of education. I just point at the common denominator of things: you screw up one thing, another is gonna fall, and if that falls something else is gonna fall, and how much more do we have to fall before we start saying, “Whoa, there’s something wrong here somewhere,” you know.