Is Travel Industry Fueling Latest West Virginia Coal Mine Industry Controversy?

The travel industry has a unique power to spread both awareness and demand, whether the awareness or demand are for better or worse. Consider that the standardization of some of the most environmentally taxing hotel “amenities” can be attributed to their rise in popularity through the travel industry. After a devastating year for the coal mining industry, a flawed juxtaposition of the tourism industry and a controversial advertisement, Americans must question its allegiance to coal mining.

Early April 2010, 29 coal miners lost their lives coal mining for Upper Big Branch in West Virginia. This explosion shook the community as the third major coal mining tragedy in the past four years, with the highest death toll in a coal mining tragedy since an explosion in the late 70’s. Months after the tragedy, investigation details have been unfolding before the world through both media and through the testimony by the owner of the troubled company before Congress. Personal accounts show that the coal mine had a reputation for being especially rigorous in its production and not so rigorous in caring for the well- being of its employees. Coal miners at the Upper Big Branch knew the reality of their work environment but continued to work there with pride. With most families containing multiple generations of coal miners, coal mining is a dangerous yet culturally embedded tradition.

At what point does tradition succumb to reality? The reality is that over 4,400 coal miners were injured while coal mining in 2009 alone. The coal mining industry has claimed the lives of 65 people just in past 10 years. When does tradition take a back seat to mortality? In the shadows of these alarming statistics is a burgeoning travel industry attraction- coal mining museums.  Most coal mining museums have interactive exhibits to give patrons an idea of what it’s like to be a coal miner. Education about the industry that provides energy for the entire country is important, but there is a thin line between educating and promoting. Creating youth exhibits to show the shinier side of coal mining gives impressionable youngsters the flawed perception of coal mining as a safe industry.

Speaking of false advertising, Nike just unveiled its advertisement for the West Virginia University Mountaineers’ football team. Supposedly an ad to pay homage to the fallen coal miners of April 2010, the ad shows a football player emerging from a mountain top that has, presumably, undergone strip mining, which happens to be one of the most controversial forms of coal mining in the Appalachia. So as people consider travel to West Virginia, they will undoubtedly come across the glossy ad, further marring the perception of coal mining and environmental assault that ensues.

The combination of an ad produced by a trusted world-wide brand and an increase in popularity of coal mining museums and exhibits yields a tragic watering down of a dangerous culture.

Photo Credit: fakelvis