The Challenge of Appalachia

SUMMARY: The Challenge of Appalachia lays out a strategy for transforming one and a half million acres of strip-mined lands in Appalachia into a harmonious self-sustaining community.

PROBLEM SPACE: “There are over one and a half million acres of strip-mined lands in Appalachia. Coal mining practices have removed mountaintops and filled valleys with the resulting overburden. Landscapes and communities have been devastated. The primary rationale for this is that the nation needs the coal for electricity. Fifty percent of the USA’s electricity comes from burning coal. However, coal combustion is creating increasing levels of carbon dioxide, triggering climate change and threatening the ecological integrity of the planet.

There is an alternative future for Appalachia. It is the antithesis of the current economy of the region. This is a future in which carbon is no longer an atmospheric pollutant but is sequestered in soils and biota. Mining toxins are remediated, coal lands restored, and a new economy is based upon renewable energy, natural resources, enterprise diversification and an ownership society.”

SOLUTION:This project sets forth a revolutionary concept for the design of an entirely new economic model for a region that has been despoiled by extractive industries. Dr. John Todd’s vision is inextricably bound to a set of highly advanced ecological design principles that he developed. Appropriately, they reflect not only deep understanding of biological systems, but also the best creative intelligence and cultural wisdom spanning the centuries. These principles are the fruit of Dr. Todd’s decades-long practice developing technologies around the world that build healthy symbiotic relationships between nature’s living systems and modern human needs.

The project’s methodology fully recognizes that transformation requires re-conceiving virtually every aspect of how we go about valuing and meeting our life support needs. Accordingly, Todd’s design strategy takes on regionally specific interactions within and between the biosphere, the economy, the local community, the concept of ’right livelihood’, the development of new technology, and education. Its overarching goal is to model a post-industrial economy that mirrors the diverse abundance, cyclic patterns and structural resilience of nature.

Dr. Todd proposes a four-stage replicable process:

-Healing. The first stage in the transformation of the region will involve the detoxifying the trillions of gallons of coal slurry that is held in reservoirs throughout the region. This involves eco-machines designed to render the material harmless to the environment and local inhabitants as well as to create beneficial products from the treated slurry solids.

-Carbon Sequestration and the Creation of a Working Landscape. Once deep soils and ground cover are established, the next stage will involve creating a working landscape through a series of successional stages. This will include a regional reforestation initiative, which has already been researched and is in the planning phase.

-Creating a Renewable Energy Future. Suitable Appalachian wind sites already have been discovered that can provide competitive sources of energy.

-Institutions and a Shared Ownership Culture. A multi-phase institutional model can cover operations at scales ranging from a watershed to an entire region. There are three broad steps: philanthropic, capitalized corporations, and cooperatives for divesting the land and expanding services.