Mean Joe Green #43: Want Coal? Expect Occassional Sludge

  • Published on December 31st, 2008

The toxic coal sludge impoundment that broke in Tennessee last week is a tremendous disaster–and the finger pointing has begun.

I’m reminded of GreenPeace’s New York Times ad in 1990 after the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill: “It wasn’t the Exxon Valdez captain’s driving that caused the Alaskan oil spill. It was yours.” That’s not to say the drunken captain wasn’t to blame, but the consequences from the overuse of oil–much like the overuse of coal, are a fault of the demander (sounds like a Bush-ism) as well as the supplier.

Of course, when the supplier tries to save time and money by not constructing a structurally sound waste depository they are also very much to blame (I wish it were the homes and towns of those responsible for cutting corners that were flooded with coal sludge)–but we are not completely innocent either.

Before I am attacked for suggesting the victims of this disaster deserve a portion of the blame, let me make my point more clearly. I am saying everyone who uses abuses electricity is to blame (ie. most Americans). It is not our fault that we have a coal-based electric grid–that started long ago. But, we could use less electricity–much less, and we could petition our representatives to support the development of wind and solar energy, and we could educate others on how to make their homes more efficient. All of these measures (and more) would result in less coal sludge because we’d be using less coal…oh yeah, it would also mean less CO2 in the atmosphere, less mercury in the air and water, less asthma cases, and asthma related deaths, less…

…I wonder how toxic wind slurry is.

Related Articles (on the coal sludge disaster)

TVA Coal Ash Disaster Much Worse Than Originally Thought
Clean Coal? Storage Failure Covers 12 Homes, 400 Acres with Toxic Ash
Bush Ignores Clean Water Act in New Mountaintop Mining Regs
Tennessee Coal Slurry Retention Pond Disaster

About the Author

is an Environmental/Political cartoonist for Planetsave, Elephant Journal, Wend Magazine, Twilight Earth, Ecopolitology, EcoSnobberySucks, and more... Joe also does a kids enviro-toon called Hank D and the Bee on EcoChildsPlay and NaturalPapa. Joe lives in University City, Missouri and spends his free time with his beautiful wife, enthusiastic daughter, and curious toddler of the same name. He also enjoys writing, drawing, painting, walking, biking, skateboarding, gardening, reading, listening to music, playing sports, and watching plays (especially the plays his wife's site-specific theatre company, Onsite Theatre puts on).   Visit Joe's online cartoon gallery at


  • It's important that when we become aware of what needs to change that we speak up and push corporations and governments to shift direction.

    We may not have known back then what we clearly know now, but if we don't take this opportunity to right some wrongs, then we have only ourselves to blame.

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