The struggle is here, not on Mars

By Amelia Holliday

July 16, 2014

For the last week and a half, news from Southeastern Kentucky has spread like wildfire, it seems, across the nation. No, it hasn’t been about the work being done on the SOAR initiative to help improve the region, nor has it been about the promise zone grants that are being applied for and received almost daily in each county in the region. It’s been a little other-worldly, actually.

During a National Resources and Environment Committee meeting on Thursday, July 3, State Senator Brandon Smith (R-District 30) uttered the quote heard around the blogosphere:

“I won’t get into a debate about climate change, but I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature of Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that.”

To put this in context, the meeting was held to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency’s new federal carbon emission regulations, which call for a 30 percent cut in carbon emissions from existing power plants by 2030. Senator Smith, along with other state representatives, was at the meeting to discuss the issues the coal industry in the state would face due to these new regulations and to hear the opinion of the Secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet—who did not show up—about these regulations.

Since speaking those fateful words, news agencies across the nation have lit up with stories and opinions about Senator Smith’s comments and his state of mind.

Smith has been adamant since the news went viral that he did not mean that Earth and Mars have the same temperatures (according to NASA, Earth’s average temperature is 57 degrees Fahrenheit, while Mars’ average is -81 degrees), but, instead meant that Earth and Mars have had similar climate changes and that the common denominator could not be man-made carbon emissions.

“…I made the point that something bigger than one industry, coal, is affecting our planet. I went on to use the example that both Earth and Mars have experienced temperature changes. The (video) clip many have seen only shows enough of the overall debate to make the viewer believe I’m saying something different,” Smith told the Herald last week.

After watching the nearly 10 minute long conversation Senator Smith has with John Lyons, the assistant secretary for climate policy, including the 25 seconds of Mars talk, one thing is crystal clear—the important part of Smith’s talk was completely overlooked by both the media and his constituents.

Smith continues on to talk about what is actually going on in the region he represents—something most media outlets never picked up on. He says the most recent and most ridiculous news he’s heard about his region is that he and the other representatives from Central Appalachia should “level with” their constituents and tell them to get out of the area while they still can.

Of course, Senator Smith is talking about the recent New York Times article, “What’s the matter with Eastern Kentucky?”

And what’s the matter is something Senator Smith was getting very close to hitting on the head in his talk. The biggest news from Southeastern Kentucky shouldn’t be a 15-second sound bite from a local senator about Mars, whether it was a mistake or was misunderstood, or an article picking apart the region like it’s already a turkey carcass the day after Thanksgiving.

What’s the matter is media outlets, both in state and out, honing in on the nasty, embarrassing, and sometimes awful things that may happen in the region and completely ignoring the good and even the neutral that far outweighs the bad.

What’s the matter is that the people in Southeastern Kentucky are consistently told they are worth less than others in other areas—worth less money, less concern, and less opportunities than those outside the region. And just as author Silas House said recently in his blog, “A Country Boy Can Surmise,” the more these Southeastern Kentuckians hear and see only negative press, the more they will believe that that is all that exists here and is all they can be.

There should be celebration that this area is trying to help itself with the SOAR initiative and the Promise Zone proclamation instead of the condemnation about what one senator said in a 15 second clip from an entire discussion that should have been important to his voters and his people.

The Hazard Herald