Mining Through the Archives: Global Warming and Women in Mining

Mining Through the Archives: Global Warming and Women in Mining

 

Mining Through the Archives: Global Warming and Women in Mining

By David McDevitt, Archives Intern

My most recent project has been working with five cubic feet of materials from the Ohio chapter of Women in Mining (WiM-Ohio). Formed in 1988, WiM-Ohio’s stated purpose was to “educate members and the public about the mineral resource industry”. Some of their ways to do so included setting up a coal mine exhibit at COSI, offering a small scholarship to students in mining related fields, and inviting expert speakers to address the organization on topics related to their industry.

One such talk took place on October 8, 1992 at a Sheraton Inn in Columbus, Ohio. Dr. Patrick Michaels gave a well-attended presentation criticizing the theory of global warming. His audience was WiM-Ohio and their guests, about 60 people in total.[1] Per an article in the Coal Courier, Michaels explained “that’s the problem with the story of apocalyptic global warming. It’s a story, not a fact.[2]” His talk boiled down to several things:

  • Al Gore, then vice-presidential candidate for Bill Clinton and champion for environmental change, was a dangerous radical
  • The science behind global warming was unproven, flawed, and entangled with politics
  • The media was pushing an end-of-the-world narrative to gain viewers; as he put it, “the story of apocalyptic disaster sells more media time than the story, ‘Plane lands on time.[3]’”

At the time, Dr. Michaels was an Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, and had established himself as a leading voice of man-made climate change skepticism. In fact, the same month as his talk in Columbus, he released a book titled Sound and Fury: The Political Science of Global Warming. Four months prior, Al Gore had helped bring the issue of global warming to national attention with a book of his own, Earth in the Balance, where he outlined a “Global Marshall Plan” to halt human impact on the environment. One of the key tenets of that plan was to shift from burning fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, e.g. solar and wind.

WiM-Ohio’s organizing of Dr. Michaels’ talk was a direct result of the organization’s focus on combatting environmentalist legislation. Then-vice president Darlene Smith made tackling global warming activism a main issue in 1992. In her words, she proposed to do so “due to the fact that this issue [global warming] will hurt the mining industry as did the Clean Air Act.” Inviting Dr. Michaels to speak helped fulfill that goal, as well as WiM-Ohio’s mission of educating its members about mining-related issues.

In the light of these circumstances, it is easy to see how Dr. Michaels’ rejections of global warming would have fallen on receptive ears. Smith described the talk as “very enlightening and educational”, and the next month WiM-Ohio purchased $250 worth of Dr. Michaels’ literature.  A majority of the people in his audience worked with or as a part of the coal industry, including at least five vice presidents from American Electric Power (AEP), a leading energy provider in the state. WiM-Ohio was so coal-centric that in May 1999 its then president Sherry Weisgarber resigned stating: “although WiM-Ohio states it is an organization supporting the mining industry in Ohio, in reality WiM-Ohio only supports the coal industry in Ohio.” Al Gore’s proposed carbon taxes and shift in energy sources would without a doubt have had a ruinous effect on the Ohio coal industry, communities dependent on coal mining, and the ultimately the livelihoods of WiM-Ohio’s members.

It is also important to consider the greater context of Dr. Michaels’ talk. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were locked in the final weeks of the 1992 presidential campaign with George H.W. Bush and his running mate Dan Quayle. It is to be expected during the lead-up to an election that political passions reach their highest point, and voters feel compelled to take action to enforce their beliefs and interests. In this light, it is easy to see how Michaels’ message, that Gore was a dire threat to his audience’s way of life, would have resonated with WiM-Ohio and their guests.

Though Women in Mining still operates several other chapters across the country, WiM-Ohio disbanded in 2002 for lack of membership. It’s through the organizational documents, treasurer’s reports, newsletters, and meeting minutes they donated to the Ohio History Center that I was able to unearth this story. Coal, while still a major source of our state’s power, is beginning to see increasing competition from wind and solar. It is fascinating to look back on the issue of global warming and see how the debate was shaped 25 years ago as compared to today. In fact, at the time of this writing the top story on my BBC news app is about the average global temperature and where it’s expected to be in five years. Al Gore did not dismantle the coal industry as WiM-Ohio’s membership perhaps had feared, but they wholeheartedly embraced Michaels’ message at least in part because of the vested interest they held in maintaining the coal-focused energy status quo in Ohio.

If you’re interested in learning more on the Ohio Chapter of Women in Mining, check out their papers at the Ohio History Connection Archives & Library!

[1] Despite the organization’s name, being a woman was not prerequisite to being part of WiM-Ohio, although the great majority of its members were.
[2] Patrick Michaels, “The Noble Savage is calling,” The Washington Times, October 16, 1992, F1-F4.
[3] Dave Waitkus, “Science Disputes Global-Warming Claims,” Coal Courier, November 1992, 13.

Posted February 20, 2019
Topics: Industry & LaborPresidents & PoliticsNatural History

eNewsletter Sign-Up