Daryl Hannah interview

daryl_hannahMany stars are termed “eco-celebrity,” but few have taken their commitments as seriously as Daryl Hannah.

The actress first made famous as a beautiful android in the dark thriller Blade Runner, and most recently as a one-eyed assassin in 2003 and 2004’s Kill Bill Vol. I & II, is a save-the-world girl at heart. She became a vegetarian at age 11 since she loved animals, and by age 45, in 2006, was chaining herself to a walnut tree for weeks with tree-sitter Julia Butterfly Hill in South Los Angeles. It was the site of an urban community garden that had been sold to private developers. She and the other activists were arrested. Now Hannah, who has greened her life about as thoroughly as a person can – she lives in an off-grid, solar-powered home near Telluride, waters her vegetables with graywater, drives a biodiesel-powered El Camino, and produces and films web videos on a host of green topics at www.dhlovelife.com – has turned her attention to coal. Like other environmental topics that have rallied her to action, the realization of mountaintop removal mining – how it has destroyed more than a million acres across the Appalachian Mountains, leaving a toxic moonscape in its wake – left her no choice but to follow her convictions straight to a June 23 protest in southern West Virginia – and another arrest.

Below, Hannah talks to E about why she needed to take action against coal, and why we should, too.

E Magazine: Why do you think a destructive practice like mountaintop removal mining is so little recognized outside of the areas where it’s taking place?

Daryl Hannah: It’s hard to say. These times can be overwhelming, as we are facing so many crises. But how do you hide two million acres of leveled, decimated land? How can coal companies think that it’s acceptable to have blown off over 500 mountain tops and dump the rubble into the valleys below, killing over 3,000 miles of headwater streams? Mountaintop removal (MTR) is happening in extremely economically depressed areas with the vast majority being in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. In these areas, people don’t have a loud voice, or the resources to let the world know, raise hell and fight it… and these communities are dying fast. The towns are getting boarded up and their jobs disappearing as quickly as the viable land and water around them. Due to the heavy machinery involved less manpower is needed, so 75% of mining jobs have already been lost to the machines and explosives of MTR. Yet surface mining actually has more accidents and deaths than traditional underground mining per employee ratio. There basically is no remediation or reclamation. Less than 3% of these MTR sites have been reclaimed. Some fast-growing grasses have been sprayed on a few sites. Trees won’t grow because there is no topsoil left. The topsoil that was there has been blown up and buried during the process of removing the mountain. At some sites they have managed to plant some stunted locust and scrub pines. They have a show place, for PR purposes, where millions have been sunk into landscaping with topsoil, trees and all. And of course, that’s the site they use to show in their television advertising.

E: Was your recent trip to the West Virginia protest the first time you’d seen the effects of mountaintop removal in person? What was your reaction?

D.H.: It made me feel ill. I almost can’t explain how hard it is to assimilate and process the moonscape that is left behind. I went to one sight just yards from some of the locals’ homes. Modest cabins, but ones that have been in their families for generations, and in their front yard there’s this massive contaminated explosion site with a slurry lake filled with billions of gallons of poisonous toxic sludge. And the valley fills associated with surface coal mining increase the trace metals and toxic salts (sulfates, magnesium, bicarbonate and total dissolved solids) to the downstream aquatic communities and these dissolved ions are never really sequestered by the surrounding geology and may ultimately emanate from the fills for decades. It’s horrifying!

If you can believe it, Massey Energy (the coal company operating in the region where I was arrested) is trying to promote these leveled and toxic sites as a big bonus to the region, by claiming it leaves behind millions of acres of flattened land ready for future development.

E: Momentum is building against coal. Why now?

D.H.: As we all are becoming more aware of the hideous ramifications of fossil fuels, it’s clear we’ve been killing ourselves with shortsightedness. We are suffering from huge global conflicts right now over oil. Coal, the largest source of energy for electricity generation worldwide, is also one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions. Coal is relatively cheap (if you don’t value human health) and it’s abundant, but is one of the dirtiest, filthiest sources of energy around. And there is no such thing as clean coal! Coalfired power plants shorten nearly 24,000 lives a year in the U.S. alone, including 2,800 from lung cancer. Coal generates hundreds of millions of tons of waste products, including fly ash, bottom ash and flue gas desulfunzation sludge that contain mercury, uranium, thorium, arsenic and other heavy metals. High-sulfur coal creates acid rain. Of course there’s interference with groundwater and water table levels. Coal-fired power plants without effective fly ash capture are one of the largest sources of human-caused background radiation exposure and coal is one of the leading causes of asthma, which is now a full-on epidemic.

Thankfully, I think it’s starting to sink in that we actually have the technology to become self-sufficient, which would allow us to give up our addiction to dirty, deadly fossil fuels. We’re realizing it’s suicide if we don’t make the move to clean, renewable, regenerative energy.

E: How do you see the country transitioning away from coal?

D.H.: According to Nate Lewis [a chemistry professor at the California Institute of Technology] more energy hits the earth in one hour from the sun than all other forms of energy used by man in an entire year. We’re currently perfecting solar thermal and new battery and storage technology. We have amazing new wind turbines that are silent, efficient, low-profile designs that could potentially revive the wasted industrial heart of this country. There are dormant factories, machinery, and tons of struggling people out of work in steel towns all over America, who, with just a little job training, could easily be powering our country. It is just common sense to move toward community-based regenerative energy.

E: Can you tell me about some of the people you met who are affected by mountaintop removal mining? How have they inspired you?

D.H.: It’s been incredibly inspiring and heart wrenching. I met so many beautiful, brave families who are literally fighting for their lives. They live modestly while suffering daily assaults, like the rock and glass shards that rain down from explosives that detonate all day and night. Their kids go to school right under a threatening 2.8 billion gallon toxic slurry pond that if breached would give their kids the impossible challenge to evacuate in under three minutes. Because of the extreme poverty and the omnipresent fear of losing more jobs, tensions are at an all-time high. I received hundreds of e-mails from residents who confessed their own horror stories but asked that I not print them for fear of their safety.

E: Tell me about the arrest – was it something you were prepared for?

D.H.: When I went to Coal River, West Virginia, I was prepared for our civil disobethence to end with an arrest. There were over 30 arrested and we were held in a hallway until we could all be processed and released. The state troopers were quite respectful; some even thanked me for my involvement. This action was an organized effort by the Coal River residents, who have been going through these tri- als for quite some time. Judy Bonds, Goldman Environmental Prizewinner and codirector of Coal River Mountain Watch of West Vir- ginia who has been arrested numerous times trying to stop this abomination said, “Every West Vir- ginian should be outraged that these out-of-state coal companies and their agents are blasting our homes and poisoning our water and our air. These peaceful pro- testers are here to help stop the poisoning of our land and our people. They are heroes and we welcome them.” And Bo Webb, the community activist and volunteer with Coal River Mountain Watch who I had the great fortune to stay with during my visit said after the arrest, “The true patriots are the concerned citizens who went up on that mine site today. It is the people of Appalachia who are being assaulted by Massey Energy: Our mountains, our water, our air and our heritage has been assaulted, and the government is doing nothing to protect us from this aggression.We are fighting for our lives here and we appreciate those who are coming to our aid. There are no outsiders when it comes to fellow Americans coming to the defense of one another’s civil and human rights.”

E. What other issues are you working on? How do you stay motivated?

D.H.: I see all of the actions we take that result in health crises, environmental degradation, slavery, extinctions and war as interlinked, so I do what I can to try to share information in order to enable ourselves to make wiser, more informed choices. I make video blogs at www.dhlovelife.com to bring attention to some of the many solutions as well. As I see it, all of the crises we face ultimately come down to value issues. As far as staying motivated and involved, I’m alive in this world, how could I not be deeply involved?

11 Responses

  1. This woman uses tires for her car that was made with oil. Much of the el camino was produced with oil by products. She must sell the car and walk if she wants credibility. She must also not use anything made with plastics, nor take any medication for any ailments as most of these were manufactured with oil by-products. Good luck surviving.

  2. It is nice that people like Hannah, Ed Begley Jr, and others are “green” beyond words and fabric grocery bags, even with the vast sums of cash…although Frankly, I could never afford any land near Teluride.

    Ref Apartment dwelling – After three apartment fires in one year at my complex that destroyed at least 25 apartments, killed several pets, and injured four people and one fireman, I long to live in a single family home again. All these fires were caused by human error, and I have to realize that trusting others to do the right thing and live with some thought about one’s neighbors as apparently asking too much.

    And finally, doing the math, I do not see being able to afford living off-grid. I do not make enough to afford land, infrastructure improvement, and technology enough to keep me in the 20th century, let alone the 21st century. It’s a beautful dream, but as a public servant, I’m too poor to afford it.

    1. AJ, I agree with you about apartment living, the few times I have had to live in them, I always worried about what the “neighbors” were doing, if they were being as safe and conscientious as I lived…

      As far as your thoughts about being unable to afford living off-grid, I say it can be done, and on the cheap, my hubby and I are living proof that it can be done, we are not wealthy, in fact we live well below what would be considered the poverty level, we live 100% off-grid and are very happy living the way we do. We did “give up” many of ordinary life’s conveniences though, it’s all a matter of perspective, yes it’s terribly expensive to live the typical American way of life, with all the gadgets and goodies that most spoiled people feel they need to have in order to be happy. We live a very simple life comparatively, and we are all the better and happier for it. You can read about how we did everything very much on the cheap. https://off-grid.net/section/wretha/

      The other thing I hear from people as an excuse not to live off-grid is the return on investment (ROI) excuse, they talk about how long it will take to break even and then start “earning” money on what they have done, again I say it’s a matter of perspective, when the power has gone out in your area and you are the only one sitting there with lights and other electric gadgets running, suddenly ROI takes on a whole new meaning, priceless is what I would call it.

      What I find to be the ultimate truth is people will do whatever they really want to do. if your dream is to live off-grid and be more self sufficient, then that’s exactly what you will do, one way or the other, you will find a way, nothing will be able to stop you.

      Set goals. long and short term. A goal is a wish with a date attached, if you plan nothing, then that is exactly what you will achieve… where do you want to be tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year? In the next 10 years?…


  3. Hi Barry,

    I find it rather sad that the only comment you made was on how she got to W. Virginia. Perhaps she drove her bio-diesel El Camino. I am sure that you do as much as you can to help keep your carbon footprint low, right? Darryl Hannah is an inspiration. She’s great, and we need more people like her. Peace to you my friend!

  4. Ms. Hanna has done a wonderful job with greening her life — with the resources that she has available (which is not a slight of any kind — I am a SUPER fan of her environmental commitment).

    However, we need to find ways to allow the average citizen to internalize green principles — we have to MAKE IT REAL at all levels in society. For instance, I am not sure that single-occupant/family dwellings are practical (for many reasons) or sustainable for our planet, or beyond.

    As a personal experience, I try to live in newer, rental housing that has green appliances … it sounds good, but most developers have not embraced energy conservation methods. This rental @1200/mo has ZERO insulation on windows, poor energy design — as it turns out, and poor ventilation system — I am breathing second-hand tobacco smoke daily which comes from the apartment below.

    I cannot afford to create an eco-friendly environment — on my own, nor would I. I have come to believe that multi-unit dwellings are most cost effective. This is not the same as shared living where people have a “lifestyle” agenda of some kind. Perhaps a block wherein 10-20 families would share a hydrogen fuel cell or solar-powered heating system, etc.

    There are many ideas, not many forth coming from architects or developers because these housing systems would be cost-effective — for the consumer.

    My rant for the day MUST include some mention of the Arctic Wildlife Reserve that is under threat. Perhaps Ms. Hanna and those with disposable income or means could cast their support behind Robert Redford and others who are acting to stop oil drilling to the North.

    Thank you for your newsletter!

    Victoria Xavier-Freyr

  5. Great interview. I just found your web site and will be back.
    On the subject of coal a friend of mine made a great film on this subject called Burning the Future: Coal in America. Here is the web site https://www.burningthefuture.org
    It gives lots of information on the issue, what is really happening in these areas as Daryl talks about, as well as taking us into the life of a family directly affected by what is going on. I must agree with Daryl, it is truly sickening but we need to look it straight in the eye and let our elected leaders know that we cannot support this sort of devastation any longer, the costs are too great and we have alternatives.

  6. Thanks D and all the other people who care about the people of the hill-country . I know they love their land and lifestyle. Theylive off the land as best they can. Being poor they are no match for the big coal companies. Maybe one of these days even the rich will learn that when all your drinking water is polluted, no mater how much money you have you still have no clean water. If more people learn to live off-grid less coal will be needed.

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