Interview with Dave Cooper, July 7, 2023

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History
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00:00:00 - Introduction and early exposure to mountain top removal

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Partial Transcript: This is an interview with Dave Cooper--

Segment Synopsis: Dave Cooper starts the interview by introducing himself as a 63-year old Lexington resident, and an engineer turned environmental activist. He describes some his past jobs and how he was first exposed to the issue of mountain top removal. He saw mountain top removal for himself in 1998 and his interest in environmental issues became solidified in October of 2000 when a mining accident referred to as "Martin County coal slurry spill" caused 300-million gallons of coal slurry to flood fields and Kentucky water sources.

Keywords: Career changes; Career pivots; Engineers; Enviornmental activism; Environmental activists; Kentucky; Life changes; Martin County coal slurry spill; Mining; Mountain top removal; Sierra Club; Lexington (Ky.)

00:08:53 - First efforts in mountain top removal

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Partial Transcript: there--this wonderful wonderful person at the--

Segment Synopsis: Cooper discusses becoming informed and involved in mountain top removal issues, mainly related to the state of West Virginia, and after made industry connections getting a job at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in Huntington, West Virginia. He then began his work on the Mountain top removal campaign through OVAC as a community organizer. He describes his responsibilities at OVAC and the efforts the organization took against Mountain top removal such as "The Friends of Mountains" and his experiences doing these things. He then explains why his employment was terminated and reflects back on his experience.

Keywords: Activism; Community organizers; Employment; Huntington (Wv.); Mountain top removal; OVAC; Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; West Virginia; The Friends of Mountains

00:19:42 - Mountain top removal roadshow

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Partial Transcript: So, I remember the morning I--

Segment Synopsis: Cooper, even after his employment was terminated, proceeded to a roadshow for OVAC called the Mountain Top Removal Roadshow with the goal to educate the people of America about this issue as he traveled across the country. He breaks-down the equipment he used to make an informative slideshow. He describes the demands of the roadshow, his audience, and the challenges he faced while undertaking the task. He specifically notes the lack of funding and the travel issues he faced.

Keywords: Environmental activism; Environmental education; Funding; Mountain top removal; OVAC; Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Roadshows; Slideshows; Travel; Mountain Top Removal Roadshow

00:25:46 - Mountain Justice Summer

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Partial Transcript: Um, in 2003 is when I got started on--

Segment Synopsis: Cooper begins the segment by recalling a tragedy that happened in Inman, Virginia where a young boy was killed by a falling boulder, the bolder had fallen due to mountain top removal efforts. After this tragedy more people wanted to stand against the issue, that's when cooper collaborated with Earth First to create the Mountain Justice Summer. The Mountain justice summer was a series of protests in 2005 and raised a lot of awareness, this continued every summer until 2014.

Keywords: Earth First; Environmental advocacy; Environmental protests; Mountain Justice Summer; Mountain top removal; Mountain top removal tragedies; Protests; Virginia; Inman (Va.)

00:36:26 - Break

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Partial Transcript: And, um, let's take a break--

Segment Synopsis: In this segment cooper shows interviewer Zada Komara different photos and artifacts related to his career and experience with climate change.

Keywords: Climate change

00:41:40 - Attitudes towards climate change and potential effects

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me a little about the mountain--

Segment Synopsis: Cooper further explains the details of the mountain top removal roadshow such as the places he went, the environmental education of his audience, and nature of his presentation. He talks about the history of addressing climate change and educating people and why is has been challenging and mostly unsuccessful. He describes the temperament of the public concerning new knowledge and that limited his ability to educate people. He then talks about the current climate change issues and its effects on the planet.

Keywords: Building communities; Climate change; Forest fires; Heat waves; LGBTQ+; Media; Migration; Misrepresentation; Mountain top removal roadshow; Tourism; Transgender; Mountain top removal

00:55:15 - Why climate change isn't prioritized

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Partial Transcript: Yea, uh, obviously climate change is a--

Segment Synopsis: Cooper discusses barriers to environmental literacy, specifically misinformation campaigns that are funded by large companies who want to combat environmental efforts. He talks about how these companies create doubt and that it's hard to contradict their efforts. He expresses that he thinks the world is doomed because of climate change and the fact that companies prevent the public from doing anything. He further expresses his feelings of hopelessness around the issue and how he feels it will affect future generations.

Keywords: Climate change; Climate collapse; Climate efficacy; Doubt; Large corporations; Public efficacy; School systems; Science curriculum; Spreading doubt; Enviornmental literacy

01:06:58 - Biggest lessons he's learned

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Partial Transcript: Well, your work is really amazing--

Segment Synopsis: Cooper talks about how important funding is in general and specifically how crucial it is when you hope to create change. He talks about a non-profit board he is a part of at Kentucky Heartwood that is dedicated to fighting logging and he explains how they could do much more if they had funding. He expresses his distaste for large companies that could spend money helping climate change that decide not to. He describes the process many foundations must go through and that most of their time is wasted on grant writing on the hope of receiving financial assistance. Cooper emphasis that organizations dedicated to helping people and the environment deserve funding and if large foundations want to stop climate change, they have to start thinking creatively.

Keywords: Activism; Climate change; Forestry industry; Grant writing; Grants; Kentucky; Kentucky Heartwood; Logging; Logging industry; Non-profit organizations; Funding

01:11:30 - Difficulties of activism and final thoughts

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Partial Transcript: Yea, uh what's next for you--

Segment Synopsis: Cooper describes the Whippoorwill Festival-Skills for Earth Friendly Living which he started after the Mountain Justice Summer which focused on climate and Appalachian culture. After the festival he decided to retire from activism. He talks about the difficulty of being an activist and the work often doesn't lend the results they expect. He ends the interview by recommending some books concerning the environment and Appalachia.

Keywords: Activism; Appalachia; Appalachian culture; Environment; Golden Enviornmental Prize; Whippoorwill Festival-Skills for Earth Friendly Living