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The True Cost of Coal

Beehive Design Collective


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In 2008, the Beehive allied with Appalachian grassroots organizers fighting mountaintop removal coal mining, a highly destructive practice that blasts ancient mountains into toxic moonscapes to fuel the ever-growing global demand for electricity. After more than two years of on-the-ground research, story-sharing, metaphor crafting, and meticulous drawing, including collaboration with hundreds of grassroots groups and folks from around the world, we released the True Cost of Coal graphics campaign in 2010.

This graphics campaign reflects the complexity of the struggles for land, livelihood, and self-determination playing out in Appalachia, and was made with the intention of honoring the tremendous history of organized resistance and the courage of communities living in the shadow of Big Coal.

The Appalachian mountains are where the most biodiverse temperate forests in the world are found, and this graphic is teeming with bio-regionally accurate plant and animal species that are both ecologically and culturally significant to Appalachia. A full cast of characters by their common names is available in the narrative.

This visually stunning graphic serves as a multi-tool for activists and other folks seeking real solutions to energy extraction and climate change. We are all impacted by coal, and we all play a part in the system that demands coal as fuel. Almost half the electricity in the U.S. today still comes from burning coal, the dirtiest energy source on the planet. Mountaintop removal is a human and ecological drama wreaking havoc on coalfield communities, folks downwind and downstream of coal-burning power plants, and all of us faced with catastrophic climate change. The True Cost of Coal graphics campaign is helping more people share stories, find their place in the big picture, and take action to build a just and ecologically sound future.

This large-format fold-in poster comes with a booklet that breaks down the graphic to further educate about this complex topic.



This graphic is a folding poster inspired by the back cover of Mad Magazine (yes, really!). The closed poster depicts an intact mountain landscape, bursting with biodiversity, clean water, and interconnectedness. We see the Appalachian Mountains from the ground up, from the point of view of those who live there. When the poster is pulled apart, a very different landscape is revealed – one of exploitation and extraction, of toxic contamination and privatization of resources.

Opening the poster literally splits apart the mountain range, and the first image you see is of a mountaintop removal site, where explosives are blasting the mountain, and a dragline is symbolically scooping away a whole community in its enormous bucket. The bigger story unfolds chronologically from left to right, tracing the epic history of coal in a series of five chapters. Along the bottom of the poster are stories from Appalachia. As you move up in the image to the top of the poster, the stories become national and global in scope.

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