Coal Miner's Grandson

Bruce Hagen

Director, Clean Energy Business Engagement at Citizens' Climate Lobby-Business Client Leaders

Originally published by Enphase Energy in 2014, where Bruce worked as a Program Manager.

One evening, one hundred years ago, Anton Griglak stepped out of the elevator at West Leisenring #2.  He thanked God for another safe day in the mine.  Then he walked past the row of beehive coke ovens, across State Route 1051, and toward a row of company-built houses.  In one of those houses his family awaited him, and supper.

Anton had left the familiar of his faraway home to build a better life in the New World.  There were good jobs in coal country.  For two million centuries, time and tectonics transformed the steamy swamps of Pennsylvania into fat seams of concentrated sunlight.  Anton and his fellow miners blasted and shoveled that ancient energy into the engine of America.  Coal and oil powered the forces which twice pushed back the tide of global tyranny.  It built the foundations of prosperity that you and I still enjoy.

Anton didn’t know about atmospheric CO2.  He didn’t know that those smoking coke ovens were helping to push CO2 concentrations past 300 PPM on that chilly March night.  No one did.  When I learned about the “greenhouse effect” in college – and began my work supporting renewable energy – CO2 had reached 325.  It was already well past the “safe” level of 350 when my son entered the world.

In 2012 I was hired by Enphase.  CO2 had crossed 400 PPM frontier, breaking a three million year old record.  My son and I had travelled to Washington DC in June; we lobbied congress for carbon fee and dividend legislation on the same broiling day President Obama gave his climate address. Then, in August, I heard about Matt Reuscher, the coal miner turned solar installer… and it all came together.  The son of Grandpa Griglak’s daughter had grown up to be a foe of fossil fuels.  I was a “coal miner’s grandson.”

So, what would Grandpa Griglak think about my climate advocacy, my challenging the industry that provided food and shelter for his family (and, ultimately, me.)  Ingrate?  Hypocrite?  No, I think he’d see that fossil fuels are now things of the past.  They made it possible for renewable energy to power a modern industrial society… possible, and now because of their climate impact, necessary.  Perhaps he would recognize how his emigration to America is like America’s emigration to non-polluting energy. Stay with the familiar and stagnate, suffocate… or journey into a new world of promise and potential.

Matt Reuscher: from coal mine to sunshine

Matt Reuscher: from coal mine to sunshine

Matt Reuscher was a young coal miner in southern Illinois.  His job was killed by climate change – not from regulation, but from the drought that dried up the water needed to process coal.  He too emigrated, to St. Louis, where he got a job as a solar installer.  After reading about Matt’s journey (the full story is here), I reflected on how Matt’s story intersects with my own.  His family migrated from the mine to the rooftop – from coal to sol -- in a matter of months.  For me, that journey took two generations.  And you know what else?  Matt installs Enphase!

The future will belong to the people and the nations that recognize the potential of smart and simple solar energy.  Today, solar already employs nearly 80% more people than coal mining.  Solar jobs doubled from 2009 to 2011, to over 100,000.  As of November 2013, there were 142, 698 solar jobs. By comparison, coal mining jobs peaked at 91,698 in 2011, employed 88,962 in 2012, and are now down to 80,000.  With solar yet accounting for a small fraction of energy production, there is vast potential for growth in solar jobs – skilled work that can support a family in every community across this land.

You and Matt and I ride an unstoppable wave.  Sun energy, in one form or another, has always powered our planet, and always will.  When we create and use simple and safe solar products like the Enphase system, we open the door to all coal miners and their children to join the renewable recovery.