Environmental Melodrama, Coal, and the Politics of Sustainable Energy in The Last Mountain

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International Journal of Sustainable Development

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The Last Mountain is a 2011 Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) film. It examines an aggressive form of strip mining in West Virginia known as mountaintop removal (MTR). The Last Mountain was the first of more than 40 MTR films to be distributed nationally and, as such, marks the entry of the issue onto the political scene in the USA. This essay analyses the film’s use of environmental melodrama to define the problems related to MTR and create identification between victims of MTR and viewers. However, the latter portion of the film attempts to scale up from the melodramatic depiction of MTR to advocacy on broader issues regarding renewable energy and global climate change. In doing so, the film breaks with melodramatic form, draining its emotional power, foreclosing systemic political action, and limiting its overall effectiveness as a sustainability narrative.

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