Sierra Club's first African-American President Keynotes MEC Environmental Conference
The fight for the environment became painfully personal for Sierra Club President Aaron Mair when a polluting solid waste incinerator in his Albany, N.Y. neighborhood so fouled the air that his daughters developed asthma, Mair told an audience at MEC last Saturday. He and his neighbors won a $1.6 million lawsuit and shut-down the facility. Mair then joined the Sierra Club in 1999 and spread his urgent message: a people’s climate movement is needed to bring together labor, civil rights groups and progressive organizations.
“This is a critical time and a critical hour,” said Mair, who gave the keynote address on March 11 at MEC’s 22nd annual Conference on Environmental Issues.
The Sierra Club is the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. Mair is the Sierra Club’s 57th president and its first African-American president. He currently works as an epidemiologist-spatial analyst with the New York State Department of Health.
“There’s no black environment, there’s no white environment, there’s just the environment,” Mair said Saturday. He noted that President Donald Trump has eliminated prominent programs related to the environment and the Environmental Protection Agency (and appointed an EPA chief skeptical of climate change). Trump has talked about carnage in inner cities, Mair said “but the carnage is in the environment in the burning of fossil fuels.”
More than two-thirds of African Americans live within 30 miles of a dirty energy gas or coal-fired power plant — the zone of maximum exposure to disease-causing pollutants, Mair has said in arguing that environmental justice is also a social justice issue.
Mair made the case at MEC that action on the climate is essential for both racial and economic justice but poor communities and communities of color are consistently left behind. Those communities, he said, are desperately in need of green jobs and clean air and water. Besides, he said wryly, there is only one planet for everyone.