Aaron Mair, president of the National Sierra Club, will speak in Rochester on the importance of intersectionality to build an effective climate movement.
The speech, scheduled for Thursday evening at New Bethel CME Church, is part of an ongoing Earth Month celebration and coincides with the upcoming Earth Day on April 22. However, it also underlines local and national themes of solidarity and unity.
“I’m hoping the main thing they take away is their sense of power,” he said in an interview with OM on Monday. He said during his speech he’ll discuss his work in Albany, shutting down a power plant proven to adversely effect the health of minorities living by and added that he’s hoping through his speech, people will also understand their role in the environment and how many issues are linked, including racism, health, social services and the environment. Ultimately, he wants to also provide information for those looking to do more and make change.
“Hopefully folks are coming together to listen… so they can truly come together and be effective stewards of their environment,” he said.
He added that effective stewardship can be compared to a garden; you must be willing to put in the hard work to weed out the ineffective or undesirable parts of your environment. However, you must also plant the seeds of what you want to see and be ready to provide these plants with constant care and nutrition.
“In my talk I thread these things (civil rights, social justice, the environment) together,” he said. “I make it real and we can see where we are and know where we have to go. There are real issues before us- chronic health crises in urban communities from lead paint which was highlighted in Flint and is probably true of Rochester.”
And he wants attendees and activists to consider not only race but class and gender to build an effective climate movement because for many Americans all of these issues and identities are linked. For Mair, sound environmental changes reflect the needs of all Americans, and especially those impoverished and more vulnerable to the consequences of programs, buildings and structures that can negatively impact their environment, whether wreaking havoc on their health or diminishing green space in the area.
And it’s a crucial and timely speech as many in the climate community are wondering how to include voices from all backgrounds. Mair is the first Black president of the largest environmental group, providing his speech with an extra layer of authenticity. His background in civil rights also guides his environmental work. And many experts say climate and environmental issues disproportionately harm black and brown people who are more likely to live in impoverished areas where they’re more susceptible to things like poorer air quality or lack of access to nutritional food. Additionally, the environmental movement has long been classified as elitist and as a majority-white issue. While polls show minorities are more receptive to the messages of climate change, they’re less likely to get involved. This is because of the Green Ceiling, environmental IQ and many reasons OM will explore in a story after Mair’s speech.
“Aaron Mair, the President of the Sierra Club and a powerful speaker… can inspire our community,” stated the regional Sierra Club group in a statement. “Our hope is that this can be a ground breaking event for Rochester bringing together the white progressive community with the communities of color. Aaron has a long history in working for environmental change. He succeeded in shutting down a dirty incinerator plant in Albany, NY by revealing how pollution was causing sickness in the people of color who lived around it.”
Mair said he’ll be discussing his Albany work, helping people understand how many issues of health and racism are related to the environment and much more in his Thursday speech. Anyone interested in seeing Mair speak or learning more climate change and intersectionality can show up to the event and speech, free of charge.