My name is Karan Ireland and I am with the West Virginia Environmental Council. We are happy to share our space with allied groups today because environmental issues are inextricably linked to issues of fairness, equity, and equality.
All of us want to breathe clean air and drink safe water. However, like other forms of injustice, environmental degradation affects some of us more than others. People of color are more likely to live near polluters and to breathe polluted air. People in poverty average 1.3 more times more exposure to particulate matter than people living above the poverty line. We cannot pretend to fight for justice, fairness, and equality for all people without also fighting for a safe and healthful environment.
Here in this building, year after year, industry sets up a false dichotomy: you can either support jobs or the environment; you can be for jobs, or you can be for clean water. They set this up, look at us, and say, cynically, “Choose.”
But, we know the truth. We know that the fastest growing job sectors in the country are those related to renewable energy and other “green” jobs. We know that millennials list climate change as one of their top issues and concerns and “quality of life” as vital to where they choose to live and work. We are in a state that spends millions of dollars trying to attract young people and stanch the flow of outmigration of our own children, yet we consistently show a disregard for their insistence upon a sustainable future.
It is time to demand that legislators recognize that environmentalists are not a small band of “rogues;” instead we are people from all walks of life who demand clean air, safe water, and a sustainable environment for our children, for ourselves, and for all people.