Editorials, Opinion

This Earth Day, combine concern with concrete action

Tomorrow is Earth Day — the one day of the year we set aside to actively think about ways we can maintain and improve our planet. In each of the last three years, we’ve looked at Earth Day from a different angle: generational concern about climate change, the intersection of personal and corporate choice and West Virginia’s extraction-based economy. Each is a facet — though they often overlap — of the same large, complex problem. 

According to a 2021 Pew Research survey, the younger the generation, the more concerned it is with climate change. Fifty-seven percent of Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation indicated climate change should be a top priority, while Millennials topped the charts at 71% and Gen X was squarely between the two. Then there’s Gen Z: slightly fewer zoomers said addressing climate change should be the top priority (67%), but a much larger percentage (32%) is actively making changes to combat the climate crisis compared to other generations. 

Which brings us back to that intersection between personal choice and corporate choice. We can all make more climate-friendly decisions in our everyday lives: bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, turning off lights or faucets when not in use, bypassing plastic cups and straws, recycling bottles and containers, carpooling or walking instead of driving ourselves … the list goes on and on. 

Every little thing helps, because the little things add up. But even if every individual suddenly went zero-emissions or zero-plastic or zero-waste, it still wouldn’t make up for all the climate damaging pollution and waste created by industry. That’s where corporate choice comes in. 

Some companies are taking steps to be more eco-conscious; others, not so much. Perhaps even worse, a lot of companies are “greenwashing”: buying up carbon credits or promoting some kind of environmentally friendly action that would “offset” the emissions and pollution they continue to produce instead of actually reducing pollution and CO2. 

Now we reach the intersection of generation, personal choice and corporate choice. The majority of CEOs, business owners and industry leaders are in their 50s or older — the youngest of Baby Boomers and the oldest of Gen X. The same is true for lawmakers, particularly in Congress. 

Statistically speaking, the people with the power to do the most to combat climate change are the people who are least likely to care. 

That seems to be especially true here in West Virginia — which brings us around to the Mountain State’s ongoing toxic love affair with extraction industries. Despite the governor’s repeated emphasis on tourism, our legislators continue to prop up coal and natural gas, both of which are causing immediate harm to our environment and contribute to the overarching problem of climate change. 

When we’ve had the chance to attract eco-conscious companies, West Virginia has missed out, because our lawmakers continuously double down on extractive industries. In 2020, James Van Nostrand, WVU law professor and director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, said West Virginia has been passed over by companies looking to set up shop in states with diversified energy portfolios. That could be us. That still can be us. 

This is where we use the power of our personal choice to encourage large-scale change. No matter the generation, there are still a majority of people who think addressing climate change should be a top priority — we just need to put our money, and our votes, where our values are and support the companies and lawmakers who take tackling climate change seriously.