Intersectionality is a key piece of environmentalism. Without it, climate action will always fall short of creating effective solutions. We can’t curb emissions, reduce pollution, restore ecosystems or take any other type of climate action without considering who is involved and how they are impacted.
“An inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality. Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people + the planet.”
When it comes to the intersection of race and climate action, there are lots of organizations working toward a more equitable future. In addition to getting involved in missions making change, we must also address our own biases. Looking inward is a crucial step toward making progress. Check out these four myths about intersectional environmentalism and how we can start to do better.
Photo by Elizabeth Flores
The climate movement is white.
“We have a visual representation problem…when you don’t see people who look like you in these outdoor contexts, if you don’t see the representation of folks in magazines or in media, you kind of start believing yourself that we don’t exist out there.”-Rue Mapp, featured in Five Black Environmentalists Making Change
Statistically, this does hold some truth. Results from a 2018 study by Green 2.0 found that only 20% of staff and 21% of senior staff among 40 of the largest environmental nonprofits identified as People of Color. But, the statistics don’t tell the whole story. There is systemic exclusion of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities within outdoor spaces and the environmental movement. When we dig a little deeper, we see a representation issue.
Saying that the climate movement is white fails to recognize all of the crucial work done by people of colors. No solutions can be found when diverse voices aren’t included in the process. When all voices are heard, real climate solutions can be identified.
The climate crisis affects everyone in the same way.
People of colors are more likely to live in areas with heightened rates of air and water pollution, landfills, chemical plants and other environmental hazards. Natural disasters caused by the climate crisis impact BIPOC and low income communities more severely than other communities. This isn’t a coincidence— it’s environmental racism.
Yes—the environmental crisis will impact everyone on this planet, but not equally. This is why an intersectional approach to environmentalism is pivotal to ensuring that our planet and all people thrive.
Climate action and social justice are two separate issues.
Just as complex root systems interconnect nature, social inequities are connected to environmental issues by a long history of systematic injustice, racism and discrimination. Since BIPOC and low-income communities feel the burden and devastating impacts of the climate crisis at much higher rates, it’s imperative to consider climate justice an all-encompassing term that includes social justice and seeks to carry out reparations.
Climate action must not only consider everyone, but also recognize the specific and disproportionate impacts of the climate crisis on BIPOC.
If your environmentalism doesn’t stand for BIPOC, then it isn’t environmentalism.
There are only a few ways to take action.
Everyone has a unique role in taking action to combat the environmental crisis. Being an activist doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Your individual skill set is valuable— whether you’re attending protests, using your platform to educate others, creating art or organizing community events.
No matter how you choose to get involved, know that becoming an intersectional environmentalist starts with you.
So, what can we do?
We all have work to do in making the climate movement a more inclusive space. We must be willing to look within and challenge ourselves to grow. It all starts with education.
Listen to diverse voices and stories within the movement, and don’t be afraid to address your own biases and hold yourself accountable. Everyone has an individual obligation to seek out the information they need to make changes for the better.