How To Be An Intersectional Environmentalist
Unlearn, Acknowledge, & Amplify
Intersectional Environmentalism is 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.
I first learned about the theory of intersectionality while exploring the feminist movement in college. While I liked feminism as a whole, I felt like the mainstream conversations about feminism didn’t consider race or culture as much as I’d like. This gap became more apparent as I realized how race is such a large determining factor in my experience of womanhood and feminism. I wanted my feminism to acknowledge all parts of my identity and this is why I related to intersectionality so much.
First developed by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a Black American lawyer, civil rights advocate, philosopher, and leading scholar of critical race theory, intersectionality is a theoretical framework that explains how aspects of someone’s identities (race, class, culture, sex, gender, etc.) can overlap and largely influence how someone experiences prejudices and privileges.
I later realized that intersectionality could be applied to environmentalism in a similar way. In fact, Intersectional Environmentalism couldn’t exist without Crenshaw’s theory. To be an effective activist, we shouldn’t have to silence parts of ourselves or ignore how our complexities might factor into how we experience the world. Instead of siloing social justice and environmentalism on two opposite ends of the spectrum, Intersectional Environmentalism acknowledges how the two are intrinsically linked and work together to achieve environmental justice. For the sustainability space to be truly inclusive, it has to be intersectional.
Here are a few steps to help start you on your journey to Intersectional Environmentalism.
1. Acknowledge Environmental Racism and Injustice
One of the most important steps in being an intersectional environmentalist is acknowledging the data describing who is most impacted by environmental injustices. When it comes to exposure to poor air quality and water quality, BIPOC are disproportionately impacted. Underrepresented and low-income communities are also more likely to be concentrated in areas with nearby toxic waste sites, landfills, and other environmental hazards.
Instead of ignoring this data or minimizing its significance, it’s essential to dive into the systemic racism that also exists within the climate movement. To right this wrong when moving forward, intersectional environmentalists should acknowledge how many environmental protections haven’t extended to BIPOC communities in the same way. This large oversight leaves marginalized communities most at threat with the impacts of the climate crisis.
2. Amplifying Unheard Voices
Allyship is a verb, not a noun. It’s a journey of listening, taking feedback, and allowing others to lead the way. Instead of saviorism (“How can I save these people?”), being an intersectional advocate asks, “How can I use my privilege to amplify the work already being done?” Chances are, there are local activists and advocates that are already fighting against environmental injustices in their communities or nonprofits doing the work. You can support these efforts by following activists and organizations on social media and sharing their content; signing petitions and supporting monetarily; and voting for local, state, and federal officials supporting environmental justice. You can also read more about how to amplify the voices of young activists of color here.
3. Unlearn and Learn
Learn about the history of the environmental movement in the ’60s and ’70s and how it relates to what’s happening today. There are many parallels between past movements that can guide us in making better decisions; for example, civil rights and environmental movements can work side by side instead of always being separated. Social justice includes environmental justice and so should environmentalism as a whole. This will strengthen both movements and make it so that BIPOC and other unheard voices can feel seen, heard, and included.
When learning more about environmental justice, commit to unlearning the one-sided environmental history that was taught through the lens of the white experience. Books like “Braiding Sweetgrass” and “Black Nature” dive into diverse experiences and cultural relationships with the earth to help broaden your knowledge of environmental history. Challenge yourself to make sure you’re considering diverse perspectives when learning about current environmental events and following influencers and educators.
Had you started learning about Intersectional Environmentalism yet? 🌎
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Leah Thomas is an intersectional environmental activist and eco-communicator. She launched the intersectional environmentalist platform to explore the relationship between environmentalism and cultural identity. You can connect with her on Instagram.