Intersectional Environmentalism

Share Post

[Intersectional Environmnentalism] aims to ensure that the voices of marginalized groups and vulnerable communities are not minimized or ignored in a historically whitewashed movement. 

In 1989, the term ‘intersectional’ was coined by  Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw, who defined intersectionality as an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of someone’s socio-political identity e.g. class, race, gender, religion, can influence how someone experiences prejudices and privileges(1) .  Following the resurgence of the civil rights movement in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, Leah Thomas coined the term ‘intersectional environmentalism’ after realizing that intersectionality could be applied to the environmental movement, as the climate crisis and social injustices are inextricably interlinked. Intersectional environmentalism is defined as “an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for the protection of both people and the planet—to create space for nuance in the environmental sector and to explore the relationship between social injustice and environmental injustice more closely”(2). It aims to ensure that the voices of marginalized groups and vulnerable communities are not minimized or ignored in a historically whitewashed movement. 

 

Intersectional environmentalism is crucial to achieving environmental justice. Across the globe, low income and black, brown and indigenous communities are often subject to environmental racism, whereby communities of colour are more likely to be subject to dangerous levels of air pollution (3,4), lack access to green spaces (5) and live closer to dangerous industrial sites, motorways and other sites that present environmental hazards6. Indigenous communities make up only 5% of the global population but protect 80% of the global biodiversity and manage or hold tenure over 25% of the world’s land (7) Despite this, they account for 15% of the world’s poorest, and environmental degradation of traditional lands is at the highest rate ever. In 2019, 40% of activists murdered were from Indigenous communities (8)

 

Similarly, the effects of climate change are already being seen by those who live in the Global South, with increased frequency of droughts, flooding, crop failure and extreme weather events(9). Despite the devastating effects of climate change in these countries, many countries like the UK, Norway and Germany continue to outsource their carbon emissions by selling fossil fuels or shipping their waste to Global South countries, while claiming they’re running out of waste or reducing their carbon emissions (10,11).

 

Women are also disproportionately affected by climate change as gender inequalities persist internationally. Gender inequality means that the majority of the world’s poor are women,  and they have less access to resources such as land, technology and credit (12). Additionally, women are less likely to have access to education, access to leadership and decision-making roles and are also subject to gender-based violence. As a result of this and other factors, women are less likely to be able to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change and thus are extremely vulnerable to its effects(12)

 

These are just a few ways in which sociopolitical identities can influence one’s experience of the climate crisis. Intersectional environmentalism aims to interrogate and put into action ways in which we can ensure that we can provide an environmentally just future for everyone. 

 

So how do we become better, intersectional environmentalists? 

1.Educate yourself

Firstly, I believe that educating yourself and others around you on the social and environmental injustices that occur within marginalised communities is key to combating injustices. Oppression is systemic and often it can seem difficult to identify why certain groups of people are more likely to, for example, live in areas with poorer air quality or be more prone to certain diseases, if you’re not aware of the oppressive systems at play. It can be harder still to combat said systems, if you’re not aware of just how much they influence people’s lives and the consequential privileges or prejudices they will therefore be subject to. Always be open to changing your opinion as you gain more knowledge, be prepared to admit to and unlearn any problematic beliefs and behaviours, and constantly challenge yourself and others to change and grow as an environmentalist and social justice advocate. 

2. Pass the Mic 

The environmental movement as many of us know it, is extremely eurocentric and white-washed, focusing on key environmental figures such as David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg rather than those on the frontlines of the environmental movement whose lives are already deeply affected by the climate crisis and have been for decades. In the environmental justice movement, it’s imperative that we don’t put individuals on a pedestal for their work as there are 1000s of others doing incredible work that will never be seen or heard of. This movement is not supposed to create celebrities or figures, as placing a movement of any kind on the backs of individuals can weaken the movement as ultimately, we are all fallible human beings. It is therefore important to ensure that those on the frontlines and who are most affected by the climate crisis now are heard, that their voices and work is amplified so that we understand the true extent to which environmental injustices are affecting billions around the globe.

3. Fight for Systemic Changes

The role of individuals in combating the climate crisis has been greatly amplified as it is a perfect way to shift the blame of climate change from governments and corporations onto those of us who bare the true responsibility of causing climate change as it is, for example, 100 companies who since 1988 have been the source of 71% of greenhouse gas emissions (source), governments who continue to invest in fossil fuels despite promises to move to greener economies and marketers who promote overconsumption of goods to create more profit for the very few. Politics allows for excessive extractivism, colonialism/neo-colonialism and creates hierarchies which creates groups who are more marginalised than others, who will have more or less access to different resources like food, clean water, safety, shelter and education and these things determine how well people are able to cope with, adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. On the other hand, gender, class and race have been used as tools to create hierarchies that lend certain people privileges and subject others to prejudice and discrimination. Environmental and social injustices are systemic, with the people with more power and privilege being the most responsible for continually perpetuating systems of oppression, namely white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. In order to change our societies and to achieve environmental justice, we need to change the systems that govern them – collective action conducted through an intersectional lens makes that a possibility.

References

  1. Crenshaw, K., 1989. Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist PoliticsUniversity of Chicago Legal Forum. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(1).
  2. Thomas, L., 2021. What Mainstream Environmentalism Gets Wrong. [online] Marie Claire. Available at: <https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a36176067/what-is-intersectional-environmentalism/> 
  3. Wong, S., 2015. Ethnic minorities and deprived communities hardest hit by air pollution | Imperial News | Imperial College London. [online] Imperial News. Available at: <https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/163408/ethnic-minorities-deprived-communities-hardest-pollution/> 
  4. Tessum, C., Apte, J., Goodkind, A., Muller, N., Mullins, K., Paolella, D., Polasky, S., Springer, N., Thakrar, S., Marshall, J. and Hill, J., 2019. Inequity in consumption of goods and services adds to racial–ethnic disparities in air pollution exposure. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(13), pp.6001-6006.
  5. Barkham, P., 2020. Poorer people and ethnic minorities live further from UK green spaces – study. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2020/sep/16/poorer-uk-households-have-less-access-to-green-spaces-study>
  6. Gochfeld, M. and Burger, J., 2011. Disproportionate Exposures in Environmental Justice and Other Populations: The Importance of Outliers. American Journal of Public Health, 101(S1), pp.S53-S63.
  7. Raygorodetsky, G., 2018. Indigenous peoples defend Earth’s biodiversity—but they’re in danger. [online] National Geographic. Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/can-indigenous-land-stewardship-protect-biodiversity-> 
  8. Global Witness. 2020. Defending Tomorrow | Global Witness. [online] Available at: <https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/defending-tomorrow/> 
  9. Brändlin, A., 2019. The global injustice of the climate crisis. [online] DW.COM. Available at: <https://www.dw.com/en/the-global-injustice-of-the-climate-crisis-food-insecurity-carbon-emissions-nutrients-a-49966854/a-49966854>
  10. Plumer, B., 2018. You’ve Heard of Outsourced Jobs, but Outsourced Pollution? It’s Real, and Tough to Tally Up [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/04/climate/outsourcing-carbon-emissions.html> 
  11. McVeigh, K., 2021. ‘Loophole’ will let UK continue to ship plastic waste to poorer countries. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/12/loophole-will-let-uk-continue-to-ship-plastic-waste-to-poorer-countries> 
  12. Osman-Elasha, B., n.d. Women…In The Shadow of Climate Change | United Nations. [online] United Nations. Available at: <https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/womenin-shadow-climate-change> 

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.