Have you heard the term intersectionality before? If I’m being completely honest, I had heard the term but hadn’t really dived into what it was until a few months ago. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. I’m sure I had learned this term in college, perhaps in a sociology class, but I never thought about how this framework applied to activism.
Perhaps for many of you, it is very easy to compartmentalize aspects of our lives. We like to think that X is X and Y is Y. What we don’t often think about, is how X and Y are related to one another.
A few months ago, I saw an Instagram post that talked about Intersectional Environmentalism. Leah Thomas talked about exactly what this term means; This 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.
It was as if someone had finally put words to what I had been feeling. Being an environmentalist, being an activist, isn’t just about saving the planet. The climate crisis is a human rights issue.
It is the most marginalized and oppressed groups of individuals who will be most displaced by the climate crisis. If we go about business as usual, there will be approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, and heat stress (WHO). Fighting for climate action involves fighting for those most vulnerable. Rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events will destroy homes, medical facilities, and other essential services. Plus, more than half of the world’s population lives within 60km of the sea (WHO).
Yes, environmental activism is about using our privilege to speak up and save our ecosystems from further destruction. It is about protecting not only ourselves, but also the populations who are going to be displaced due to the climate crisis. BUT environmental activism can’t exist unless we also address and work to dismantle the systems of oppression that have led certain populations to be more vulnerable in the first place. We can’t just solve the symptom. We must solve the problem. So, how can we work as allies for planet AND for human rights?
I don’t have all the answers. These past few months I have been addressing my own privilege, educating myself as much as possible, listening to POC share their stories, learning, unlearning, and accepting that I am bound to mess up as an ally at some point. But the more I learn the more I understand just how intertwined EVERY single social issue is. Systematic racism also results in fewer POC within the outdoor industry. This leads to a predominately white environmental movement which inherently leads to fighting for climate action that is not inclusive of all individuals. The food we eat affects the climate crisis. The climate crisis creates more food deserts. This results in less access to quality food for lower income communities. Worse food often leads to worse health. And when our health suffers it becomes that much more difficult to be an activist and elicit change.
The point is that our activism MUST be intersectional. We must continually learn how all of our actions, and inactions, affect one another. Continually reevaluate how our activism can be inclusive of all individuals and how it interconnects with other causes. Like I said, I don’t have all the answers, but I am continuing to learn as much as I can. If you want to learn more about Intersectional Environmentalism, I highly suggest you check out their website HERE.