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Intersectional Environmentalism

The Solutions to the Climate Crisis Lie Within An Intersectional Approach

Written by Summer Dean, Climate activist @climatediva

February 9, 2021

Environmentalism must be inclusive. At Blueland, we believe that we must protect people and the planet. The environmental movement has long excluded or failed to center voices from the communities who are most impacted by climate change. That’s why we’re working with activists and creators to learn more about intersectional environmentalism, and what that means to each of them. They’ll be contributing to our blog to talk about different aspects of environmental activism, the environmental movement, different areas where environmentalism plays a role and how to make all of these activities inclusive, intersectional and accessible. To start off, Summer Dean, also known as @climatediva on Instagram is sharing her thoughts on what environmental justice could look like. Read more about Summer here:

Summer Dean, Photo credit: Wolven

Summer Dean is a content creator, writer and model who is passionate about communicating the climate crisis, sustainable fashion, and low-waste beauty. She is the founder of @climatediva, her personal platform where she discusses topics ranging from climate justice and politics to sustainable fashion and low-waste beauty. As a climate communicator, she works to turn complex climate information into fun, relatable content that’s easy to understand and share with others.

The Solutions to the Climate Crisis Lie Within An Intersectional Approach

How I Got Into Environmental Activism

While I was pursuing my degree in environmental studies in college, I spent much of my free time organizing for climate action with local chapters of environmental organizations. When I first started getting into climate organizing in my city, I noticed that the types of people getting involved were mostly older, white, and outdoorsy. A lot of these people were very passionate and well-meaning, and it felt great knowing we had a shared purpose and love for our planet. But when it came to discussing issues that involved social injustices and systems of oppression that impacted my community, it felt like they had blinders on; ones could only see injustice when it was happening to a forest or an endangered species, but not their fellow humans. There was a major disconnect. It was frustrating to see them care so much about environmental issues while shying away from discussing the very people that those environmental issues impacted the most.

The truth is that the climate crisis is a human crisis; one that started long before we ever knew what the word “climate” even meant. It is a crisis that stems from hundreds of years of systems of oppression, made up of interwoven layers of social inequity and injustice that were built into our world overtime. The decades worth of pollution and emissions that have brought us into today’s state of crisis would have never happened without the exploitation of our planet’s most vulnerable people. We cannot even begin to unpack these layers and get to the roots of the crisis without centering environmental justice and intersectionality in our work. To approach this crisis any other way is to barely scratch the surface of the problem itself. So, in an effort to understand the roots of the climate crisis, we must understand the basics of environmental justice. Secondly, it is crucial that we support and uplift the work of marginalized groups who have been fighting environmental racism and social injustice for generations.

What Should I Know About Environmental Justice?

Environmental justice refers to the idea that all people deserve a clean, safe community and workplace environment. It is achieved when all people are able to realize their highest potential without interruption by environmental racism or inequity. Environmental justice means both people and the planet are respected. (GreenAction.org)

Environmental racism is a type of discrimination where people in low-income communities of color are forced to live in close proximity of environmentally hazardous environments, such as toxic waste and pollution. Environmental racism is perpetuated through political and economic decisions that sacrifice the health of low-income communities of color in order to further profits more easily.

Intersectional environmentalism is a term coined by Leah Thomas in 2020. It 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.

What Are Examples Of Environmental Justice?

Since the era of colonization, we see examples of environmental injustice and environmental racism all around the world. From the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the 1500s, to the exploitation of their land, to the poisoning of our air and water today. No matter where you look, it is always the most vulnerable and marginalized communities that face the worst effects of pollution and environmental degradation. Large companies and industries often locate their most toxic and polluting facilities in low-income neighborhoods, sacrificing the health of marginalized people in order to further their profits more easily. In the United States, race is the biggest indicator of whether or not one lives near a toxic waste facility, and Black people are exposed to 1.5 times more particulate air pollution than the overall population. I live in Los Angeles, California which is home to the largest urban oil drilling field in the entire United States. Oil fields are toxic and can cause a range of serious health issues when people are exposed over long periods of time. 1.8 million people in California live in close proximity to oil drilling wells, and 92% of those people are communities of color. Other examples of environmental racism in the United States include the fight of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Flint, Michigan water crisis. These stories reveal the ugly truth of the climate crisis—that it is rooted in the exploitation of marginalized communities. The truth is that the climate crisis cannot exist without systemic racism and environmental injustice.

A crucial part of environmental justice advocacy is envisioning what we want the future to look like. Fighting against the current systems in place today is important, but it is just as important to think creatively about what we are actually fighting for. It is energizing to daydream about the future, and it may just lead to ideas that one day become policy. I often like to think about what a future with environmental justice should look like. If we could craft the perfect sustainable world with justice for all, what systems would be in place? When I’m prompted with that question, these are the ideas that come to mind.

The Future of Intersectional Environmentalism

One day, I hope to see environmental policy in place that reflects the interconnected nature of our world. No issues in the systems of today exist in a vacuum, and our policies should do the same. When we think about environmental issues, we must think of ourselves as a critical part of the ecosystems we are trying to protect. The plants and animals are important, but humans are too, especially the most vulnerable among us. Although you may have heard it many times in 2020, we are not the virus. We can be the solution, if only we are brave enough to do the work.

Imagine a world where we could all enjoy nature for what it is without taking much in return. Where we have equal access to fresh air, and glittering green spaces that enrich our souls and connect us to the universe.

Where nobody has to fear if there is poison in their water, where food deserts have transformed into flourishing gardens, and instead of being valued solely for one’s labor, all life is seen as interconnected with one another, sacred and worthy of health and abundance for the wealth of the whole.

The broken systems of the old world were composted and became something better. Like a butterfly in its chrysalis, we emerge bright and beautiful. Now environmental and cultural sustainability is structural. And the original cultivators of this land get to call the shots. And when black life is cherished, loved, and protected, Then freedom will finally be for all.

Environmental Justice is freedom

–Summer Dean

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