“As my textbooks encouraged me to protect public lands so they could be preserved and enjoyed, I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘for whom?’”
— Leah Thomas, Intersectional environmental activist and Eco-communicator
There can be no climate justice without social justice. The two are intrinsically linked; one cannot be resolved without addressing the other, if we truly seek lasting, positive change. Existing inequality and inequity are exacerbated as our environment and natural resources are overused, abused and polluted.
So how do we act on climate in a just way that supports everyone?
Let’s start with intersectional environmentalism, a term coined by Leah Thomas (@GreenGirlLeah), creator of the Intersectional Environmentalist organization and widely shared pledge. She defines IE as “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 of people and the planet.” By considering the numerous and distinct ways that climate change, environmental degradation, and toxins impact diverse populations and communities, and intentionally including all peoples in our activism, we can proactively, inclusively and intentionally work to create equitable climate solutions that benefit everyone and the earth.
Developed countries emit the highest levels of greenhouse gases because of industrialization, yet developing countries that emit relatively low levels of greenhouse gases are the most vulnerable to adverse climate impact. Developed nations have more advanced solutions to safeguard populations and lands, like strong infrastructure and political capital, while developing countries are left to face the brunt of the consequences without adequate resources to address or combat negative repercussions.
Marginalized communities and minorities are at an additional disadvantage when it comes to environmental crises and management. After adapting for differences in population size, white Americans consume 17% less air pollution than they emit, whereas Black and Hispanic Americans consume 56% and 63% more air pollution than they produce respectively.
From industrial polluters consolidated in poor neighborhoods in US cities to commercial waste shipped from developed to developing countries, marginalized and minority populations continue to face disproportionate and compounding environmental burdens, exposures and risks.
BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities are too often on the frontlines of the climate crisis, left more vulnerable without resources and information to prepare for or mitigate short and long term negative results, leading to health risks, food scarcity, unsafe habitability, even death. One real time example of this is the disproportionate harm of COVID-19, a result of industry concentration in BIPOC communities, elevated air pollution, less access to green spaces, unmanaged waste sites and relocated toxins, all compounded by limited access to healthcare.
Between the 1930s and 1960s, the US government subsidized builders who produced subdivisions for white families, while the Federal Housing Authority refused to issue mortgages to families in or near Black neighborhoods. This was called redlining, a discriminatory practice denying services (both financial and social) to residents of certain areas based on their race or ethnicity. Redlining outlined areas with sizable Black populations in red ink on maps as a warning to mortgage lenders, effectively isolating Black people in areas that would suffer lower levels of investment than their white counterparts. This practice quickly created segregated neighborhoods and forced Black families into areas with less development and infrastructure, essentially those deemed inadequate by richer, white people. Polluting industries such as landfills, factories, and toxic waste disposal sites were more likely to be placed in or near Black neighborhoods because land was closer to other industry, less expensive, and further from white communities. (excerpted from dsl.richmond.edu and cbsnews.com)
Indigenous peoples have always been powerful voices in the fight against climate change and injustice. In fact, Indigenous peoples control one quarter of Earth’s land, much rich with biodiversity. However, their right to land and tribal sovereignty is constantly ignored and violated by systems that threaten their ability to protect, steward and preserve those natural lands in the present and future. In the United States, colonizers forced Indigenous peoples from their land, segregated largely into the least desirable sections of the country, areas we know now to be the most susceptible to climate change and the devastating consequences of rapidly increasing temperatures.
Indigenous people continue to fight powerfully for the land they have and that which has been stolen, towards a clean, just, equitable future — often with little political or economic power to slow perilous industrial projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline, and inadequate resources to slow environmental degradation like the melting of sea ice, which threatens food security and survival. When their voices are repeatedly ignored, Indigenous peoples face compounding negative impacts, displacement, and lack of access to sacred, traditional ways of life. As the impacts of climate change worsen, Indigenous communities are losing access to potable water, natural resources, food sources, cultural sites, ancestral homelands, and places to safely raise the next generations.
What can we do? What must we do? Stand boldly, proudly and unapologetically for climate AND social justice in every aspect of our work as environmentalists, through both word and deed, and center BIPOC voices and leaders. Support businesses that do the same, like today’s groundbreaking, rule-shattering partner, Dr. Bronner’s, an activist company that raises its voice loudly and proudly for our earth, its guiding principles and racial justice. “We are committed to working to end systemic racism however it manifests in our society, whether in police practices, government policies, or in everyday life. Together, we are All-One or None! All-One! Black Lives Matter!” Today’s nonprofit partners are Earth Uprising, young people uniting to hasten the youth climate movement while providing resources and opportunities to educate one another about the climate crisis, and demanding a better future for youth today and for generations to come and Friends of the Earth leading worldwide campaigns to ensure environmental and social justice, human dignity, and respect for human rights and peoples’ rights so as to secure sustainable societies.
We, the next generation, are witnessing climate change before our eyes, understanding its effects, listening to marginalized peoples, building diverse coalitions, speaking out and rising up. Youth will be here on Earth for decades to come, with no choice but to continue to face the worsening impacts of environmental and social crises. We reaffirm that positive change begins with using our platform, privilege and power here and now!
In order to successfully advocate for people and planet, we must deepen our understanding of environmental justice through the lens of intersectional environmentalism, recognizing how the climate crisis burdens some more than others.
Watch both today’s video, TED Talk, and this piece from the New York Times here. Next, write a reflection (200 words or less) about what climate justice means to you. Write whatever will help your understanding and your ability to share with others — a definition, personal experience, anything you choose.
Post your reflection and a great visual on Instagram, tagging @TurningGreenOrg, @GreenGirlLeah, @foe_us, @earth_uprising, and #PGC2020 to educate others about this important work!
Upload your responses in a PDF document. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
History is rarely told through words alone; paintings, photographs, sculptures and other forms of artistic expression powerfully capture and convey emotion, meaning, movements, and moments. These valuable perspectives can reach even wider audiences and allow for deep personal interpretation. See recent examples here and here, before taking a turn yourself!
Watch these short videos about Indigenous rights, environmental racism, women and climate change, and Cancer Alley to enrich understanding of climate justice with specific examples. Create a piece of art (physical or digital of any medium, size or length) that tells a story of environmental injustice and/or advocates for environmental justice. Think about how you can communicate the gravity of these experiences, importance of visibility, and necessity for solutions within your artwork. Share on Instagram! Caption it with two sentences about the importance of what you addressed around climate justice. Tag @TurningGreenOrg, @GreenGirlLeah, @foe_us, @earth_uprising, and #PGC2020.
Upload your artwork in a PDF document including a screenshot of your social media post. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Greenest due on October 13 @ 6am PT.
Up to 60 additional points will be awarded for outstanding work.
Which communities are disproportionately impacted by environmental injustices and climate change? And how? Look at the Intersectional Environmentalist “Communities” list, choose one that you are interested in learning more about, and browse that section of the website.
Pick one item from each section and answer the questions below:
Now, create a presentation to capture, organize and share the information that you have found most impactful from this challenge. Include your definition of the term Climate Justice, as well as key learnings about marginalized communities and from the Intersectional Environmentalist website. Present it to a group of peers, in a class, to family or friends. Hop on Zoom or take a video of your presentation and share with everyone you can! Spread the word and change the world! Post your presentation on a social media platform of your choice. Caption it with a summary of what you want people to remember and act on. Be sure to tag @TurningGreenOrg, @GreenGirlLeah, @foe_us, @earth_uprising and #PGC2020, as well as any other accounts you reference!
Upload your responses, presentation, link to video if you made one, and feedback from two people who saw your presentation in a PDF document, including a screenshot of your social media post. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Up to 10 Greener and 10 Greenest outstanding submissions will be selected as winners.
Below is a PGC recommended book list. We hope you’re inspired to read, learn and share what you learn! Consider purchasing books from local bookstores and from BIPOC owned bookstores in your communities. See Oprah’s list here.