“I don’t call it climate change. It’s change for those who are not affected by the crisis.
For us, it’s a crisis.”
– Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados
Climate change is not distributed equally around the world. The people that have contributed the least to climate change stand to lose the most as our planet changes.
Environmental activist Leah Thomas coined the term intersectional environmentalism as a way to advocate for the protection and justice for all people and the planet. In her words, “It identifies the ways in which injustices targeting frontline communities and the Earth are intertwined.” Through an intersectional lens, we can implement solutions that protect both the environment and humans who live and depend upon it.
How do we act on climate in an equitable way that supports all?
We must consider the numerous and distinct ways that climate change impacts diverse populations and communities, as well as ensure that we are intentionally including all peoples in activism. Climate change looks different based on geography, race, education, mobility, class, age, and gender, among other varying factors. And thus, climate change needs wide-ranging definitions, meanings and approaches. Only then can we proactively work to create equitable solutions that benefit people, communities, and ecosystems.
To address the intersection of environmental challenges and social equity, we have to understand how the entire world experiences climate change. Western countries emit the highest levels of greenhouse gasses, yet are the least vulnerable to impacts of climate change. People in developing countries will bear the brunt of climate disasters and be forced to relocate. It is estimated that at our current rate, by 2050, nearly 143 million people will be driven from their homes because of climate-related disasters and conflict over scarce natural resources, adding climate refugees to already burdened societies.
Climate displacement has become a powerful argument to address climate change. In July 2021, more than one hundred lawyers from New Zealand sued their country’s Climate Change Commission for failing to meet the expectations of the Paris Agreement and violating the Declaration of Human Rights. This strategy gives a strong legal voice to the most vulnerable.
Climate change impacts people along racial lines as well. Environmental racism leaves Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities vulnerable and on the front lines of the climate crisis. A 2021 study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that exposure to harmful air pollution was “higher for people of color regardless of region or income.” Race was the strongest indicator of air pollution risk in the United States, which is but one of many compounding toxic exposures and related health consequences to which BIPOC populations are subjected to nationwide.
The impacts of historical and present day environmental colonialism place Indigenous people at the center of environmental injustice. Indigenous rights to land and tribal sovereignty continues to be ignored by colonization, as the more powerful social group in a given region uses force to remove Indigenous peoples from their land to gain and often exploit natural resources. Immense Indigenous knowledge about how to protect land and steward ecosystems is another tragic casualty.
The Maasai people of Tanzania have preserved lands for thousands of years, sustaining themselves by maintaining wildlife and natural resources. In the name of wildlife preservation and the creation of Western-centric national parks and tourist destinations, the Maasai people have been removed from their native lands. By assuming that strategies conceived in the Global North are most effective for conservation, the livelihoods and cultural heritage of time-proven Indigenous practices and cultures continue to be threatened. Recognizing and preserving Indigenous sovereignty and knowledge is fundamental in creating a clean, safe environment for the future, and one that is rooted in justice and harmony with the Earth.
The voices of disabled people are also too often excluded from environmental policy. Exclusively promoting public transportation or reusable straws is discriminatory, compounds the difficulties these populations face, and keeps people out of movements, rather than creating greater inclusivity.
What can we do? Stand boldly, proudly and unapologetically for climate AND social justice in all aspects of our work as environmentalists and human beings, centering the voices of diverse leaders. Support businesses and organizations that do the same, like Dr. Bronner’s, an activist company that raises its voice for our Earth and racial justice in its guiding principles; Captain Planet Foundation, an environmental nonprofit that encourages eco-responsible action and empowers and activates young superheroes worldwide; and Friends of the Earth, a bold voice for justice and the planet that coalesces an environmental network across 73 countries.
As we witness and experience the far-reaching effects of climate change in real time, we reaffirm our commitment to centering marginalized peoples, building diverse coalitions, boldly speaking out, and using our platforms, privilege, and power for positive change!
To successfully advocate for people and planet, we need to recognize how the climate crisis burdens some more than others. Below are some resources to provide you with insight.
Upload your screenshot of your social media post in a PDF document. Include your name (or team name), username, and school on your upload.
How might you apply what you learned in the GREEN challenge to environmental injustice in your hometown or community?
Consider where you live on this planet and the impacts of climate change on people around you. What is one issue of concern that you would like to learn more about? A number of governmental agencies have created mapping tools that allow users to track relationships between environmental hazards and human populations, seeing how different demographic areas in specific towns, counties, states of countries face various health and environmental challenges. If you’re in the United States, use EJ Screen to find where you live and search the environmental justice indexes. If you are elsewhere, use the EJ Atlas to find an example of environmental injustice in your region.
Craft your call to action as a powerful piece of graphical text. Share widely with local and relevant leaders and groups to raise awareness! If you get a personal response from any leaders, you will get an extra 50 points. Simply share a screenshot of the response to email@example.com by October 10, 2022. Post it on Instagram, tagging @TurningGreenOrg, @DrBronner, @CaptainPlanetFdn, @Friends_Earth, and any other organizations at the forefront of this work in both the image and caption, as well as #PGC2022.
Upload your responses and a screenshot of your social media post in a PDF document. Include your name (or team name), username, and school on your upload to be eligible to win.
Extraordinary humans are using their voices, wisdom, actions and resources against all odds to propel movements with a massive ripple effect. This is the power of one!
Watch the 2022 Goldman Prize here to be inspired! For 33 years and counting, this annual award has honored seven grassroots Environmental Heroes for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk.
Take a look at the 2021 winners of the Brower Youth Awards which recognize outstanding and emerging youth leaders making strides in the environmental movement.
Pick one recipient who stands out to you. Picture yourself as a journalist writing a feature story about this incredible changemaker. Draft an article to highlight their accomplishments and why they inspire you.Things to include:
Draft an letter to this hero with three questions.
If you send your hero the questions and they respond with answers, you will get an extra 100 points. Forward their reply to firstname.lastname@example.org by October 20, 2022 to receive the bonus points.
Upload a PDF file of your article and three questions. Include a screenshot of your message, if you sent your questions to the person. Include your name (or team name), username, and school on your upload to be eligible to win.
Up to 10 Greener and 10 Greenest outstanding submissions will be selected as winners.