And climate action needs to be color brave.
If you google the term “intersectional environmentalism,” you’ll likely find results about a movement started by Leah Thomas, also known as Green Girl Leah on social media, a young climate and social justice activist.
But environmental issues and social justice issues in the US have been intertwined long since the arrival of white colonizers on the continent. While Indigenous communities co-existed with the land through diverse traditions, white settlers colonized the people and the land with the same brutal force. The first instances of major environmental degradation would come alongside the genocide of various Native populations. Over generations, the US government would destroy Indigenous ways of life through forced assimilation, while at the same time promoting a national identity based on consumerism, capitalism, and resource depletion.
Industrialization in the US began in the 1800s, forever cementing our role in the rapid global warming that was soon to come. But industrialization also brought millions of tons of toxic waste, pollution, and dangerous working conditions that the proletariat - largely BIPOC and immigrants - were constantly exposed to.
As the suburban revolution hits America in the mid to late 1900s, white, anglo-saxon protestants get green lawns and the American dream. But on the other side of the white-picket fence are under-resourced communities and often communities of color, sentenced to intergenerational poverty by decades of redlining, who instead get toxic waste landfills and fossil fuel production sites in their backyards.
In 2021, as the effects of climate change and COVID simultaneously cripple the marginalized peoples of our country while the rich, who still remain predominantly white, flee to their vacation houses, there needs to be a more just, healthy and sustainable path forward.
Climate change is already here. Recent extreme weather events leave communities stranded and struggling to stand back up. Current levels of air pollution kill over 100,000 people in the US per year, largely racial minorities. A major reason that COVID mortality rates are 2.3 times higher for people of color is the lung vulnerabilities and other health conditions caused by lifetimes of exposure to pollution - the explicit consequence of racist policies (Pierre-Louis 20).
If you have the privilege to not experience these realities first hand, it is still your responsibility to take action. We all play a part in systems of oppression. Most of us consume products produced in factories that run on fossil fuels. We all live on land that was taken from Indigenous communities. The economy of the US became what it is today due to the labor of BIPOC and immigrant workers facing inhumane conditions. Environmental issues are clearly social justice issues, but the climate movement has empirically excluded voices of color and marginalized communities. Non-white activists are left out of history books while white men like John Muir are celebrated as the “fathers of the environmental movement,” despite their explicitly racist beliefs about black and Native communities.
It is imperative that social justice comes with climate justice, that climate organizations become more than 12% BIPOC, that the communities most affected by environmental issues have input when it comes to solutions. Raise Green is proud to stand behind the Intersectional Environmentalism movement.
Take the Intersectional Environmentalism pledge here. Learn more about the Intersectional History of Environmentalism here. Interested in making tangible environmental and social impact beyond signing a pledge? Start your own environmentally impactful and community oriented project through our Originator Engine or invest in one on the Raise Green marketplace.
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Cover photo by Mike Marrah.
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