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Is Intersectional Environmentalism the Key to Saving Both People and Planet?

Intersectional Environmentalism what is intersectional environmentalism leah thomas intersectional environmentalism intersectional environmentalism definition

“We are all one” is a belief reflected in many philosophies, religions, and spiritual teachings. It’s a statement that suggests everything in the universe, from people to planets to animals, is interconnected. Science has shown that from an environmental perspective, this sentiment rings true.

We are all part of an ecosystem and impacting one element changes the entire delicate balance. In today’s increasingly connected world, that theory is being taken even further with intersectional environmentalism (IE). This relatively new concept emphasizes the link between human and environmental well-being. Can this approach be the key to saving both our planet and its inhabitants? Let’s delve deeper.

What Is Intersectional Environmentalism?

Intersectionality is a term most often heard in a college classroom but is becoming more mainstream. It’s typically associated with race, class, and gender issues. Coined in the 1980s by Columbia Law School professor, Kimberlé Crenshaw, the term describes the interconnected nature of social categorizations. For example, the experience of a black woman is different from the experience of a black man or white woman. The experience of a low-income black family is different from that of a well-off family of the same race. That is because race, gender, and class don’t exist in a vacuum. They intersect to create different results and contribute to a system of advantage and disadvantage, shaping the unique lived experiences of individuals.

Leah Thomas, who coined the term in a now-famous 2020 Instagram post, is an advocate, writer, and activist. She founded the Intersectional Environmentalist platform, which is a “climate justice collective, radically imagining a more equitable and diverse future of environmentalism.”

Essentially, when applied to environmentalism, intersectionality calls attention to the fact that environmental issues do not affect everyone equally. Marginalized and vulnerable communities often bear the brunt of environmental threats. Case in point, many studies show how the poorest communities are those most affected by air pollution, lack of clean water, and the devastating effects of climate change. Tragically, these communities suffer the most while contributing the least to the problem.

Why is Intersectional Environmentalism Important?

IE calls for inclusive and equitable solutions that address both environmental and social injustices, as they are inextricably linked. It also argues that traditional environmental advocacy that disregards this interconnection is doing more harm than good.

The Flint, Michigan, water crisis is a prime example of how poverty, pollution, and race all intersect. By working to identify and address the health and well-being of marginalized groups, we are at the same time working to address serious environmental problems. Through the lens of IE, the lead-contaminated water that affected this disadvantaged community would have been addressed and covered sooner by public officials and the mainstream media.

Intersectional Environmentalism is a complex undertaking that can get a little messy. It’s not as simple as traditional approaches with more black-and-white thinking. Issues of deforestation for example would have to be reconsidered to account for the livelihood of local communities.

IE also helps strengthen the environmental movement. By encouraging people from all walks of life—especially those whose voices are often silent or silenced—to share their perspectives and experiences, more inclusive and equitable solutions can be found for today’s environmental challenges.

Is This the Key? It’s Complicated

As IE itself acknowledges, the problems we face are multifaceted and complex, and they demand a range of solutions for a diverse range of people. In fact, one of the challenges presented by IE is how broad some of these solutions would need to be.

While there is no single key to saving both people and the planet, IE does provide significant insight, giving us a much better chance of forging solutions that are both sustainable and just for all. With champions like Leah Thomas, through her advocacy and writings, the environmental movement is following a more inclusive path. Her perspective is a reminder that the health of our planet is tied to the well-being of its people.

To learn more about IE, make sure to check out @greengirlleah and the Intersectional Environmentalist platform. Leah is also the author of The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet.

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By evee Life Contributor

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