What is intersectional environmentalism?

By Fodhla O'Connell-Grennell

Intersectional Environmentalism stems from intersectionality, which Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined as the combination of social groupings and political identities to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. These groupings include race, class, gender and so on.

Leah Thomas, a climate activist, adapted Crenshaw’s intersectionality to apply it to environmental issues. She describes this as, “Intersectional Environmentalism 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. Intersectional Environmentalism advocates for justice for people and the planet.”

We know from the landmark reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that to either lessen the impacts of climate change or to stop them completely, there must be a joint effort made from every country and industry across the globe. However, there are big offenders who need to make larger changes than others in terms of their carbon consumption and emissions.

The unfair aspect of this is that the climate crisis is happening disproportionately across the world – it does not respect borders or individuals and those who are impacted the most by the climate emergency are typically the smallest emitters of carbon. Climate justice links development and human rights to achieve a humancentric approach to fixing the climate crisis while protecting the most vulnerable people in a fair and equitably manner.

Intersectional Environmentalism is found at the heart of climate justice where in order to fix the climate and the planet, nobody can be left behind. People in the global south face the devastation of the climate emergency the most in the globe. However, communities in the global north also face extreme challenges too. Typically, these people are part of the black and indigenous people of colour (BIPOC) community, where systemic racism has forced these people to live beside toxic waste sites, landfills and other environmental hazardous areas. These communities are often underrepresented and have a low-income.

Privileged white people need to listen and learn from people of colour (POC) and other social groupings who have been affected by the climate emergency. White people need to amplify POC’s voices and not take-over the conversation which, unfortunately, is a staple of world history. The only effective way to fight against the climate crisis is to come together and to identify the atrocities which are happening across the world and work together on a solution for this. It is time to recognise that if you are racist, homophobic, sexist and so on – you cannot be a part of the solution for the climate emergency, therefore, diversity is essential for fixing the planet.