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How to Become an Intersectional Environmentalist


The last few weeks have been an intense time of listening, learning and awakening. As I took time to really listen in the weeks following the death of George Floyd, and the growing understanding of how I am a part of the privileged systems that need to be dismantled and rebuilt to include all people, I realized that Beauty Heroes had a huge blind spot when it came to our attention to the environment; the intersection of environmentalism and social justice. I became upset – with myself – and curious.  I knew there was a direct connection between the health of the environment and how it disproportionately affects Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), but why hadn’t I addressed it specifically. The answer that I came up with is that, while I knew it to exist, and I cared, it doesn’t affect me every day, because of my privilege.

One of the voices that most resonated with me was Leah Thomas, an activist and eco-communicator who was sharing a call to Environmentalists for Black Lives Matter. In her post she writes;

The fact is that the disparate effect that pollution and climate change affect black and indigenous communities shows up are many and varied. They can be:

Disease and death as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals through water, air and work environments

The effect on housing and livelihood in the wake of natural disasters

The existence of food deserts where fresh produce is not readily available.

And, most recently, the impact that a health crisis like COVID-19 disproportionately affects BIPOC communities

The Environmental Justice movement took rise in the 1980’s and started to bring some awareness to the glaring truth that BIPOC communities were being poisoned, disproportionately and systematically, by industries releasing toxins into our environment. To put it simply, author, professor and recognized founder of the term Environmental Justice, Professor Robert Bulard, shares that, “Environmental justice embraces the principle that all communities are entitled to equal protection of our housing, transportation, employment and energy. The right to live in a neighborhood that is not over-polluted, not next to a refinery or chemical plant.”

The biggest contributor to climate injustice is the fossil fuel industry, and Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, the North America Director for the global climate campaign 350.org, says, “It’s time for strong commitments to racial justice from every corner of the climate movement and those concerned with responding to the climate crisis. Any legitimate push for bold climate action must incorporate racial equity and defend Black people.”

350.org’s mission is to transition the planet to 100% renewable energy, understanding that fossil fuel projects are the biggest threat to the climate, and to humanity. Tamara Toles states that, “Racism is deeply embedded in the business model of the fossil fuel industry. In order to extract resources, there are always “sacrifice zones,” usually Black, Indigenous, or other communities of color that are put in harm’s way and plunged into a violent and multigenerational cycle of economic disinvestment.”

But environmental justice is not limited to the fossil fuel industry, it is comprised of many issues, which is why the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN), a national coalition of Black environmental justice groups and grassroots activists founded in 1991 was formed. The organization is a great example of organizing around the intersection of the myriad of causes of environmental injustice.

In the last few weeks, 1% For the Planet, the organization Beauty Heroes is a member of, posted their commitments to social justice which include, “Integrating more nonprofit partners into our network that work at the intersection of racial and environmental justice.” To follow up, they posted a roundup of non-profits committed to social and environmental justice.

Beauty Heroes is committing to donate to non-profits that address intersectionality as a part of our 1% pledge. I know that the Beauty Heroes community cares about these issues, so I compiled a list of ways you can learn more, get involved and become an intersectional environmentalist:

JOIN
Join Leah Thomas new platform Intersectional Environmentalist along with us. The growing platform contains resources and volunteer opportunities for different groups; currently Black, LatinX, South Asian, U.S. Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+, and the group I am in, Allies. With more groups launching soon, such as Pacific Islanders of Oceania, Amazon Indigenous, Black Latinx, Disability, Southeast Asian and more, the platform is one of the places I will go to stay informed, volunteer, listen and learn.

GIVE 
You can sign up to become part of a community and get involved, and you can become a member and donate $5, $10 or $50/month to support this work.

FOLLOW
If you want to have more diverse voices in your social media feed that talk about environmentalism, meet Intersectional Environmentalist Council, follow them, listen, learn and look for their calls to action, and take them.

TAKE THE INTERSECTIONAL ENVIRONMENTALIST PLEDGE:
I will stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous + POC communities and The Planet

I will not ignore the intersections of environmentalism and social justice

I will use my privilege to advocate for black + brown lives in spaces where this message is often silenced

I will proactively do the work to learn about the environmental and social injustices of Black, Indigenous + POC communities face without minimizing

I will respect the boundaries of BIPOC friends and activists and not demand they perform emotional labor or do the work for me

I will share my learnings with other environmentalists and my community

I will amplify the message of Black Indigenous + POC activists and environmental leaders

I will not remain silent during pivotal political and cultural moments that impact BIPOC communities

WATCH
Watch the documentary, There’s Something in The Water. It’s just one example of environmental injustice.

READ
Grist’s Recent Articles about Environmental Justice

(please donate to this independent publication if you an)

A variety of resources available on Intersectional Environmentalist

16 Essential Books about Environmental Justice, Racism and Activism