What is the environmental movement unless it serves all people? Unless it acknowledges that ecologic, race and gender (etc.) politics are heavily intertwined?
It is on this basis that it is imperative to understand and act out environmentalism through the lens of intersectionality.
What is intersectionality?
The term Intersectionality was coined by American professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 in relation to feminism. The textbook definition cites: “The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.”
According to Ava Vidal in an article written for the Telegraph: “The main thing ‘intersectionality’ is trying to do, I would say, is to point out that feminism which is overly white, middle class, cis-gendered and able-bodied represents just one type of view – and doesn’t reflect on the experiences of all the multi-layered facets in life that women of all backgrounds face.”
Similar to white feminism, ‘white environmentalism’ is something that needs to be unpacked and addressed. The pervasiveness of white supremacy is such that it rears its ugly head in all areas – even good-meaning actions and activism.
When considering/acting out environmentalism through an intersectional lens we are able to better grasp who are the worst effected by climate change. Zero Hour, a “youth led intersectional movement of youth activists fighting for a livable planet for all” documents this well on their platform:
“On the frontlines of climate change is the Global South, People Of Color, Indigenous Peoples, Youth, People with Disabilities, Poor People, Women, Queer and Trans People, and People belonging to marginalized faiths.” If we unpack how we got to this point, facing climate and environmental breakdown, it is clear to see that the roots of climate change are largely found in industrialisation, colonialism and toxic patriarchy. For too long we have commodified land and people for profit.
Currently, indigenous populations make up less than 5% of the global population, yet are protecting 80% of what is left of biodiversity. We also cannot address or solve climate change without addressing environmental racism. POC, for example, are predominantly the ones negatively affected by the air pollution and environmental damage that they did not create.
Populations with indigenous or traditional knowledge also hold the wisdom and knowledge that is key to solving climate change and over-consumption and have long been the keepers of our earth. For example, the San, the indigenous people of Southern Africa (where I was born), were written about and presented as primitive and lacking signs of western progress when European colonizers came to Africa. However, the San were likely the most sustainable people of all. They did not place value on acquiring lots of possessions and believed in simple technology from available natural resources that, when thrown away, would biodegrade rapidly.
The legacy of colonization (and subsequently Apartheid in South Africa) and patriarchy have left scars, development deficits, systems of privilege and oppression and a broad range of complex socio-political and economic issues which stand to this day.
When we’re fighting a battle for the environment we must remember the words of Zero Hour: “A Just Transition leaves no one behind as we seek to achieve an environmentally sustainable economy.”
As a cis white woman myself, I am certainly not the authority on this topic. Rather I am opting out of silence in order to highlight something I know to be a problem. To address within myself and invite others to do similar work and introspection.