Ice caps melt at unprecedented speeds. 150 species are lost each day. The atmosphere continues to fade. In a new age of technological advancement, some individuals are dedicated to preserving their surroundings. Despite the encouraging efforts of environmentalists, we continue to become increasingly dependent on fossil fuels. Over the years, environmentalism has become more than environmental preservation. Through intersectional environmentalism, members of society are intertwined with the movement.
What is Intersectional Environmentalism?
Coined by Professor Kimberle Crenshaw in the late 20th century, ‘intersectionality’ refers to the overlapping of individual characteristics, including but not limited to gender, race, and sexuality. The term acknowledges the oppressive systemic injustices that have governed our society for so long. Intersectionality is connected to numerous social and political subjects.
Intersectional environmentalism promotes inclusivity in the advocacy of environmental protection. The movement recognizes the connection between environmental injustices and marginalized groups. Most importantly, intersectional environmentalism supports vulnerable individuals who have been affected by the same injustices endangering our planet.
The Historical Relevance of Intersectional Environmentalism
Environmental degradation was practiced in the 1500s, when the need for expanding west suddenly seized white colonizers. In an effort to force Indigenous groups into submission, bounties were strategically placed on buffalo and bison. Centuries later, the buffalo population had dwindled into the 1000s. Fueled by Manifest Destiny, the white colonizer continued to raid the lands and resources of Indigenous tribes, rendering them powerless and bereft of their livelihoods. In the modern world, the exploitation of land, labor, and the environment for profit resulted from tremendous ideological shifts entrenched in feudalism and capitalism. Throughout history, BIPOC voices in the environmentalism movement have been intentionally ignored while privileged individuals were free to express their offenses.
The Importance of Intersectional Environmentalism
However admirable environmentalism may be, the movement is built on privilege. Not everyone can afford closets of sustainable clothing or vegan sustenance. Beyond wealth constraints, the movement has proven to become increasingly white. One author from, Platform, a political organization dedicated to female empowerment, emphasized that the individuals who get the most attention as environmental activists are primarily white and wealthy.
Black and indigenous voices tend to become overshadowed by the white majority. When their voices are finally heard, it’s usually because they have been deemed significant by white activists. This was best demonstrated by an Associated Press photograph that cropped out Vanessa Nakate, a distinguished Ugandan environmentalist, leaving behind Greta Thunberg and three white other activists. The issue of climate change disproportionately harms black, indigenous, and people of color as a result of existing economic structures established by colonialism and capitalism. Ultimately, racialized communities have always and continue to bear the brunt of environmental degradation.