Intersectional Environmentalism is the Way of the Future
Connections between race and the environment cannot be ignored
Increasing participation in outdoor recreation could be a boon to the conservation movement. As we look for climate change solutions that promote healthier communities and protect more environments, we must ensure all people receive these benefits. This is Part II of this series; find Part I here.
Right now, two historic events are happening simultaneously: one is a global pandemic and the other is a global demand for social equity. These twin occurrences are sparking new questions and amplifying old concerns about how health, safety, and equality can look, and feel, so drastically different in the U.S. depending on the community to which you belong.
But what exactly does this have to do with adventure? With eco-conscious outdoorists? With sustainability? Like every other sector of American society, the outdoor industry is not immune to the questions and concerns being raised, nor are they absolved from examining them. The pro-environment movement and the burgeoning sustainability market have responsibilities to understand and analyze the ways in which race and social factors are entwined with the health of the planet and the health of its people. In the words of environmental educator and community leader Leah Thomas, “The time is now to examine the ways the Black Lives Matter movement and environmentalism are linked.”
“Intersectional Environmentalism,” what is it?
Leah Thomas is the founder of “Intersectional Environmentalist,” a digital education platform that analyzes and explains how seemingly separate issues (such as racism, ableism, poverty, misogyny, etc.) are not only relevant, but integral to the environmental movement. These connections manifest in numerous ways—as discussed in the first post of this series, “Environmental racism is nothing new”—though what’s important to understand from this perspective is that solutions to environmental issues (like global warming, air pollution, and sea levels rising) are more effective if they address the interconnectedness, not ignore it.
In an article Thomas recently published with Vogue Magazine, titled “Why Every Environmentalist Should Be Anti-Racist,” she explains how the injustices done to the planet are linked to the injustices done to people: “In my environmental science classes—where I was often met with confusion when I tried my best to advocate for the protection of people of color—I was shocked to find the very clear data that communities of color have been most exposed to poor air quality and environmental conditions. I realized my work [as an environmentalist] could directly contribute to the fight against racism.”
As explained in, “Environmental racism is nothing new,” people of color have long been saddled with disproportionate environmental burdens tied to where they live, and they face more barriers to entry when participating in outdoor recreation, resulting in their exclusion from the myriad benefits that fresh air and exercise bring mental and physical wellbeing. Intersectional environmentalism embraces the connections between history, economics, and social perceptions, and uses this knowledge to plan for environmental solutions that address all root causes and benefit equally all people living on this planet.
The outdoor industry and companies like Geartrade are poised to help tackle the variety of injustices and work toward solutions by promoting inclusivity through marketing and sponsorships, easing access to gear and wilderness spaces, sharing knowledge, and more. In helping more people access gear necessary for outdoor recreation and providing an economical platform for people to buy and sell used gear, Geartrade is helping diversify the outdoors. Coupled with this blog, which is filled with educational content catered for recreationists and environmentalists alike, Geartrade strives to equip budding outdoorists and fellow adventurists with knowledge, too.
The future: increased diversity leads to more conservation
Diversifying the outdoors (effectively encouraging more people to recreate outside responsibly) should be at the top of every environmentalist’s agenda. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indiginous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants, an award-winning account of ecology, “The circle of ecological compassion we feel is enlarged by direct experience of the living world, and shrunken by its lack.” Plus, as the Sierra Club notes, “Surveys of racial minorities consistently show they are more concerned than whites about climate change and more supportive of policies to fix it.”
At this point in history, intentional efforts to expand the outdoor industry’s base beyond white participants are necessary, as OIA’s 2018 participation report states. Geographic, financial, and perception barriers are simply too high for the ethnic disparities to correct themselves organically. Until now, the work of diversification solutions has been relegated to specialty community groups like Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, NativesOutdoors, and many more who are advocating for and sponsoring the inclusion of non-white people in outdoor recreation.
Now, as more discussions about inclusivity emerge in the predominantly white outdoor industry and environmental groups, it’s necessary for white people and non-specialty groups to speak up for and participate in the diversification of these spaces.
So, how does diversification happen? What’s next?
1. Sell your gear. Second-hand gear, like what’s featured on Geartrade, lowers financial barriers, which many people face. Making it easier for people to purchase gear will increase outdoor recreation participation levels and encourage new people to try activities that might not have been economically viable otherwise, potentially boosting conservation initiatives.
2. Financially and publicly support organizations that champion intersectional work. Money is power—use your financial prowess to uplift those who are advocating for healthier human ecosystems and fighting against both the unjust treatment of the planet and its people.
- Diversify Outdoors: “A coalition of social media influencers – bloggers, athletes, activists, and entrepreneurs – who share the goal of promoting diversity in outdoor spaces where people of color, LGBTQIA, and other diverse identities have historically been underrepresented.”
- In Solidarity Project: “It’s time for the outdoor industry to make a bold step towards diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s time to elevate people of color and other marginalized identities.”
- Black Women’s Blueprint: “We engage in progressive research, historical documentation, policy advocacy and organizing steeped in the struggles of Black women within their diverse communities and within dominant culture.”
- Greening Youth Foundation: “[Our] mission is to engage under-represented youth and young adults, while connecting them to the outdoors and careers in conservation.”
- Black to Earth: “Connecting black people to black environmental organizations.”
- Color of Change: “We have the power to demand the protection and justice Black people need to survive COVID-19, and thrive in its aftermath. It starts with you.”
- Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ): “A national network of groups and individuals working to undermine white supremacy and to work for racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability.”
3. Follow these people to keep intersectional work/education at the forefront of your social media attention:
- Teresa Baker: @teresebaker11 “Working to increase diversity and inclusion in the outdoor industry.”
- Latria Graham: @mslatriagraham “Storyteller w/a propensity for tea + troubling boundaries. Always bets on the underdog.”
- Noami Grevemberg: @irietoaurora ”Founder @diversify.vanlife”
- Corina Newsome: @hood__naturalist “Zoo keeper turned biologist”
- Freweyni Asress: @zerowastehabesha “ecosocialist,” founder of the Zero Waste Habesha community
- The Great Unlearn: @TheGreatUnlearn “A community of everyday human beings committed to curiosity for what is possible in the world. Monthly self paced syllabi curated by @rachel.cargle”
- Philip Aiken: @philthefixer “Sustainability Videography, 'just to save the world' podcast”
4. Ask yourself: If you are willing to stand up for a healthy planet and fight to save animals from extinction, how can you stand up and fight to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of all its humans?
Emma Athena is an award-winning journalist and fresh-air lover. She writes about adventure and the environment, where humans and nature intersect at their most impactful moments. When she’s not glued to her keyboard or curled up with a book, she’s running in the mountains with her dog or camping with people she loves. To read more of her work and get in contact, visit emmaathena.com.