What It Means to Be an Intersectional Environmentalist

It’s safe to say that the United States feels a bit insane right now.

And that’s putting it nicely.

On top of a pandemic, we’ve been dealing with a multitude of issues: a vast economic inequality between the rich and poor, a horrifying treatment of our black communities, and a severe lack of basic rights provided for immigrant families.

And we need to fight for all of them.

“Aren’t you a business just focused on zero waste and environmentalism?” You wouldn’t be quite wrong: turning the world greener is our primary focus.

But if we were really going to change the world: it can’t be the only focus.

In the wake of the Black Lives Movement, you might be hearing a lot about “intersectional environmentalism” on your favorite eco-friendly blogs… And wondering what the heck that mouthful of a term is.

Let’s delve into what it is, why it’s important to the green community, and how we can do our part in making change.


Intersectional Environmentalism—What is It?

The word “intersectional” might make you think of graphs, a bunch of lines, and complicated webs that honestly give you a headache. And while this kind of what it means… Let’s break it down in an easier way.

Intersectional environmentalism is a term created by green blogger Leah Thomas, and is essentially a movement that “advocates for both the protection of people and the planet.”

Okay… But aren’t we already doing that by being green? Isn’t making moves to protect the planet already a form of helping people at its core?

Well... Yes and no.

Protecting the planet also protects our longevity, yes; but the purpose of coining the term “intersectional environmentalism” provides that there is a space made for marginalized people, and a chance for them to explain how pollution is affecting their communities.

More often than not, unfortunately: it’s affecting them most.


Why It’s Important


“Technically… Isn’t pollution affecting the world equally?”

It’s understandable why you might think that way. One area of the world might be causing way more excessive waste and toxic pollution than others (and yes, we’re looking at you America)—but nevertheless, it’s affecting the entire Earth!

We’re saying certain communities will feel those negative factors a whole lot faster.

Think of island nations, for example: weather-related changes are expected to displace an astounding 143 million people by 2050. While that’s a scary enough statistic, it’s even more heartbreaking when you consider how many of these nations are still developing, made up of families that simply won’t have the emergency funds for when they’ve been displaced.

That, in of itself, is a form of economic inequality that ties directly into intersectional environmentalism.

Another example that is closer to home and still very much relevant is the way we handle our meat industry. It’s widely known how unethical the meat and dairy industries are—including everything from animal abuse to the way they’re causing detriment to our natural resources. It goes without saying that this is an issue we feel passionate about; but solving this requires more than encouraging others to not eat meat or dairy (although that helps!).

It takes our understanding that these big meat industries are as big as they are because they make meat cheap and quick. They partner with fast food businesses to create meals that poor communities will buy because it’s more cost effective than getting groceries, or saves time when family members have to work more than one job. 

Therefore, instead of alienating the marginalized, it’s important to include their experiences in the conversation of how we can do better for our planet. Sure, we can keep our pantries stocked with fresh produce, avoid plastic at all costs and invest in reusable items that will last us a lifetime… But for a person of lower economic standing, they may have less resources. “Investing” in reusable items might cost too much for someone who lives paycheck to paycheck or has no credit to their name.

Moreover, many marginalized communities live in the form of a food desert: making fresh fruits and vegetables to replace their meat intake near impossible to find. 


So… How Do I Become an Intersectional Environmentalist?


Being an intersectional environmentalist requires empathy for the less privileged and criticism toward governments and corporations making the rules in the first place… In other words: punch up, not down.

It’s no secret that corporations cause tremendous damage to the planet, with their businesses causing a sickening 2.2 trillion dollars in environmental destruction… In just one year.

While we can do our best in educating the public of the ramifications of supporting these industries, it’s vital that we also speak up. Go out and vote for laws that outlaw toxic ingredients, or tax corporations higher for the amount of damage they do to the environment.

On the other hand, you can also support marginalized communities by recognizing how pollution is affecting them. African Americans are not only more likely to get asthma than white people, but also up to three times more likely to die from asthma related causes. This cannot be considered a coincidence when we talk about air quality pollution—nor can it be ignored that access to healthcare is far more difficult. In order to support environmentalism, we also need to lift and support our communities in all of its pursuits of justice—not just what benefits us as individuals.

While voting and protesting are big ways you can consider yourself an intersectional environmentalist, make sure that you also support the organizations that are making big changes. If you’re in a city, look up your nearest urban farm that’s dedicated to providing fresh, affordable produce for families living on the poverty line. You can usually donate, or even get your hands dirty with them and volunteer as a farmer!

When Googling around for eco-friendly brands, try to find labels that are BIPOOC-owned. They need your support just as much as our business needs yours!

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We can’t begin to argue that environmental justice is more important than social justice because... It’s not. These issues are all tied together, most often affected by governmental laws and big corporate bucks.

What we need to stress is the importance that, as someone fighting for the environment that you also recognize these issues. It will help you to be a better fighter, a better member of your community, and a better—more empathetic—you.

Let’s make the world a better place to live for all of our children.

If you’d like to learn more about intersectional environmentalism, go over to intersectionalenvironmentalist.com and find out ways you can help.

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Urban Oreganics Owners

About Us

Hi! We’re Cory & Emily, husband and wife, parents, and co-owners of Urban Oreganics. Over the years, we’ve developed a passion for creating an eco-friendly, minimalist lifestyle for our family. We’re always discovering new sources of inspiration and are excited to share those with you through our blog.

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