What is Intersectional Environmentalism? A beginners guide

Photo by The Climate Reality Project

It seems that now more than ever, issues like climate change are at the forefront of our minds. With figures like Greta Thunberg heading up the school strikes for climate change, and demonstrations such as the 2017 People’s Climate March gaining worldwide support, it’s clear that environmentalism has hit the mainstream.

However, many have criticised some of the more established movements for failing to engage with other issues like class and race, instead calling for a more ‘intersectional’ approach.

Now, a huge community of Intersectional Environmentalists are working hard to bring a new perspective to the forefront. But what exactly is this approach? And why is it so crucial?

What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality is a way of approaching social issues that considers how factors such as race, class and gender can ‘intersect’ with each other within society. As Kimberlé Crenshaw, the civil rights advocate and Law professor who coined the term in 1989 explains in a recent TED Talk;

“Many of our social justice problems like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice”.

Simply put, rather than looking at single issues as if they exist in a vacuum, intersectionality is about stepping back and looking at all the interconnected issues that overlap to make up the bigger picture.

It can be helpful to think of this like a Venn diagram, with each circle representing a different area, like race, class or gender. Rather than existing separately, each of these circles is connected and constantly overlapping. They all influence, and are influenced by, each other to the point where it’s practically impossible to separate them.

So, when we’re talking about a specific social issue (such as environmentalism) it’s important that we take into account all the different issues that will overlap. This is intersectionality.

What does this have to do with the Environment?

Just like every other issue that affects our planet, climate change and environmental damage are deeply connected with lots of other issues. Factors such as class and race influence the ways in which the climate crisis impacts individual people around the world.

As Leah Thomas, an environmental justice advocate, states on her platform Intersectional Environmentalist;

“Intersectional Environmentalism is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected”.

You might have followed recent press coverage of the conflict surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline, where Indigenous nations engaged in protests to oppose the environmental impact the oil pipeline would have on sacred sites. Almost 15,000 people attended sit-ins at the Standing Rock reservation. This is a prime example of the intersectionality of social and political issues within environmentalism.

The decision to place the pipeline through sacred land wasn’t just an environmental issue, but a social and racial one too. It pointed towards a historical disregard not only for the planet, but for the rights of Indigenous communities in America.

Human, civil, and environmental rights are all intersecting here.

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov

On a more personal level, we might look at access to sustainable food in the UK as a similar intersectional issue. There has a been a huge focus on individual contributions to environmentalism, and food is an area we have been invited to rethink our relationship with. Whether this means going vegan or cutting out plastic from our weekly shop, a lot of us are making big changes.

But how might different social and economic issues influence the changes we are able to make?

A report by Social Market Foundation found that nearly 10 Million Brits are living in what is known as a ‘food desert’ or an area without adequate access to food stores, meaning that residents will not have access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.

It’s unsurprising that these food deserts are found primarily in less economically advantaged areas, with the report stating that about 1 in 10 deprived areas in England and Wales are food deserts.

So, if we consider the fact that in areas such as this individuals will be much less likely to access local, organic or plastic free groceries we see that this too is an intersectional issue. Social issues are directly impacting the ability for a large portion of the population to make more sustainable choices for themselves, and for the planet.

This is what the intersectional approach is about; recognising the complex web of factors that mean we all have vastly different experiences of environmental issues. In order for our environmentalism to be truly effective, we must protect the population as well as our earth. As Leah Thomas explains;

“Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people and the planet”.

Photo by Markus Spiske

What are we doing here at RubyMoon?

At RubyMoon, we are committed to making sure that our brand is a force for good. We know women in developing countries are the most disadvantaged, with 60% of chronically hungry people being women & girls. As such, it is our goal to empower women globally.

We invest 100% of our profits into business loans for women in developing countries. Working with microfinance platform LendWithCare.org we provide loans and business training to female entrepreneurs, having invested in over 1000 women and their families so far. So, when you shop with us, you are voting for a better world.

Together, we are passionate about keeping our planet and its people healthy and happy.

You can learn more about our impact here.

Want to learn more?

Now that you know the basics, continue your intersectional journey with these resources:

Read: The Our Unequal Earth series on The Guardian, an insightful collection of articles exploring global environmental injustice. This is a great starting point to discover leading voices within the movement.

Watch: This great video from environmental news outlet Grist breaks down the Environmental Justice movement in a simple, easy-to-understand way. Although based in the US context, the wider message will absolutely be relevant wherever you are.

Follow: Intersectional Environmentalist on Instagram to bring some activism to your timeline. Founded by environmental advocate Leah Thomas, this welcoming and inclusive platform provides useful resources and actionable steps.


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