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Intersectionality in Modern Environmentalism

Although the climate movement first gained mainstream media attention in 2018 when Swedish student Greta Thunberg began to strike outside of her country’s parliament, the movement has been strong long before Thunberg became the focus of the media’s attention. Since the beginning of human existence, what we now call indigenous cultures have made it a part of their traditions to care for the earth, and it’s important to pay homage to those origins as we look at the climate movement today: a beautifully intersectional representation of the world with all groups participating in activism to protect the Earth/its climate.

This raises the question: what is intersectionality? Intersectionality is a sociological theory proposed by American lawyer Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. The theory states that all of a person’s identities are contributors to their privilege or discrimination in society. In my opinion, intersectionality is one of the most valuable ideological contributions in recent history. Not only does it allow the interpretation of

the world in an inclusive manner, but it has also positively affected activism communities. The climate movement is no stranger to intersectionality, and the movement has fully accepted it as an influence. After all, the notion of climate activism is rooted in the expression of oppressed groups around the world, by definition intersectional. Thus the media hailing Greta Thunberg as the driving force within the youth is a violation of the climate movement’s intersectional nature.

The acronym BIPOC denotes “Black, Indigenous and people of color.” Intersectionality allows BIPOC populations the opportunity to view themselves through a united lens, united in the struggle for social justice and universal liberation. Climate is no exception to this, as the regions which have most been affected by environmental devastation are included in the BIPOC identifier (Asia, Africa, and Latin America). A BIPOC activist who has embodied intersectionality is Keynan activist Wangari Maathai. Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, establishing a forestation initiative known as the Green Belt Movement. The Green Belt Movement’s focus was to empower women in producing trees to combat deforestation throughout Kenya. Her work in ecological preservation and women’s liberation is an exemplary example of the intersectionality within the climate movement. Another example of a BIPOC activist is Inez Fung, a professor of atmospheric science at Berkeley. Born in Hong Kong, Fung joined the National Academy of Sciences in 1977, eventually joining NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Science. In 2006, she and 17 other scientists filed a lawsuit to support the EPA’s reduction of carbon emissions in the state of Massachusetts. Her work in climate modeling as a woman of color reflects the intersectionality between science and climate.

Even as BIPOC youth in every corner of the world have sworn allegiance to climate activism, privileged youth receive virtually all of media recognition. This is also contradictory to the climate movement’s participants. The majority of the participants in the climate movement are BIPOC youth whose regions have suffered the effects of colonization, globalization, and economic disparity. Fridays for Future’s MAPA (most affected people and areas) newsletter provides a platform for youth in the most devastated regions to describe their activism, though the mainstream media focuses on privileged youth in industrialized nations. The BIPOC youth featured in the MAPA newsletter are the true representatives of the climate movement. All around the world, the youth have spoken to protect and improve their respective countries, and they deserve the rightful recognition. To express the climate movement as affluent youth’s space is an utter fallacy and a testament to the erasure of BIPOC voices.

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