Book Club: Intersectional Environmentalism by Leah Thomas

This month we met to discuss the book ‘Intersectional Environmentalism’ by Leah Thomas, an environmental educator in the USA (@greengirlleah on Instagram). This book is described as:

“Leah Thomas coined the term ‘intersectional environmentalism’ to describe the inextricable link between climate change, activism, racism and privilege. The fight for the planet should go hand in hand with the fight for civil rights. In fact, one cannot exist without the other. This book is a call to action, a guide to instigating change for all and a pledge to work toward the empowerment of all people and the betterment of the planet – an indispensable primer for activists looking to create meaningful, inclusive and sustainable change. Driven by Leah’s expert voice and complemented by the words of young activists from around the globe, it is essential reading on the issue – and the movement – that will define a generation.”

Some of the things we discussed follow in this blog.

Several people commented that they liked the different boxes of text the author has included, which are written by other intersectional environmentalists, lifting many different voices. Key to intersectionalism is achieving justice for all groups in society, and so it was very encouraging to see this supported in the book, by hearing from a range of voices. The book also discussed some of the history of the word intersectional, and how it arose from the legal system leaving black women in an especially vulnerable position. Now, we see this being applied to other groups of people, as we become more aware of other types of discrimination and how they can overlap. The definition of these discriminated groups has also broadened beyond the typical ‘protected characteristics’, to include elements such as socio-economic factors.

An interesting topic was raised around environmental justice and biodiversity, and how western society is systemically destroying societies which play an important role in protecting biodiversity, especially on indigenous lands. The ongoing energy transition can be seen to be causing destruction and violence in locations such as South America as countries begin to fight over resources, and destroy biodiversity. We discussed how difficult to know how to navigate this clean energy transition, and how our resulting society should look. This is new, and life outside of capitalism is unexplored, and in the UK, many people’s experiences are still shaped by our colonial past. It was also commented that people do not have the same rights as in the UK. Many countries where valuable resources are found lack strong leadership, and there have been little or no consequences for companies exceeding extraction quotas for their own profit.

Freya shared an interesting weather and climate example from the US, where radar signal for black and POC housing areas is significantly worse than areas which are traditionally white. This was a very surprising, showing just how deep these climate injustices can go. You can read more about this case here.

We discussed the changing role of social media and how it can be used effectively to link communities. However, as highlighted in the book, social media can often show quite a shallow insight into a topic, and not promoting intelligent and nuanced debate.

Finally, we had a concluding discussion about how this work and education can be continued. In the same way that we don’t want women to be doing a disproportionate amount of the gender equality work in institutions, we don’t want black, indigenous and POC to taking on all the diversity work. We discussed the burden of doing this work, and how we can start to do the work ourselves without creating additional work for others. Some suggestions were around the implementation in schools and how privilege can be used to make change. The book included an Intersectional environmentalist toolkit at the end, and we encourage you to get a copy of the book and check out the resources and suggestions within it! You can find the book here, and watch a TEDx talk by the author here.

Thank you to everyone who joined the session and contributed an exciting array of thoughts on this topic. We look forward to discussing similar topics in the future.