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Climate Justice: The Future is Intersectional

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Asian elephants

Snow leopards

Black-footed ferrets

Giant pandas

Polar bears

Human beings

What do all of these have in common? They are all endangered species.

Humans, of course, are not on the official endangered species list. And yet, millions of people face the real threat of cultural extinction and death due to the effects of the climate crisis: intense heat waves that lead to drought, crop failure, and starvation. Increased disease and global pandemics. Intensified weather that leads to catastrophic events like hurricanes and wildfires. The list goes on.

U.S.-born, Sweden-based sustainability scientist Dr. Kimberly Nicholas, author of UNDER THE SKY WE MAKE: How to be Human in a Warming World, explains the climate crisis this way:

  1. It’s warming.
  2. It’s us.
  3. We’re sure.
  4. It’s bad.
  5. We can fix it.

But, can we fix it? 

Yes, we can. But, only if we recognize the “climate crisis” is inseparable from every other system of oppression and injustice we face in our world. 

Solving the climate crisis.
Image credit: Markus Spiske via Pexels.com

If you’re asking, “But what can I do?” read on because the person who is best positioned to know what to do right now, in the time and place where you are, is reading this article.

What is intersectional environmentalism?

You are an intersectional being. The term “intersectionality” was first introduced in 1989 by U.S. civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw, and further developed by sociologist Patricia Hill Collins in her book Black Feminist Thought, released in 1990. Intersectionality is defined as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.” 

Your culture, class, gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, location and more — these are all aspects of you that combine in a completely unique way. 

And, like you, the climate crisis is intersectional. It sits at the nexus of human rights and wellbeing, economic development, and environmental conservation.

On May 28, 2020, Leah Thomas used her Instagram profile to call on the environmentalist community to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and other BIPOC supporting movements.

The post went viral.

The energy behind this Instagram post led to the creation of IE, “a 501(c)(3) climate justice collective radically imagining a more equitable + diverse future of environmentalism.”

From her recently released book, The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet, Thomas explains, “I once thought I had to choose between advocating for my Black identity and the planet, but now I know better. . . . You never have to silence parts of your identity or force them to take a back seat in order to advance a cause. Our identities flow through our politics, our advocacy, what we care about — whether we realize it or not.”

Taking the Intersectional Environmentalist pledge is a way you can bring your whole, intersectional self to the issues that contribute to the climate crisis. Here is the pledge:

Intersectional environmentalist pledge to save the climate.
The Intersectional Environmentalist Pledge, written by Leah Thomas. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://www.intersectionalenvironmentalist.com/take-the-pledge

You never have to silence parts of your identity or force them to take a back seat in order to advance a cause.

Leah Thomas

See the climate solutions

Chad Frischmann is the founder of Regenerative Intelligence and the co-author, lead researcher and principal architect of the Drawdown Solutions Framework, the engine behind the New York Times best-seller Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (Penguin, 2017), the Drawdown Review (February 2020) and all communications and engagement efforts at Project Drawdown, a leading resource for climate solutions. I spoke with Frischmann to learn more about the ways ordinary people can participate in addressing the climate crisis.

“Recognizing our intersectionality,” Frischmann said, “breaks up the need for hierarchical structures of power. If we’re going to solve climate change we have to do it from a place of justice, equity and inclusion. This creates a system of solutions. Otherwise we’re just recreating a system of exploitation. We have power — as individuals, as communities, and in our workplaces — but if we don’t know where we’re going, we’re never going to get there.”

If we don’t know where we’re going, we’re never going to get there.

Chad Frischmann

In other words, Frischmann understands that a focus on solutions, rather than problems, is the way out of inaction and into joy, hope, and creativity.

“We need all-of-the-above solutions,” Frischmann explains. “We are fixated on the problems, but the solutions are right in front of us. The paradigm of problem fixation, driven by fear in a conflict-oriented form of competition, leads to apathy and inaction. That’s what the 1% want, because they reap the rewards. But, when we shift from fixating on the problems to seeing the solutions of the future, we focus on possibility. Let’s not look at the problems of the past and say, ‘Fix them,’ let’s look at the solutions of the future and say, ‘Go there.'”

The climate crisis will impact water availability.
Photo by Nyau Mim, Pexels.com

And, “there” is not just a place of sustainability. In fact, nothing in nature “sustains” – it evolves and changes as part of a cycle of life, according to Frischmann.

“We want to move beyond sustainable development to create a regenerative economy — one based on life, not death,” he said. “We can use the climate crisis as a catalyst — creating a new normal that is restorative and regenerative, not exploitative and extractive. We can catalyze the future we actually want by solving the greatest threat to humanity that we’ve ever faced.”

When I asked Frischmann about a call to action, he said, “Many people ask me, ‘What can I do?’ See the solutions. Visualize the marker on the horizon of where you want to be, and take the next best step to get there, as you honor the steps you’ve already taken. Choose your own adventure! Remember, this is a joyful journey. When you start to look around, you’re going to see more people doing this work. Then you’re not walking alone – you’re walking together.”

Embrace the climate around you.
Photo by PNW Production, Pexels.com

Come Alive

We’ve all been conditioned to do two things, on repeat: consume and perform. We consume information in school and perform it on a test. We consume advertisements and perform our capitalist duty to buy more. We consume the societal norms we see on social media and perform them in our careers and lifestyles. 

What if we chose a different path: regeneration? Humans are not separate from nature — we are a part of it. And regeneration is a quality of life’s organic intelligence. 

I spoke with German-born global citizen and host of the podcast Green Planet Blue Planet, Julian Guderley. His intention was to move away from the doom and gloom narrative of the media around climate change and, instead, seek answers to the question, “what makes a healthy climate?” His podcast interviews focus on change makers who are committed to people, planet, and profit and believe in the regenerative principle of life.

His most important piece of advice? Come alive!

“Nothing is more amazing than humans coming alive and expressing their organic intelligence,” Guderley explains. “If there were one [solution], it is to empower each person to express their unique gifts in the world.”

“Part of the mind’s problem is that there should be [a solution] that goes for everyone. What’s the right thing? What’s the politically correct thing? What am I allowed to do? Yet, as long as you’re trying to have someone else tell you what to do, you stay in the cul-de-sac, the problem zone, and you won’t get out of it. You have to learn to listen to what is deeply yours based on your inner intelligence. When you bring that into the world — doing more of what is already engaging to you without fearing that someone else won’t [approve], now you’re of service to everyone because you are leveraging your energy.”

You have to learn to listen to what is deeply yours based on your inner intelligence.

Julian Guderley

When I asked Guderley about the violence and oppression we see in the world, he said, “Individually, all people you will meet have values of love, reciprocity, and trust. But, as a collective we live with an illusion that there is something bad about humans. To break this programming, we have to consistently choose to align ourselves with organic intelligence instead of messages of violence, fear, and scarcity. Ask yourself, are you acting in alignment with my values? Are you affirming that you believe in life with your actions? We disembody ourselves from our values.”

Create a good mental climate for yourself and the people you care about.
Photo by Zen Chung via Pexels.com

“We are on this planet to have quality experiences that are in right relationship to all of life and to past and future generations. Once you know who you are and what is the vision you hold for your life, all you have to do is deflate the hold that the matrix [of oppression] has on you and turn up the volume on what’s already in you that wants to play. Throw yourself into your unique creation.”

Solve the climate crisis by being the change

So, how can you contribute to solving the climate crisis? 

  1. Leverage and celebrate intersectionality.
  2. Focus on the future you want to see.
  3. Embrace joy, liberation, and your unique creativity.
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