Conserving natural spaces. Cleaning up waterways. Reducing the use of fossil fuels. At first glance, all of these areas may seem to just be environmental issues. Yet foundations (among many others) are increasingly advocating with their money and their megaphones that environmental and racial issues are intertwined. To make the most environmental impact, race needs to also be part of the conversation and the action, according to many nonprofit leaders.

‘We deeply believe that climate justice is racial justice,’ says Deborah Philbrick, program officer, Climate Solutions, at the MacArthur Foundation.

This philosophy often goes by the name of intersectional environmentalism – a phrase that came to light a few days after the murder of George Floyd, when writer and activist Leah Thomas defined the term within a viral Instagram post. In part, she explained intersectional environmentalism as an ‘inclusive version of environmentalism’ that ‘identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalised communities and the earth are interconnected.’

While the protests and other forms of racial justice activism that occurred around the world in mid-2020 perhaps accelerated intersectional environmentalism, this shift toward inclusivity had been happening for several years prior, including by Thomas.

In fact, the term intersectionality dates back to 1989, when Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw wrote a paper discussing the intersection of race and gender as it relates to Black women.

Since then, more organisations, including a wide spectrum of foundations, have been increasingly focused on solving problems by taking a more intersectional approach, such as when it comes to tackling environmental challenges.

‘We’ve been making the choice against people who have been disproportionately harmed by climate change again and again and again and again,’ says Philbrick. ‘And we are just now as a movement starting to see significant traction.’

While the need to focus on racial equity may be more apparent from a societal view, some may still question what that has to do with the environment.

‘My short answer is there is almost nothing that isn’t an environmental issue,’ says Alison Corwin, program director, Sustainable Environments, at the Surdna Foundation in New York. ‘Take immigration, for example. Folks are forced off their land, out of their homes, out of their communities as there are climate events,’ and climate migration has already started to happen.

In the same vein, essentially every issue, including the environment, arguably has a racial aspect. Not only does climate change affect immigration, which often has a direct racial or ethnic component, but on a broader scale, the environment and race tend to be inextricably linked, whether you’re looking at access to green spaces, living near pollution, or many other issues.

Read the full article about intersectional environmentalism by Jake Safane at Alliance Magazine.