Intersectional Environmentalism: Black Lives Matter & Building a Better World

I’ve taken some space from writing lately to read, learn, listen, and reflect on how to be a truly intersectional environmentalist. So much of what I capture and write focuses on the beauty I see in our world’s oceans and outdoors — a massive privilege, in a world racialized and divided for power and profit. What I capture is real, but it’s not a complete portrayal the world we’ve built on the backs of others — where it’s a massive privilege, not a basic right, to enjoy a healthy, clean, supportive environment.

We live in a global society founded on forced subservience and land theft, and to this day, racist policymaking drives the creation of systems that produce and maintain inequity. In the United States and around the world, black and brown bodies bear the toxic weight of our polluting, consumption-based, neoliberal world: inheriting most of our pollution, toxic waste, climate emergencies, pandemics, and the health complications that subsequently arise. A growing body of evidence from environmental justice scholars highlights the continued exploitation of black and brown bodies for power, profit, and so-called “development” — as BIPOC and developing communities around the world inherit hugely unequal amounts of waste, pollution, dirty energy, climate violence and other unwanted externalities of our high-risk modern world.

Racist power and policy thrive within our society every single day, in our food, energy, education, housing, health and criminal justice systems, but these realities have been imagined away — by political leaders, the mainstream media, and other leading institutions. Our inability to vividly see and respond to these issues on a massive scale is a testament to the magnitude of racism and injustice this society has normalized. And yet it is a misconception that such racism is driven completely by ignorance or hate — as such widespread participation in an extremely racist society must stem from something deeper. According to scholar Ibram X. Kendi, the creation of racial hierarchies and racist ideas, from their beginning hundreds of years ago in justifying the slave trade, to their continuation in the modern day to justify harmful energy, food and criminal justice systems, achieves one very straightforward goal: because it is economically, politically, and culturally beneficial to the ruling class’s power and profit. Racism thrives, because we benefit blindly from injustice and destruction every single day: in our energy systems that exploit and destroy someone else’s home; in our food systems that exploit someone else’s body and environment, or in my life on a world-heritage island, where someone else pays the cost of my oil dependency, transportation and food, as I live in perfectly-preserved island paradise. We partake in this unjust system simply by living our “normal” lives every single day. This is why there is no such thing as race “neutrality.” It is why our streets are ridden with protestors “disturbing” the peace of our daily lives — because our daily lives disturb someone else’s peace, every single day.

Sociologist Rob Nixon wrote, “It is a pervasive condition of empires that they affect great swathes of the planet without the empire’s populace being aware of that impact — indeed without being aware that many of the affected places even exist.” It takes work, effort, and personal understanding to awaken to the depths of injustice and racism that have been normalized in our country and our world. There’s not deafening silence from our leaders about racial justice because it is absent or resolved — there is deafening silence, because it is not in racist power’s interest to reverse racial inequity and injustice. To reverse such inequities threatens racist power’s interests and the institutions that literally profit off and benefit from a global class of dispossessed, silenced, dis-imagined citizens to whom we can outsource his society’s horrible climate violence and pollution. We must vividly awaken to the intersections that exist between the exploitation of humans and the exploitation of the Earth, and see this struggle as one. As Rising Tide North America states, “No effort to create a livable future will succeed without the empowerment of marginalized communities and the dismantling of the systems of oppression that keep us divided.”

If these issues feel invisible or unfamiliar, this is a tremendous opportunity to break past the sad barriers of what we were raised to believe as truth. We have a powerful opportunity to reimagine how our countries and communities can function: to finally address inequalities with anti-racist policy; create a more equitable exchange of global resources; and create just, accessible food, energy, healthcare, education, housing and criminal justice systems. To #defundthepolice and reimagine other ways of fostering peace, justice, equity and unity in our communities. I cannot advocate for a healthier planet without uplifting and empowering the voices of all its people, because doing so negates the root of our greatest problems: the exploitation of both people and the planet, together, for power and profit.

This island is a rarity in man’s current paradigm of existence. I hope that my stories can evoke not only admiration for the rare places they portray, but a deeper sense of longing for deep, structural justice and anti-racist, participatory policymaking that make healthy environments like this a basic right for all. #blacklivesmatter

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