With the longest of Long Covids still twatting me good and proper, my activism is now mostly made up of writing about other people’s activism, reading about other people’s activism and tweeting about other people’s activism. It’s all very fulfilling. These past few weeks I’ve been reading Leah Thomas’s The Intersectional Environmentalist, and figured if I reviewed it as if this was a proper website maybe I’d feel all my non-work ain’t been been in vain for nothin. You read this blog, you buy her book, you do some stuff, you avert climate breakdown: That’s on me, that is. That’s mine. That’s vicarious activism.
Mainstream representations of the environmentalist movement would have you believe it’s as middle class as The Guardian and white as all fuck. And while it’s true Greenpeace is, for example, as middle class as The Guardian and white as all fuck, and Extinction Rebellion’s pro-arrest hijinks are spectacularly tone deaf in this new age of police brutality, they are not the whole of the environmentalism movement.
The Intersectional Environmentalist tells it differently. It works as a beginner’s guide to identity politics, privilege, ecofeminism and, of course, intersectional environmentalism; the kind of perfectly reasonable concepts that make Tucker Carlson shrivel in his down-belows. Thomas has three main takeaways for us: That BIPOC environmentalists have been knocking about for as long as there’s been environmentalism; that environmental racism ensures people of colour have long borne the brunt of environmental injustice; and that while the global north’s enjoying Hot Girl Summer, the global south’s already taking a solid beating from climate breakdown. She’s convincing on all three counts, on account of how everything she says is very obviously true.
We’ve even made our air racist
Some of the facts she’s gathered about environmental racism in the US are astonishing: That the Clean Air Act of 1970 cleaned up the air for predominantly white communities while diverting their poisonous shit to predominantly Black, Brown and low-income communities. That race is still the number one indicator of where toxic waste facilities are located. That Black and Latinx people suffer an “air pollution burden” in which they choke on more pollution than is caused by their consumption, and that the opposite is true for white Americans. That Black Americans are three times as likely to die from air pollution than white Americans. That Latinx farmworkers are three times as likely to die from heat-related deaths at work than white Americans. That indigenous people are the least likely to have access to safe running water. Page by page, stat by stat, outrage by outrage, your jaw will drop. Thomas adds to that the racist shit the global North is pulling on the global South, using it as our dumping ground to put it squarely on the frontlines of climate breakdown. As she says in a clear, simple kerblammo: “Those who are the least responsible for the climate crisis are often the most impacted and burdened by it.”
Who more than how
Where the book is less successful is where its subtitle kicks in: How To Dismantle Systems Of Oppression To Protect People + Planet. Its toolkit section is more a collection of pep talks that at times border on platitude, but even here Thomas highlights tons of BIPOC activists who’ve been kicking ass while ypipo – yer ole Zero included – were busy fawning over Greta. The likes of Anushka Bhaskar, Kristy Drutman, Wanjiku (Wawa) Gatheru, Mikaela Loach, Hilda F Nakabuye, Vanessa Nakate and Ambika Rajyagor, and all get space here and are all worth Googling, following and amplifying.
What we’ve got here is an inspiring/rage-inducing book from a Big New Voice sharing a big bunch of other Big New Voices, all of whom join the dots for us between the exploitation of the planet and the exploitation of its people. Together, they will turn you into intersectional environmentalists. Go buy it. Not from Amazon.