Justice For People and Planet: Introducing Intersectional Environmentalism
With Make it last, we dived into the world of ‘sustainable fashion’ six years ago. We made or own definition of what it meant, as did most people, and they still do: the idea of sustainable fashion is in a constant state of flux.
But in its most common definition, ‘sustainable fashion’ has something to do with connecting environment and consumerism. So, ‘sustainable fashion’ most commonly exists in the context of capitalism (and in the historical context of colonization), where both the planet and people are considered resources and there is no real business case for sustainability.
Comparing the knowledge about and attitude towards (some) ‘sustainable’, or rather, environmental, aspects of fashion from six years ago and now, we can see something has happened since then. For one, the conversation has gone mainstream, at least in our part of the world (which is Stockholm, Sweden). And at least there is talk about companies having to reevaluate how they measure success; suggestively considering environmental and social aspects alongside economic performance.
Still, it’s hard not to wish for more. A lot of our days with Make it last, it feels like we’ve been saying pretty much the same things for six years. It has to do with us, but also the climate in which we engage. ‘Hey, did you know about the trillion R:s?’ (You know, Reuse, Recycle, Remake, Rent…)
A few weeks ago, we came across a term that made us stop. It resonated with us; so seemingly obvious but not yet articulated, at least not by us or to us.
The term was Intersectional Environmentalism.
While the ideas behind Intersectional Environmentalism are not new, perhaps it became an activism with this spring’s coining of the term. It is about finding a new system; one that advocates for positive solutions for both planet and people. It’s about allowing people of color to be at the forefront of environmentalism and amplifying the voices of the people who are most affected by climate change.
To fully grasp the term, let’s go back to 1989, when the term Intersectionality was coined by civil rights activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, as she pointed out that traditional feminist ideas and antiracist policies exclude black women facing overlapping discrimination unique to them. The term has since been adopted by other people, movements and contexts. ”Where Crenshaw was discussing the ’intersection’ of race and gender, others took their own identities and discussed how their pieces overlapped, whether those pieces were physical ability, race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, politics, citizenship, or socioeconomic status.” (Columbia Journalism Review)
Aspects such as race, gender and class are often left out of discussions about the environment, which is strange as it plays such a large role in who suffers the most from environmental injustices.
In fashion, questions of climate and sustainability are often treated as isolated issues or add-on focuses to already set strategies. And when seemingly more urgent matters, such as a coronavirus pandemic, comes along, the conversation about sustainability loses pace.
During the last weeks’ protests recognizing anti-racism work, however, a discussion about climate justice has allowed to blossom as a sort of sub-heading to that of the overall conversation. All of a sudden, more people talk about how social justice is embedded within sustainability. To us, it’s an extraordinary moment, because it basically never happened in our common contexts (which are often ones characterized by massive amounts of white privilege).
The term Intersectional Environmentalism was popularised by Leah Thomas, a California based sustainability writer and environmentalist with a degree in Environmental Science and Policy who spent some time doing communications for Patagonia before focusing on her work in eco-activism. She’s known as Green Girl Leah on Instagram. She published a post on Intersectional Environmentalism that attracted massive attention, seeming to hit a nerve with a lot of environmentalists as well as social justice advocators, and in only a few weeks, her account grew with more than 100,000 followers.
Thomas’ definition of Intersectional Environmentalism goes:
”Intersectional environmentalism is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality.”
As she writes for Vogue earlier this month:
”Environmentalists tend to be well-meaning, forward-thinking people who believe in preserving the planet for generations to come. They will buy reusable cups, wear ethically made clothing and advocate for endangered species; however, many are hesitant to do the same for endangered Black lives, and might be unclear on why they should.”
If sustainability with inclusivity is a new kind of activism, we want to be a part of the conversation. Let’s dismantle systems of oppression in the environmental movement.
Intersectional environmentalist to follow:
Céline Semaan, founder of the amazing Slow Factory and Study Hall. ”What we need to design is a fashion system that has resiliency and sustainability and heart, one that meets the environment where it is, that has a scientific approach, that has respect to human rights. Otherwise, we’re just engaging in exploitation [of people and land] at the benefit of profit. That system, as we’re seeing now, is not sustainable.” (Vogue)
Edinburgh based Mikaela Loach. ”We don’t live in a ‘broken system’. We live in a system that has been specifically designed to benefit some people and harm others. Calling it a ‘broken system’ just allows those in power to evade responsibility and blame. It just holds us back from creating real change.”
Also listen to The Yikes Podcast by Mikaela Loach and Jo Becker
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson ”Look, I would love to ignore racism and focus all my attention on climate. But I can’t. Because I am human. And I’m black. And ignoring racism won’t make it go away. So, to white people who care about maintaining a habitable planet, I need you to become actively anti-racist. I need you to understand that our racial inequality crisis is intertwined with our climate crisis. If we don’t work on both, we will succeed at neither. I need you to step up. Please. Because I am exhausted.” (Washington Post)
California based Leah Thomas. ”I honestly think environmentalists can change and save the world with intersectionality and by deeply embedding social justice in our fight for the planet.”
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