Leah Thomas, an activist, ecofeminist, and founder of The Intersectional Environmentalist
, delivered a speech at the Her Conference 2023
on June 24 in New York City. Her keynote explains how she combined her passion for social justice and her background in environmental studies to create her career. She also mentions the importance of representation in the environmental activism space.
Thomas attended Chapman University and graduated with an environmental science degree because her mom wanted her to be a doctor. But by her senior year, she knew that communication and social influence was her true calling. This led her to start blogging on her personal account @greengirlleah
in 2017 about social injustices across her community.
She gained a following on social media in 2020 during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement following the murder of George Floyd. Thomas posted a series of statements in response to this event urging those who want to “care for the environment, they need to care for its people”. This specific post went viral with 50,000 liked and many comments of people inspired by her message.
Now she combines her knowledge of the environment with her passion for social justice through her organization The Intersectional Environmentalist.
This organization’s goal is to. to educate others on the importance of black and minority representation in the environmental space and how climate change effects marginalized communities the most.
So What is Environmental Intersectionality?
The term Intersectionality
is originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw.
This was used to explain how discrimination against black women is not just racism, but also sexism. These two social constructs intertwine with one another creating a unique perspective that either category on its own wouldn’t have. This term can apply to a myriad of people who experience oppression through multiple lenses.
In her speech, Thomas touches on the meaning of intersectionality in the race to stop climate change. Specifically, how minority communities will be the first to feel the effects of it. Yet are not given the resources to combat such effects.
History of Environmental Racism
Environmental racism dates back to the 1960s when segregation was outlawed but barely enforced. In black communities housing was cheaper, taxes were lower, and there was less social mobility. This was due of the effects of segregation and discrimination. Because of this, the government, would allocate harmful toxins and cheaper building materials to these communities. Resulting in a conglomerate of health issues that persist today.
According to Dorceta Taylor, professor at the Yale School of the Environment and author of Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility, this problem still exists today in marginalized communities.
“Research has shown that if you have a corporation who has violated environmental laws, the corporation is going to be fined. The fines tend to be lower in communities of color, especially Black communities and poor communities,” Taylor says.
Thomas touches on this in many of her instagram posts, one stating that “those least responsible [minority communities] experience the impacts of environmental injustice the most and have increased exposure to air and water pollution and toxic waste.”
Leah Thomas continues to educate and inspire those looking to help stop climate change and help those most vunerable.