Episode 153: Embracing Intersectional Environmentalism

Featuring Leah Thomas & Kristy Drutman

Sponsored by Danner, Sierra Designs, & Tilley

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Because environmentalism should be inclusive of both people and the planet. Leah Thomas, founder of IntersectionalEnvironmentalist.com, and Kristy Drutman, the podcaster behind Brown Girl Green, use the power of their platforms to help us rethink what it means to be an environmentalist in 2020.

While the fight for environmental justice isn’t a new one, it’s not one that’s historically been talked about enough within the environmental movement. But we can’t separate the fight for racial equity from the fight against climate change, and the need to link the two only become more urgent as time passes. In this episode, Leah Thomas and Kristy Drutman share their knowledge and help us reflect on the tools we have to become advocates, too.

Full transcript available after the photos and resources.

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Featured in this episode: Leah Thomas & Kristy Drutman

Hosted by Gale Straub

Music in this episode is by  Swelling, Meydan, Josh Woodward, & Lee Rosevere using a Creative Commons attribution license.

Resources

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Leah Thomas & Kristy Drutman

Leah Thomas - Green Girl Leah
Leah Thomas, founder of Intersectional Environmentalist
Kristy Drutman - Brown Girl Green
Kristy Drutman – Brown Girl Green

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TRANSCRIPT: 

Gale – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores.

On today’s episode, we’re going to rethink what it means to be an environmentalist with the help of Leah Thomas and Kristy Drutman, two storytellers who use their lived experiences and gifts for language to help fight for a more just world.

Leah Thomas:

And the more that we separate culture and race from environmentalism, the more those environmental injustices are going to continue to thrive because people say, Oh, no, no, no, that’s actually a race issue. That’s actually a wealth inequality issue. Instead of just saying these things are interconnected and we need to just address them all because they are an environmentalist issue. And if someone identifies as an intersectional environmentalist, they’ll be able to say that these other issues are environmental issues because both people in the planet should be protected. And that’s what I think environmentalist should stand for.

Gale – Narration:

This is Leah Thomas, also known as Green Girl Leah. A couple of weeks ago, she introduced the concept of intersectional environmentalism on her Instagram account. While the fight for environmental justice isn’t a new one, it’s not one that’s historically been talked about enough within the environmental movement. And the need to look at it though an intersectional lens hasn’t been prioritized. We’ll talk about some of the reasons why in the next 45 or so minutes.

Gale – Narration:

But first, let’s meet Kristy Drutman.

Kristy Drutman:

Everyone has a role and everyone has talents to bring to this space. And I think it’s a matter of you not staying in a place of guilt or shame that you haven’t done enough or you haven’t been perfect. And I think it’s about thinking deeply about how you want to mobilize people who will trust you.

Gale – Narration:

Kristy’s the host of the Brown Girl Green media platform, which includes a podcast, blog, youtube channel and social media which all cover the climate crisis as it intersects with social justice. It feels important to call out upfront – Leah’s Black, Kristy is Jew-Pina and talks about her Filipina heritage in the episode. And if you’re new to the show, I’m white. And if you’re thinking, what does race and ethnicity have to do with advocating for the environment? A whole lot. Thanks to Leah and Kristy, I promise you’ll finish this episode with at least one answer to that question, plus some great tips for using the tools at your disposal to advocate for the health of the planet and its inhabitants. All that and more, after this.

PREROLL AD BREAK

Gale – Sierra Designs ad:

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Amanda Jameson – Big City Mountaineers:

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Gale – Sierra Designs ad:

This is Amanda Jameson, the community relations director at Big City Mountaineers. She shared the organization’s renewed focus after pausing summer programming due to COVID-19 and the racialized trauma many of their students are experiencing.

Amanda Jameson – Big City Mountaineers:

We’re taking a lot of long looks at JEDI work. Um, we’re doing a lot of internal work on trauma, um, to make sure that we can take care of our youth in the best way pathways possible. And we are looking at reorienting our programs to provide our youth with a more liberatory framework, um, for their time in the outdoors ways to bring those feelings and those thoughts that they were able to have in the outdoors back into their day to day.

Gale – Sierra Designs ad:

You can learn more about Big City Mountaineers by heading to BigCityMountaineers.org. You can also find out more about Sierra Designs ‘reach out’ initiative by heading to sierradesigns.com/reach-out. That’s sierradesigns.com/reach-out.

Gale – Narration:

We’re back. Now, we often talk on this show about our early introductions to the outdoors and nature. For Leah and Kristy, I asked them about their paths to becoming environmentalists. Here’s Leah.

Leah Thomas:

So my grandfather lived in Arkansas and we used to always go out to his little like farm, I guess you could call it. His house just had like a ton of acres. Then he had like peacocks running around and goats and dogs and chickens. And I used to go there every Easter and just run around and get on the four Wheeler. And it was just really, really cool being out in nature in a very different type of nature. And also growing up, my grandma would also take us out camping or probably glamping because we were in a cabin or a little trailer and I just loved catching tadpoles. And then of course letting them go. And I was always just really excited to pick up frogs and toads and just wanted to learn a lot about nature. I was such a little dork.

Leah Thomas:

Looking back on it, but I’ve always loved being outside and I’ve always loved ecosystems, ecology and biology. And I just think about those memories and how much joy they gave me, but it wasn’t until later that I realized like that’s actually an example of spending time in nature. And even though some people might consider it, Oh, you have to be in a national park or, Oh, you have to do some of these somewhat exclusive sports, like skiing and whatnot, to be a part of nature, to be someone who can consider themselves an environmentalist, but I’ve always had those little bits and pieces in my family history.

Gale – Narration:

Hmm. Have you always considered yourself an environmentalist or like when did you start to verbalize that?

Leah Thomas:

Hm, no, I really didn’t. I took AP environmental science in high school just because I thought that it was cool, but it wasn’t really until college that I probably started considering myself an environmentalist because I came to it in a weird way. It was kind of through social justice and then realizing there were so many environmental injustices. So I’m like, you know, I guess I’ll be an environmentalist because this is an area of social injustice that I wanted to tackle. And then also, I just always have been really passionate about like natural living and green beauty and sustainable supply chains and ethical fashion. So I guess I was always like environmentalist adjacent, but not necessarily an environmentalist until probably I started working at Patagonia about two years ago. They kind of nicknamed themselves the activist company. So my first week of work, I actually went to one of the biggest climate protests.

Leah Thomas:

And that’s when I really realized like, okay, this is something where I can be an activist and this is something that I really care about. And I’m going to try to push for environmental justice as much as possible, my journey as an environmental advocate.

Kristy Drutman:

So I grew up in a very conservative hometown called Corona, California, ironic to the coronavirus happening right now. I grew up kind of knowing about environmental issues, going to beach cleanups and park cleanups, but it was never something that was really rooted in concepts around justice. And so that didn’t start becoming a real reality to me until I entered college at UC Berkeley.

Gale – Narration:

Like Leah, Kristy got involved in college. She attended Power Shift, a nationwide conference that brought together young people who were interested in environmental sustainability. It was there she first learned about environmental justice.

Kristy Drutman:

It just blew my mind. I was like, there’s this whole world of environmental advocacy. And so I first got started doing, uh, anti-fracking work. So trying to work with other young people across the state of California to get fracking banned statewide. And that was kind of my intro entry point into environmental activism, my freshman year of college.

Gale – Narration:

Well, what was it about fracking that like, did it resonate with you on an emotional level? Because I, I feel like so much of advocacy is feeling personally connected to a cause.

Kristy Drutman:

Yeah. Well, I mean, fracking was my entry point. As I mentioned, I guess I kind of skipped over what really actually convinced me that climate change was the issue I wanted to care about. But fracking was the entry point. As I realized that a lot of communities in the central Valley, especially like people from the Latinex community, which are people that like, I mean, I didn’t grow up in the central Valley, but the demographics, the people that were being are being impacted by fracking look a lot like my friend’s parents and Corona, a lot of them are like undocumented immigrants and a lot of them are being impacted by pollution in their communities, in the work they’re doing. And so I remember that being like this really big moment where at least in my college activism, I felt like this isn’t right, that these communities are being impacted in this way, but it didn’t become personal to me.

Kristy Drutman:

Climate change and environmental issues. It become personal to me until a Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines hit. And that’s when things started getting really real for me because I started realizing that like climate change was not just like impacting communities here in the U S it was actually impacting people in my family’s homeland. And so that was like, I would say that was like the moment that I started taking it a lot more seriously and a lot more personally. And then a few years after that happened, um, when I first was exposed to climate change, having an impact in the Philippines, I actually worked and lived in the Philippines in 2016 for a summer where I actually lived in the Southern Philippines in Mindanao for a short period of time and worked with the Lumad who are the indigenous people of the Southern Philippines. And that was when I first got a real firsthand look at how climate change was impacting frontline communities on the ground and did a lot of investigative reporting on how farmers and children in these communities, uh, were being killed on the front lines due to mining and extraction, uh, in the Southern Philippines.

Gale:

Wow. I can see why that would have been life changing.

Kristy Drutman:

And then towards the end of college, I realized that I didn’t want to just do like environmental advocacy. I wanted to think about who wasn’t being included in the conversation. And so me and my friends, we formed this group called the students of color environmental collective at UC Berkeley. That actually was a group that was centered around trying to include more people of color and our college of natural resources at UC Berkeley in the conversation, uh, both of the curriculum, uh, the activities we were doing in the clubs and things we were engaging with with environmental discourse. So that basically led me to where I am now at the end of college. And my last semester in 2017 is when I came up with the idea for Brown Girl Green, uh, which is my podcast and media series that basically took the lessons that I learned from all of my activism and burnout and frustration of the lack of representation of people of color. And I, I was wanting to funnel into a media platform where I could bring my own authentic voice into my environmental advocacy. So that’s like where I’m at now. It’s like the synergy of like activism and then wanting diversity and inclusion now into this merged platform of me just being myself, essentially.

Gale – Narration:

Podcasting, blogging, and microblogging through Brown Girl Green is how Kristy is working to change what it means to be an environmentalist in the 21st century. They’re tools that she uses in the fight for environmental justice for all. Leah also uses writing and her communications background to tell a more complex environmental story.

Leah Thomas:

I’m trying to think I’ve been writing about social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement since about 2014. But I started writing about environmental justice probably about a year or two ago. My first piece where I really started talking about it was the intersectional environmentalist piece I wrote for the good trade and 2019. Um, I may have had a couple other writings before then, but before that I was doing a lot of environmental justice based like research projects when I was in school. So examining the access to green spaces and clean air and clean water, clean water using GIS and like mapping. So I could be able to tell which areas had better access to air quality and which ones had worse and kind of just finding the data that a lot of POC communities, unfortunately, didn’t have great access to those things. Um, but I started writing about it maybe about a year or two ago.

Gale:

Hmm. And was the, the drive to write about it similar to how you described your writing process? Like you’ve just been thinking about it, it felt passionate about it and wanted more people to, to acknowledge this, the intersectionality of environmentalism.

Leah Thomas:

Yeah. It’s so weird. Like, I don’t even know how to explain it because I’ll just have these moments where I’ll wake up and I just feel as clear as I could and I just am like, I need to write and then I write and then there’s sometimes when I honestly don’t feel that way, which can be really difficult because I’m freelancing for a lot more people now. And they want me to write about the same topic. So I’m trying to find new creative ways. But I think my best work is when I have those moments when I just wake up and I’ve kind of worked through my emotions already, because it’s hard for me to write if I haven’t worked through that, those emotions, because I’m not speaking from a place of clarity and while I might be passionate, it might be very angry or it might not be very, it won’t flow the way that I think it does.

Leah Thomas:

And some of my more recent writings where people could identify with it a little bit more. So I think I need just like a moment of clarity and I’ll wake up and I’ll just say like, today’s the day I’m going to write something. And I know that might sound silly, but I just had these moments when I know that it’s time to write. And then I have moments that could, it could be months that go by where I don’t feel compelled to write anything in particular, but I’ll just have a light bulb moment. I’ll get it out and then I’ll share it most of the time people don’t read it. And then every now and again, the whole world reads it. But, you know, I don’t know why, but that’s kind of my process,

Gale – Narration:

The whole world, or close to it, read Leah’s writing a few weeks back. A slider post on her Instagram, GreenGirlLeah, read “Environmentalists for Black Lives Matter” and went on to define “ intersectional environmentalism” We’ll learn what it means to be an intersectional environmentalist, after this.

MIDROLL AD Break

 

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Gale – Narration:

We’re back. One of the things Leah and Kristy have in common is a drive to rethink what it means to be an environmentalist. In certain ways, Kristy would like to come up with a new term altogether.

Gale:

I recently saw that you shared that you’re reconsidering the term environmentalist. Can you share a bit as to why you don’t always feel like you identify with that term?

Kristy Drutman:

So I would say that I am trying to redefine the term environmentalist because there’s a really deep history there on like where that term comes from. And of course, like for the longest time I would call myself an environmentalist because I wanted it to be a term that showed my values that like I’m thinking about the planet, I’m thinking about my connection to nature, because if I don’t call myself an environmentalist, then like that message may get lost or it may not resonate with people that like, that’s what voice I’m bringing into the space. And in general, humanity likes to put labels on things and we like to operate that way. And so that’s kind of why I veered towards using the term environmentalist, why I want to redefine that as, because I think the term environment just is so limiting. Like we only think about forests and oceans and landscapes, things like that when we’re thinking about, uh, the environment, we, our brains automatically go to the natural environment. So when I tell people I’m an environmentalist, they think I’m saving the polar bears or saving cores. And that’s super important. I think that work is very, very, very important for, you know, creating a sustainable and clean world in the future, but it ignores the human aspect of things. And so I think I’ve been wanting to redefine environmentalist because there’s so many more environmental pollutants or harms in our world today that are perpetuated like environmental racism as a concept may be a better term, like environmental, maybe a better term than calling myself an environmentalist.

Gale:

And not to mention like how actively racist the environmentalism movement, you know, the whole roots of it…

Kristy Drutman:

Right I’m dancing around that, but yes, I think also the environmental movement has been rooted in a lot of white supremacists, uh, racist ideologies from its conception, with the conservation movement in the early 20th century. And, you know, there needs to be a reclamation of environmentalism, especially by people, indigenous Black, brown folks who were pushed out of their lands and pushed out of the conversation to be considered an environmentalist by white folks. So, yeah.

Gale:

Yeah. Well, thank you for saying that it’s very important.

Gale – Narration:

There are so many ways that the origins of the environmental movement trickles down to injustice today, but one reflection of this is the lack of Black, brown and indigenous people working in the environmental field.

Kristy Drutman:

There’s this amazing report called the green 2.0 report that talks about the lack of diversity in environmental nonprofits and foundations across the United States. And I think it’s a really important resource for people to actually visualize and understand the gap in the environmental industry that currently exists around the lack of diversity in the environmental field.

Gale – Narration:

There are so many ways the origins of environmentalist movement trickles down to injustice today – but one reflection of this is the lack of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people working in the environmental field. Leah also wanted a new term to better encompass what we should be striving for in the fight for people and planet. She introduced the term “intersectional environmentalist” on her social media account on May 28th, stating that “social justice cannot wait. It’s in not an optional add-on to environmentalism.”

Gale:

So what is, and you can be as simple as you want answering this, and I’m sure you’ve answered this a million times in the past week, but like what is intersectional environmentalism?

Leah Thomas:

Yeah. So to give you some background of how I came to that term. So I had heard of intersectional feminism while I was in college and I was in a lot of feminist spaces because I wanted to be a part of that movement, but I felt like when I would bring up like Latin X and black and indigenous women into the conversation and speak about how they actually earned even less to, you know, like the dollar, those statistics that are like women earn such and such less to a man and then finding out that like, okay, well, all of these POC women are actually earning even less. So when I would want to bring up those sorts of things, I felt like it was kind of silenced or I would have people say things that were very all lives matter, ish like, well, we just are all women and we need to just fight for women.

Leah Thomas:

And it felt like I was continuously having to ignore parts of my identity to stand in solidarity with people who wouldn’t stand in solidarity with those different aspects of my identity and it just felt wrong. So I learned about intersectional feminism, which is a type of feminism that incorporates those different experiences and brings them to the forefront and doesn’t shy away from race or culture and how it might impact someone’s identity within the feminist movement. And I just about a year ago, and I wrote that piece about intersectional environmental ism. I just realized if my feminism is intersectional, then social, my environment’s realism. It just made sense. So I’ve been saying this term for awhile, and I wrote that post, not knowing if it was a term or not. And I Googled intersectional environmentalism before I made this pledge. I didn’t really find anything online except for the one article that I wrote.

Leah Thomas:

There was an article from 2014, from someone who said, I want my environmentalism to be intersectional. And then there was a question where someone I was asking like, what is intersectional environmentalism for awhile from a while ago? But I couldn’t find a definition that was like publicly accepted or a definition for what, the way that I was practicing my environmentalist. So that’s what I did. And my one moment of clarity, I just started typing and the cool thing about language and being a communications person. And especially if you’re like making something up is to be able to, it’s what I want. You know, like it’s a definition of the environmental ism that I would love to see environmentalist practice. And that’s one that advocates for the protection of both people and the planet and it doesn’t silence or minimize the voices of vulnerable communities.

Leah Thomas:

And it actually brings those voices to the forefront and realizes the way that injustices that are done to marginalized communities and the earth are all interconnected and intersectional environmentalism. Like I said earlier, it advocates for justice for both people on the planet. And it doesn’t separate the two because I’ve found that a lot in environmental spaces where people will say, Oh, you know, we’re talking about the planet. We’re not really a social justice, you know, organization, or we can talk about environmental justice, but that’s, as far as it will go. So I wanted there to be a new environmentalism, maybe thinking a little big, but I wanted there to be a new wave of environmentalism that doesn’t make that distinction and just exists to advocate for justice for both people.

Gale:

And the planet is then environmental justice, like the end goal. Is that, is that what the distinction is?

Leah Thomas:

Absolutely. I think I had never heard someone say I’m an, how would you even say that I’m in these, I’m an environmental justice advocate or they could say, I advocate for environmental justice, but to me, I think this can, so people can use the language to identify who they are and the type of environmental ism that they practice to lead to the goal of environmental justice. So they don’t, they’re not competing against each other. I would just say intersectional environmentalist is an, an identifier intersectional environment. Totalism is a way to accomplish environmental justice and is a way to fight against those environmental injustices.

Gale – Narration:

As a communicator, Leah has a wildly specific understanding of language. She talked about that clarity she feels when she’s driven to write, and while emotion should play a strong role in our fight for environmental justice – I really appreciate how important being aligned and specific on the words we use to describe what it is we stand for – so long as we don’t get lost in semantics or fighting. Talking with Leah and Kristy helped me get clear on intersectional environmentalism, environmental justice, and environmental racism. I asked Kristy about the latter.

Kristy Drutman:

Environmental racism, I guess in my own words, but also like pulling from a lot of smart people. Who’ve come up with this before is I essentially like racist structural practices that essentially place communities of color and low income communities in the proximity to environmental harm. So that can either be a power plant that could be oil and gas Wells that could be like deforestation of their local community. It could also just be like the murder of environmental defenders. So like I said, indigenous people worldwide are getting killed, defending their land from mining and extraction. And a lot of what is claimed is that deforestation of their land and, you know, mining extracting of their land is, is to create economic development in countries of the global South. And I would say that, you know, that narrative around economic development over people’s lives, um, is a common thread that we’re seeing in a lot of frontline communities. And I would say that environmental racism is at the heart of it because people, yeah, I mean, when we’re looking at like the concept of slavery in the U S like that was originally justified also because of economic development. And now we’re seeing that just like spun around in current stages of like, we need exponential growth and exponential development to be able to sustain our economy at the expense of human lives. And I think that’s completely racist and unjust.

Gale – Narration:

Yeah. And something that seems apparent to me is that this environmental racism and these environmental injustices are intentional. Like, I feel like a lot of times people want to distance themselves from the action or that from the effect, I guess like the effect of this, but it is, it was all very intentional.

Kristy Drutman:

Totally. I think there’s a lot of arguments, at least in the environmental justice field. There’s this common talk of the chicken or the egg, was that community there first or was the power plan there first? And did the community only move there because the real estate was cheaper because the power plant was there or did the power plant, you know, decide to move in and expand because they knew they could because this community doesn’t have as much agency or economic or political power to do something about it. And that’s where things get weightier. And because there’s not a lot of, you know, mainstream discourse talking about why neighborhoods should not be promoting polluting facilities in poor and black and Brown neighborhoods, a lot of people get away with it. And by a lot of people, I mean, a lot of these corporations and companies who argue well, you know, we’re giving back to the community, we give them textbooks, we help out their families with jobs. So who are you to say that we’re being racist? It gets like super in the weeds.

Gale:

Yeah. And then when you, like, like you were saying, if you have that chicken or the egg scenario, it makes it easier for, for there not to be solutions then.

Kristy Drutman:

Exactly. They just, you know, there’s a lot of like, Oh, well, you know, the community could just move. Like, you don’t want to live here. You can just move out. But that’s, that’s so like not accurate because a lot of these communities, they don’t have the money to just like relocate or they don’t have those opportunities. And so they’re stuck and they don’t want to have to leave their communities, but these are their people. And, you know, they shouldn’t have to even consider that as an option. And I think that that’s all rooted in what I consider environmental racism, because you’re giving people a rock and a hard place to decide how to have a livable way of living their lives.

Gale – Narration:

One of the reasons environmentalism hasn’t always been acknowledged as being intersectional is the disconnect that’s been perpetuated between the natural world and the human world.

Gale:

It feels like such an obvious statement that we live in the environment that we want to protect.

Leah Thomas:

Yeah. I think there’s just something about society where we’ve really distance ourselves from nature, even though we’re living in we’re we’re in it, you know, but I think we, as a society have been tricked into believing that nature is something that we go to, we can go to a national park or we can go to the beach, but then in our normal day to day life, you know, we’re in our house. Um, but when we step outside, like we’re still breathing air. And when we go to the beach, like, you know, we’re still a part of nature and our neighborhoods are a little ecosystems. And I think we’re just really detached from that language, I guess. So it kind of can be hard for people to realize like how interconnected we are and how this is kind of an ecosystem. So I think the more people are able to reconnect with our sense of being in nature at all times, like even our neighborhoods are a part of nature. Hopefully people will begin to even just protect their own neighborhoods and make sure that, you know, people aren’t living in toxic waste sites or that there’s not poor air quality, a couple miles away. And I think the more people are able to connect back to our place in nature, then, um, things would get a little bit better

Gale – Narration:

Throughout this episode, we’ve touched on environmental injustices but I asked Kristy to share a few examples that came to mind for her.

Kristy Drutman:

I would say that one major one is the water crisis happening in both like the city of Flint, but also in Newark. Those are both cities in the United States that are predominantly black led communities. Basically they’re not getting access to clean water. Of course, there’s been a lot of social media outrage that a lot of studies like Flint and Newark are not getting access to clean water in that like local government leaders need to do something about it, but it’s been several years, for example, for Flint, Michigan. And they still don’t have clean water, even though like, you know, they’ve had celebrities come in and they’ve had all this press and they’ve had scientists and doctors all be like Flint needs clean water. You know, the government’s still moving very slow on it. So I did that. That’s one tangible example and similar issues in Newark.

Kristy Drutman:

It’s another situation in another city where they’re also dealing with local politics to be able to get access to clean water. And so everyone has to like rely on plastic water bottles, which I’m sure environmental is, are fans of, but if you don’t have access to clean water, what are you going to do? So I’d say that’s one key example that people can look into you. I had say second example of environmental injustice is I would say like, what’s going on right now as farm workers during COVID. I mean, a lot of them have to be exposed to a lot of toxic pesticides. Now we’re coming upon summer here in California and you know, they’re suffering from heat stroke. And so there’s a lot of funds and folks that are, are coming out and saying, Hey, like, people need to really remember that farm workers are growing your food right now while we’re in like a pandemic crisis and no one’s paying attention to them again, I think that’s a clear case of environmental racism because yes, of course there’s like tons of people, lawyers, environmental justice advocates that are trying to fight for farmworker rights.

Kristy Drutman:

But again, like you don’t hear that much about that in the news, those, those folks don’t actually have as many protections, um, because a lot of them are undocumented immigrants. And so I would say that’s another environmental injustice that needs to be addressed, especially in times of COVID. And then I would say a third example are these environmental defenders being killed, especially in the Amazon, but also in the Philippines. And, uh, I mean, there’s a lot to go in there, but I would say that like, like I said before, I would say that’s an environmental injustice because a lot of these people are being killed for speaking up about injustices. There’s actually this woman that I interviewed on my podcast about a month ago, and she told me about the story of this woman named Gloria Capitan, who lived in the Philippines. And she lived in this small Island village.

Kristy Drutman:

And basically she wanted to, uh, protest against this coal power plant for polluting the air that was affecting her karaoke bar. She wasn’t environmental activists, but she became an environmental activist, um, to try to fight this coal power plant. And then basically that led her into many years of, uh, climate change activism and just going around the Philippines, teaching people about what environmental injustice met and then, you know, a couple years later after getting a lot of threats, um, and insults from people, both in her community, but also from, um, these outside powers, she actually ended up getting murdered. And there’s not a lot of information or evidence as to who exactly murdered her, but there was a lot of suspicions that it was people that had these vested interests in the coal power plant. And so there’s a lot of stories like that, um, that people can look up or look into. But I think groups like global green grants fund are doing amazing work to try to help environmental defenders, um, right now. And so I think that’s a very clear environmental injustice that not a lot of people talk about.

Gale:

Yeah. And a common theme is people not wanting to give up power, right? Like they’re going to defend their own power to the detriment of so many people.

Kristy Drutman:

Exactly. Exactly.

Gale – Narration:

The more you look for environmental injustices, the more you’re likely to see them. A lot of them boil down to what some of us might take for granted – safe water, clean air, access to adequate nutrition. We are interacting with the environment with every meal we cook, every breath we take. And it’s more likely for your health to be negatively impacted by the environment if you’re not white. Leah wrote an article for Vogue titled “why every environmentalist should be anti-racist” and cited a 2018 study on air quality published in the American Journal of Public health that found that non-whites had 1.28 times higher burden and Black residents had a 1.54 times higher burden due to exposure to particulate matter.

Gale – Narration:

Climate justice advocate Mary Annaise Heglar wrote an essay for Huffington Post called ‘We don’t have to halt climate action to fight racism’ – quote: “Climate change is not the great equalizer. It’ is the great multiplier.” Kristy spoke to this, too.

Kristy Drutman:

When we’re talking about violence against the black community. We also taught how to talk about violence against the black community in terms of environmental injustice, because a lot of black communities are being impacted by environmental racism. Aren’t getting access to clean air, clean water, healthy food. And so we have to address the systemic inequities that continue to reduce the life chances for black people. And I think the environment is, is directly tied into that. And so I’ve been putting out a lot of content connecting why climate change and the black lives matter movement needs to go hand in hand. And especially that we need black voices to be in the climate movement to be helping lead the climate movement forward. Because if we don’t listen to people who are the most marginalized on the front lines of the climate crisis, how are we going to be able to create climate solutions that are actually inclusive and considerate of those perspectives

Gale – Narration:

For Kristy and Leah, the concept of intersectional environmentalism isn’t new, but it is vital.

Leah Thomas:

It’s strange. I’m very thankful that I, I’m kind of saying some of the things I’ve been saying for a while, which is just like kind of funny. And I feel like a lot of my friends are people of color that are also environmentalist. And I feel really lucky and there’s never really been a question of like, like should environmental ism also encompass like our different cultural identities. And I think that’s, what’s made my camping trips and explorations into nature so much better because we’re not running away from our culture and our ancestors and how that relates to our relationship to the land. We’re actually accepting it. And I really hope more people do that. And won’t have to make those distinctions between their identity and their environmentalism, because think it makes it so much more beautiful when people can say, this is my historic connection to the land, or here are some of my practices that, you know, my ancestors did that relate to the way that I view the world.

Leah Thomas:

I think that’s such a beautiful thing and should definitely be a part of environmentalism. Um, and like you said, also, it’s really important to also narrow in, on some of those environmental injustices and the more that we separate culture and race from environmentalism, the more those environmental injustices are going to continue to thrive because people will say, Oh, no, no, no, that’s actually a race issue. That’s actually a wealth inequality issue. Instead of just saying these things are interconnected and we need to just address them all because they are an environmentalist issue. And if someone identifies as an intersectional environmentalist, they’ll be able to say that these other issues are environmental issues because both people on the planet should be protected. And that’s what I think environmentalist should stand for.

Gale – Narration:

In listening to Leah and Kristy, odds are pretty good that you have a better idea of what it means to be an intersectional environmentalist fighting for environmental justice. They both use writing and storytelling as tools to raise awareness and help folks get involved. I wanted to know how listeners can join in.

Gale:

What advice do you have for women who are looking to harness their own tools or their own authenticity to help change what it means to fight for the environment?

Kristy Drutman:

I would say that everyone has a role and everyone has talents to bring to this space. And I think it’s a matter of you not staying in a place of guilt or shame that you haven’t done enough, or you haven’t been perfect. And I think it’s about thinking deeply about how you want to mobilize people who will trust you and people in your family or your community who will trust you in your voice. And you have to like, understand, well, what is my tone? How would I want to demonstrate this? How would I want to make this more accessible to people? Because I think in the fight for liberation and in the fight for it, environmentally, just future, we need people who are leaving shame at the door and instead taking responsibility for their actions and for other people in their communities, actions to build the world that we want to see.

Kristy Drutman:

And so my big biggest advice is just own your power, stay humble and ask questions that you probably don’t have answers for and stay curious because you never know what relationships you’re going to be able to build by caring about the environment, not just from caring about the birds and the bees, but actually caring about people. You never know who you’re gonna meet and actually be able to build community with both online and offline to continue creating these webs of environmental consciousness. And that’s, that’s my sincere goal of my platform is to be able to inspire and spark people, to tell their own story and to continue webbing out these stories about environmentalism that gets people in their own circles, who only they can communicate to, to care.

Gale – Narration:

Oh, Oh, that’s so beautiful.

Kristy Drutman:

Thank you.

Gale – Narration:

Kristy took this one step further, too,

Kristy Drutman:

Really support and amplify the work of Black Brown and indigenous environmental creators. I think it’s not enough to just follow people. I think following people is really important, but I hope that people, when they’re thinking about sustainable environmental activism, that they’re also creating sustainable relationships with people both online and offline. And I think a key part of that is to learn from Brown, black and indigenous creators, but to also honor their work, um, try to actually see how you can support them in tangible ways and build intentional relationships with them

Gale:

For you personally, how are you ensuring that your commitment and fight for environmental justice is sustainable longterm? Because like we talked about before, it takes a lot of work. You don’t want things to flare out or burn out. Um, so how do you kind of set yourself up for like a resilient and longterm fight?

Kristy Drutman:

Yeah, so, I mean, I kind of hinted at this at the beginning of the interview, but when I was in college, I really burnt out doing all the protests, doing demonstrations, doing a lot of like that on the ground, grassroots activism. I think that stuff is really awesome. I love it. I don’t know exactly if like those specific tactics are like specifically for me in terms of like how I’m engaging in my form of activism for the long term. I think for me, it’s about creating content that feels authentic to me. And that I’m actually cultivating relationships, not just doing one off things with people, but actually like continuing to get to know them, um, and continuing to cultivate trust. And I think that sometimes people think with activism, especially in the climate space that like we only have 10 years left, we have to move quickly.

Kristy Drutman:

It’s like, yes and no. At the same time, like, yes, we need to like be putting a lot of pressure on, um, leaders and politicians to take action. But we also need a slow down in some ways to be like, well, well, what is my actual, your actual role? What am I contributing? And where are my strengths? And where are my weaknesses and where are my boundaries? And I think it’s been several years of me having to figure that out because there’s been a lot of times where a lot of people are like, well, it’s the middle of man. You have to give everything to the movie. It’s like, well, I can’t give crap to the movement. If my body is damaged, if my brain’s not functioning. And if I’m just feeling really like sad and miserable, burnt out, you’re like, you’re no use to anyone.

Kristy Drutman:

Honestly, if you’re just like hating yourself because you’re not taking care of yourself. So I’ve had to like constantly reevaluate and take time to be like, Hey, maybe you’re going too fast, Kristy, Hey, maybe you’re not being as intentional about how you’re approaching this person or this project. Maybe you need to take a step back and actually journal reflect on it, take a break. Um, and so I would just say every day, setting, very clear intentions on how I do this work when I’m going to say no and what energy I am willing to give and not give to different situations. People and projects is very important to making this work sustainable for me in the longterm. And it’s something that I’m currently still learning and excited to continue sharing those lessons with people on my show as well.

Gale – Narration:

You can tune into Kristy’s podcast, Brown Girl Green, wherever you listen to podcasts and learn more t BrownGirlGreen.org. It’s a great way to stay informed, grow with Kristy, and help create change.

Gale – Narration:

Another way to get involved? Leah recently launched Intersectional Environmentalist.com.

Leah Thomas:

I’m so excited. It’s super scrappy right now. And I hope people bear with me, but I’ve got some really amazing friends that are environmental activists that are working super hard to make this website. And we’re hoping to launch in the next couple of days, and it’s going to be a resource for people to be able to just connect the dots a little bit more. So there’s going to be different issue areas. So people could click on a button that relates to the LGBTQ plus community, and then they can click into it and find really amazing peer reviewed literature, as well as personal articles. People, they should follow art, documentaries, and TV, all of that that they can look at and say, Oh wow, this is how environmental connects to this particular issue area or community. And here are ways that I can support.

Gale – Narration:

Hmm. Oh, I love that. There’s a, even like a holistic component to their, their being it not just being like scholarly resources, different as, you know, as a communicator, there’s different ways of telling stories and it really helps to, to be moved and also to see people. I imagine, you know, if you’re in the LGBTQ community to like see people and hear stories of people like you and moves even to action.

Leah Thomas:

Exactly. And I just, as a communicator, I kind of know what I’m doing. Like you said, I’m trying to provide everything, all the data, all the data. So no one can come to this website and look away and say, Oh, you know, environmental ism, isn’t a people issue. I want them to see, I want them to see all the different ways. And I’m also, we’re going to have an allyship button and community. So for people who might not identify in any of these like issue areas, they’re going to find ways that they can be better allies to these communities and support these communities and amplify their voices. So we want this to be as inclusive as possible. We’re human. So I’m sure we’re going to make mistakes, but we’re trying to consult as many experts in these different issue, area topics. So we can just make it as great as we possibly can because we really want to do justice. And if we have people interested and I have this weird spotlight where people are following me, then I just want to act really quickly. And then I can sleep. You know, I’ll sleep in a couple of weeks and I’ll be fine, but I want to get it out so that people.

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