An Intersectional Environmentalism Reading List
(for beginners and really anyone)
The term “intersectional environmentalism” is particularly helpful to explain the links between social and racial justice and environmentalism. Leah Thomas, intersectional climate activist, best known as ‘greengirlleah’ defines it best as “an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the Earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and to the Earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality. Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people + planet.”
This clear-cut definition, however logical, is not always applied within the environmental spaces. In reality, I had no idea what this movement was, especially after 5 years in the Environmental Studies program. From there I realized how the current environment movements enhance/overlook the systems of oppression. The renewed scrutiny on the links between racism and environmentalism over the last months, made me realize how climate activists, advocates and really anyone concerned about the planet and its people need to do more.
So now that you are here, where do you start? Well, it starts with seeking ways to dismantle these current systems through acknowledgement and more importantly offering a platform to those that tend to be silenced within this space – specifically, voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Color. For that reason, the following books on social inequalities, racism and the environment are recommended to give you a start in engaging in this dialogue ; I hope they will help you understand these links as well as encourage you to generate a conversation within your own circles! P.s. consider seeking out these books from BIPOC-owned bookstores!
Reclaiming BIPOC’s role within environmental spaces
Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry by Camille T. Dungy
Nature poetry has long been limited to work surrounding the wild and pasture. Within these limits, African American poets are often omitted from nature poetry, even with the long tradition of incorporating the natural world in their writings. Instead, their nature poetry is seen as nothing more than protest poetry. Camille T. Dungy’s anthology challenges this concept by presenting 180 poems from 93 different poets – including Sterling Brown and Wanda Coleman. These unique perspectives discuss social and historical literary topics in America (i.e.: the Black Arts Movement, slavery and the late twentieth and early twenty-first-century African American poetic movements), to further broaden our understanding of African American poets and nature poetry.
Carolyn Finney explores how racial violence and past historical policies, such as the Jim Crow law, have shaped (and continue to do so) Black people’s relationship to the great outdoors, to nature and environmentalism in general. Through this she shows how African American’s are underresspected and have limited accessibility in both the abstract and concrete environmental spaces within America, from the outdoor recreation, including trails, environmental industries all the way to brand advertisements. Her book is truly engaging, as she pulls various anecdotes from her own lived personal experiences that will leave you reflecting on your own.
One Drum: Stories and Ceremonies for a Planet by Richard Wagamese
Although this book is not solemnly about sustainability, it offers an outlook on our relationship to nature, something that tends to be seen through a white perspective. Indeed, in One Drum, the late Canadian author and journalist draws on a series of reflections, ceremonies and stories about tradition, Ojibway teachings, tradition and Grandfather Teachings. The book is inherently a conservation that helps the reader relate to living in harmony with nature. All the while offering lessons of respect, courage and humility as an Ojibwe from the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations in northwestern Ontario. His lived experiences, of loss of identity, abuse and neglect, also reintroduces the importance of healing through ceremony, as well as the power to unify and to heal people from every background.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Ultimately disbarring views from other communities, environmental literature tends to limit itself to a Eurocentric view. Professor, scientist and member of the Citizen Potowatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer by showing the connection humans have to the nature world through nature writing, science and indigenous wisdom. Instead of the clear disconnect that tends to be shown currently in the climate emergency response. The traditions and wisdom speaks on the need of this renewed connection with nature that has long been seen within indigenous communities long before colonial ruling. All the while, challenging the barriers of the climate movement through the integration of traditional knowledge.
Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage by Dianne Glave
Dianne Glave’s reclaims Black people’s, including African American’s, relationship to sustainability and nature by offering the reader a historical journey of their relationship and connections with these entities. By exploring their different lived experiences and the African homeland she seeks to dismantle the institutionalized belief of Black people being disconnected to sustainability, nature and the Earth as whole. On the contrary, their practices, skills and ancestral knowledge (i.e.: farming techniques) within the sustainable fields have not only helped them secure their roles as environmental advocates, but it shows how their voices are essential in the environmental movement.
Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice
Winning the Green New Deal : How We Can and Why We Must by Varshini Prakash and Guido Girgenti
I’m sure we have all heard of the Green New Deal. You know the one that promotes intersectional legislation? You know the one set forth by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in the United States? Luckily, the Varshini Parkash and Guido Girgenti collection of essays present the governing version of the Green New Deal; hence, putting intersectional environmentalism in practice. It marks the importance of putting intersectional environmentalism in practice, by acknowledging the ties of social justice and climate action. Ultimately, through a political lens, it addresses the need to diversify how we address the climate emergency response, consider marginalized communities within the environmental spaces, and relating it back to societal issues through legislation. If not, the lack of inclusivity, as pointed out by the authors, will halt change. It should leave you with a clearer understanding of the importance of this concept.
From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement by Luke Cole
Contrary to the lack of acknowledgement, Indigenous and Black communities have a long history when it comes to political mobilization and leading grassroots activities against environmental racism. Indeed, Luke Cole presents in this book how the activism of these two groups brought forward a federal policy in 1994, known as the Executive Order on Environmental Justice that sought environmental protection and mended the inequalities faced by marginalized communities. This mobilization contributed to the growth of and social justice movement against environmental racism. Indeed, the Order brought attention, on a federal level, to the injustices that low-income communities and minorities faced, and the need for greater actions surrounding human health and their environments. Hence, this book is a great read on understanding the role between social justice and the environment, the need for intersectionality and acknowledging the disparities faced by Black and Indigenous communities as well as their resiliency.
Now if you want to have a deeper understanding of how these said environmental hazards unevenly and unfairly effect Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), Harriet Washignton “A Terrible Thing to Waste” is the perfect gateway, as well as Dorceta Taylor “Toxic Communties”
Harriet Washington critically argues that these environmental hazards mainly affect BIPOC, and as a result leave behind serious short-term and long-term health and psychological consequences. She then discusses that on top of many other social issues, these communities are faced to deal with food and water insecurity from the contaminating soils and water supplies, the lack of accessibility to supplies. Ultimately cementing the obvious racism behind their exposition to environmental hazards.
Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residual Mobility by Dorceta Taylor
Similarly, Dorceta Taylor stays on the idea of the minority and poor communities’ disproportionately exposition to environmental hazards, namely industrial pollution. Although she goes to in detail on how the planning, zoning, redlining, and segregation have intentionally made it so that they are affected by these environmental hazards. Hence, they are at a higher risk to have health consequences, including chronic diseases. She further shows how they are currently facing the short-end of the climate emergency response, hence reiterating the role of environmental racism faced by these communities.
Okay, so we know Canada is not at all innocent when it comes to environmental racism….
Through a Canadian lens and using Nova Scotia as a case study, Ingrid Waldon explores the legacy of environmental racism and its effect on the Black and Indigenous communities in Canada. She applies colonialism theory by drawing links between police brutality, social and economic brutality, class, and race issues to further show how these forms of oppression within the Canadian environmental movement harm already vulnerable communities. This has amplified the centralization of white voices within environmental spaces, over Black and Indigenous voices. To further understand this, the author brings forward the resiliency and mobilization of Black and Indigenous communities through grassroots resistance movements; namely their mobilization against environmental racism, in order to resist the pollution and poisoning of their communities. This is an incredibly important read, as even though this is given through a Canadian perspective, this remains an international problem
As Long as Grass Grows: the Indigenous fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio Whitaker
Indigenous activist, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, discusses how Indigenous voices have been disregarded within the environmental movement – a mainstream movement that predominantly whitewashed privileges white people and has colonial roots. She displays the ways that this has happened and the need to reevaluate the current approach by incorporating Indigenous wisdom. The book ultimately reiterates the need to include marginalized voices into the environmental movement, in order to build a more sustainable future. In parallel, it is an important piece that highlights the need for a collaborative approach by providing numerous successful examples. The author also enables the reader to get a better historical insight of Indigenous relationships within the environmental movement, specifically dating from the 1970s and so on, in the United States. Indeed, through instances of land sovereignty and rights, as well as how these environmental spaces have suppressed their voices, the reader can observe the complexity of that relationship.