Vox examines the changing face of environmentalism, as the communities most affected by climate change are often non-white.
Environmentalism is more compelling when it’s inclusive.
The People’s Climate March on Saturday was an arresting demonstration of fear and angst. Tens of thousands of people descended upon Washington, DC (and 370 other cities), to wave banners and pound their drums, with one clear message for the Trump administration: Your attitude toward the environment is reprehensible, and your policies will do great harm.
The march had many of the familiar features of tree-hugger gatherings — Mother Earth imagery, street performers on stilts, drums. But there was also evidence of something newer: Big Green environmental groups centering the needs of communities vulnerable to climate change, inspired in part by the intersectional sensibility that helped propel the January Women’s March to success.
In their early years, the iconic institutions of the environmental movement — the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resource Defense Council — focused on the white elite for support and outreach.
“Big Green tend to be majority white; they haven’t been representative or present in vulnerable communities,” Catherine Flowers told me. She’s executive director and founder of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, a group that has tackled the risks of raw sewage to low-income communities. She marched on Saturday with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.
High-profile politicians and the typical (white) faces of climate change activists — Gore, author Bill McKibben, Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, Leonardo DiCaprio — were present at the march, but in the wings. Instead, the spotlight was on the Standing Rock Sioux, who pushed back against the Dakota Access pipeline last year; Gulf Coast residents like Cherri Foytlin of Bold Louisiana whose home is literally being washed away; and Miami activists fighting climate gentrification — in other words, people for whom environmental destruction is an immediate danger.