How Intersectional is Your Climate Justice?

By Zafirah Kensington, GLOBUS Correspondent

Climate justice, as defined by the Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and current Chair of the Elders, “insists on a shift from a discourse on greenhouse gases and melting ice caps into a civil rights movement, with the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts at its heart” (United Nations Sustainable Development, 2019). Another definition, provided by Friends of the Earth Europe (2019), identifies climate justice as a means to “addressing the climate crisis whilst also making progress towards equity and the protection and realization of human rights”. By placing people and communities at the forefront when discussing climate change, room emerges to consider intersectionality and how this can be used in climate justice discourse.  

Intersectionality, a term first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) when exploring black femininity, looks at how belonging to different social groups can affect the human experience, such as race, class, gender, sexuality or disability. As climate justice places climate change issues in the context of the lived human experience it becomes pertinent to consider intersectionality, as personal identities will certainly interact and influence these experiences. In particular, it has been observed that climate change will disproportionally affect women, people of colour, those in the working class, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people with disabilities. When we consider those that may belong to multiple classifications of identity, the situation becomes even more dire.  

It has been identified that 80% of climate refugees are women (Wikler, 2019), meaning that women, in general, are going to be disproportionately affected amongst those displaced by extreme events, as a result of changes in climate. Similarly, within England, “the most deprived 20 per cent of neighbourhoods had higher air pollution levels than the least deprived neighbourhoods”, with the worst air pollution levels seen in “ethnically diverse neighbourhoods” (MRC Centre for Environmental and Health, 2019). This shows that no issue exists in isolation. As in this case, class and race also come into play when discussing the impact on communities.  

These statistics provide evidence for why considering intersectionality is so critical. It is clear to see why it is important to look at climate change and its effects, not through a privileged lens, whether that may be male, white, a citizen of the Global North, or middle class. Instead, we must form a comprehensive outlook which considers how social nuances and these hierarchies of societal privilege interact and influence others. A conscious effort needs to be made to distance ourselves from a completely scientific narrative, and embrace the fact that climate change is also a cultural phenomenon with very real personal impacts. 

But what is it exactly that we can do to be more intersectional?  

  1. Do The Research 

Too often the onus is placed upon members of the marginalised communities to be sources of information, and to constantly offer their lived experiences of how they are, or will be, impacted by climate change. Google (or Ecosia) is free. Whilst it is certainly easier for others to inform us, we shouldn’t limit our breadth of knowledge to what others can tell us and only to what directly impacts us. We have to accept some level of individual responsibility for our own education, in order to be more effective members of the climate justice movement, and help those more disproportionately affected.  Place the responsibility instead on yourself rid yourself of ignorance which, in this instance, is quite literally life-threatening. For guidance on where to begin, see the list of links below this article.  

  1. Support Marginalised Groups 

We must also take notice of campaigners from marginalised backgrounds who, for decades, have been working arduously to help lay the groundwork for effective climate change resistance. All groups and individuals should be provided the same level of visibility as prominent campaigners such Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, so support them to make sure their voices are heard. There’s enough space for more than one voice. Climate change is a problem felt by the collective, and should be championed by the collective too. Here are a few of these notable individuals and organisations worth taking a look at: 

  1. Utilise Your Privilege 

If your white privilege and class privilege protects you, then you have an obligation to use that privilege to tale stands that work to end the injustices that grants the privilege in the first place.”- Ayelet Waldman 

If your privilege affords you the ability to enter certain spaces ruled by cultural hegemony, use your access to bring others with you that can’t. If you have a prominent voice in climate justice issues, share the microphone. If you have the financial ability to support a more sustainable lifestyle, then do so to cover for those who don’t. Understanding that you may have a privilege is just a minor step. Utilising that privilege to help others is where a real difference is made. 

Climate Justice and Intersectionality go hand in hand. Climate Justice cannot be fully realised, or championed for, until we consider how different parts of our identity interact and influence how climate change is felt. As Audre Lorde (BlackPast, 2012) once said “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”. The way humans relate and exist is connected and intertwined. Therefore, it is counterproductive to consider these issues in isolation. 

For more information on how social identities are adversely impacted by climate change you can visit these sites: 

For more information on the lived experiences of different social groups in the face of climate change, you can visit these sites:  

Header Image: Photo by Teddy Österblom on Unsplash

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