Intersectional Environmentalism

Nicole DollEducation

Girl holding soil

By Esprit Farmer

As the world changes and progresses, it is our role as a society to grow with it. This lies at the heart of both social and environmental advocacy: the radical idea that we can make the world a better place. 

Feminism focuses on equal rights and freedoms for men and women, but it goes well beyond that. Often called ‘intersectional’ feminism, the idea extends its fight to encompass all minorities, such as persons of colour, persons that are differently-abled, and persons of lower socioeconomic standing. Feminism recognizes that the fight for women’s rights is not over until everyone has equal rights and that all struggles for freedom are interwoven.

So how does this connect to environmental issues? 

Social activism, which holds the goal of justice and equity for all, and environmental activism, with the goal of justice and protection for all living things, are inherently linked. This is the core belief of ecofeminism. This view holds that there is a deep link between women (and by extension all oppressed groups) and nature, which is also being harmed and oppressed.  It emphasizes that in order to fully liberate marginalized groups, society must also respect and protect nature. 

Everyone deserves the opportunity to be in nature, as well as the right to have access to clean water, air, and land. Unfortunately, this is not the case: people of colour and marginalized groups are less likely to live near nature and parks in cities. Moreover, hazardous dumping sites are more likely to be placed near disadvantaged communities.

 This is known as Environmental Racism: underlying prejudices (in governments, institutions, and individuals) see communities of colour to have less value. As well, because the racialized wealth gap typically results in people of colour having less income, they are seen as less valuable to the economy.

This results in their communities being overlooked for nature allocations in cities, and unjustly targeted with hazardous waste. To add to the issues, these vulnerable communities often have less power and wealth to speak against governments and institutions that are polluting their environment. 

Environmental racism can also be seen more indirectly: poor communities and communities of colour are often the first to be impacted by natural disasters and climate change. This can have dire health impacts, since these communities often have less access to clean air and water. 

What does this mean close to home?

The damages caused by institutional racism are especially prevalent in Canada, with the placement of First Nations and Metis reserves. Take Cumberland House Cree Nation for example: just south-west of their community are two hydroelectric dams that cause damage to the water and soil quality. This, combined with overcrowding on their reserves, makes their community more vulnerable to natural disasters such as floods and even pandemics like COVID-19, where 60% of the population was considered vulnerable to the disease at the time of writing.

How do we reconcile these issues? It is necessary to connect the values of ecofeminism, intersectional feminism, and environmentalism. Here at CPAWS-SK we work hard to make our environmentalism intersectional. This means that we hold true to the idea that we cannot protect and manage the environment without considering how it is affecting marginalized people, and how protection can help to empower and support them.

How cities grow must consider the access that their citizens have to nature. In order to do this, minorities must be at the forefront of conservation efforts. In Canada, Indigenous Canadians play a key role in protecting their ancestral homeland. 

One example of environmentalism working to benefit Indigenous communities is the Indigenous Guardians Program. Led by the Mistawasis Nêhiyawak First Nation, this program focuses on protecting bison and connecting the community to the land. Read more about the CPAWS-SK partnership with the Indigenous Guardians Program here.

People and nature are inherently linked, and because of that, we cannot fight for environmentalism without considering those who are affected by environmental consequences the most. 

Read more: 

 Income inequality in Canada divided along racial lines, new report says

Racism derails our attempts to fight the climate 

 Spatial Disparities in the Distribution of Parks and Green Spaces in the USA

 The ENRICH Project

Why Environmentalism Needs to be Intersectional – Yinka N. Bode-George