Greenfire and the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) hosted climate activist and author Leah Thomas for a Zoom event about her new book “The Intersectional Environmentalist” on April 12 in Youngchild 121.
Leah Thomas is an intersectional environmental activist and eco-communicator based in Southern California. Among her notable accomplishments, she created the Intersectional Environmentalism (IE) collective with the aim of empowering communities of color who’ve historically been underrepresented in the environmental space. Co-President of Greenfire and sophomore Matthew Pavlik said that he became aware of Thomas’s book during Winter Term and wanted to bring her to campus.
Greenfire communicated with the CCE about hosting Thomas during her book tour, according to Program Coordinator for the Environment and Sustainability at the CCE and sophomore Anders Hanhan. Hanhan added that since the CCE had the resources to order books for students who RSVP’d, it made sense for Greenfire and the CCE to collaborate.
Pavlik agreed with Thomas that the mainstream environmentalist movement is dominated by white people. He hopes that events and discussions like this will be part of a larger shift towards Greenfire being a more social justice-oriented organization. Pavlik also added that he’s excited to work with CCE because he wants Greenfire to be an organization that not only talks about environmental justice but does the work in the community to make it happen.
“Seeing environmental racism is one thing, and as a mostly white organization, we don’t have those lived experiences.” said Pavlik. “We’re educating ourselves and others about people who have these lived experiences.”
Hanhan stressed the importance of looking at environmentalism through the lens of racial justice.
“Climate change very clearly disproportionately affects people of color, the working class, and queer people because those communities are more likely to live in places directly affected by pollution.” said Hanhan.
At the event, students interacted with Thomas, asking questions about her book and life experiences. Thomas stressed the importance of being compassionate and considering other peoples’ life experiences. She referenced the fact that even though plastic straws are harmful for the environment, a lot of disabled people rely on flexible straws, and often, plastic is the only available option. She also brought up that sustainable shopping is often expensive and inaccessible for certain communities.
Thomas highlighted the point that the mainstream environmentalist movement has not always been equitable, pointing to the fact that environmental movements in the past have often succeeded in moving toxic sites out of white communities and into more disadvantaged ones, and referenced the statistics that 70% of Black and brown communities live in areas that violate federal air quality regulations and that 60% of those communities live near toxic dumps.
Thomas also encouraged students to continue to fight for the environment.
“With enough pressure, corporations can make major changes to make our individual choices easier.” said Thomas. “Don’t feel paralyzed to not act because a lot of corporations and industries are responsible. We can make really incredible changes, especially at the local level.”
Among the students who attended the event was junior Sophia Hamer, who highly recommended Thomas’s book to her peers.
“I really enjoyed it.” said Hamer. “I really liked hearing Leah’s insight, I thought that her book is targeted towards anybody and everybody […] Anybody who’s outside of environmental studies can read it and understand what these issues are.”