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How Environmentalists Can Prioritize Racial Justice

How Environmentalists Can Prioritize Racial Justice

Five ways your climate movement can support Black Lives Matter

Sage Wylder
Sage Wylder

Social and racial justice are prerequisites to the positive changes we want to see in the climate sector. Every climate activist and organization must realize that racial issues are interconnected with climate change, making it necessary to incorporate into the climate movement.

We know that society perpetuates both the instrumentalization of the Earth and systemic racism which keeps many communities from being able to reclaim the power of full sovereignty over climate choices.

But it does not end with simply the acknowledgement that Black communities are disproportionately affected. This was the entire premise behind Environmental Justice, the term coined by Robert D. Bullard.

The climate crisis calls for radical change in the systems that govern our industrialized and globalized world. So how can the climate movement put the work of dismantling systemic racism in every institution (education, healthcare, politics, justice, food, water, etc.) at the forefront of these efforts?

People march towards the Washington Monument at the Black Lives Matter protest in Washington DC 6/6/2020 (IG: @clay.banks)
Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

We must reimagine and reframe a climate movement in which Black activists (who have been doing this work already) are at the leading edge of the movement. By checking in with ourselves, fellow activists, and allies we can influence climate activism to become more effective and inclusive.

How to support BLM efforts in your climate activism work:

1. Acknowledging the erasure of Black experiences

As much as there is to learn, there is a lot to unlearn when it comes to the revisionist history most of us were taught in K-12. It is not until later in life that many people realize the narrative regarding the founding and development of America are not entirely true or realistic. There is a lot of information strategically and intentionally left out. Stories of how the U.S. came have been retold from a far more accurate perspective in books such as "A Black Women's History of the United States."

Relearning is not only about oppression and trauma, however, it is also paramount to highlight Black joy, family, culture, triumphs, and leadership #BlackJoyMatters.  It is damaging to only portray Black, Indigenous, and People of Color as victims, rather, we should all acknowledge the resiliency of human spirit and unrelenting determination of the people that have faced the greatest hardships.

2. Calling out radical exclusion

There is a tendency to white wash climate activism similarly to how we green wash the environmental movement. One pertinent example of society's idolization of white youth activists is from the 2020 World Economic Forum. The Ugandan climate activist, Vanessa Nakate was cropped from a photo published by the Associated Press posing alongside Greta Thunberg and others.

Our preoccupation with the particular story and image of white activism begs us to ask why we do not equally applaud and uplift young, Black and Brown activists in the same ways. Many BIPOC youth all across the globe have not had nearly the same media coverage or spotlight on their work, even if they were part of the movement for longer than Thunberg herself.

Who are some of these activists? Here are “Five Young Black Climate Justice Leaders You Should Know”:

3. Supporting Black founded organizations

The networks, coalitions, and initiatives listed on the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Resource Organizations website are doing meaningful work both on community and national levels. Many of them have hubs that can be located locally so that folks can join or support in their region.

If you are part of an environmental justice organization already and want to join WeAct to for all of your chat and collaborating needs, join the beta version of the app!

4. Understanding our own identities

By understanding the spaces we occupy the most with our voice and opinions, as well as the spaces we do not—or cannot—typically participate in, we can gain a deeper connection to ourselves and determine when it is appropriate to be at the forefront of the movement or open up the space for other identities to speak for themselves. More can be found from Racial Equity Tools or Embracing Equity.

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5. Uplifting & making space

Going hand in hand with understanding our own identity is checking in to address the dynamics within our own immediate activism circles. If you have an advisory board, steering committee or board of directors, who is at the table? This step requires humility, honesty, and a plan for action if you look around to realize everyone looks exactly like you.

When going beyond just acknowledgement and making a concerted effort to include more diverse representation, it is also important to remember best practices in order to not tokenize individuals based on their identity or delegate all of the burden onto them.

Approach partnerships with reciprocity in mind and remember that it is the responsibility of the entire group to be accountable for equitable and inclusive outcomes. When asking BIPOC for advice or anything that requires time and energy, always compensate for work, opinions, or any form of effort.


Not using climate change as an opportunity to actually discuss and fundamentally address racism in America would be a huge injustice. For some it might be a new concept to look at climate change through a racial justice lens but this is absolutely necessary for activists, grassroots organizations, non-profits, and governments to act in equitable ways.

Right now is the time to create upstream, systemic progress for the betterment of the environment and humanity. Working for racial justice makes you a better environmentalist—really it does.

In what ways are your climate groups taking action for Black lives? Let us know in the comments👇