When Becoming an Environmentalist Isn’t Enough

Liner Notes / Andrea Manning

A decade ago, when I was in elementary school, I began to learn about the climate: from issues such as the melting ice caps to the gradual decline of polar bears to the warming of our Earth. It was interesting to say the least, but for me it wasn’t enough. At a time when symbols were everything, I internalized the image of the happy Coca-Cola drinking polar bears over the image of the dying polar bears on desolate ice caps. Melting ice caps evoked a strong image of the Titanic and particularly of Leonardo DiCaprio (who I was still convinced was named Leonardo DaVinci, but that’s another story). And increasing temperatures immediately made me think of summertime, when I would be surrounded by access to water in the form of garden hoses, showers, and local community pools. In all, every alarming aspect of the climate crisis was reduced to a smile-inducing memory of some non-concerning image of life.

As a young black girl, there was one thing that could never be conflated or reduced to a non-concerning image--civil rights. I was born into a legacy of trials and triumph. Taught from birth the power and pain that colors my skin. At the same time I was learning about the climate crisis during science class, I was learning about the civil rights movement at home. From books, to documentaries, to lectures and recollections of memories from various family members--the Black struggle was not unbeknownst to me. Nor was it trivialized or reduced to such a rudimentary vision of summer heat, Coca-Cola, and the Titanic.

As I grew up, I couldn’t help but care about Black issues in all its forms. At the age of 12, Trayvon Martin was killed and thus I was ushered into the age where I began to look at the inescapable legacy of racism face-to-face. No longer was it confined to the spine of a book or bound in the stories of my elders. It was right in front of me.

In High School, I was introduced once more to the climate crisis. This time, it came in the form of a budding youth organization named Zero Hour. Zero Hour boasted of an intersectional approach to climate organizing, putting an emphasis on those on the frontlines--the Black, Brown and otherwise marginalized groups in society. As someone who has forever spent time concerned with racial issues, this new angle was intriguing.

I began to delve into their platform and learn about the ways that so many of the issues we’re facing are tied to the climate crisis. Never before had I considered that housing insecurity, education inequity, lack of clean drinking water at the hands of the government, and related issues could be tied back to a phenomena known as “environmental racism”.

In opening my eyes to this new vocabulary and way of viewing the climate crises, I began to expand the horizons of racial justice work I could get into. It made me realize that even though becoming just an “environmentalist” for the sake of the environment wasn’t enough for me, that was okay. Because for a long time, I didn’t understand the true weight of the situation that we’ve found ourselves in.

Yet it was through intersectional environmentalism that I found a calling, a purpose, and a connection to those environmental issues I once felt so distant from. Intersectional environmentalism is described as, “an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected” (IntersectionalEnvironmentalist.com).

This form of environmentalism is the most inclusive and world-changing view of environmentalism I’ve encountered to date. It connects different sectors of social justice together through an environmental lens and focuses on not just saving the environment for the sake of the environment, but doing so for the sake of the people--your family, friends, neighbors…yourself.

Now, when people are considering stepping into the world of environmental activism, I encourage them to consider this approach. It’s not just about the environment, but also the people. And it’s so important that we take action for both, even if it may not seem like it.

About the Author

Andrea Manning, 20, is the Deputy Music Director at This Is Zero Hour. She is based in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. She loves reading, making music, art, writing and scrolling on Instagram. You can follow her @aerdnamanning.