Building Thriving Communities on a Resilient Planet

Maggie Dewane

Feb. 19, 2021

Intersectional environmentalism is a relatively new phrase that refers to a more inclusive form of environmentalism, one that ties anti-racist principles into sectors that have long profited from overlooking or ignoring historically disenfranchised populations. 

According to youth activist Leah Thomas, “It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality. Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people and the planet.”

Nearly 20 years ago, the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) was founded on a vision that government could be reimagined and reformed so that it serves all people — regardless of income, background, race, or religion — and our planet. Intersectional environmentalism is that vision: thriving communities on a resilient planet. 

It is also the theme of CPR’s recent Climate, Energy, Justice video series and corresponding report. CPR takes issue with a business-as-usual approach to electricity, transportation, and public lands policies. Using the lens of climate and energy justice and reviewing governance mechanisms and structural considerations, it’s possible to guide the country into a new era, one that includes all communities and safeguards our planet’s future. 

Intersectional environmentalism, climate justice, environmental justice — all are expressions and movements that build on one another to create a fair, sustainable, and secure America. The need for these movements can be seen in countless examples throughout the United States as Black, Brown, Latinx, and low-income communities are often those at highest risk of experiencing preventable diseases and environmental and economic crises and have less access to affordable health care, healthy food, clean air and water, adequate transportation, and other basic needs.

With systemic inequity embedded across the country, the Biden-Harris administration has much ground to cover, and quickly. In a February 2021 interview, Dr. Robert Bullard, the “father” of the environmental justice movement, told the Center for Public Integrity, “We have to make transformative changes right now because so much has been broken. We have to fix a lot of things at the same time.”

For example, a 2021 report published in the journal Environmental Research found that fossil fuel-related air pollution killed an estimated 8.7 million people in 2018 alone, among them 350,000 Americans. Colette Pinchon Battle, executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, commented on the findings, saying, “This new research supports what Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities have known and said for decades: Our communities are being poisoned and killed by fossil fuel pollution and extractive economies.” 

This example alone illustrates the intersectional need to transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy, deliver justice to frontline communities, and build resilient communities that incorporate climate adaptive infrastructure, including affordable and accessible mass transit and health care. 

As President Biden’s nominees for the heads of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Protection Agency, and Departments of Interior and Energy await confirmation, he and Congress have begun preparing and issuing a slew of executive and legislative action to incorporate intersectional environmentalism in order to “build back better.” 

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