An Introduction to Intersectionalism – By: Anna Frey

We live in an interconnected world where every living species plays a specific role within its environment, and yet many people are removed from the natural environment in their daily lives and consequently can be apathetic about environmental issues, suffering from the misconception that these do not affect them directly.

As an avid scuba diver, I have seen bleached elkhorn coral forests barren of marine life, local marine food webs decimated by invasive species, and overfished waters that have gutted local fishing economies. Every environmental crisis from climate change to coral bleaching is multifaceted, requiring cooperative action coordinated by intergovernmental agencies and the prioritization of ecological protection by individual nations.

To best tackle the multifaceted issues in the field of sustainability and the environment, intersectional environmentalism must be practiced.

Policymakers must be convinced that there is a political will as well as an economic incentive to pursue strategies that will reduce pollution and protect habitats necessary to support a diverse array of species. Countries must be incentivized to protect their natural resources and value their biodiversity, which can be facilitated through mechanisms such as international treaties, economic opportunities, and social pressure.

This is only a subset of the options that are available to address this crisis. To best tackle the multifaceted issues in the field of sustainability and the environment, intersectional environmentalism must be practiced.

What is intersectional environmentalism?

Intersectional environmentalism is a perspective that accounts for all aspects affecting environmental issues, including but not limited to race, gender, socioeconomic status, and differences in geography and nationality. For example, an intersectional environmentalist would be interested in researching and promoting sustainable and responsible tourism practices, or locating and eliminating food deserts in disadvantaged urban communities that lack access to fresh or organic produce.

The intersectional environmentalist communicates a broad and collective world view to most effectively address environmental issues that are complex and often have social or economic implications. For example, the United States is currently pursuing trade negotiations with Kenya to dispose of chemical and plastic waste. Although this is an economic opportunity for Kenya, one of Africa’s largest economies, the country has pledged to limit its intake of foreign plastics for environmental reasons. In this situation, the economic value of a trade deal with the United States versus the ecological value of preventing the accumulation of plastics in Kenya must be weighed.

“It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. 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.” – Leah Thomas

In our interconnected world it can be difficult to assign responsibility of large global issues. Is it the common citizen’s responsibility to live ethically and reduce their individual environmental impact to stop climate change or prevent deforestation, or is it up to large multinational corporations like Kraft, General Mills and Nestle to pursue efforts such as discontinuing their marketing of single use plastic products to low-income countries in Asia and Latin America? Who is responsible for regulating the actions of the citizen, or of the corporation?

As scuba divers, we have been sensitized to an array of environmental issues first hand through time spent underwater. Our experiences give us a unique appreciation for the environment, and yet we must also acknowledge that we lack the circumstances and experiences of others. Intersectionalism integrates these differences into one comprehensive perspective that reflects multiple diverse approaches within a single solution, and is critical to adequately addressing the environmental crises of today. At Diver’s Paradise, we are committed to incorporating the intersectional lens into the logic and development behind our new Office of Environmental Sustainability.