How Black Lives Matter And Environmental Justice Are Connected

published on July 2, 2020

– The phrase, "I can't breath!"

just means so much

There are people who are
living in environments

where they literally cannot breathe

properly because of the air quality

We currently are living through a pandemic

that's making it even harder

for those same people to be
able to literally breathe,

and then also, to be threatened

by police officers and to be killed

and not be able to breathe again

It just needs to stop

Hi I'm Leah Thomas

and I'm an environmental
communications specialist

and a Blogger

When you look at the data and you see

where most of the environmental
injustices are happening,

You're gonna find that
it's mostly not happening

in white communities

And some instances it is,

like fracking mountain communities

But the majority of it is
happening in inner cities

or sometimes even rural
black and brown communities

and indigenous communities

COVID is highlighting those

environmental injustices even more,

because in so many communities

black and brown people live in

areas of terrible air
pollution and air quality

And children are experiencing
higher rates of asthma

It's just terrible

I'm from St Louis Missouri
and I went to school

in Orange County

I decided that I wanted
to declare my major

as Environmental Science

And unfortunately during that time,

that's when there was a
shooting of Michael Brown

He was an unarmed black boy
who was shot multiple times

by a police officer

And that happened about
ten minutes from my house

It was really traumatizing

His body was laying in
the street for four hours

and my sister participated
in the protests

Was tear gassed, her
friends were tear gassed

Things were burning to the ground

And then I had to go back to school

Had to go back to California

But I couldn't really focus
because my town back home

was literally falling apart

And I was really coming
to terms with my identity

as a black person in America

And when I was in my
classes I kept learning

about protecting nature and
how healing it could be

And I found it to be
so healing for myself

I was in Southern California

I'm in the mountains

I'm going to the beach

But I just felt so bad
for everyone back home

that was literally drowning

in the smoke of tear gas and fires

And that's when I really got interested

in environmental justice

Just wishing that people,

like the people in the
community of Ferguson,

could have access to the
same thing I had access to

To be able to find healing in nature

and to have a safe environment

I was having a lot of feelings
that I wasn't understanding

because the conversations weren't going on

about intersectional environmentalism

And when I would raise my hand and say,

"What about Flint?"

Or, "What about all these
people that are living

"without access to
healthy organic produce?

What about them?"

It was silenced a lot of the time

Or it just was considered an
add on or something extra

When I was reading about
advocating for public lands

and saving all these endangered species

I just kinda wish I would
have had the courage

to stand up and say,

"Okay, there are all
these endangered species,

"but black people are also endangered

"in this country right now,

"and that's something that's
equally as important"

After witnessing everything
that's been happening

this week I just felt like I really needed

to say something

And really wanted to
encourage environmentalists

that I've stood alongside
in climate protests

to stand alongside me
and all the black people

in America right now

I wasn't hearing a lot about it

from the environmental community

I was kinda disappointed

So I made a post very
specifically in this moment

to say, "Black Lives Matter"

Because sometimes people
seem a little hesitant

to just say the word, "Black"

And I was just trying my hardest

to put on paper how I was feeling

about the type of environmentalism
that I want to see

And I want to see
environmentalism that's inclusive

of all people

And environmentalism that
stands for black lives

I posted it

I thought I was going to get like fired

and that people maybe weren't

gonna be super excited about it

But that definitely wasn't the case

and I was just really
surprised in the best way

to see so many
environmentalists jump on board

So many companies and organizations

that I really look up
to share that message

And it seems like it's
clicking with more people

that if environmentalism isn't inclusive

and intersectional then it doesn't really

stand for justice at
all in the first place

Intersectional environmentalism is

an inclusive version of environmentalism

because it's looking at the degredation

of both the planet and
also the poor treatment

of people, and their
relationship to the planet

And I think we need to focus on people,

because when we're talking
about the climate crisis,

the people who are currently facing

the harshest impacts of climate change

are people of color

A lot of the time I'm
the only black person

in some of these
environmental organizations

And I might be the only person

that's raising awareness for it

And it's a lot easier
for it to be silenced

But if more people in the
environmental movement

could be allies to these causes

I think it would be
talked about even more

And I just wish would start doing that

It's not really about my post

I'm really happy that
people are sharing it,

but I just hope that people take the time

to really learn about
everything that's happening

And just take the time
to dive in to inequity

Everyone has a place in
the environmental movement,

and in social justice movements

Not everybody's gonna be the
person that holds a megaphone,

but you can also share content online

that an environmental activist is posting

Talk about it with your
friends and family

And find a way to get involved

because it really is gonna
take all of us to solve this

(soft music)

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