The future of the climate movement is intersectional

Released in September 2020, All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis brings together essays and poems by poets, journalists, scientists, and activists working in different fields within the climate movement. What unites these doers and dreamers, apart from their commitment to actionable climate solutions? They all identify as female. 

According to the volume’s editors, explicitly seeking expertise from women in the field is a way to right and ongoing wrong. “The climate crisis is a leadership crisis,” says Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, founder of Ocean Collectiv and Urban Ocean Lab. “Having a diversity of leaders, which obviously includes women, is critical. Leaving out half of the planet’s brain power and creativity would just be dumb. And yet, that has happened repeatedly” (Grist). “Women often don’t have adequate resources for their work or platforms, or to share their insights and visions, and they’re often stripped of credit for their contributions,” adds Dr. Katharine K. Wilkinson, editor-in-chief of Project Drawdown. Creating a platform for female climate experts combined the editors’ interests in feminism and climate activism, or so the pitch goes. 

But if climate leadership has been rightfully criticized as being too male, it has just as rightfully been criticized as being too white—an oversight that has only become more painfully clear in 2020, as the urgency of environmental disasters like wildfires compete for media attention with the increased visibility of racial justice movements and the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Where does the editors’ proposal for a “Feminist Climate Renaissance” (Grist) fit into this moment? 

Right at the intersection of the most pressing environmental, racial, and economic crises, according to Johnson. “They’re connected. As much as it would be simpler to deal with them alone, it’s just not possible—it simply won’t work,” she says. “And also the climate crisis doesn’t stop because of these other things—it’s not going away. And so it’s more important than ever to understand the interconnections so that we can collaborate across movements that have been far too disparate to this point” (InsideClimate News).

Wilkinson agrees, and suggests that it is necessary to see climate change as a complex, multi-faceted problem in order to come up with multifaceted solutions.”My observation is that it tends to be a strength of women in the movement to be able to hold multiple things at the same time—to understand that this is about health, and this is about justice, and this is about good jobs, and this is about science, and it’s also about story and the kaleidoscope through which we need to see and try to understand the climate crisis,” she says (InsideClimate News).

Johnson adds that many of the contributors in the book address the intersections of environmental issues with race, class, and gender. “We know so many brilliant women, women of color in particular, and were just like—these are the people doing creative, innovative, leading-edge climate solutions work!” says Johnson (Shondaland). For example: Varshini Prakash, executive director and cofounder of the Sunrise Movement and one of the contributors to All We Can Save, advocates policies such as the Green New Deal which include targets focused on jobs and sustainable employment in green industries. “The world’s climate response needs to be an inclusive, collaborative process by which everyone benefits,” she says (Grist). 

Like the co-editors of All We Can Save, Prakash made it a mandate for her organization to put women in leadership roles. “We knew that women and queer people push for holistic, intersectional solutions,” she explains. “They’re also more capable of deeply vulnerable leadership that is able to publicly admit fault and apologize, that is able to hold on to strength and power while leaving ego at the door.” But above all, Prakash emphasizes emphasizes the need to center human lives in climate solutions. “We need to ask ourselves: Who do these technical solutions actually help? Are they working to eradicate the existing inequalities in our system or to deepen them?” (Grist).

As Johnson said, diverse leadership is critical to imagining solutions for a problem as vast and complex as climate change. But in a crisis that will affect everyone to some degree—and that is already harming some of our vulnerable populations—everyone has something to offer. “We have to create a movement that is more welcoming and nurturing,” says Johnson, “and while those are stereotypically more feminine traits, anyone can exhibit them. Everyone is welcome to suppress their ego in favor of the climate; please, join us over here.”

“You can’t just brute force your way through the climate crisis,” Johnson concludes. “We need each other, and we need to be motivated by something bigger than ourselves; a ferocious love of nature, of community, of the places that you’re from, of people, of humanity, of all that would be lost if we don’t get our acts together” (Shondaland).

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