Bridging the Gap Between Environmentalism and Racial Justice

For years the environmental movement has had a diversity issue. Some of the largest environmental organizations which receive a majority of funding are staffed predominantly white. Not only does this result in less funding for smaller grassroots organizations that are serving vulnerable populations, but less representation for those who are affected the most—Latinos and (BIPOC), black, indigenous and people of color. 

It’s these communities who are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. From rising sea levels, intensifying droughts, heatwaves, pollution and so forth. Because climate change is an environmental, racial and social issue, it’s critical for people to recognize this intersectionality. 

Thanks to social media platforms like Instagram, demand for environmental justice and inclusivity within the environmental movement is more evident. You may have heard of the term “intersectional environmentalism.” It acknowledges the link between both racial and environmental injustice in a way that advocates for people and the planet. 

Marcus Tuah is a black environmentalist and college student at Salisbury University. He is working on his career towards environmental protection. Growing up in a community of color in Baltimore, Tuah has noticed the disadvantages between his community and white communities. Especially when it comes to environmental issues. 

“From my experiences with environmental work up to this point in my life, from college classes, internships, volunteer work, etc. Environmentalism is a white dominated subject, which is an issue because white communities don’t always face the brutal effects of environmental issues,” said Tuah.

“I feel that more people of color need to be involved in environmental work because it is a subject that directly affects us and having more people of color involved can lead to the resolution of environmental injustices, or at least to bridging the gap.”

Meet environmentalist, Marcus Tuah.

Disproportionate effects of climate change 

Reality is that low-income communities and communities of color bear the brunt of the climate crisis. According to the NAACP’s Coal Blooded report, 39 percent of people of color live within only three miles of a coal-fired power plant. In part, this is because coal-fired power plants which emit harmful pollutants are disproportionately located in these communities. 

Air pollution causes health issues that include heart disease, acute respiratory infection, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Anually, more than 100,000 Americans die from illnesses caused by air pollution. 

In addition, it’s critical to note that these are some of the poorest communities in the country. Those of whom may not be able to afford the financial responsibility. The NAACP reports the average per capita income of these communities is $18,400. That is lower than the national average of $21,587. 

“Communities of color are already given the short end of the stick, from income and wealth gaps, racial discrimination and more,” said Tuah. “Those issues combined with the fact that communities of color are more likely to be exposed to hazardous wastes, as well as to not have access to clean air, water, resources, and other amenities, leads to a not so pleasant experience.” 

According to Green America, communities of color are also more likely to live near toxic sites like petrochemical companies, landfills, etc. It’s this type of information that is often omitted from environmental and climate change related discourse. 

A perfect example of this is the 2010 BP oil spill. It’s probable that many of those who know about the disaster, know about the tragedies of those working at the rig as well as the effects on wildlife. What’s not probable, is them knowing about the waste that was trucked to landfills in low-income communities of color

Advocating for people and the planet 

When it comes to solving environmental issues, Tuah feels that it’s important to see the attached social injustices. Many of the issues are interconnected; they originate from the systemic racism dominating the United States. 

Tuah’s main focus is creating awareness of the environmental issues affecting people of color. He currently runs an Instagram account that anyone can follow called @onthemarc_. The purpose of his page is to create a community where people can learn, connect and take action. He wants to delve deep into the affected communities, past surface issues. 

“I want to have a diverse audience, but I really want to resonate with people of color and show them the issues that occur in their own communities that they might not even know about,” said Tuah. “Hopefully through viewing my page and my work, people would be more inspired to take action or follow a similar path.” 

Marcus Tuah, far left with team working on “Discover Your Watershed program.”

Social media platforms have the potential to reach mass audiences. It’s a way for advocates, educators and digital creators in the environmental movement to share their work with the world. In a way, it’s creating a new space and voice for the most vulnerable. Most importantly, it’s creating the opportunity and inclusivity that many communities desperately need. Having this conversation alone is part of the work. 

For those looking to get more involved, Tuah explains that it’s important to be proactive. “Be on the lookout for opportunities with local environmental organizations, look to volunteer, intern, or be involved in events,” said Tuah. “You never know who you could connect with or what you could be inspired by.”

Author bio: Eillin Delapaz is an environmental writer and assistant media producer for Green Living Guy®.