White Environmentalism: A Detriment to Change

Jacey Mismash, Staff Writer


Whenever social movements become larger in numbers, there are always groups of people who will steal those movements from their originators to push their own narratives. We have seen this with the rise of white feminism— a movement lacking intersectionality, a movement pushing for the rights of only white, cis-gendered, able-bodied women. However, these harmful types of movement exist outside the feminism stratosphere. As conversations about climate change and the activism surrounding the matter become more mainstream, white environmentalism is excluding the voices of people who are suffering the most immediately from climate change.

Exclusive movements like these neglect the voices of black, brown and indigenous people who have been trying to tell the world about how immediate the problem of climate change really is. White environmentalism polices indigenous people for eating meat, without acknowledging that people of color were able to sustainably eat animals before colonists came in and began things like factory farming. The movement ignores the pleas of indigenous groups in the north that are losing their homes and livestock at this very moment. The people in this sect of the movement are only interested in the 11 years that they are often quoted to have before climate damage is irreversible.

The problems with white environmentalism do not stop with the exclusion of people of color. White environmentalism ignores the potential ADA violations a “straw ban” might have on individuals who are not able-bodied. If a straw ban was implemented, it would force individuals unable to drink without a straw to go and buy a separate product to drink the same drink an able bodied person could without a straw. White environmentalism ignores people who live in food deserts, where fresh produce and vegan options that are both fairly priced and nutritious are hard to come by. 

Another huge issue is that white environmentalists ignore is where their food comes from, as long as it is not from an animal. Communities producing products like quinoa, a food recently placed in the mainstream spotlight by white environmentalists, are being negatively impacted by the high demand for the food. Low-income families in South American countries are now unable to afford quinoa, which used to be an affordable and nutritious option for many people.

With the scrutiny already placed over environmental change activism by people who do not believe climate change exists, white environmentalists are doing more harm to the movement. The exclusion of people who have been doing their best to respect and care for this Earth for hundreds of years is a disservice to this planet. It is a disservice to everyone who understands the intersectionality between environmentalism and other social issues, to people with different abilities, low-income families, black, brown and indigenous people. If we are going to work to save the planet, we must understand that many environmental problems are products of systems of oppression that still operate and oppress folks everyday.

This article was originally published in the November 1, 2019 issue.