Author and creator Leah Thomas, has cultivated an online community of environmentalists through her accessible and inclusive approach to activism. Her work has earned her the titles of Forbes 30 under 30 and a TIME Next Gen Leader. Releasing her book last year, 'The Intersectional Environmentalist', Leah has created a non-profit under the same name, an organisation radically imagining a more equitable and diverse future.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you first come to environmentalism?
I grew up in the midwest, Missouri, in the U.S And eventually made my way to southern california to study environmental science and policy. In school I interned as a park ranger for two summers and also began blogging about social justice and sustainability. Eventually I worked at Patagonia headquarters on their communications team and really just fell in love with environmental communications overall - which led me to starting the nonprofit Intersectional Environmentalist to focus on communicating the intersections of social and environmental justice.
For those who may be unfamiliar, can you explain the term 'intersectional environmentalism'?
Intersectional Environmentalism is an inclusive approach to environmentalism that advocates for the protection of both people + the planet. IE agues that social + environmental justice are intertwined and environmental advocacy that disregards this connection is harmful and incomplete. IE focuses on achieving climate justice, amplifying historically excluded voices + approaching environmental education, policy, and activism with equity, inclusion and restorative justice in mind.
An integral part of your campaigning is around marginalized communities, more specifically POC. When did you realize that this part of the climate crisis required more focus?
I think I always inherently knew, because whenever I learned about environmentalism I always questioned how it impacted the Black community because of my passion for racial justice. But I think this especially became clear when in my last year in university I took a sociology class on privilege and also began doing geographic information systems aka - making maps - and started to see how race and income were connected to who has more air and water pollution, who lives closer to parks and green spaces, and even the likelihood of being surrounded by toxic waste. I felt like I stumbled across this research through specialized study, but felt it was critical everyone was aware of this.
Congratulations on the release of your book, Intersectional Environmentalist! What exactly can readers expect?
Thank you! This book is really a 101 on what intersectional theory is, what climate justice is, the history of the environmental justice movement, case studies and a toolkit of how to take action.
What sparked you to write the book and who did you have in mind when creating it?
I felt like there was a missing piece in environmental education that helped it click in people’s minds, in a super accessible way, how social issues, identity and environmentalism are linked. I really wished I had a textbook like this at the start of my environmental journey and want to give people a head start! So I wrote it for emerging environmentalists, so they can be more empathetic to communities most impacted by environmental issues and to make sure they consider how different people are impacted by environmental hazards and policies.
Climate optimism is also a big focus in your work, how do you stay positive while working towards environmental justice?
I make sure to spend time on things that don’t necessarily have to do with environmental injustice. I also love exploring positive stories about environmental changemakers, learning about environmental folklore and just spending time with friends. I talk about identity a lot and I want to always remember that being an ‘environmentalist’ is only one part of my identity and give myself permission to explore the other aspects.
Do you have any exciting plans for 2024?
I’m working on my next book proposal, so hoping it gets picked up!
What's your favourite thing about Wolf & Badger?
I love the variety of artisans in one place and the focus on sustainability!
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