Leah Thomas
(Photo credit: Courtesy of Leah Thomas

In 2014, Leah Thomas was in college studying environmental science and policy when a crisis unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri, near her hometown of Florissant.* Police shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, sparking widespread protests.

“I’m trying to learn about the Clean Air Act while my sister is getting tear-gassed back home in a protest,” Thomas says.

She says the events made her question who the Clean Air Act really protects. And her concern increased when she read data showing that people of color are more exposed to many air and water pollutants. As a Black woman, she was dismayed.

“Because I would say, ‘That’s me on that page. That’s my community. That’s my family,'” she says.

So this past May, in what became a viral Instagram post, Thomas called on environmentalists to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. And she defined what she calls “intersectional environmentalism.”

“It’s a more inclusive version of environmentalism,” she says, “that identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected.”

She hopes that the definition helps articulate a new approach to environmental activism – one that has the well-being of the planet and people at its core.

Also see: Leah Thomas harnesses Instagram to promote a vision of anti-racist environmentalism

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

*Editor’s note: This sentence was updated Sep. 30, 2020, to correct the location of Thomas’s hometown.

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...