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What happens when anti-racism enters the environmental conversation?

Climate change has been increasingly more present in our everyday conversations and more actions have been taken by different groups to change our future, in the last decade. But the environmental movement has historically, and sometimes deliberately, excluded diversity. So I spoke to Patricia Wilson about the intersectionality of racism and environmental issues.

“I think since diversity became a hot topic in the last few years, we’ve seen more and more businesses and organisations rushing to have more diversity without doing the internal work to actually include these people. So it ends up coming off in a more tokenizing way”, analyses Patricia Wilson, the founder of the Diverse Nature Collective based in Peterborough in Ontario.

When she first created the collective in 2021, she was working for another organisation and was getting “really frustrated with the lack of diversity and barriers that racialized folks faced in environmental organisations”.

“I was asking myself why things were that way and what could I do about it?” she says. Patricia was asking these questions to people around her too but no one seemed to have the answer. “They would tell me that racialized people don’t really like to go outside in nature or other stereotypes and common misconceptions.”

On top of this lack of answers, the pandemic, the black lives matter movement and indigenous protests against pipelines added to the fire and convinced Patricia to create an organisation that would be at the intersection of anti-racism movements and climate action.

What first started as a website and social media pages, to highlight people from diverse backgrounds who did or were doing something for nature, quickly blew out. And now, Patricia Wilson regularly hosts events with other groups and leads workshops at academic institutions, non-profit organisations and businesses. She focuses on topics such as how to be active allies or anti-racism approaches to the environmental sector.

> She gives all the details about her next events on her Instagram page and in her newsletter.

With her collective, Patricia also created a network for black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) to work or volunteer for environmental organisations that are actually doing the work to not tokenize them. An important aspect of her work because the lack of diversity in climate action leads to decisions that lack perspective, Patricia argues. "Historically, we have seen that the environmental movement has been done through western lenses because the board members and trusties in the organisations are primarily white and, even at the level of staffing, the leadership positions are again mostly white. This lack of diversity is not sustainable in the long term" she adds.

“A friend of mine told me once that indigenous teachings say humans have to work in reciprocity with the land, it’s a give and take. Whereas, the western view is usually trying to remove humans from nature to conserve it because humans are not good for nature. But actually, there is some benefits through human interactions with nature. For instance, tallgrass prairies need fires to help them grow and thrive”, Patricia recounts.

In 2019, a report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) of the United Nations concluded that indeed indigenous and local communities contribute in many significant ways to biodiversity. Although million species are facing extinction, this decline is happening at a slower rate on indigenous peoples’ lands for example. Various studies also show that racialized individuals are more greatly impacted by climate change in the US and in Canada. This shows that the perspective of BIPOC is not only useful because they have other solutions but also non-negotiable because they need to have a say in the policies that directly impact them.

Ultimately, there is many layers to social, health or environmental issues and everything is interconnected. For her, intersectionality is choosing to look at issues in different angles and see how they overlap. Patricia recommends the website intersectional environmentalist that has a lot of educational content. She also refers to Kimerblé Crenshaw who has TedTalks on intersectionality as a concept for people who want to understand it better.


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