Outrage + Optimism logo

Behind the scenes on the politics, investments and actions meeting the climate crisis head on

Arrow
Global Optimism logo

Stubborn optimism is a choice. Join us in tackling the climate crisis with conviction, scale and speed

Arrow

148: The Future is Intersectional with Leah Thomas

This week, we reject flawed, siloed thinking and embrace the oneness of social justice and environmentalism as a singular, inclusive movement.

Watermark of logo

About this episode

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

- MLK (1963)

In the summer of 2020, our guest, Leah Thomas, coined the term “Intersectional Environmentalism” with a graphic she shared to Instagram that read, “Environmentalists For Black Lives Matter” as a call-out to all environmentalists to stand in solidarity with BIPOC communities that face compounding social and environmental injustices daily. The Instagram post went viral, and the pledge she introduced along with it, The IE Pledge, has reached over a million people. 

And so now that it’s 2022, how can we continue to root ourselves in that moment of clarity in 2020 and hold to the truth that you don’t have to separate race or racial justice from environmental advocacy? How can we scale climate solutions while advocating for marginalised communities while not making excuses for extractive industries?

We’re also joined this week by special guest co-host Abigael Kima, a young energy expert and climate activist from Kenya. She is the producer and host of the new Hali-Hewa (Swahili for ‘Climate Change’) podcast, which will profile African activists and climate experts airing through to COP27 on themes including a just energy transition, loss and damage, youth participation in intergovernmental processes and indigenous rights.

Stick around for three-time Grammy award-winning artist Fantastic Negrito performing a live version of his song, “Rolling Through California”!

Enjoy the show!

Mentioned links from the episode:

Watch

Full Transcript

Paul: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism! I'm Paul Dickinson.

Christiana: [00:00:16] I'm Christiana Figueres.

Abigael Kima: [00:00:17] And I'm Abigael Kima.

Paul: [00:00:19] Hey, Abigael, thank you for joining us. This week, we're going to talk about the extraordinary impact the IPCC's report is having around the world. We've got an amazing interview with Leah Thomas, founder of the Intersectional Environmentalist movement, and we have music from Fantastic Negrito. Thank you for being with us. So it's really good to be with you. Christiana and Abbie, thank you so much for stepping in with Tom Rivett-Carnac, who's away. He did a wonderful episode last week interviewing Jane Goodall and with a whole bunch of school children, and now he's just completely disappeared. But thank you very much for joining us. How are you doing, Abbie? Load More

Abigael Kima: [00:01:04] I'm doing good and I'm really happy to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Paul: [00:01:08] Well, it's our pleasure. We always love to have a co-host. And before we get into a little bit of discussion about what's been going on this week, Abbie, can you tell us a little bit about your work on climate change? Because it's pretty striking. I've been watching videos of you talking about the amazing things you've been doing, but you will explain it far better than anyone else can. So how did you get into climate change? And please tell us about what you've been working on for the last couple of years.

Abigael Kima: [00:01:37] So my journey in climate change and energy started a few years back in 2015 when I started my bachelor's degree in environmental science here in Nairobi, Kenya. And I come from a community that spends a lot of their time doing agriculture, and it is actually our main source of livelihood. And in our little farm back at home, we used to have this stream of water that flowed right across our farm. But unfortunately, over the years that stream has dried up and we live close to our forest, which has drastically been deforested. And I remember thinking, how can we find a way in which human beings and the environment can coexist without putting pressure on the other? And so when I joined the universities where now, the concept of climate change became clearer and clearer. And ever since then I've been doing bits and bits of work here in terms of awareness creation on the issue of climate change. And at the moment I am with Powershift Africa in the programmes team and soon to be a host and producer of the Hali Hewa podcast.

Paul: [00:02:51] Can you tell us a little bit about that podcast?

Abigael Kima: [00:02:54] So this podcast started when I was at Cop. I remember sitting by a charging pot at a cop and feeling very inadequate because there's a lot, a lot, a lot of things were happening at COP and I was honestly just feeling inadequate because it was my first time and there's a buzz of activities and it felt like I was just watching from the sidelines and I thought, I have been in this space since 2015 and these concepts are still not very familiar with me and quite complicated. How about someone who is actually experiencing the impacts of climate change but cannot actually relate it to their lives, their real life experiences? And so I thought, why not, you know, start a podcast that sort of breaks down the complex terms that climate change is known for and, you know, relate it to their real life experiences through storytelling. And, yeah, that's how this podcast was born and I hope it will be impactful. And most importantly, now that we are heading to the COP in Egypt, which we are labeling an African cop, I feel like it's an opportunity to actually educate the masses and, you know, bring communities together to understand that whatever they are experiencing is not something that sense cannot define and that something can actually be done.

Christiana: [00:04:11] Abbie, so it's really exciting to know that you're going to be starting this podcast or continuing the podcast that you started at the COP. And as we have learned, you are intending to do eight episodes this year, so we are very excited for you and will be exploring ways with you to support that podcast because we do think that that you have a very clear voice and you have a wonderful list of guests that you want to have come on your podcast. So we would be delighted to explore ways in which we can support that.

Abigael Kima: [00:04:47] Thank you so much. Thank you.

Paul: [00:04:48] And the name of the podcast is?

Abigael Kima: [00:04:50] So the name of the podcast is called Hali Hewa Podcast. I don't know if any of you can pronounce it,

Paul: [00:04:57] Hali Hewa. Yes.

Abigael Kima: [00:04:58] Yeah, well, hali ya hewa in Swahili is a word for climate. So I thought it would be nice to have something that a local person can relate to, thus the name. So we've only taken out the middle syllable and made it. Hali Hewa Podcast.

Christiana: [00:05:21] Hailey Hawa.

Abigael Kima: [00:05:23]Yes, exactly.

Paul: [00:05:24] So it's just about to launch and you've got all your social media ready and will ask Clay to put links in the show notes and people can subscribe waiting for episode one, which is very exciting. And can I ask you about something that you said. You spoke, obviously about how you kind of think that. I mean, I know you've actually worked on the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary. So I was fascinated there. You're in Kenya thinking about the Arctic as a kind of air conditioning system for the world. But I'm also interested in you. You speak about how we're part of something bigger. It's not religion, I don't think, is it? But there is something about we need to kind of recognize where we're part of something, you know, that there's a vast and intelligent whole. You said, can you speak a little bit about that?

Abigael Kima: [00:06:16] So someone would ask why, I mean, I come from the other side of the continent, why would it matter for me to speak about the Arctic Ocean? And the truth is, we are very interconnected. And until we realize that, then we're not headed in the right direction because one action on one part of the planet causes a ripple effect on another. And that is just something that can also explain the impacts of climate change. I mean, we say that Africa contributes just only about 4% of the world's emissions, but we are the ones feeling the adverse impacts of climate change. So I guess the whole concept of maps of the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary is just to show that we can all come together and make a difference no matter how little, and just insisting on the nature of interconnectedness that we carry amongst ourselves, no matter where we come from.

Paul: [00:07:08] So we'll also make sure we put a link to the maps program in the show notes.

Abigael Kima: [00:07:12] Great.

Paul: [00:07:12] So, Abbie, can you just give us some sense of the kind of format of the podcast? How are you constructing it? How are you going to put it together? And what should listeners expect when they subscribe?

Abigael Kima: [00:07:22] So if there's one thing I've learned from Outrage + Optimism is bringing energy and fun into the conversation, because we are tired of the complicated conversations where people cannot actually understand what we are talking about. So this podcast, the format will start with an introduction or a personal story of the interviewee where they get to share their experience in the climate space and what inspired them to fight for whatever it is they fight for. And then the second segment would be guided questions on the topics. For example, we have one on COP26 outcomes in COP 27 implications, we have one on youth engagement and I mean meaningful youth engagement in the COP process. So we have around eight topics and the second segment will be us talking about those questions in a guided manner. And then the third, which I find the very most important segment, is the call to action for COP27. So the podcast is set up in such a way that we will have a session where the interviewee actually reads out a letter that they have written themselves, addressed to world leaders ahead of COP 27. So clearly highlighting what their views are in terms of the African COP and exactly what they want to see out of COP 27.

Christiana: [00:08:43] What a great lead up to COP27, Abbie, congratulations on a really important initiative and to bring those voices onto the air so that so many more people can listen to your guests. Really, really exciting. So that's for the future, your plans for the future. Wondered if you could also share with us with respect to today, Abbie, we are all in deep shock, honestly, about the report, the new report of the IPCC on mitigation. And not surprisingly, Africa is unbelievably hit here. I wonder if you could share with us some reactions to the IPCC report.

Abigael Kima: [00:09:33] I mean, the report is quite devastating because it says clearly that the window for action is rapidly closing and that according to the nationally determined contributions, then we are on a trajectory to 2.7 degrees of warming, which is quite devastating for us because we are already feeling the impacts of climate change. So how much worse can it get from here? And I think another thing that I appreciate that the importance of science in, you know, clearly laying out that indeed climate change is happening, but also that has to be accompanied with some action, which is what has been missing for a long time. I think we are so hesitant and, you know, the window is rapidly closing for us. And I was home just the other day and I come from a community that practices farming and we've always had good weather, we always have sufficient rainfall, but unfortunately it's already much and we don't have enough rains by now. We should have planted at least by early March or mid-February, but then we are experiencing delayed rainfalls and that is because of the changing weather patterns. Another thing that I identified was the fact that we actually have our water ration, which is something that has never happened. So we only have running water for a few hours in the day, which is absurd because we've always had enough supply. And you know, for us that means we now have to think about educating our farmers. We now have to think about storing water because now this is another crisis that we've never experienced. And just to show how worse it has become, a friend of mine, they moved to their house back in 2006 and they dug a borehole and they've always had water. But recently, just a few weeks ago, there's actually no water in the borehole, which is something that is quite devastating for us. So in as much as scientists are calling us to action, I feel like the leaders are failing us. And I feel like it's high time for communities to just come together and see how we can find solutions for ourselves, because it seems like waiting for help is not working for us. So how about we educate the communities and find solutions within ourselves to ensure that we better our lives? We build resilience and also we will be able to maintain our way of life at the end of it all.

Paul: [00:12:06] I mean, it's wow, extraordinarily powerful to hear directly from you of these lived experiences. And maybe that's a way for us to move to our interview. Now we have the fortune, good fortune to be able to speak to Leah Thomas. And she is a celebrated environmental activist and eco communicator, and she's the founder of he Intersectional Environmentalist, which is a resource hub and a platform advocating for exploring the relationship between social justice and environmentalism. And I think that's critically important in what you've just been articulating with great clarity and force, Abigael. Leah’s services include helping businesses integrate intersectional environmentalism and social justice into their brand, mission statements and strategies. Recently, on the 8th of March, this year, 2022, she published her book, The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People and Planet. And at the centre of the whole movement is the pledge, the Intersectional Environmentalist Pledge, which gives eight actions that can help you identify with this vital connecting of the dots. But let's hear directly about this from Leah.

Christiana: [00:13:29] Well, Leah, thank you so much. It's delightful to meet you, at least on our screen today. Thank you very much for coming on to Outrage + Optimism. And as we have already introduced, we have a very special co-host today, and we're delighted to have Abbie Kima in the conversation as well. But we wanted to start off, Leah, as sort of an introduction that you might provide to our listeners. Tell us a little bit about the story of how you got in to environmentalism and especially into intersectional, because it seems to me that you, from what I have read about you, that you decided you wanted to be an environmentalist at a very early age, but then very quickly realized that environmentalism can be actually a pretty narrow scope of what you wanted to do and you wanted to enhance it to go way beyond physical environmentalism to actually to the wonderful human diversity that we have on this planet, and how those two intersect. But I would love to hear your story. How did you get into this? What motivated you? What moved you to create this very interesting approach?

Leah Thomas: [00:14:54] Well, firstly, thank you so much for having me. I'm super stoked to be here. Shout out to Clay. But I was born and raised in the Midwest, in the United States in Missouri and a small town called Florissant. And as you mentioned, I was always really into plants and animals and ecosystems, ecology and things like that. But I didn't formally start studying environmental science until my sophomore year in college. And I made that decision because, quite honestly, I wasn't enjoying many of my biology classes and I went back home to Florissant and the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, and I decided to change my major to environmental science and policy. And with about two weeks before I was about to go back to California to begin my new major, I got a call from a friend of mine asking me if I knew a gentleman named Michael Brown. And Florissant and Ferguson are about 10 minutes away from each other, and it's a very close, small community. So while I didn't know Michael Brown, I had friends of friends who knew him. And at that moment, we're all trying to figure out what happened to him. So as many people remember, this was kind of one of the starting moments of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, because it was another instance of excessive force with a young black teenager, and my town was completely engulfed in quite transparently chaos during that time because of so much uncertainty. So there were protests every day and vigils that my family was attending and I had to go back to school about two weeks later. I wish I could have stayed. I wanted to stay, but my parents wanted me to go to school. So I flew to California while everything was unfolding in Ferguson and I started my intro to environmental science and policy classes. But understandably, I couldn't focus in those classes. I was learning about the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and all of this environmental innovation. And I felt really cynical at the time because I would scoff and say, how can we be joyfully talking about the Clean Air Act if there are communities back home like Ferguson that are struggling to breathe for a variety of different reasons, including the air quality in those areas and other all systemic.

Christiana: [00:17:21] But not only.

Leah Thomas: [00:17:21] But not only that, because of several reasons, whether it was racial justice, injustice, whether it was environmental injustice, etc.. So when that was happening, I realized that I wanted to try to find a way to connect my environmental studies to also benefit the Black Lives Matter movement and other racial justice movements. And when I went with that hunch that just unlocked this beautiful history of environmental justice that has been around for quite some time, and I decided to go in that direction because I learned very early on when I opened that door to that field of study that you never have to separate race or racial justice from environmental advocacy. So that's how I got started. Probably social justice first and then environmental justice and realizing that those things don't have to exist separately.

Christiana: [00:18:17] Well, not only that they don't have to, but that actually, in reality, they don't.

Leah Thomas: [00:18:22] They don't.

Christiana: [00:18:22] Right. It's only our sort of strange way of thinking that has actually divided them, but they are so interlinked. And I think that's the beauty of the work that you do to bring that not not as though you were bringing two strands together, but rather showing us these are strands that belong together, were born together. And it is only our inconvenient thinking, and quite short sighted thinking that has actually separated them.

Leah Thomas: [00:18:56] Yeah. And I would argue that, I mean people of color, eco-feminists, etc., many groups of people have been making these connections for a long time. The environmental justice movement in the United States started in the eighties, and they collected so much data to show that race and income were the number one and two indicators. And those things compound where many environmental injustices happen, whether we're talking about toxic waste sites and facilities, lack of clean air, lack of clean water, etc.. So I really do want to reiterate that this has been around for a very, very long time. But the broader environmental community, which is primarily white and primarily middle class, hasn't incorporated it enough into modern environmental education and policy, and that's to the detriment of people of color globally. So it's been around for a while and I think what I'm doing is just saying, I no longer believe that a type of environmentalism that doesn't include the advocacy of people of color and marginalized groups really stands for justice at all.

Abigael Kima: [00:20:06] I must say, it's an honor to actually interview you. One thing that stood out for me in your book was the fact that I could totally relate to the very first part of your book where you talked about how your grandmother and your mom would recycle, you know, shopping bags when you go to the supermarket or the malls. And it's so interesting because that is the same case for us here in Kenya. And an interesting part is in Kenya when you buy ice cream. So the tin that comes with the ice cream, most of the time, we don't actually throw it away. So you'll find most households actually store food in their fridge with them. And so the amount of times you walk into your mom's fridge expecting to find ice cream and all you find is lentils is hilarious. And it showed how living sustainably has always been within us. And it's not a really new concept, it's just that now we have found a term for it. So if you were to sit across the table from my mum, how would you explain intersectional environmentalism to her in a way that she would understand and sort of relate to her way of life?

Leah Thomas: [00:21:24] That's a great question. And I think with environmental communications, like, you know, of course I love intersectional theory. It's so great and I love, you know, all these different words, climate justice, environmental justice, etc.. But I also think there is an argument to kind of shift the language to fit the current situation. So even sometimes I'll talk to churches and I don't necessarily go in and say intersectional environmentalism, I'll kind of break it down in a way that works for them and say, I refer to it as intersectional environmentalism, but you might have your own terminology yourself and for your mom or even my grandmother. When I started talking to them about this, it was kind of funny. We laughed about it like, Can you believe that in my class we're talking about thrifting as a solution for the climate crisis, when we had to thrift out of necessity because we didn't have money. Or Isn't this so funny that there's something called tiny homes now that people are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on when people are living in trailers out of necessity? I could go on and on, but we kind of laughed about it. But with them I would say, Hey, all of these things that you all have been doing and that I'm so glad that you've passed on to me, these concepts of repairing and reusing that flow throughout our cultural identity is also a part of sustainability and a solution to the climate crisis. So I usually start from a place of empowerment, especially with people who might not be feeling empowered in that moment. So black and brown and indigenous communities, low income communities, and saying, this is what you're doing, which is amazing because it's connected to your cultural identity and it's good for the planet. And here are some other things that are facing the environment that we can talk about.

Abigael Kima: [00:23:10] It's actually interesting that you mentioned thrifting because we also have that. So it's really nice to know that I have been doing something that is of benefit to the environment.

Paul: [00:23:24] Leah, the pledge, the intersectional environmentalist pledge has this phrase, I will not ignore the intersections of environmentalism and social. And, you know, I think that more and more people are arriving at that conclusion. I think it's very, very well made. Another phrase you use, the fight for the planet lies in tandem with a fight for civil rights. And in fact, one cannot exist without the other. And I'm just wondering if there's maybe a new kind of politics emerging in the world, not not like party politics, but like a sense that we've got rights to basic system conditions for life, both environmental and social. How do you see this playing out?

Leah Thomas: [00:24:08] I completely agree. And I've been kind of referring to it as environmental human rights in some ways, because the argument that everyone in the world should have access to clean air, clean water, places where they can recreate and experience joy. To me, that should be a human right and it should be also it is an environmental human right. So I think there is kind of a new train of thought that's emerging in policy and specifically in grassroots environmental spaces that are saying we can't separate these things because these are things that people need to be able to enjoy life and not only enjoy life, but to survive. So I agree completely with what you're saying.

Paul: [00:24:51] But then how does it develop from here?

Leah Thomas: [00:24:54] That's a good question. I'm like, ooh, maybe. I don't know. I'm really excited to see the ways that grassroots environmental organizations can infuse this into policy decisions and things like that. And when I wrote the definition of intersectional environmentalism, I was in my bed at home, furloughed from my job at Patagonia. At the time I didn't really put much thought into it and I just said, This is a thing. And I posted it online and I didn't know that hundreds of thousands of people would then say, okay, I want you to develop this further and I want to. But then I'm also understanding that this is something that goes so far beyond me in so many ways. And I think it's just developing in a really cool grassroots way, some ways that I'm not even privy to. So I don't know if I can even answer that question of what's going to happen next, but hopefully I can be a part of that change in some ways.

Christiana: [00:25:48] Well, why do you think, Leah, that the concept sort of fired people's imagination and why did so many people go like, oh, yeah, that's it. I mean, there clearly was a connection there. You wrote the definition, perhaps sitting in bed, but it touched people's hearts and minds. Why do you think that occurred?

Leah Thomas: [00:26:11] That's a good question. And I would say that many people have been saying the same things in different ways. But during the summer of 2020, when the Black Lives Matter movement was occurring and people were in their homes because of the pandemic, I'd never seen anything like that in my life, and arguably it was probably the largest civil rights movement in my life as a 20 something and just so many people were ready to act. And again, this is a movement that I've been brewing for for a really long time, but it had mainstream adoption in the summer of 2020. So I think the environmental community was almost at a standstill because the whole world is rising up against racial injustice. And there were a lot of prominent environmental agencies that said, how do we get involved? Do we get involved? We don't want to get involved. We're not sure how, what our responsibility is, etc.. So I think when I posted the graphic about environmentalists taking a stand for the Black Lives Matter movement, the pledge and the definition it gave people in the environmental community permission to say, Oh, okay, this is a part of our responsibility and we want to take action permission that they never needed from me or anyone else. But I think it was a framework for people to understand better why when someone at a prominent environmental agency says, race is all the way over here, we focus on conservation. Why an answer like that is no longer enough. And I think it fired up a lot of people, which was really amazing to see. And even in the past two years, seeing a lot of environmental organizations, even the Sierra Club, have really nuanced conversations about the legacy of John Muir, something that I never thought would happen, or seeing WWF have their new policies on anti racism or Greenpeace having an incredible black woman as their co-executive director in the US who's spearheading environmental justice. So we're seeing those changes. But I don't know, I find that kind of funny that people never needed permission from me. But if that helped in any way, I'm happy about it.

Abigael Kima: [00:28:25] So this is not really a question, but to sort of validate your experiences as highlighted in your book and all the experiences and the relationship between clean air and people not being able to breathe. And when I look back as a young girl from Kenya, we have so many other experiences that have piled up owing to the climate crisis and general environmental degradation. And it's so interesting to see that we are so interconnected. We probably experience the same issues. And I guess what comes to play is the issue of balance and inequality. And so while you are experiencing that, we down here also have a number of issues. And I really look forward to the day where we'll have some sort of balance in how we solve the climate crisis and environmental degradation in general. For sure, every solution has to be tailor made to fit the communities because you can't one you can't have one thing that can suit everyone else. So yeah, your book is quite insightful and I do appreciate the nature of interconnectedness that comes out of your book.

Leah Thomas: [00:29:41] Thank you. I really appreciate that. And it reminds me of a conversation I had with a Kenyan wildlife biologist that I just posted on my nonprofit, and we had an interview about decolonizing conservation and also talking about environmental human rights specific to Kenya. So I know that's not answering a question, but is also another statement that, yeah, there's so much. Interconnection of what's happening in Kenya and also what's happening to a lot of black folks in the United States.

Christiana: [00:30:12] Sure. I wanted to come back to your word of nuance. You mentioned nuanced conversations. And I think a lot of what we have been talking about is fostering that and nurturing that. And if I understand it correctly, what you're saying is let's let's actually nurture fertilize that nuance because it allows for so much of a richer space for conversation, as you've mentioned, for debate and for representation of basically the kaleidoscope that is humanity, where all of us bring different sets of upbringings, values, needs, and and it all has to be put on the table. So it is a pretty strong call against simplification. Let me say again, simplification of the challenges that are we face. But I would love to hear your comments on that, because it strikes me that we are living in a world that is every day going in the opposite direction, every day more polarization, every day more polarization, certainly in the environmental movement where some expect perfection immediately others and accuse against greenwashing. Others are saying, no, no, no, we need, you know, a little by little approach, polarization in the political world. I mean, now talk about Ukraine and Russia, if that's not a polarization, polarization of the future of oil and gan, polarization certainly in our society, between different cultural identities on and on and on. So I'm actually increasingly frustrated with this polarization because it is exactly against what you're talking about, exactly against the wisdom of nuance and kaleidoscopic understanding. But I would love to know, are you equally frustrated with this? And how would you suggest that we engage in irresponsible polarization of all our issues?

Leah Thomas: [00:32:35] Yeah. I'll answer this question honestly, that my cry for nuance is more so to protect marginalized groups of people and not to make excuses for extractive industries. And I've worked in corporate sustainability, so I can circle back to that. But I want to be very clear in that. I think I learned the concept of nuance and a case against absolutism when I was a college student and the Band Plastic Straw Movement was like the movement at the time when I was in school. And I remember, you know, going on a tirade against why we don't need single use plastic straws. They're horrible. They're horrible. They're horrible. And I had a wake up call when a friend of mine and the environmental community and a disability rights activists let me know that there are people who have to use bendable plastic straws in order to survive, and they are currently being used in hospitals for people who need to use them. And yes, bio based plastic straws are also a solution that we could explore, but they're not super accessible to the everyday person. And I think for me that nuance came from me checking my privilege and I've had so many other things like that happen, even in the conversation about fast fashion and how a lot of very wealthy environmental folks might say, You only need two T-shirts in your life, and they might be able to spend 200 plus dollars on those t shirts, on every design, on each t shirt. Or if they're an influencer and I'm a blogger, they're often gifted the clothing that they're wearing that's very expensive and then kind of shaming individuals for doing the best that they can and a broken system. So I'm never here to shame individuals because we're all existing in and navigating corrupt systems and imperfect systems. So our choices will never be perfect. So I think that nuance is more so to grant compassion, especially to different individuals who might be struggling with different accessibility concerns, etc. And about polarization. I'm not sure if polarization is always a bad thing. When we look back at the civil rights movement, there is a point in time where it was about almost 70% of Americans, white Americans that were polled, did not like Martin Luther King Jr and they thought that he was too extreme. So at the time it was probably really polarizing. And we're talking about Martin Luther King, not even Malcolm X in the specific Gallup poll that was taken in the early civil rights movement. At the time, I'm sure there were people who thought this, you know, our world is so divided but I feel like history and looking back at history is often a better, I don't know, because we can clearly look back and say maybe it was polarizing at the time, but advocating for civil rights was probably a good thing. So I think a lot of things are really polarizing right now, but maybe it's for a reason. Maybe it's because we're at kind of a brink of we need to do better when it comes to social justice and we need to do better when it comes to environmentalism. And I think things will be less polarizing over time. But yeah, I'm not sure if that answers your question

Christiana: [00:36:02] It does a very good point that you're raising. A very good point.

Paul: [00:36:06] And I really love the image of the kind of like sometimes polarizing, you know, like you need it. There's such an incredible history, you know, the suffragette who threw herself in front of the king's horse and lost her life but changed the world. I also, great to get one of your secrets about how you get things done. I mean, you know, you've got an out of office that caused a bit of a stir in the outrage and optimism team where it's like, what is it? The nap ministry's rest is resistance. And I'm thinking of you there, sitting in bed, writing a blog and like a million people follow it. So this is how you can start a movement, is a little bit of rest. But look, Leah, can I ask you a kind of a more sort of somber and serious question, but you've really helped me to look at the world in a slightly different way. I mean, there's this issue of race essentially in North America where people are economically or racially disadvantaged, unable to breathe from pollution, but we've actually got this global issue of a kind of very unfortunate front line situation whereby people from the global south are suffering very considerably. And I wondered, because I know you've worked with companies, which is a particular interest of mine, can we see climate change as a massive issue of racial injustice? You know, from north to south, global north to global south? Can there be a role for corporations to participate in that? You know, on the one hand, we've got companies pulling out of Russia because of Ukraine. But I can remember back in 1992, when the companies were on the front line pulling out of South Africa to to end apartheid. How might new global norms of corporations respond essentially to this call to kind of end the act of racial injustice that is global climate change?

Leah Thomas: [00:37:59] I love this question because I think it's so important. And I think I learned a lot working at Patagonia, the role that businesses and corporations can play and different environmental issues. And not every company is going to be Patagonia. I've also worked with Nike. I've also worked with companies like Tazo who are owned by one of the world's largest polluters. But if there's a corporation that says that they want to make change, then I want to be there to help them. And I know there are so many other people that want to help, and I think bureaucracy moves really slowly and corporations can move a lot more quickly than that bureaucracy of a lot of federal and international governments. So how radical would it be if so many corporations around the world understood maybe their responsibility with the concept of climate reparations or something like that? They have money, they have resources. They're going to be a lot of climate refugees. There are people who are going to be displaced in so many other issues. And that definitely plays into racism and inequity there, because the people who are going to be displaced are mostly people of color, not all, but I don't even know what that would look like. But how amazing would it be if corporations decided to step up and say, We're a part of the problem, but we want to be accountable and a part of the solution. So we're going to have some sort of fund or something for people who did not cause this climate crisis but will be bearing the brunt of it. That I would get behind.

Christiana: [00:39:36] Do you see any of that beginning to emerge?

Leah Thomas: [00:39:41] Somewhat, I had an interesting talk at South by Southwest, and there were some executives from Shell and BP that came. And I was really surprised, like, oh, wow, interesting to see you here. And we had a little chat afterwards. We had a heart to heart and had a conversation. And this is a really extreme example of oil companies saying, how can we better work with environmentalists when we're trying to transition and go through this green energy transition? And it was a really interesting conversation where I think I really piqued their interest when I told them, again, you can't do anything without accountability because the environmental community will call you out without acknowledging the harm that has been done, then people are not going to trust you without offering some of those resources and maybe participating in climate reparations in some way, then there is no accountability here. So that was a really extreme example. But the fact that these conversations are starting to emerge when we're to occur.

Christiana: [00:40:41] Absolutely.

Leah Thomas: [00:40:42] It's pretty wild and it is very polarizing. And I think it's going to be a really uphill battle. But if it's happening with oil companies, then it's definitely happening with other corporations as well. And I want to give a little shout out to Tazo. They're friends of mine, but we co-created a program together. They're a tea company and they said, You know what? We want to do better. Our parent company pollutes a whole lot, but we want to get involved in environmental justice. And they paid eight interns to come work with my organization and other climate justice organizations and paid them a living wage. They designed a program where they would hire people of color in Detroit and other areas impacted by environmental justice and poor air quality to plant trees where they need to be. And I thought that that was such a cool, comprehensive solution and something that other companies could definitely try out in different areas.

Christiana: [00:41:40] Role modeling, very important.

Abigael Kima: [00:41:43] I think you talked about shell and energy transition, and it struck me for a minute there because the conversation around just transition, especially for Africa, means different things for different countries. For example, here in Kenya, our electricity is at about 90 something percent when it comes to electrification. But then looking again at the productive use, that is where the problem is. But then when you look at countries like South Africa and Nigeria, their economies are actually dependent on oil and gas. So it also just brings in, again, the concept of nuance and just looking at other countries and seeing that transition means different things for them. So how do we get to a place where we understand that if I am to ask a Nigerian citizen today to completely transition to renewable energy, then what happens to them? And I think your book speaks for uplifting of the environment and also putting into consideration people in this case. And so it's quite intersectional and everything is intertwined. And I'm just glad that I got to have this conversation with you.

Leah Thomas: [00:43:03] Thank you for that. And yeah, there's honestly so much nuance and we could go on and on about the green energy transition and all the nuance and considerations there. But I think the point that you raised is so important. It has to be on a case by case basis. So, yeah, thanks for sharing.

Christiana: [00:43:22] So Leah, at the end of our conversations, we usually ask a question that usually I ask, but I'm going to cheat this time. And we all agree that it would be wonderful if Abbie would ask you the last question. So would you like to ask Leah that question to close us out today?

Abigael Kima: [00:43:39] Okay. Well, so, Leah, what is one thing that you are outraged about and what is one thing that you're optimistic about?

Leah Thomas: [00:43:50] Thank you so much for this question. And as a side note about outrage, sorry that this might be a bit of a rant, but a couple of days ago I flew to the Bay Area to meet up with a 100 year old park ranger. Her name is Betty and she's an incredible black woman. And we had this conversation about anger and how it's something that's not talked about enough. But anger can be such a transformational emotion. Anger doesn't need to lead to revenge. Absolutely not. But anger is a normal response to unjust systems or a climate crisis, etc.. So I've been thinking about anger and outrage and how it can be transformed into action. So that's just been something that's on my mind. So I'm glad that we're on this show. And it was really reaffirming to hear that from her because she was angry when she was one of the only Black Park Rangers. But she still took the job and she created a lot of incredible change with that anger and transformed it into empowerment. And that's something that we can all do. But something that makes me angry would be, I think what we spoke about earlier, the lack of the need for nuance in certain situations, especially when it comes to people of color, queer folks, low income folks, etc., in the sustainability movement. And I think we can all do a better job sometimes of checking our privilege in those scenarios because it can be really debilitating for people if they might not have certain resources available and they're told, you can't drive a car, you have to have an electric this or that and you have to have the most expensive tupperware and just all these sorts of things. That gives me a lot of outrage because I want everyone to know that they have a place in the environmental movement regardless. Tt's a welcome space. And then something that makes me really optimistic would be people like Abbie who are out here in the world creating really amazing change. And yeah, I'm just so excited for the future because there are so many people like Abbie that I haven't even met yet that are creating really incredible solutions. So the possibilities of the future gives me a lot of optimism. And that's why the slogan at my nonprofit is The Future Is Intersectional, because I like to think about what the future could look like.

Christiana: [00:46:16] Yeah. That is so important. We're totally with you on that one. We actually think that we don't think and conceive enough the future that we do want. We tend to get bogged down by the information that we have now and don't dedicate enough time to the future that we do want, the future that we choose because we know it's a better future and that we want to work for. So, I love that logo. The future is intersectional. Thank you so much for that.

Paul: [00:46:53] And thank you also for the phrase anger is an energy, which is a very famous phrase for people. And it's so true.

Christiana: [00:47:01] Very true. And actually, oh, my gosh, Clay is going to kill us because I'm going to ask you one more question after the final question. I am really interested in knowing what you mean by rest in resistance. What do you mean by that?

Leah Thomas: [00:47:15] Yes, and hi, Clay. I met him. I was in Europe somewhere and I'm so glad that I get to be on this podcast. So to take it all the way back, I didn't know that self care as a concept was something that was kind of pioneered by the Black Panther Party and other civil rights activists. And that's why you also see some programs that the Black Panthers did like school lunches or after school programs, etc., because it's an act of community care. But during the civil rights movement, a lot of revolutionaries realized, okay, if they're not taking care of themselves, then they can't properly take care of their communities. And if their communities can't be taken care of, you know, then activism is really tough if everybody's really tired. So that's kind of where some of the self care talk comes from. And from that, there's an organization called the Nap Ministries. Yes. All about napping. And their phrase is rest is resistance because it's built off of that same framework, taking time to care for yourself and find joy and find rest in a world that is so polarizing and a world where there's so many crises that are happening at once and so many unjust systems, that kind of is a revolutionary act for you to make the decision to say that, okay, I'm not going to participate in this exploitation by exploiting myself in some ways, by not allowing myself to rest. So if that's if that makes sense, that's why I consider resting as a part of my personal activism and phrasing it that way makes me feel good because rest is productive. Sometimes it's framed as something that's not productive, especially to perfectionists like myself. But I just say that mantra in my head. Rest is my activism. Rest is resistance and an unjust world.

Christiana: [00:49:08] Beautifully put. Beautifully put. Thank you so much, Leah. We'll probably talk to you offline about something that takes that to the next level. So thank you so much for that, Leah. Thank you. Thank you. We have to let you go. I'm so sorry. I know that you have other things that are pulling you away. Thank you so much to you for coming on Outrage + Optimism and a big, big thank you to Abbie to step in for Tom. How delightful. And Abbie, we're all very excited about your upcoming podcast in preparation for the African COP. And we will be talking to you also offline about how we can support your podcast. So thank you very much to both of you ladies. Wonderful. And Paul, do you want to close this out?

Paul: [00:50:00] Thank you very much indeed, Leah. Absolutely inspirational. And to the next chapter of intersectional environmentalism, a concept so big, we may not even guess how big it's going to end up being, but thank you for it.

Leah Thomas: [00:50:12] Thank you.

Paul: [00:50:19] Well, that was absolutely fascinating. I cannot help thinking that intersectional environmentalism may be the beginning of a huge new way of just reviewing how we work on climate change. Christiana, Abbie, what did you make of that interview with Leah?

Abigael Kima: [00:50:39] I think one thing that stood out for me was the fact that intersectionalism was quite a new term to me. But everything she said, I could totally relate to it because I have lived the injustice and I understand how hard it is to have our voices out there. Being that I am, I am a woman from the Global South. And yeah, I mean, I'm still taken aback by the fact that this still happens. And I really hope we will get to a point where we find balance.

Christiana: [00:51:11] You know, I was struck by many things that Leah shared with us, but I wanted to just tweeze out two. One is her response to me when I said, you know, one of the problems that we have now is that we're so polarized. We're polarized about climate. We're polarized about so many other issues in life. Her response was fascinating and a huge lesson to me. She said, I'm not sure if polarization is always a bad thing. And then she took us back to the civil rights movement in the United States and pointed out that there was a time in which 70% of U.S. citizens were actually against Martin Luther King and that the polarization was actually absolutely critical for the civil rights movement to eventually succeed. And that was a huge lesson for me, right? Because I have for so many years been working to have collaboration to move polarization and confrontation to collaboration. And her point was a really good reminder of the positive effects, the transformational effects that polarization can have. So I made a mental note and went, wow, yes, okay, when there is polarization, let's make sure to derive the positive from that. And the other piece that I was really struck by in her comments was the differentiation that she made between individuals and systems or systemic changes, because she said, I'm never here to shame individuals because we're all existing in navigating corrupt systems and imperfect systems. That is a really critical, crucial differentiation. And I think there we completely agree with her in that. Yes, we have to be very clear with people about where they stand and how much they're contributing or not to the climate solution. But it's not about shaming individuals. It is about motivating them, bringing them around to be sufficiently uncomfortable in order to have them contribute to the systemic change that we want. So the problem is the systemic status quo, and that systemic status quo can only be changed by individuals who make it their business to change that system. So a very important differentiation that she made between the individual level and the systemic level.

Paul: [00:54:14] I mean, my only other reflection is, is how through intersectional environmentalism, she's almost kind of offering up the opposite of this kind of weird ideology of these strongmen politicians like Vladimir Putin. You know, one of his advisors was being quoted in an article I read in the Financial Times about strongmen leaders. It says, What's the essence of Western liberalism? He said, no borders between countries and no distinctions between men and women. I think that embracing a global sense of responsibility, seeing all different kinds of people in every sense as being part of a global family is the essence of intersectional environmentalism, and is the essence of a global sense of global responsibility. In some ways, it is the opposite of nationalism with strict borders. But I don't think that that is necessarily a bad thing. Okay. We're beginning to wrap up. We have to come to the end of the show, sadly, which I have greatly enjoyed. Christiana, do you have any closing thoughts at the end of this striking episode where we've had the opportunity to really think about climate change in a different way?

Christiana: [00:55:33] Yeah, well, honestly, just gratitude to Leah, right? Gratitude for bringing this in such an eloquent fashion to us, the fact that we are all one family, that no one is exempt of the impact, that some are much highly more impacted, and that therefore those who are less impacted have more responsibility because this really is about solidarity. And and we've talked about this often on the podcast, but I thought she just did such a brilliant job in bringing it ever more eloquently and very inclusively to not forget anyone here who is impacted more impact than others, although all are impacted and point to those of many different types of privilege, who with that privilege have the responsibility for an outsized action on climate.

Paul: [00:56:40] And any last thoughts, Abbie?

Abigael Kima: [00:56:43] So on, on Leah Thomas’ book, while she clearly outlines the injustice that, you know, communities continue to experience, I just remembered while I was watching the IPCC release yesterday, I don't think I saw anyone who looks like me and just, you know, again, puts that rather clearly lays out the injustice and the sidelining. And I feel like it is high time to actually just, you know, put the communities in the forefront of climate change to have their voice heard by giving them opportunities and putting them in places where they can actually speak for their communities. Yeah, that's all.

Christiana: [00:57:27] Amen to that. Or as my girls say, a-women to that.

Paul: [00:57:31] A-people, to that. Abigael Kima, thank you so much for joining us as a co-host on Outrage + Optimism!

Abigael Kima: [00:57:37] Thank you. I really had a good time and you guys have great energy and what a way to learn from the best.

Paul: [00:57:45] We learn from each other.

Christiana: [00:57:46] Well, we've been thrilled to have you, Abbie, and excited for your podcast to come out. And we will definitely be helping you to get more attention to your podcast.

Abigael Kima: [00:57:58] Thank you so much.

Paul: [00:57:59] Okay. Well, we'll be back next week, but now we're going to leave you with music introduced by Fantastic Negrito, Rolling Through California. Bye for now.

Fantastic Negrito: [00:58:12] What's going on, people? This is Fantastic Negrito from Oakland, California. I want to introduce my track to you Rolling Through California with the incredibly talented Miko Marks. When I wrote this song, I was really feeling a deep conviction of the well-being of this earth, of this planet. The fires every year that just seem to come and just decimate the air that we breathe. We have one earth, one life, one planet. Let's embrace it together. Peace, love and light to you.

Rolling Through California by Fantastic Negrito [00:58:53] [Song plays]

Sarah Thomas: [01:03:28] Hi, everyone. I'm Sarah Thomas. I'm the executive producer for the Outrage + Optimism podcast. And I'm standing in this week for Clay, who sadly lost his voice. So wishing you loads better Clay and really hoping you find it in time for next week's credits. The song you just heard was Rolling Through California by three time Grammy Award winning Fantastic Negrito. He's got a new album out called White Jesus Black Problems on June the third. And if you head over to his YouTube channel, you'll be able to hear a preview of two full songs from the album. And there's also a beautiful film accompanying the album about his seventh generation grandparents. It's a love story. It's set in the 1750s, and it's about fighting white supremacy and how love conquers all. So you're going to want to hear it, see it. So check out his socials in the show notes. And thank you once again, Fantastic Negrito, for lending us your track. A huge, huge, heartfelt thanks also goes out to Leah Thomas, our wonderful guest this week, who we are so pleased to join us. We had such an insightful conversation with her and we are really grateful that she was able to make time to come and join us this week. If you head over to her website, The Intersectional Environmentalist, it has some of the best educational affirmation laden and forget your doomscrolling online content and a link to purchase Leah's book, The Intersectional Environmentalist, which both Clay and I heartily recommend is in the show notes. And you can support Intersectional Environmentalist on patron too. In terms of the pledge. Make sure you head over to www.intersectionalenvironmentalist.com and sign up. And if that's not enough, Intersectional Environmentalist has just put out a brand new podcast sharing stories about climate solutions and environmental justice grounded in intersectionality, optimism and joy. It's called The Joy Report, which personally brings me a lot joy just in the title. You can listen anywhere you get your podcast. And thank you so much, Leah, again for coming on. And last but certainly not least, thank you, Abigael Kima, for co-hosting with Christiana and Paul this week while Tom was away, you stepped in at the last moment and you brought with you such amazing energy and we had so much fun recording with you. And we can't be more excited about your up and coming podcast, which we hope to hear so much more about. Links to Abbie are in the show notes, and if you head to her Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, you can hit follow and be updated when her podcast goes live. We'll obviously make sure we update you in the first episode is about to drop and send you lots and lots of support and can't wait to hear it, Abbie. That's all from us this week. If you enjoy this episode, please share with a friend and give us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. We read every single review and we're online as well on all social media sites @GlobalOptimism, so you can find us there. See you next week. Same time, same place. Okay, Clay. I literally think I'm losing my voice to be okay. Rest is resistance and yeah, see you later. Bye.

Share

Latest news stories