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Highlighting Powerful Black Voices in the Environmental Movement

There is always work to do to reverse the historical silencing of Black and Brown voices in the environmental movement. In honor of Black History Month, we’re focusing on exactly that.

Published on: February 15, 2022
Woman having a coffee at Terrene

Before environmentalism and sustainability became a trendy way of life, Black activists have been quietly and passionately setting the stage for climate justice and the environmental movement.

These marginalized communities truly embody what it means to make decisions and advocate with intention without ever wanting or expecting attention.

In fact, these communities have not only been historically ignored, they’ve been systemically silenced. We must also consider the fact that BIPOC communities bear the heaviest burden of environmental harm—living near hazardous waste sites, breathing the nation’s most polluted air, and drinking the nation’s most contaminated water—while also contributing the least to the problems at hand.

Black Environmentalists have been spearheading a movement that majority communities have tried to carve them out of—and it’s well past time to recognize their efforts, amplify their voices, and offer them an inclusive platform to continue to lead the equitable environmental movement.

Spreading their message is not only just, equitable, and ethical—it’s critical for the future of the environmental movement and, in turn, the planet.

Voices of Change

Dr. Warren Washington

Dr. Washington is a trailblazing climate scientist whose work has made groundbreaking progress towards predicting the future of Earth’s atmosphere.

Since his first atmospheric computer model in the early 1960s, his work has helped scientists across the globe understand the impacts of climate change and its future impacts on the planet. Beyond atmospheric change, Dr. Washington’s original models have been amended to include oceans, polar ice caps, vegetation, and surface water in various predictions.

Dr. Washington also has over 150 publications and has served as a member of the President's National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere throughout the years. He has also mentored and inspired countless students and young researchers across the globe. His work will continue to teach us new things for all of the years to come.

Dr. Robert Bullard

Known as the "Father of Environmental Justice," Dr. Bullard helped organize the 1991 National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, one of the first minority-focused climate meetings.

Throughout the years, his award-winning work has highlighted environmental racism and pollution's effects on minority communities, exploring topics such as:

  • Climate justice
  • Regional equity
  • Sustainable development and growth
  • Urban land use
  • Community reinvestment and resilience
  • Industrial facility siting
  • Housing
  • Transportation

Dr. Bullard’s book Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality, is renowned in the field of environmentalism and climate justice. In it, he introduced the term “environmental racism” and the way that policymakers and corporations strategize to place big polluters in BIPOC communities.

Dr. Bullard’s books are a great place to start and/or continue learning about our nation’s history of environmental injustice—and things you can do to help end it.

Dr. Beverly L. Wright

Dr. Wright is an environmental justice scholar, advocate, author, and civic leader. As the founder of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, her work addresses environmental and health inequities along Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor (commonly known as “Cancer Alley”) and the Gulf Coast Region.

As a member of the U.S. Environmental Justice Advisory Council and an activist who lives and advocates in one of the biggest epicenters of environmental pollution/harm, Dr. Wright is a distinguished advisor to the President on all things climate change and equity.

You can hear her recent interview discussing the current impacts of climate change on Black communities here. We also encourage you to explore the latest topics and events covered by the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and consider donating to their cause.

Hazel M. Johnson

Known as the "Mother of the Environmental Justice Movement" and founder of the People for Community Recovery (PCR) in Chicago, Johnson is a trailblazer in the world of climate justice. 

She has dedicated years to researching environmental issues and injustices in Chicago's South Side, shedding light on the “toxic donut” area in southeast Chicago where industrial pollution has devastated surrounding communities like Altgeld Gardens and Maryland Manor.

In recent years, PCR has:

  • Developed solar training curriculum for the Chicago Housing Authority, to allow residents to access jobs in the solar energy space
  • Served as a leader for the Ready for 100 Coalition, running a successful campaign to put Chicago on the path to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2035
  • Secured $50 million to help low-income residents access the means to make their homes more healthy, affordable, and efficient
  • Mobilized over 400 residents to support the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, laying the groundwork to phase out coal and generate new equitable jobs in the solar and wind sectors, specifically for people of color

You can continue to amplify community voices by learning more about PCR’s current initiatives and donating to the movement to rise up for environmental justice.

Dior Doward

Doward is the founder of GreenFeen OrganiX (GFO), a composting collective and sustainability advocacy group in the Bronx that engages community members on topics such as environmental justice, climate activism, and waste equity through education, outreach, partnerships, and hip-hop.

By collecting and processing organic waste locally, GFO empowers the residents through community-based solutions while supporting the city’s “Zero Waste by 2030” initiative. GFO’s current project is the Local Organics Collection Pilot Program, educating residents and businesses about renewable energy and waste diversion options in NYC.

Leah Thomas

Thomas is an environmental justice leader and founder of Intersectional Environmentalist (IE) (@intersectionalenvironmentalist), a climate justice community and resource hub focused on acknowledging and amplifying BIPOC voices that have long been silenced and ignored in the environmental space.

The IE pledge, which calls the climate community to act in solidarity with the oppressed and take action to promote equity, has reached over one million people and counting. IE continues to make climate education and resources accessible to all, uplift members of marginalized communities, and teach everyone how to view environmentalism, social justice, and human rights through an intersectional lens.

We encourage you to acknowledge and validate Black voices and traditions by exploring the resources (books, articles, documentaries, TEDx videos, and podcasts) hosted on IE’s Black Identity page.

Continue to Amplify Black and Brown Voices

You can learn the names and explore the works of many more Black Environmentalists by visiting the following articles:

We hope you'll join us in learning more about these individuals and many other Black leaders doing important work in the world of environmental justice—and continue to use your voice to ensure that BIPOC voices are never again silenced and ignored.

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