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Interview With Intersectional Environmentalist Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas is an intersectional environmental activist and eco-communicator based in Southern California. She’s passionate about advocating for and exploring the relationship between social justice and environmentalism.You could say she’s encouraging us all to be a little nicer to our home planet, and our home to be a little more equal for everyone.

We recently spoke with Leah to find out what exactly is intersectional environmentalism and how she’s hopeful for the changes happening in our country now.

KAYU: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi I’m Leah, I’m black, let’s get that out there. I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. Growing up my parents were very Afrocentric. They were into social justice and were really passionate about education. I went to school in Southern California and started studying biology and later changed my major to environmental science and policy. I did a couple of internships at The National Parks Service and worked at Patagonia headquarters for about two years. I have a blog called Green Girl Leah and I also recently launched Intersectional Environmentalist, which is a separate platform.

KAYU: Tell us about your time at Patagonia.

I really enjoyed my time at Patagonia. I started working there when I was twenty three and it was a dream to work at a company that I consider top tier when it comes to sustainability. I’m really thankful for my time there because I learned how to do business better and being surrounded by a ton of environmentalists was really awesome. But I also walked away from that experience realizing that you don’t have to be a white, mountain-climber in order to practice sustainability. People of color, we also have conservation baked into our cultural traditions. It helped me see the need for diversity in the climate movement and I don’t think I would’ve been able to create what Intersectional Environmentalism means to me without that experience.

KAYU: Can you define what it means to be an intersectional environmentalist?

Intersectional theory was created by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. It says that all of us have overlapping parts of our identity from gender and sexuality, to race, culture, and religion. It’s important not to silo different parts of our identity because we might miss some important gaps. When I was in college I found that Intersectional Feminism doesn’t silence race to advocate for women because when you silence race, then its only advocating specifically for the advancement of white women. Making feminism intersectional means advocating for all women and that includes trans women and people of color. I wanted the same of the environmental movement so I created Intersectional Environmentalism, which advocates for the protection of both people and the planet.  People are considered and not just people, the most vulnerable peoples voices are being amplified and allowed to lead this movement.

KAYU: What inspired you to be an intersectional environmentalist?

The events of Ferguson and the Ferguson uprising happened very close to my hometown while I was studying Environmental Science and Policy. The more I saw how people of color experienced police brutality disproportionately, the more I realized they also experienced environmental injustices disproportionately. This system of oppression was also at play in healthcare and education. I realized that this wasn’t an economic or environmental issue, it was actually a race issue. Understanding the way these things are connected and how the same systems of oppression are oppressing people in multiple ways inspired me to be an Intersectional Environmentalist.  I can’t pretend I’m not black just so I can advocate for the protection of the planet without considering who I’m trying to protect in the first place. I want to protect the people that are going to be impacted the most and that happens to be black, indigenous, and people of color.

KAYU: What are your top 3 favorite renewable materials?

Tencel or Modal, a renewable material from eucalyptus. It’s a really cool fiber to use in active wear particularly and is a polyester replacement. I also really love bamboo because it grows so quickly and is really durable. This isn’t really a renewable material but I love using cloth napkins for various things around my house.

KAYU: What are some actions you take to live more sustainably?

I always start with reusing mason jars. I know they’re seen as a hippie thing but they’re so great and are really inexpensive. You can thrift them and they come in bulk. They can be repurposed as a cup, container or storage container and easily replaces plastic.

KAYU: Your go-to skincare routine/products?

I like Activist Collective Skincare. I’ve been using their whole facial routine step by step for a year now. I also like to use Lush products.

KAYU: Last book you read?

Black Nature which is a collection on nature by African American poets.

KAYU: What are some platforms or nonprofits that people can volunteer with?

I like Latino Outdoors, Outdoor Afro, Sunrise, Earth Rise Alliance, and Future Earth.

KAYU: Tell us about your next project.

I’m working on a book proposal and I’m also working on a film project. I can’t give out too many details but both of those things will be out next year. I’m super excited.