Happy Black History Month. The month of February is dedicated to honoring and remembering the legacy, triumphs and incredible contributions of African Americans in the United States. Which is why we're highlighting black women who are using their platforms and voices to fight for environmental justice and create true change. Check it out in this month's Trash Talk.
Climate change refers to the universal warming of the planet primarily due to human activities (like burning fossil fuels) that increase greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. However, it encompasses much more than just a change in temperature. Impacts of climate change include rising sea levels, increased flooding and droughts, melting glaciers and sea ice, shifting weather patterns and more.
While climate change affects the entire world, the impacts are unevenly distributed across individuals, populations and entire countries. Existing socioeconomic inequities mean that certain populations are more susceptible to the effects of climate change. In the US, this means that low income residents and people of color will suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change — “Black people are 40% more likely than other groups to currently live in places where extreme temperatures driven by climate change will result in higher mortality rates,” among other statistics that illustrate these discrepancies (Fears & Grandoni, 2021).
In order to address the long standing histories of racism and discrimination that contribute to the uneven bearing of climate change impacts — we must prioritize environmental justice. A sustainable future means bridging inequality and working to aid those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
These creators are dedicating their platforms, voices and lives to the fight for environmental and climate justice. Check out these 10 environmentalists we think you should know who are fighting for a more sustainable and a just future.
Meet Those Leading the Change
1. Summer Dean
Summer is the founder of Climate Diva, her personal platform focused on sustainability, slow fashion, beauty, and climate action. Summer has worn various hats in the environmental field over the years, working in renewable energy policy, climate science research, producing social media content for nonprofits, and more. She is also a working model in Portland and Los Angeles. She received her B.S. degree in environmental studies from Portland State University in 2019, and in 2021 she began working on Climate Diva full time, creating content for sustainability-focused brands and organizations like ThredUp, Meta, The Nature Conservancy, and more. Read more about her in an interview with Atmos Magazine here.
On diving into sustainability:
Right now, I'm learning a lot about anti-grind culture and a slow lifestyle. A book I highly recommend is "Rest Is Resistance" by Tricia Hersey. It dives into an analysis of grind culture, offers us a mantra of rest, and ties it all into sustainability, racial justice, and more.
2. Dominique Drakeford
Bio: Dominique Drakeford is an environmental educator, a writer, a sustainable fashion influencer, an advocate for youth and community engagement and well-being and a public speaker. She works with companies, organizations, communities and individuals to create equitable change and true solutions in the sphere of sustainability. She is the Founder of MelaninASS (Melanin And Sustainable Style) a digital platform where she talks about all things sustainable fashion to natural beauty and wellness to land sovereignty efforts. She is also the co-founder of Sustainable Brooklyn, an organization “working to bridge the gap between the sustainability movement and targeted communities” through events and development of resources.
On how to be sustainable, Dominique says:
“Meet yourself where you're at. Understand the root of who you are, what you care about and why”Scrutinize your routines, rituals, your educational tools and values. (9 times out of 10 if you're a Black or a person of color - you're already organically doing important individual and community work in sustainability without even knowing it - so honor yourself.) Doing a self evaluation on how you're taking up space and how you want to be more intentional. For me - this is always step one!”
3. Aja Barber
Bio: Aja Barber works in the sustainable fashion sphere as a writer, stylist, speaker and consultant. She focuses on the intersection of sustainability and prevalent social justice issues such as wealth inequality, feminism, racism, along with histories of colonialism and privilege in order to consider a future fashion industry that takes into account all of these things. Her book Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change and Consumerism looks at the current structures of the textile industry and capitalism as well as consumerism, prompting readers to confront their own behavioral patterns and misconceptions, to learn the truth and then make changes.
She wants you to ask yourself:
“Do you need another clothing item? Do you want a plastic bag? Are you wearing, loving and treating what you already have with care? Anyone can be an environmentalist but once we've decided to claim the title ... what do we do next?”
4. Marie Beecham
Bio: Marie Beecham is a DEI Advocate and host of The Changemaker podcast. She's reached millions online, empowering people to pursue racial equity and social change. Her life’s work is helping people make a difference.
On environmental racism:
“When it comes to environmental racism, I draw heavily on the work of Dr. Robert Bullard who trailblazed that entire field of research. His work brings together care for people and the planet. I wasn't much of an environmentalist myself until I realized how caring for the planet is a way to care for the most vulnerable people.”
5. Sharona Shnayder
Bio: Sharona Shnayder is a Nigerian/Israeli environmental activist and Founder of the global grassroots movement Tuesdays for Trash-- tackling the garbage crisis facing our planet. Through her movement, which she began during the COVID19 pandemic, she’s been able to inspire, empower and subsequently build a community of individuals around the world fighting for a cleaner and healthier future on Earth. Despite how intimidating climate change often feels she chose to channel her fear and anger into mobilization that has now brought people from 36 countries together to remove over 30,000 pounds of litter from our environment in 6/7 continents. This is a prime example of someone driven by something bigger than themselves in order to see beyond what the world currently is and instead take action for a brighter and more hopeful future.
Who she’s inspired by:
“Someone I truly admire in the climate justice space is my friend Oluwaseyi Mojeoh, she is one of the most dedicated, compassionate and talented activists I know. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in awe at her accomplishments with her grassroots nonprofit in Nigeria U-recycle Initiative which is addressing plastic pollution in the region and fostering youth capacity building. She’s someone who recognizes how limited the opportunities are for BIPOC leaders in the climate movement and generously shares every opportunity she finds to uplift other activists in her circle. I hope she becomes a world leader someday, our planet would be a much better place.”
6. Wanjiku “Wawa” Gatheru
Bio: Wanjiku “Wawa” Gatheru is a Kenyan-American environmental justice scholar- activist passionate about cultivating a climate movement that is made in the image of all of us. In 2019, Wawa made history as the first Black person in history to receive the Rhodes, Truman, and Udall scholarships. She is the founder and Executive Director of Black Girl Environmentalist, an organization dedicated to empowering Black girls, women, and non-binary people across environmental disciplines. She is a Narrative Fellow at the All We Can Save Project and serves as the Activist Board Chair at the Environmental Media Association, is on the national advisory board of Climate Power and is the youngest council member at EarthJustice. For her work in collaboration with other organizers and activists, Wawa has been recognized as a Young Futurist by The Root, a Grist 50 FIXER, a Glamour College Woman of the Year, and was featured on the January 2023 cover of Vogue alongside Billie Eilish and 7 other climate activists.
Who you should follow!
“I’m a bit biased, but I would recommend folks to follow @blackgirlenvironmentalist! We are working to help change the narrative around who people believe is and can be an environmentalist. Black women and Black non-binary folks have been sidelined in this movement for far too long. It’s time that we reclaim our time and create space for us by us. That’s the work BGE is doing and we have so much on the way.”
7. Genesis Butler
Bio: Genesis Butler is a 16 year old who became an environmentalist at the age of 10 after she learned about the impact animal agriculture has on the environment. She gave a TEDx talk shortly after becoming an environmentalist because she felt it was important for people to learn about the damage animal agriculture has on the planet. She also founded Youth Climate Save two years ago, which is a global youth climate and environmental organization with over 60 chapters around the world.
On being an environmentalist:
“Being an environmentalist means continuing the work of my Black and Indigenous ancestors who have been stewards of the Earth for many centuries. It is important because there are so many people who take part in destroying the environment so we need as many people as possible to stop this destruction and work towards a more sustainable world where all life has the ability to thrive. One tip I have for anyone trying to be sustainable is to find at least one way to be more sustainable each day. This could be something as easy as taking a refillable water bottle with you whenever you leave your house or walking instead of driving whenever possible. Small actions each day can make a big difference.”
8. Tyler Chanel
Bio: Tyler Chanel is an ethical blogger and model based in Los Angeles California. Her blog and YouTube Channel, Thrifts & Tangles, provides educational tips to inspire others to give thrifting, sustainability, and their natural selves a chance.
Why it’s important to be an environmentalist:
“To be an environmentalist is to make lifestyle decisions that minimizes any negative impact on the planet and its creatures. It is standing up for what's right and having a mission to make the world a better place for the next generation. The climate crisis is a huge concern and it is only going to get worse. The sooner we address and combat the issue, the better. I am a soon-to-be mother and want my child to live in a flourishing, sustainable world.”
Bio: Jhánneu is a sustainability expert, speaker and content creator who focuses on living mindfully and fearlessly. She has created guides and tips on how to live sustainably through your purchases, habits and lifestyle as a whole which are all accessible on her instagram.
On being sustainable “For me being an environmentalist is caring both about people and the planet. I try to focus on how I can be more mindful with my daily habits and inspire others to do the same. Ask yourself before you buy something, do you really need it?”
10. Ashley Renne Nsonwu
Bio: Ashley Renne Nsonwu is a Black and South Asian environmental activist and mom who pivoted from her travel influencer career in 2019 to reduce her carbon footprint and educate her audience about sustainable, vegan living. As an advocate for people of color, the planet and animals, she shares daily lifestyle inspiration for families, plant-based menu ideas for kids, and sustainability tips. She is the author of a vegan kids cookbook scheduled to publish in 2023, a board member of Climate Power, and has personally been invited by The White House in 2022 and 2023 to attend climate events. Her brand, Hey Ashley Renne, inspires her community to bridge individual action with systemic change to help end animal exploitation, protect the environment, and improve human health outcomes through sustainable, plant-based lifestyle changes – especially in communities of color disproportionately impacted by climate change and health problems.
On being sustainable every day:
One tip I have to be sustainable every day is one that may make some folks uncomfortable, and that’s okay! Sometimes positive change means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. The truth is if those of us who have the ability to change our diets actually did change our diets and embraced a plant-based lifestyle, we could cut agricultural greenhouse emissions in half. That’s a lot. While I am vegan and I live the way I do out of respect for animals, there's also so much more to it than that. Food choices matter, not just to animals, but to people as well. The meat and dairy products many view as harmless, are contributing to world hunger, climate change, and environmental degradation unbeknownst to most. The food system we were all born into is a cruel game, hosted by corporate greed and politics, in which the cards are completely stacked against us and against the billions of animals who suffer from our food choices each year. According to UNEP (UN Environment Programme), “as humans, meat production is one of the most destructive ways in which we leave our footprint on the planet.” So that’s a little food for thought for anyone wondering how they can make a daily impact.
Sources & Further Reading:
“Learn About Environmental Justice .” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 2022, https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/learn-about-environmental-justice.
Fears, Darryl, and Dino Grandoni. “EPA Just Detailed All the Ways Climate Change Will Hit U.S. Racial Minorities the Hardest. It's a Long List.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 Sep. 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/09/02/ida-climate-change/.
Tabuchi, Hiroko, and Nadja Popovich. “People of Color Breathe More Hazardous Air. the Sources Are Everywhere.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Apr. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/28/climate/air-pollution-minorities.html.
Tessum, Christopher W., et al. “PM 2.5 Polluters Disproportionately and Systemically Affect People of Color in the United States.” Science Advances, vol. 7, no. 18, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abf4491.
“Climate Change.” United Nations, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/climate-change#:~:text=The%20scale%20of%20recent%20changes,every%20region%20across%20the%20globe.
“UN Climate Report: It's 'Now or Never' to Limit Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees | UN News.” United Nations, United Nations, https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/04/1115452.