“Why are you making climate change about social issues? Stop tacking on stuff that has nothing to do with climate change to the climate crisis!”
People tell me stuff like that all the time. People with backgrounds of immense privilege tell me to “stop making climate change about social justice.” They’ll accuse me and others fighting for climate justice of distracting from the cause everytime we try to point out the intersections of climate change and other injustices.
What they don’t understand is that the climate crisis is the direct result of oppressive issues like colonialism, racism, and patriarchy. Like many social issues, climate change and other environmental issues do not exist on their own. Instead, a complex system imposes the impact of climate change directly onto marginalized communities. People with disabilities, LGBTQ people, Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, low income communities, and other marginalized people are more likely to confront the deadly effects of climate change in addition to combating other forms of institutionalized barriers in their path to achieving societal equity.
GLAAD #20Under20 Honoree and youth climate activist @Jamie_Margolin discusses the impact of climate change on LGBTQ communities and how the media plays an important role in transforming the public’s understanding of the climate crisis. pic.twitter.com/0wefMOHFPt
— GLAAD (@glaad) October 8, 2020
I don’t blame people for thinking that the climate crisis is separate from all other issues, because intersectionality and the concept of intersecting oppressions is not taught in schools or discussed in the mainstream environmental conversations.
When I first entered the climate movement at 14, I thought that I had to compartmentalize and push aside all of the other issues I cared about to focus on being a climate activist.
But as I learned from grassroots organizers in my community in Seattle and did more reading, research, and learned more about what was happening in communities around me, I started to open my eyes to the fact that you can’t actually properly address the climate crisis without addressing poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, and all of the other issues that plague our society.
Climate change is a threat multiplier, which means that any issue that is existing in the world, climate change worsens it.
Climate change makes the struggles that marginalized people go through even worse. Take, for instance, the impact and intersection of climate change and homelessness. There are disproportionately high levels of homelessness within the LGBTQ+ community. Because of homophobia and transphobia, queer youth are sometimes kicked out of their homes due to their LGBTQ+ identities, and forced to live on the streets. LGBTQ+ folks also often experience discrimination in the workplace, which can make it harder for us to find jobs and support ourselves, which can also lead to homelessness.
The climate crisis causes extreme weather patterns and climate disasters, such as polar vortexes that make places dangerously cold, extreme heat waves, or the thick layers of smog from wildfires. If you are someone with a home, then you have shelter from the extreme cold, heat, and bad air quality that the climate crisis causes. But if you are homeless then you are exposed to these increasingly dangerous conditions.
In just this one example, you can draw a line from homophobia and transphobia to the climate crisis. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights is therefore connected to the fight for climate justice, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
It is critical that we stop thinking about climate change as an issue floating in a vacuum separate from all other issues, and start understanding it as the grand culmination of all of societal oppression.
I understand that it can be overwhelming to think about all of these issues at the same time. When you see how messed up the world is, and how intricately woven all of our societal injustices are, it can be easy to get so overwhelmed that you simply tune out and do nothing. It’s easy to look at this whole heap of problems and think, “I’m just one person, I could never make a dent in these massive issues.” But if everyone does their part to educate themselves and those around them, and takes all of the political action they can, then we can make a dent in these issues and start to push the needle towards change.
Talk to your friends, family, co-workers, and community about the climate crisis and all of its intersections. The more people who are educated about climate injustice, the closer we are to tackling these problems.
Get as involved as you can. And please vote for politicians who show a genuine understanding of the climate crisis and climate justice. Is voting going to single handedly undo all of these issues? No, of course it won’t. But is it one very important part of taking action against a large and complex crisis? Yes – so, vote. But the work doesn’t stop there. Keep educating those around you, join a community organization, attend climate justice events and mobilizations if you can.
Every meaningful change that has ever happened throughout human history has happened from the bottom up. So let’s get to work.
Jamie Margolin is a GLAAD 20 Under 20 Honoree and is a cofounder of the international youth climate justice organization, Zero Hour. She is the author of a new book called YOUTH TO POWER, and a plaintiff on an Our Children’s Trust Youth vs. Gov lawsuit suing the Washington State Government for their continual worsening of the climate crisis. She is a freshman Film and Television major at New York University.