As a university student, I fill my free time (and resume) with volunteering. When I’m not studying, writing, or at work, I can be found walking the university gardens, attending Vegan Club, or exploring environmental workshops. I always feel a little uneasy entering these spaces, because— in my experience — they are almost exclusively white.
From the beginning, I thought this was an oddity. The people that attend these sessions are buzzing with discussions of climate change, global warming, and intersectionality. Data show that people of colour report higher rates of environmental concern than whites, so how could it be that non-white youth who fight so ardently for social issues are so often missing from the conversation?
In many ways, it’s not exactly surprising. After all, when you think of environmentalists, who do you imagine? David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, and Teddy Roosevelt likely come to mind. White people. It follows that we have to question why none of us think of people like Xiye Bastida, a Mexican-Chilean climate activist who presented a speech on Indigenous Cosmology at the United Nations before even turning eighteen.
The issue isn’t just in our heads. There is plenty of evidence that shows how people of colour are severely underrepresented in major environmental organizations and agencies. In the US, research suggests that approximately 88 percent of staff and 95 percent of boards of environmental non-government organizations are white. What’s up here?
A Racist History
What does it say about the founders of the conservation movement (and subsequently environmentalism) if they believed they had a right to choose which forms of life survived?