Climate change is a pressing issue worldwide and disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people among us.
Extreme weather conditions and superstorms are some of the effects we see, but droughts, food insecurity, economic instability, and displacement are what vulnerable populations experience on a consistent basis.
We’ve long been warned about the consequences of fossil fuel extraction, but climate change affects not just the environment but also the lives of People of Color, young people, residents of small island nations, women, LGBTQIA+ people, and people experiencing poverty.
Many climate activists are taking an intersectional approach to their work, considering the identities of the people whose lives are disrupted by climate disaster.
In particular, ecofeminists are dedicated not only to raising awareness and demanding action on the climate crisis but also to ensuring that the response is equitable, centering the most vulnerable.
Here are 8 ecofeminists doing radical work to bring about equity and environmental justice.
Irene Vázquez is a Black Mexican American poet, journalist, and editor from Houston, Texas, who writes about Black feminist ecopoetics, placemaking, and futures. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in:
- the Texas Observer
- Sargasso: A Journal of Caribbean Literature and Culture
Through her reporting, Vázquez amplifies the stories of climate justice organizers and hopes to inspire people to act for change.
“Poetry helps me break down overwhelming topics like climate change or carcinogenic pollution and deal with them on an intimate, person-to-person level,” she says.
“My writing also helps me imagine new ways of being in right relation with the natural world outside of ways that have been forced upon us by colonization and white supremacy.”
Vázquez sees climate change as a result of industrialization and colonization that’s connected to the dehumanization of Black people and continued settler occupation of Indigenous land.
“When colonizers don’t treat Black people as human, Black communities are displaced after climate disaster. When Indigenous land is occupied by settler governments, the natural world is commodified and exploited, and communities’ health is intentionally neglected,” she says.
Vázquez adds, “Anyone working or writing about climate change should center the needs of these communities as they seek to build a more just future, lest the world we seek to build continue to perpetuate the problems of this one.”
Jhannel Tomlinson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and Geology at University of the West Indies, Jamaica, whose research interweaves community-based adaptation to climate change, environmental justice, and vulnerable groups.
Her accomplishments and awards include:
- co-founder of GirlsCARE (Climate Action for Resilience and Empowerment)
- co-founder of Young People for Action on Climate Change (YPACC) Jamaica
- Caribbean Advisor for the Next Generation Climate Board
- recipient of the Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Environmental Protection in Jamaica (2019)
- named of one of 50Next’s Trailblazing Activists
A scholar and activist, she believes that academia should prompt exploration and understanding of experiences and that scholars’ findings should empower and educate communities.
“Grassroots movements are championing action toward climate justice, and academics should use their platforms and networks to foster communication, collaboration, and cohesion,” she says.
Tomlinson notes that funding for climate change initiatives in developing nations has been and remains a challenge, even in the face of emerging entities such as the Green Climate Fund and Global Environmental Facility.
“While countries in the Global South are the ones contributing the least to climate change, we are among the most vulnerable, and access to the resources to facilitate local adaptation isn’t easily accessible,” she says.
She identifies the red tape involved in gaining access to funding from international donors as a justice issue.
“Countries have to jump through hoops to be considered, and then — even when this is done — it takes some time for approval to be granted,” Tomlinson notes.
“These countries need to be given some consideration based on their existing socioeconomic challenges. Efforts need to be made to allow for easier access to these funds.”
Bernard Ferguson is a Bahamian poet, essayist, and educator. Although they say that it’s by great luck that they’re the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, their work makes it clear that these achievements are by merit.
Ferguson’s awards include:
- the 2019 Hurston/Wright College Writers Award
- the 2019 92Y Discovery Contest
In addition, their writing has been featured, published, or is forthcoming in:
- the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas
- The New York Times Magazine
- The New Yorker
- The Paris Review
Among Ferguson’s work is the article they wrote about Hurricane Dorian’s effects on the Bahamas, declaring that the devastation was — and continues to be — an issue of climate injustice.
For Cave Canem and Lambda Literary, Ferguson wrote “why make promises at all,” a poem they have also shared on their Instagram account. It begins:
why make promises at all if, when the erosion
erodes, there will be nothing left of the roots?
“I think our promises don’t matter unless we’re held accountable for them,” Ferguson says.
They claim that Western capitalist societies are more interested in exploitation than accountability — in opposition to traditional belief systems that emphasize responsibility for one’s community and environment.
“A long time ago, deep down in the truest parts of us, our oldest and wisest selves made a promise to take care of one another, to take care of this planet and the kaleidoscope of life,” they say.
Ferguson wants to see us return to our better selves, take responsibility for our actions, and recognize our interdependence with each other and the earth. These qualities are necessary if we are to survive the climate crisis, and they require mutual care.
“How can we make promises at all if that most basic promise, that most human duty, doesn’t seem to matter any more?” Ferguson asks.
Ferguson calls on people in developed countries to hold their governments accountable for the global climate crisis.
Erica Cirino, who splits her time between the shores of Long Island and Connecticut, is a science writer and artist who explores the intersection of the human and nonhuman worlds.
Her photojournalistic work is widely published, depicting connections between people and nature. Cirino’s recent book, “Thicker Than Water,” explains the plastic crisis through primarily Black, brown, Indigenous, and rural communities, along with scientists and activists.
“It presents readers with stories revealing the troubling history and vast range of consequences of plastic production, use, and disposal,” she says.
Cirino focuses on Communities of Color because they’re disproportionately affected by environmental injustice. “Ultimately, I hope readers complete the book considering what they need to live and what they can live without — on personal and societal levels,” she says.
These days, Cirino is working on an exciting new project to bring climate solutions and frontline communities — which face the biggest challenges and are making the most radical changes — to a wider audience in a way most media platforms have not yet done.
She explains, “We hope that creating a space for such stories will help amplify and expand the amazing efforts to combat the climate crisis that are now underway.”
Dominique Palmer is a climate justice activist and organizer with Fridays for Future International and Climate Live. She participates in various international actions and campaigns using music and other creative means to reach and mobilize people.
She has been featured in:
- Forbes 100 U.K. Leading Environmentalists (2020)
- the Guardian
Palmer is a public speaker on environmental and social justice, as well as a student of political science and international relations at the University of Birmingham.
For her, fighting for climate justice that benefits people and the planet is crucial, and she campaigns for bold action from global leaders. For example, she’s an organizer of the ongoing climate strike (which is now primarily in the digital space).
“We have the solutions, the finances, and pathways laid out by the…  IPCC report,” she says, referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “What is missing is political will, a desire to prioritize the well-being of the planet over profit, and serious urgency.”
She calls on governments to halt fossil fuel extraction, address social inequalities regarding clean air, and provide climate education and climate reparations.
She also makes the connection between climate justice and racial justice, noting that People of Color are disproportionately affected by — and leading the discussion on — climate change.
“They — particularly Women of Color — are agents of change in both mitigation and adaptation,” says Palmer. “They must be heard, [including] in decision spaces.”
Palmer is one of many young people to recognize that they’ll inherit the climate emergency and shouldn’t have to juggle urgent activism with their studies.
“So many of us feel betrayed and face eco-anxiety,” she says. “We don’t want to hear that we are so inspiring… or that this is ‘up to us.’ No — you made the mess and you’re going to clean it up with us. We must collectively take care of our earth.”
Ayesha Constable is the founder of two umbrella organizations for youth-led climate groups: YPACC Jamaica and GirlsCARE.
She currently serves as an advisor for FRIDA (Flexibility Resources Inclusivity Diversity Action) — the Young Feminist Fund — and has been a member of several regional and global youth networks, including:
- Caribbean Youth Environment Network
- Commonwealth Youth Climate Network
- Sustainable Development Solutions Youth Network
- Global Power Shift of 350.org
Constable has researched and published on gender and climate change as part of her doctoral studies. Her recent academic research has examined the role of young women and girls in climate action in the Caribbean.
She says, “Young people have a high level of awareness of the risks posed by the climate crisis and have taken responsibility for finding and implementing solutions.”
“They have formed strong cross-regional alliances that help to amplify voices and provide the benefit of collective strategizing.”
She notes that in the Caribbean, young women — with strong support from the LGBTQIA+ community — are the face of climate action.
“They’re educating the public, shaping public policy, and ensuring the Caribbean voice is included in the global dialogue on climate change,” she says.
Constable points to the shared challenges across geographic regions, such as inadequate funding and a lack of inclusion, and the varied ways that these issues present in different places.
“Lack of inclusivity in one region may mean lack of inclusion of rural folk, while in another it is exclusion of LGBTQIA+ people,” she says.
She raises the issue of burnout among activists and the danger of prioritizing their cause over personal well-being. “Replenishing ourselves is in itself a form of activism in response to systems that would rather us be too drained to effectively challenge them,” she says.
Kayly Ober, senior advocate and program manager for the Climate Displacement Program at Refugees International, has more than a decade of experience in climate, migration, and displacement issues. This includes her work as:
- a policy specialist for the Asian Development Bank
- a consultant at the World Bank, where she authored the flagship report “Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration”
- a research associate with TransRe, an organization based at the University of Bonn, for which she explored migration as an adaptation strategy in rural Thailand
Ober notes that climate change is one of the driving factors behind migration. “Climate change supercharges natural hazards and exacerbates existing inequalities in ways that impact those on the edge [who] may need to make the difficult choice to migrate,” she says.
She notes that the effects of climate change are also connected to socioeconomic issues.
“If you are a farmer dependent on rainfall to grow your crops and earn a living, shifting rainfall patterns, recurring floods, or droughts can drastically affect your ability to earn a living,” she says.
“Depending on your ability to adapt, and even of your country to help you weather them, you may decide to migrate or not.”
Ober is calling for varied and nuanced policies to address the complex issue of climate change and migration. She participated in the development of a Refugees International report on climate change and migration released in July 2021.
She emphasizes that policies need to both allow people to stay where they’re from — which requires disaster risk reduction or climate change adaptation — and acknowledge that people may want or need to safely migrate and will need help doing so.
She also points to new guidance from the United Nations that suggests the definition of “refugee” in the 1951 Refugee Convention may apply in the context of climate change and that it’s up to individual countries to make assessments.
She says, “That’s why policies that seek to protect the rights of people moving are equally important, and perhaps even more novel, than policies of prevention [of climate-related disaster].”
Adriana Laurent is a queer, mixed-race immigrant from Honduras who is passionate about the intersections of climate change, race, gender, and migration and has been organizing on these issues for 6 years at an institutional and grassroots level.
She lives in Vancouver, Canada (the lands of Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations), and is a digital campaigner with the activist group Leadnow. She has also been:
- a co-founder and staff member at the Climate Hub at the University of British Columbia
- a consultant for the City of Vancouver on its Climate Justice Charter
- an organizer for international mutual aid projects and grassroots youth climate organizing
“I’ve experienced the devastating impacts of climate change on my communities firsthand,” she says. “My community in Honduras has experienced powerful hurricanes that left thousands displaced, and in Vancouver I’ve also lived through a deadly heat wave.”
Laurent notes that these experiences are reminders that climate change worsens existing forms of oppression.
“Addressing the climate crisis also requires addressing deeply rooted systems of oppression,” she adds. “I’m working toward a more just and equitable world for all that sustains the dignity of all people and planet alike.”
She notes that climate change needs to be connected to communities and issues people care about.
“We need many people across the world with different expertise and experiences working on this issue. We can’t exclusively think about greenhouse gases; we must organize to tangibly improve the lives of people impacted by the climate crisis,” she says.
“This work is ultimately about caring for your community and our collective future.”
Climate justice requires gender equality, LGBTQIA+ rights, and the eradication of poverty.
It is not the responsibility of young people alone, as it requires an intergenerational approach that includes honoring traditions, learning new ways of living and being, and regarding today’s actions as determinants of the future.
Art and scholarship are equally important advocacy tools because they appeal to emotion and intellect. The goal of the movement isn’t to compel decision makers to make more promises but to build accountability and require it from individuals, corporations, and states.
Our human responsibility for each other must play a central role, serving as a beacon for the climate justice movement. In a community, there’s place for everyone as long as they follow through on their commitments to keep one another safe.
These 8 ecofeminists are doing heavy lifting, and they call on you to not only listen and learn but also participate in the process. It takes people with diverse experiences and expertise to create a collective future that’s sustainable, equitable, and just.
Just one thing
Try this today: Interested in concepts such as zero waste, food foraging, and eco-friendly eating? Check out Healthline’s environmental content hub, The Sustainable Table.