Leah Thomas is on a mission to raise awareness about how environmental injustice impacts black and brown communities

Climate activist and author Leah Thomas (@greengirlleah) believes that knowledge is power! Leah is the founder of an environmental nonprofit organization called The Intersectional Environmentalist, and has dedicated her life to making environmental information available to Black and brown communities who often face the harshest effects of climate change. She believes that education is the first step towards empowerment. 

While environmental data is often publicly available, it can be difficult to access, according to Leah. That’s why Leah founded the Intersectional Environmentalist. “So much of this environmental data is kind of gatekept in academic institutions or within different government agencies. Everyday people have no idea what’s going on with their air quality, their water quality, unless it becomes a crisis like Flint, Michigan,” she tells In The Know. “I created my nonprofit because I want this information to be as accessible as possible.”

Leah believes that raising awareness is the necessary first step in the fight against climate injustice. “My main thing is communications and writing,” she explains. “Writing can be a really powerful tool for change and what I want to do is find ways to break down environmental justice information so that it can be easily understood by the everyday person.”

Leah specifically wants to get young people excited about climate justice. “My book, The Intersectional Environmentalist, is one example of that. I wrote it because I wanted it to get into schools,” she explains. “[I wanted] people to be able to say, ‘Huh, okay, social justice can be a part of environmentalism,’ so that as [they] get older they’ll be really aware of things like air quality, water quality, or who’s being impacted the most.”

Leah explains that she takes an intersectional approach to climate justice. She believes that it’s important not only to look at the factors that cause climate change, but to consider what communities are being impacted the most. “So looking at different environmental outcomes, for example, which communities have more air pollution or water pollution or lack of tree coverage?” she asks. “71 percent of African Americans live in counties that frequently violate air quality standards. They can’t even breathe the clean air. If they can’t breathe clean air, if they’re not drinking clean water, then how can we expect these communities to experience joy?”

For Leah, it is frustrating to watch government organizations fail to respond to climate crises. She explains that it was this government inactivity that first inspired her to get involved in the climate justice movement. “The Environmental Protection Agency is aware that Black and brown communities and low income communities are breathing unclean air, drinking unclean water, and not doing much about it,” she says. “That is what really set a fire in my soul.”

Leah especially wants to inspire the next generation of Black women to become climate activists. “Being a climate changemaker means that I get to help inspire the next generation of Black girls from the Midwest, from the South, whose stories aren’t always told. I do it for them,” she says. “I hope my impact will be seeing more Black women in the environmental space and for them to feel really empowered.”

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