We Need Collective Action to Fight for Environmental Justice by Mary Imgrund

This blog is written by Mary Imgrund of the Fennec Fawn.

This is a test of the empathy of the West. The developing world, while by no means a monolith and a diverse and complex series of communities and countries, is exploited daily by international corporations seeking cheap labor, duplicitous traders who pay artisans far less than their work is worth, and corrupt governments who turn a blind eye to suffering. For many in the West, particularly in the U.S., we don’t hear about or care what happens in most of the world. But we should. We can no longer afford to act as if our collective actions stop at the borders of cities, countries, or Instagram feeds. We also need to stop acting like the worlds of ethical treatment and sustainability can be compartmentalized. They’re intertwined. As our response to climate change will likely need to transition into loss mitigation, Western environmentalists and activists need to realize that it’s not just the polar bears and waterways that are at risk, it’s millions of people who will die or be displaced as the climate warms.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a new study based on the changes that will happen as we approach 1.5 degrees of warming. Not only is it unlikely that we will limit warming to 1.5, but once we reach that point there will have already been more than $50 trillion of damage globally. That damage will be concentrated in the developing world, as entire island nations are facing a fate of being drowned in water and Western nihilism. While we ask, “Who Made My Clothes?” we also need to demand our political and business leaders who will be displaced when the oceans rise and how many homes and towns will be wiped off the map. We are likely to see a refugee crisis unlike any before it.

Environmentalists often cite the awesome power of nature and green spaces in their own communities when speaking of their passion for sustainability. Those are great motivators, but by framing the debate as a tree-hugging, data-driven, cis-white-lady-drinking-green-juice movement, we’re obscuring some of the true human and moral costs to ignoring the environment. Every single organism on the planet relies on the safe and clean resources, so it’s impossible to disconnect it from them. By pursuing access to birth control and education for women, we address global warming. By fighting income inequality and put more checks on the ultra-wealthy, we’re also addressing global warming.  By fighting for the rights of those in the developing world to have access to safe homes and dignified living, you necessarily address global warming.


We need to radically change the way we behave as activists and realize that most of us are working towards the same goals of fighting oppression and environmental destruction in all its forms. We need to stop acting like one person’s issue is distracting from ours. There are already concerted efforts from reactionary groups who want to undo civil rights and environmental protection, we shouldn’t make it easier for them. This is a test of empathy, to see how much we care about people we’ve never seen and will likely never meet and how we can ensure their safety. All humans. All rights. Sustainable action. Environmental justice.

Mary Llano