Appropriation of Climate Justice and Intersectionality by Mainstream Environmentalists: Challenges, Opportunities & Concerns

Originally presented as a workshop at the 2015 Left Forum.
Sunday, May 31 12:00 – 1:50 PM
Room 1.92  |John Jay College of Criminal Justice|524 West 59th st, New York, NY 10019

Facilitators: Camila Apaza Mamani, Myles Lennon, Jacqui Patterson, and Cecilia Pineda
In 2014, the climate movement went mainstream in the US. Organizers of the People’s Climate March, aiming for a large turnout, tirelessly engaged groups across every organizing identity—encouraging each group to connect their struggles to the climate crisis. Concurrently, as the #BlackLivesMatters movement swept the country, several mainstream environmental organizations released solidarity statements. What does it mean for mainstream environmentalists to adopt an ‘intersectional’ practice and enter these dialogues? How do we move intersectionality into the fabric of how we organize, as opposed to another check box on our ‘good organizing’ list? The marginalization of queer and trans* people of color (QT*POC) within the climate movement—the silence around how these communities will be disparately impacted by climate change and the disregard of the radical contributions QT*POC liberation offers the climate movement— highlights the importance of challenging, deepening and expanding the mainstream climate movement’s intersectional analysis. Climate change is a threat-multiplier, endangering our material, physical and spiritual wellbeing. Our response must be radical. How can we adapt to ensure our wellbeing, while also transgressing systems of oppression that historically and currently exploit communities based on indigeneity, race, gender, ability and national origin? How do we responsibly learn from and center communities carrying wisdom from legacies fighting for survival and/or against deeply rooted oppressive systems? How do we productively, respectfully and collaboratively confront the neoliberal solutions championed by many mainstream climate activists?

Workshop Goals:

  • Communicate concerns, challenges, and opportunities of weaving in intersectionality into climate organizing
  • Create a pathway for all to develop a communal understanding of how we can move forward to weave intersectionality in our organizing with integrity.
  • Participants develop a consensus on the lines between appropriating ‘climate justice,’ frontline communities, and ‘intersectionality’ versus responsibly centering and engaging impacted/least responsible communities.

Framing Questions:

  • How do we deepen and expand the climate movement’s intersectional analysis in ways that promote radical alternatives to inequitable, market-driven climate responses and that strengthen emerging social justice coalitions?
  • What are the challenges, concerns, and opportunities of the desire of mainstream environmental organizations and the mainstream climate movement to integrate climate justice and intersectionality?
  • How do we simultaneously address the urgency of the climate crisis, while striving for a movement that centers communities at the margins who will be most impacted?



  • Facilitators: Name, Preferred Gender Pronoun, Experience in the movement, and why we are facilitating the workshop.
  • Participants: If small group, everyone can share. If large, have participants share to each other in diads: Partner with someone you are sitting next to whom you do not know. You will each have one minute to share your experience in the climate movement and what brought you into this room.

Main points:

  • A moment where a lot of mainstream environmental and climate groups are invested in building a grassroots movement. There’s a lot of opportunity in that interest. It’s incumbent on us to channel that opportunity towards social justice.
  • Purpose of workshop is to (1) strategize as to how to move forward with integrity to climate justice and (2) productively engage actors that may have begun to embrace intersectionaltiy and CJ, but may not have as in depth of an analysis on social justice.

Community Agreements:

  • We all have different ways engaging with social justice/climate justice work, and we come into this room bringing different experiences. We want to share respectful dialogue and build together. So we’ve come up are some community agreements to guide us: Don’t make assumptions; I statements; Move Up, Move Up; Challenge ideas, not people; One Mic; Oops, Ouch, Snaps; and Individual and Collective Care.
  • Are there any agreements someone would like to add? Can we agree to these as a group?


  • Remind participants of sign-in sheet (main tool to continue conversations following workshop). Introduce videographer and remind participants to visibly wear a sticker if they are not comfortable being video-recorded.

Contextualizing the workshop

  • Mini introduction with PowerPoint laying a brief history of climate justice and intersectionality work over the last 15 years, and the mainstream environmentalists’ engagement with climate justice.
    • Climate Movement:
      • Mobilization around UNFCCC & multilateral agreements; Global S vs Global N conditions.
      • Traditional Environmental approach to mainstream Climate Movement
      • Debate / who is most responsible; Cochamamba & Detroit (2010)
    • Intentional Rupture in Big Green Environmental Groups (2009/2010)
      • Energy & security act (cap & trade bill) with FF companies at the table.
    • Define Mainstream: Belonging to or characteristic of a principal, dominant, or widely accepted group, movement, style, etc.
    • Introduce Bike Rack: A sheet of butcher paper where participants can share their evolving ideas of Climate Justice.


Introduce Gallery Walk:

  • We’ve set up the room with different media (articles, visuals, and recordings) of elements in the climate movement that blur the lines of appropriating climate justice and intersectionality—or involve mainstream environmental groups entering conversations related to #BlackLivesMatter.
  • As you engage with the media, add any concerns/challenges that come up with pink post-its, and any opportunities that arise with yellow post-its.
  • ACCESS: Some of the content can be very reading heavy, so we’re providing two different audio clips on the laptop and iPad in this corner. Please move through the space as feels best for you.
  • Any Questions before we advance to the Gallery Walk?

Participants go through Gallerywalk; We observe, walk around, see what’s written down

Return to big group to collectively share opportunities and challenges/concerns.

  • Going to chart out major themes of opportunities and challenges/concerns around the climate movement. Volunteer writer for butcher paper?!
  • Add the bullets we had predetermined if they do not emerge from participants.

III. ENVISIONING CLIMATE ORGANIZING SOLUTIONS: How do we adapt to ensure our survival while simultaneously transgressing systems of oppression?

  • In this exercise, we will divide into groups to work through different scenarios that highlight tensions in mainstream factions of climate movement. Each group would collectively work to identify how to navigate those scenarios, imagining possible solutions that (1) don’t compromise the principles or integrity of climate justice and also (2) productively engage actors that may have begun to embrace intersectionaltiy and CJ, but may not have as in depth of an analysis on social justice.
  • Each facilitator gives a mini introduction of scenario.
  • Space for questions before breaking out into groups. 

Participants break out into 4 different groups: Clean Power Plan, Mass Mobilization, Natural Disaster, and Renewable Energy.

  • Present scenarios to small groups
  • Workshop scenarios via informal facilitation aiming to address the following questions:
    • How do these solutions impact our work for social justice / climate justice?
    • How we do negotiate these ‘solutions’ with all actors in a way that is in line with social justice?
    • At what moments would you intervene?
    • How do we preserve the principles and integrity of climate justice?

Come back into a larger group to share main themes

  • Each group reports back and shares larger themes that emerged / any revelatory moments.


  • Reference the activity we wanted to have as part of this workshop, but could not present due to time constraints: We already know that the climate movement has been going on for decades — and in this recent emergence of mainstream environmentalists showing a desire to engage in intersectionality, climate justice, and anti-racism, we do not have to start from scratch. There are so many movements that can offer great insight and frameworks to the climate justice movement. As part of this workshop, we wanted to have a third activity where groups would receive articles and statements of different movements we admire– and then have groups think through tangible ways these statements can inform and grow the climate movement. In sharing these resources today, we also offer a gentle reminder: if we use any of these movements to influence the climate movement, it is critical to give credit to these movements, their thinkers, movers, and shakers. Please remember to reference the articles and writers by name, so we can honor the people and labor who produced and grew these ideas.
  • Follow-up and closing.
    • Emphasize sign-in sheet, basis to continue discussion
    • Collective breath: Take a moment to think about something you want to bring into your practice with the climate movement, and something you want to leave here today. On the count of three, we will take a collective breath: breathing-in whatever we want to keep, and releasing whatever we want to let go.

For a printable version, click on the online word document below: 


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