Leo Goldsmith: “Want to become engaged in environmental justice and activism, but don’t know where to start? You’re not alone. This article gives great tips for getting started, including small but impactful ways you can engage in environmental justice in your community today.”
Earth Day was established in 1970 to put the issue of environmental awareness on the national agenda. But by the time the concept made its way to American schools, it was framed as a feel-good holiday to celebrate with coffee filter art and field trips. A great way to get kids excited about protecting the planet, but a missed opportunity for greater context on how.
“Earth Day is more than just picking up litter and hanging out in the park,” says Leo Goldsmith, a Climate and Health Specialist at the consultancy ICF, where he works with government agencies on environmental issues. “It’s about learning the history of the environmental movement (the good and bad) and understanding why certain communities are unfairly experiencing environmental degradation or lack of access to green spaces due to systemic racism or discrimination.”
Goldsmith works at the federal level to affect positive change for human health and air quality and holds a master's from the Yale School of the Environment, where he co-authored influential articles on environmental injustice and LGBTQ+ communities (with Professor Michelle Bell) and climate disasters and LGBTQ+ communities (with Michael Mendèz and Vanessa Raditz). Here, he offers a reading guide to understanding the basics of environmental justice, how specific populations are disproportionately affected by climate impacts, and what can be done to fight back, on a personal and political level.
“Ultimately, it’s about getting involved in your local community to make a difference for both the Earth and its people,” he explains. As for how each of us can determine what difference we’ll work toward? Read on to figure out your next (or first!) step.
Image by Dusan Stankovic/Getty Images
LG: “This is the original document that has laid the groundwork for defining environmental justice for generations to come. These principles are referred to quite often in the EJ world and will become a necessary guide for anyone aiming to better understand environmentalism.”
LG: “Undocumented immigrants are especially vulnerable to climate-related disasters due to economic disparities and institutional barriers. This article does a great job of describing vulnerabilities, impact, and what states are doing to provide aid when the federal government’s leadership is lacking.”
LG: “A beginner’s guide to understanding how race, class, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. are inherently intertwined with the environmental movement. I appreciate that this article includes clear definitions for those who are completely new to the subject and an easy-to-follow case for why we need intersectional environmentalism.”
LG: “Those with intersecting identities are often made invisible, especially within the environmental space. This beautifully written article advocates for queer, transgender, and two-spirited individuals within the climate movement through an inspiring story about members of the Fort McDermitt Tribe. They stood up for their community by cutting ties with their environmental group partner, Deep Green Resistance, over their transphobic views.”
LG: “After the above article was published, there was backlash against including transgender individuals within the climate justice movement. So the author, Yessenia Funes, followed up with this piece which expertly advocates the fact that trans women are women, and just like cisgender women, will disproportionately be affected by climate impacts.”
LG: “You might’ve heard of the metal straw movement or the uproar over Whole Food’s ready-to-eat peeled fruit, packaged in plastic. On the surface this may seem like a good cause, because it’s better for the environment, right? But solutions need to integrate disability rights within environmental/climate justice to be truly sustainable. This article is a great overview on how that can happen.”
LG: “In this very quick, 15-minute YouTube video, Dr. Kyle Powys Whyte describes why indigenous knowledge is necessary within climate and environmental policy and highlights indigenous leadership within climate justice. It’s highly engaging, whether you’re listening to it or watching the many photos and figures he packs into his presentation.”
LG: “Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are heavily underrepresented in environmental and conservation spaces. So I’m grateful that National Geographic is highlighting Black leaders in the environmental field, their experiences, and what drives them. Plus, it’s a great chance to spotlight and raise awareness for all the great work they’re doing.”
Leo Goldsmith serves as a Climate and Health Specialist at ICF, where he coordinates a federal interagency group on climate and health.
Prior to joining ICF, Leo worked as a consultant on an environmental/climate justice mapping tool for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, provided logistical support for various stakeholders for the sustainable Upper Harbor Terminal Project in Minneapolis, and consulted on ecological restoration and community engagement projects at the New York Restoration Project. His research focuses on how climate change disproportionately impacts the health of the LGBTQ+ population, primarily those with intersecting marginalized identities. And his interests stem from his own personal identities as a queer, transgender Latino and his passion for intersectional climate justice.
Leo holds a Master of Environmental Management from the Yale School of the Environment and a B.A in environmental studies from Oberlin College.