“Intersectional environmentalism is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalised communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimise or silence social inequality” (Intersectional Environmentalist, 2020).
It is clear to see across the globe that the people who have contributed the least to the environmental crisis are suffering the most severe consequences. A clear-cut example is the continent of Africa, where droughts, flooding and consequential disease are increasing in severity every year. Home to 17 percent of the world’s population (United Nations, 2019) and contributing only 4 percent to global carbon emissions (Statista, 2020), 8 out of the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa (Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, 2020).
Why is this relevant to the veterinary profession? Our profession is global. We have colleagues in every country fighting for animal health and welfare and public health. It is our colleagues who are witnessing the communities that they serve suffer from famine, the animals that they have taken an oath to protect die from heat exhaustion, bush fires, starvation and increased disease prevalence, to name the least. Whilst our coastal colleagues are facing increased infertility in endangered species, destruction of critical ecosystems and animals suffering as a result of plastic consumption. In the UK we cannot claim to be naïve to these problems. We witness these famines, extinctions, communities displaced from their homes and their countries; all whilst we sit comfortably on our sofas listening to David Attenborough.
How does this link to Black Lives Matter in the UK? The BLM movement has brought attention to the inequalities in our society and has highlighted the importance of intersectional environmentalism. In the UK, Black British Africans are 20 percent more likely to experience higher air pollution than their white counterparts (Fecht et al., 2015). The impacts of the climate crisis are not borne equally by all. These disparities are leading to both health and environmental crises that fall along racial lines in communities. The inequalities are not limited to the low percentage of BAME colleagues within the veterinary profession, they affect our careers and the sectors we influence; for example, animal product consumption (the cost of organic vs conventional food products), product development (reduced opportunities for people of colour whitewashes industries and prevents new ideas and beneficial development), sourcing of materials (who, what and where are your products and their materials sourced from and under what conditions), preventative medicine measures (financial burden of veterinary costs) and owner compliance (cultural and religious differences prevent successful communication), to name but a few.
Without a doubt we are living in the most critical moment in history – for humanity, for the environment and for ourselves. We are waking up to injustices worldwide and it is no longer possible to ignore the fact that we are all completely co-dependent. In this moment we need to consider the responsibility that we have, not just to our colleagues abroad but to our future colleagues everywhere who will be affected by increasing climate disruption; the responsibility that we have to animals, in the UK and globally, whom will increasingly suffer from the emergence of new diseases, as a consequence of changes in climate and biodiversity loss; and furthermore, the responsibility that we have to unlearn structurally ingrained racism and educate ourselves on a struggle that allies will never experience or understand. Climate Justice is social justice and it has consequences for all of our lives. To quote Leah Thomas of Intersectional Environmentalist: “The longer racism is not addressed, the harder it will be to save the planet.” This is in part because black activists’ time and energy are being drained, explaining their existence to the dominant white environmentalist community, but also because we are not adequately providing opportunities for BAME colleagues to be present and their voices and experiences to be heard in the veterinary community on the topic of environmentalism.
As a profession we understand how important and influential education can be. It helps us to understand the people, the communities and environment around us. The veterinary profession has a huge part to play in the fight for climate and social justice; we are the sentinels of animals, have significant influence in our communities and are contributors to pollution. The example that we set to others has the ability to positively impact many human and animal lives.