Environmentalism has to be intersectional

Elizabeth Billman | Asst. Photo Editor

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Environmentalism is more than just advocating for saving the planet. Environmentalism has to be intersectional, meaning that it has to recognize that marginalized communities are and will be affected differently by climate change. The term environmental justice is often used when talking about environmentalism needing to be intersectional. Black and Latino communities need justice for the systemic injustice they’ve faced so harshly for a long time. Environmental justice can and should start right here in Syracuse. 

Environmental justice is needed for many people, especially within communities of color and among low-income residents. According to the NAACP, “Environmental injustice, including the proliferation of climate change, has a disproportionate impact on communities of color and low income communities in the United States.” 

These communities are disproportionately affected by climate change. These communities are often established closer to sources of pollution, such as highways and freeways. Not only can highways contribute to more pollution, but they can often be the cause of an entire community being uprooted. 

Just as an entire community was uprooted here in Syracuse. 


Most of the residents living in or near Syracuse are familiar with Interstate 81. However, some are unaware of its historic impact on Black and Brown Syracuse residents.

The 15th Ward in Syracuse, a predominantly Black community, used to be where I-81 now stands. In the 1950s, Syracuse and other cities across the U.S. believed redlining would make their cities more profitable. The mayor of Syracuse at the time, Donald Mead, thought the way to do this was to get rid of substandard housing that would help get rid of the slums. 

This resulted in the displacement of 1,300 families from the 15th Ward. And so, I-81 was built, making it easier for white people in the suburbs to drive to other parts around Syracuse without going through Syracuse itself. This contributed to the downfall of the 15th Ward. 

I-81 displaced and gentrified an entire community, and living near highways can cause numerous health effects. Some of these health risks include asthma onset and aggravation, reduced lung function, childhood leukemia, increased risk of heart attacks and even dementia. 

Pollution is a massive environmental concern for our city. Environmental justice is centered on providing justice for those who are most affected by pollution, who tend to be people of color. This is why intersectionality is important. 

Syracuse is just one of the many cities that needs environmental justice. While we do need better environmental laws and solutions for all environmental crises, we most importantly need to make sure that those policies account for the disproportionate impact that is felt by people of color.

Zoe Carlson ‘23


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