Updated: Feb 22
Graphic by Darach Croft
My climate activism journey began when I learned about the sixth mass extinction underway and its main cause: human activity. My love for animals, combined with this tragic news, motivated me to find my role in the environmental movement. Now, I connect the dots between human health and animal welfare. From zoonotic diseases to pesticide-ridden soil, the health of all living things gets negatively impacted when acting on the view that humans are superior - either to other species or to each other. The most disenfranchised and underserved communities, including Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and those living in the Global South, are more affected by barriers to a clean environment than the privileged minority. From lack of access to clean water to the targeted and exploitative approach of large corporations in low-income communities, the suffering of people worldwide aligns with the destruction of the planet. The blatant disregard for ecosystems and certain communities disrupts ecological balance, leading to the suffering of wildlife, too.
I advocate for wildlife and underserved communities at the same time because we cannot have one without the other. Climate solutions that do not directly address the injustices many disenfranchised communities face are not long-term solutions.Additionally, climate solutions that do not preserve and actively restore biodiversity will fail to create the transformational, long-term change we need. Afro-Indigenous cultures have lived and breathed the ‘Eco’ mindset for millennia. Based on their knowledge, observations, and practices, we can all learn how to restore our relationship with nature.
It’s all interconnected.
After two years of dedicating my career to demonstrating the interconnection between human suffering and the destruction of the planet, I learned that many individuals are still unaware of the ways human health relies on the well-being of other species. In conversations with environmentalists, scientists, entrepreneurs striving for sustainable practices, youth climate activists, and people in other industries, I have received a similar response: “I never thought of it that way.” Either someone was too focused on animal welfare to see how it connected to social justice or vice versa - they didn’t see how human rights connect with animal rights. These issues get siloed because we see ourselves as separate from nature, instead of part of nature.
A way to understand this interconnection is to look at the Ego vs. Eco model. An ‘Ego’ mindset views humans as superior, more intelligent, and more important than other species. We use this philosophy to view other humans as inferior, too. The Egotistical mindset drives us to build systems founded upon a hierarchy, such as the patriarchy and exploitative capitalism. This perspective and these systems have contributed to today’s interrelated climate, biodiversity, and inequality crises. Instead, when an ‘Eco’ mindset is adopted, it introduces compassion for all species. In an Ecological philosophy, there isn’t a choice between humans and other living things, a need to determine who and what is more important. The talents, skills, knowledge, senses, and ecological role of all individuals are worthy.
This is what coexistence looks like.
‘Eco’ allows us to appreciate the teachings embedded in the natural world. Trees teach us to live patiently, give freely to those around us, and dedicate a season to resting. Rivers show us to believe in our path, maintain a chemical-free environment, and appreciate the gift of water. Oceans teach us to be curious, venture out of our comfort zone, and take risks. Wolves show us to work as a team, communicate constantly, and maintain the balance of Earth’s ecosystems. Bees teach us to build collective well-being, explore our surroundings, and be willing to adapt. No matter where you look, nature provides free life lessons that improve our understanding of the world and of ourselves. Seeing Earth as a ‘being, not a thing,’ as Afro-Indigenous cultures do, allows us to tap into all the wisdom other species have to offer.
Albert Einstein famously said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” We have multiple, complex, interconnected problems on our hands - all the more reason to utilize a different perspective to address them all at once. When we embody a holistic mindset, we design and implement climate solutions that benefit all living things. The current systems in place, including white supremacy and the patriarchy, that led to the climate crisis epitomize the ‘Ego’ mindset. It’s time we adopt the ‘Eco’ mindset and develop new systems. We have the science, resources, creativity, and collective power to create the change we want to see in the world. But to do so, we must first recognize our rightful place in nature alongside other forms of life.