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Earlier this month, massive floods swept through Eastern Libya, nearly erasing the port city of Derma. The World Health Organization reports that roughly 4,000 people have died, while thousands more are still missing. And now, environmental scientists from the World Weather Attribution initiative are reporting that the Libyan floods were a product of climate change, sharing that increasing global temperatures caused by pollution made the unprecedented rainfall 50-percent worse than previous years.
Perhaps a surprise to no one is that climate change affects–or will affect–us all. But according to The Climate Reality Project, people of color experience its devastating impacts far more than white people: Predominantly non-white developing nations, like Libya, are hit the hardest by catastrophic weather events brought on by climate change. In the United States, Black people are 75-percent more likely than others to live near hazardous waste facilities, and in 46 of the 50 United States, people of color live with more air pollution than white people. In fact, people of color in the United States are exposed to up to 63 percent more pollution than they produce. White Americans are exposed to 17 percent less.
“It’s so clear that Black and brown and Indigenous queer bodies are the ones that are affected the most when it comes to climate change.” —Arsema Thomas, actress and activist
Despite being disproportionately affected by climate change, BIPOC communities are vastly underrepresented in climate activism. This diversity and inclusion disparity is why 29-year-old Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story actor Arsema Thomas (they/she) has partnered with Tom’s of Maine to promote the second annual Tom’s of Maine Incubator program, an inaugural, multi-month climate justice initiative that amplifies burgeoning environmental change-makers of color.
“It’s so clear that Black and brown and Indigenous queer bodies are the ones that are affected the most when it comes to climate change,” says Thomas, who earned their master’s degree in public health policy from Yale and has lived in multiple nations across Africa and Asia throughout their life.
“When you look at Hurricane Katrina, when you look at the wildfires that happened in Maui, it’s just clear across the board that there is a disproportionality to it all,” says Thomas. “Giving these communities a platform and [the] resources to be able to manifest and materialize their own solutions, I think is probably the most impactful thing anyone can be doing in the climate change space at the moment.”
Getting involved in the incubator
From Sept. 19 through Oct. 15, Tom’s of Maine will be accepting applications from the next generation of environmental justice leaders to join their 2024 program. Five handpicked, early-career climate change-makers will receive $20,000 in funding on top of mentorship from prominent figures in the climate movement, opportunities to collaborate with fellow winners, in-person and virtual trainings, and amplification from the Tom’s of Maine brand that will continue long after the program has completed.
For Thomas, environmental activism is a family affair
Thomas says their sister Abigail, a climate activist and current graduate student at the Yale School of the Environment, inspired them to partner with Tom’s of Maine to promote the incubator program. Fighting for climate justice as a person of color can be straight up exhausting, but seeing her sister’s work in environmental equity has stoked the fire for Thomas’s own involvement.
“Seeing the way that she fights for it inspired me to shift the way that I’ve been looking at the issues that have been happening around the world and start to focus on the intersectional environmentalism aspect,” says Thomas. “And that’s exactly what Tom’s of Maine is trying to do with their incubator. It was a complete no-brainer.”
They see the incubator as an antidote for apathy
As a queer person of color, Thomas shares that they’ve seen—and experienced—the mental toll that climate change has on marginalized people firsthand. Dread and hopelessness about climate change can morph into apathy, and apathy, says Thomas, is an enemy of progress.
“It’s so easy to be apathetic about the way that the climate crisis is going, like there’s nothing we can do about it, we’re powerless,” they say. “Apathy means adhering to the status quo, and the status quo is kind of what got us here. We need everybody to engage, or else it won’t work. There has to be a collectivist mindset.”
Thomas looks forward to seeing a new generation of environmental leaders emerge from this year’s incubator program and believes that equipping them with the funding and resources they need will help address the current imbalance in climate justice.
“It’s about re-shifting the privilege and where the resources are, so that everybody gets a chance to be heard,” says Thomas. “The more this [type of program] becomes a staple in the way that we do business, the more incubators that will pop up, and the more community run organizations that will be built, and I think that is a positive for all of us.”
To submit an application for the Tom’s of Maine Incubator program, click here.