60 Seconds on Earth With Leah Thomas 60 Seconds on Earth With Leah Thomas

60 Seconds on Earth With Leah Thomas

 

WORDS BY YESSENIA FUNES

VIDEO BY EMMA BLACKMAN

As part of our new video series with climate leaders, The Frontline talks to Intersectional Environmentalist Founder Leah Thomas on her upcoming book—and 60 other things.

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Before Leah Thomas was the founder of the beloved Instagram page and nonprofit Intersectional Environmentalist, she was a girl going through heartbreak with an itch to write—but not about sustainability. She wanted to write a book on cannabis. That’s another one of Thomas’ passions: cannabis reform. She reached out to a literary agent—shout out to Laura Lee Mattingly!—who coached her through the process and encouraged her to reach out again once her platform had grown.

 

That was three years ago. Fast forward to the present and Thomas has since then gone viral. Her platform has grown to 227,000 followers on Instagram. And you bet she made that book happen… except she’s not writing about cannabis (at least not yet). Her literary debut, The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet, will publish in March 2022. It’ll serve as an intro to intersectional environmentalism with Thomas as your guide. (Pre-order here or here.)

 

“I wanted to expand on a lot of the social media posts that I’ve been helping make through Intersectional Environmentalist and create a love letter to all of the people who have supported Intersectional Environmentalist,” Thomas said.

 

Thomas conducted over 20 interviews with environmental thought leaders for her book. “I didn’t want to explain things that other people have pioneered,” she said. “So if there was an opportunity for me to go directly to the source for them to explain in their own words, I took every chance that I could.” Uplifting the voices of Black, Indigenous, and other leaders of color was a personal goal for Thomas.

60 Seconds on Earth With Leah Thomas

Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re getting exclusive access to the book cover. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate editor of Atmos. Rainbows mean a variety of things. They’re a marker of hope after a storm has passed. They represent the LGBTQIA+ community—and, well, they make Thomas happy. “Even though some of the contents in the book might be a little heavy, I want to remind people that intersectionality is the future,” Thomas said. “Rainbows make me think of unity and doing things together.”

 

In celebration of her new book, Thomas sat down with Atmos (over Zoom, of course) to launch our new video series “60 Seconds on Earth.” Watch us condense 60 random questions into 60 seconds below—and read an extended version with every question and answer, too!

YESSENIA

Let’s get it poppin. How’s it going, Leah?

LEAH

Well, you know, I’m with my plants.

YESSENIA

Where are you right now?

LEAH

Santa Barbara, California.

YESSENIA

And tell me, what are you wearing?

LEAH

I am wearing this top, which was gifted to me. And I’m also wearing some knit shorts that were from Etsy.

YESSENIA

Cute. Do you have a favorite sustainable clothing brand?

LEAH

My favorite sustainable clothing brand is definitely Hara The Label.

YESSENIA

I got to check them out. We’re here to talk about your upcoming book. Congratulations! You’re about to be a published author. How does that feel?

LEAH

It feels pretty cool.

YESSENIA

How would you describe your book in one word?

LEAH

Educational.

YESSENIA

I love it. Were there any musical inspirations during the writing process?

LEAH

Maggie Rogers, for sure. She follows Intersectional Environmentalist, and I’ve always loved her song “Alaska.” So I had her playing in the background the whole time. Also the song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” I just was playing that on repeat.

 

60 Seconds on Earth With Leah Thomas
Maggie Rogers (Photograph by S. Holden Jaffe)

YESSENIA

How about music in general? Who are you listening to these days?

LEAH

I’ve been listening to a lot of Bassanova.

YESSENIA

What about your favorite album of all time?

LEAH

My favorite album of all time. That’s so good. I mean, Lemonade by Beyonce.

YESSENIA

I saw you moved recently. What’s your favorite thing about your new place?

LEAH

My favorite thing is all these plants. I have a lot of plants. There’s a sunroom, so that makes me super happy, too.

YESSENIA

And do you have a favorite place to hang in Santa Barbara?

LEAH

There’s a restaurant called Milk And Honey. They have tacos. I love tacos. I love small plates. I love sharing.

YESSENIA

Did you always live in California?

LEAH

I’m born and raised in Missouri, but I’ve been here since 2014.

YESSENIA

And if you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you?

LEAH

Hmm. I’m going to say down the street.

YESSENIA

What about a period of time?

LEAH

That’s always a hard one cause I’m like, Are people gonna be racist? But if I could live in another period of time without racism, probably the 1920s.

YESSENIA

Roaring 20s! Is there a person living or dead you’d like to invite over for dinner?

LEAH

Oprah. I would love to meet Oprah. I know she’s in Santa Barbara, so hello, Oprah!

YESSENIA

You gotta get the tea on the Royal Family. What would you cook for Oprah?

LEAH

I would make a vegan dish like vegan lasagna.

YESSENIA

Yummy. What about your favorite type of food in general?

LEAH

My favorite food is Indian food. I love naan bread, and I love curry, but honestly it could be any curry. I love a variety of different curries from around the world.

YESSENIA

How about favorite drink?

LEAH

I like mango lassi.

YESSENIA

Very on theme. How about favorite plants?

LEAH

Hmm, my favorite plant is called the mimosa pudica. It moves when you touch it, so it’s also called the sensitive plant. I love moving plants.

YESSENIA

I know you like one plant, in particular. I’m talking about cannabis. Edibles or flowers?

LEAH

I would definitely say flower. I just got this thing from Ardent, a Black-owned company. It’s a decarboxylator and essentially activates the cannabis. You can eat it, or you can turn it into oil. So you know what? I like all of it.

YESSENIA

What about sustainable living hack?

LEAH

You’re not perfect, and understanding that there’s a lifecycle of all of our things. So try your best to reduce, reuse, recycle, Rihanna.

60 Seconds on Earth With Leah Thomas
Gif by Broad City / Giphy

YESSENIA

On the flip side, do you have a climate vice?

LEAH

I do GrubHub a lot. I just love getting food. Sometimes, I’m working.

YESSENIA

How do you make yourself feel better when you “misbehave”?

LEAHY

I feel good about supporting local restaurants. That was something that I really struggled with, but I just let myself know: We all have our things, and it’s OK.

YESSENIA

And what do you do to stay sane with all the bad news that we see in our feeds?

LEAH

Therapy. My mom is a therapist, so I really encourage everyone. You don’t have to be going through it, but if it’s accessible to you and available! Find ways to prioritize your mental health because self-care is a part of sustainability, as well.

YESSENIA

Right on. Where do you go to find good news?

LEAH

Future Earth does a really cool Good News Tuesday. I love that so much.

YESSENIA

What’s your favorite news site? Other than Atmos.

LEAH

Oh, OK. You got me there. Where do I go? Twitter. You always find something on Twitter, and then they’ll have links to things that you can explore.

YESSENIA

Perfect. How about a favorite Instagram page that isn’t IE?

LEAH

I love Bad Activist Collective. They’re very cool. It’s all about being an imperfect activist, which I think is so beautiful.

 

YESSENIA

What’s been the best part about launching IE?

LEAHY

The community of people. I don’t feel like a lonely eco-kid anymore. There’s so many people, and it just showed me that whenever you feel lonely, there are so many people out there who are ready to be in community with you. You never have to settle for people who don’t want to love the entirety of your being because there’s a community out there to support you.

YESSENIA

Speaking of IE, y’all just had your one year. What’s that been like?

LEAH

Wow. It’s been incredible. It’s a little stressful, but we’re becoming a nonprofit, which makes the most sense for us. We have a team of over 10 people right now, which is amazing. I’m just really proud of them. It makes me feel really proud.

YESSENIA

How would you describe this past year, in general?

LEAH

It’s just been a haze. It has been so much, but I feel like it’s kind of like that Eminem song “Lose Yourself.” Like you just keep going in the moment.

YESSENIA

How have you taken care of yourself this last year?

LEAH

I definitely try to turn my brain off, so sometimes it might be TheReal Housewives of Atlanta or watching TikTok, doing things that are completely unrelated to the environment, social justice, etc. That’s what I do to stay sane.

YESSENIA

How did the book happen?

LEAH

The book happened because of a really cool literary agent. Shout out to Laura Lee, who helped me get to this point. It’s a three-year journey of a project that I was working on a while ago, circled back, and she believed in me. That’s how it happened. I slid into some DMs! You never know what’s possible when you do that.

YESSENIA

Any themes we should expect in it?

LEAH

You should expect a lot of different voices other than myself. I know that I wrote it, but IE is a community. You’re going to find lots of tips about climate justice, a lot of different expressions of what intersectional environmentalism means to a lot of people, and also you’re going to learn a lot about Black queer feminism, which I’m really excited about.

YESSENIA

Have you always considered yourself a writer?

LEAH

No, I didn’t. And I think that’s maybe a lot of imposter syndrome. There’s a story about Maya Angelou where she says she wrote like three books, but she always thought that someone was going to figure out that she wasn’t a real writer. So that makes me feel better about myself because if one of the best writers in the world still struggled with that, I think it’s OK that I do.

YESSENIA

Do you have a favorite author?

LEAH

Definitely Dr. Maya Angelou.

60 Seconds on Earth With Leah Thomas
Maya Angelou in 1970. Photograph by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

YESSENIA

Favorite book?

LEAH

Their Eyes Were Watching God.

YESSENIA

How about favorite film of all time?

LEAH

Hmm, that’s a hard one. I feel like there’s one out there somewhere, but I just don’t remember.

YESSENIA

Is there any show you’re currently binging?

LEAH

I just watched this show called Katla. It’s about like a volcano, and it’s mystical. I found it on Netflix.

YESSENIA

Have you watched Sweet Tooth?

LEAH

Oh yeah. That was really good. I watched it in like two days.

YESSENIA

Tell us about your pets past or present.

LEAH

Oh my gosh. She’s actually right over there. Her name is Mama. She is my partner’s sister’s cat. They called her Mama, and she’s just the sweetest cat in the whole world.

YESSENIA

We love cats. Are there any cool animals you’ve had a chance to see in their natural habitat? I love to see chipmunks, for instance, here in my local park in Queens.

LEAH

So it’s not necessarily their natural habitat, but I got to see some giant tortoises the other day at a turtle sanctuary. That was really cool.

YESSENIA

Where do you like to go to get outside?

LEAH

I love to go to the beach. I’m definitely a California girl. And then also going for a hike.

YESSENIA

Do you have a favorite national or state park?

LEAH

My favorite is Nicodemus National Historic Site. I was actually a park ranger intern, and I worked there. It’s in the middle of Kansas and really rural. I had a really good time. It’s one of the least visited parks, but it’s awesome.

YESSENIA

Where’s the coolest place you’ve ever visited anywhere in the world?

LEAH

Ooh! Let’s just go with Santa Barbara.

YESSENIA

What’s your go-to thing to do when you visit somewhere?

LEAH

I like to eat the food. I’m definitely a foodie.

YESSENIA

Any tips for traveling sustainably?

LEAH

Bring a lot of reusable things. Bring your water bottle. If you can, try to bring reusable black bags and things like that. Bring a cutlery set if you can, so you can avoid any plastic waste there.

YESSENIA

Who’s your favorite traveling buddy?

LEAH

My favorite traveling buddy is definitely my sister: Câmara Cruz Thomas. Check her out.

YESSENIA

Do you have a nighttime ritual no matter where you are?

LEAH

No, I wish I did. I wonder if people are lying, all these people with these nighttime routines. Like, no, I don’t. I just go to bed.

YESSENIA

Is there a constellation or moon phase that you’re especially drawn to in the sky?

LEAH

Ooh, that’s a good question. No, I don’t think so. I just love all the stars.

YESSENIA

What about your signs, rising and moon included? I am a Gemini

LEAH

I am a Sagittarius sun sign. I am a rising Sagittarius and a Gemini moon.

YESSENIA

Yasss! Love the Gemini energy. Do you even believe in astrology?

LEAH

You know what? I do. I think the stars make a lot more sense. You can see them. There’s some other things you can’t see. I’m into science, so I think it’s fun.

YESSENIA

What would you say you believe in the most?

LEAH

Justice. I’m very motivated by that. I think there’s alway a right side of history. I believe that the future is intersectional, and one day, the wrongs of the past will be righted.

YESSENIA

Is there anything that you doubt?

LEAH

I don’t want to believe that anyone is just a terrible person. I feel like most people have some sort of redemption arc—hopefully, most people do. I do have a lot of hope for humanity. Some people are pretty awful, but I don’t want to think that people are inherently bad.

YESSENIA

Who are your climate heroes?

LEAH

I would say the Intersectional Environmentalist Council. Pattie Gonia has been a really great inspiration to me throughout my career. Also, Teresa Baker and José González of Latino Outdoors. These are people I really look up to.

60 Seconds on Earth With Leah Thomas
Pattie Gonia (Photograph by Evan Benally Atwood for Atmos Volume 05: Hive)

YESSENIA

How do you deal with climate skeptics or deniers?

LEAH

I don’t. That’s not what my energy is for. I think there’s probably a lot of incredible allies who can talk to them about it, but it really depends. If someone is skeptical and they want more information and they want to learn, I’m definitely there to meet them where they’re at and talk to them. But if it’s someone that just wants to be really mean, then I don’t really waste my emotional labor on that when I could be focusing on building community that’s supportive because those conversations can be so exhausting, especially if the intention is really negative from the start.

YESSENIA

Mhm, that’s right. How do you deal with the weight of the climate crisis?

LEAH

I try to ground myself in the fact that I, as an individual, am not necessarily responsible for this crisis as a whole. Even culturally speaking, my people didn’t necessarily create this crisis. I deal with the gravity by remembering that I’m an individual and I can make changes, but there are also systemic changes that need to happen. And I won’t let greenwashing make me believe that this is individually my fault. That helps to alleviate some frustrations and keep my energy focused on the systems that need to be reworked and dismantled.

YESSENIA

What do you say to those who deal with climate anxiety?

LEAH

I would say that it’s a very real feeling. Sometimes, people discredit it. Make sure to take care of yourself and remind yourself to not feel guilty when you find joy even in the world that we’re living in. If you have an opportunity to experience joy or love and happiness, take it. You don’t have to feel guilty, and make sure you take time for yourself. Self sustainability is really important, so make sure that you’re caring for yourself. Please disconnect from social media to take care of yourself.

YESSENIA

Does your book get emotional?

LEAH

My book does get emotional at times, but a lot of it is like a little math equation for me just finding these stories that I feel like I had to dig and unearth. The majority of it might be optimistic because it’s unearthing all of these incredible people of color, people in the LGBTQIA+ community who have been there in the environmental movement for so long. They might be unsung heroes, but I think that can be really inspiring. I also break down some of my frustrations like people getting arrested for the cameras even though, you know, police brutality. There’s also a lot of critique in the book, as well.

YESSENIA

How personal does it get?

LEAH

I really only keep my personal story in the introduction of the book. The rest provides a lot of data and facts and focuses on other people who have been there long before I was there because I feel like they have more to talk about than I do.

YESSENIA

This is the last question. What about a little taste of what to expect from your book for the road?

LEAH

You can expect to learn a lot about intersectional theory, its origins, and also about climate justice and a lot of really cool people doing cool things. I would just remind everyone that it’s OK to not be perfect. None of us are perfect. What I’m trying to do with IE and this book is show people that every step on the journey is a step toward progress—and reward yourself for those things.

 

If you’re committed to the journey of learning, you’re already in the right direction. It’s OK if you make mistakes as long as you keep getting better and curious. You’ll find the fun in curiosity because there’s so much to learn, and there’s no shame in learning more and more.

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