How Making the Outdoors More Inclusive Can Help Fight Climate Change

NBCLX's Chase Cain talked with the environmentalists behind The Outdoorist Oath, which strives to make the outdoors more inclusive.

How do we make the outdoors inclusive? And in doing so, how will that help us address climate change? Those were some of the questions I asked Teresa Baker as we hiked through Point Reyes National Seashore, the ancestral land of the Coast Miwok people.

“I often call places like this my cathedral, because that’s what it is,” Teresa told me as she soaked in our surroundings. She then paused and gestured toward a gentle creek next to us: “I think once someone sees and hears this, they can appreciate it. But we have to get them out here.”

Get who outdoors? A 2020 study found that white Americans are roughly three times more likely to live somewhere with immediate access to nature, compared to Americans of color. A 2018 survey of visitors to U.S. National Park found 77% of visitors were non-Hispanic white, but the non-Hispanic white population in the U.S. is only about 60%.

“A lot of people don’t know you can take Amtrak to Yosemite, but I would do it every month,” Teresa remembered. “[And I would] never really pay attention to the people around me. Until one day, I would say 2016, I spent an entire week in Yosemite, in the valley, and I didn't see one other Black person. An entire freaking week!”

That experience led Teresa to partner with two other environmentalists in creating The Outdoorist Oath. Co-founder José González explained one of his primary motivations: “Disadvantaged communities are definitely more impacted [by climate change], so that’s a huge concern for me. But it’s still going to affect us all. Climate change doesn’t make those distinctions, in terms of stopping at a particular border and saying, ‘No, I'll go over here.’”

The third co-founder, Wyn Wiley, is better known as their drag persona Pattie Gonia, whose videos have been watched by millions. “It’s interesting to experience the outdoors as my straight-passing white male self out of drag, and then in drag, and truly see the different reactions,” Wiley said. “Until I truly started doing drag in the outdoors, I don’t think I realized how many people nowadays still don’t feel welcome outdoors or experience discrimination outdoors.”

Inclusion is one of the primary goals of the oath, which reads in part: "I acknowledge that systemic and historical oppression is real and that hatred, discrimination and biases marginalize people. I will actively work to ally all people in the outdoor community."

“If we’re gonna have a planet, it’s good to think about people on it because we are part of nature," Wiley said. "It’s not humans and nature. We are all an ecosystem together. There is no planet B. This is the only planet with a Beyoncé on it! We all have to care about this planet.”