Episode three, Season three of the Climate Curious podcast is now live with our special guest, Isaias Hernandez aka QueerBrownVegan.
In our most illuminating chat to date, they chat through the highs and lows of being a young climate activist. Isaias shares a searingly honest ‘day-in-the-life’ of a youth climate activist, and proposes a new model, where intergenerational wisdom sharing would relieve the immense pressure put on youth climate experts’ shoulders. From growing up in Los Angeles to studying Environmental Science at the University of California, Berkeley, Isaias shares a raw account of their experiences as a 25-year-old climate leader.
Taking up space that’s not designed for you
Isaias grew up in a community that faced environmental racism. But he didn’t find his experience reflected in the environmental science textbooks when he made it to University. “It made me angry. Why do we have to use these fancy terms? My people know. We’re being poisoned. […] When I took the class, I kind of saw it as a joke and a slap to the face,” they share. This experience shaped their outlook moving forward.
“No-one talked about Hazel M. Johnson. No-one talked about how she sued the Chicago public housing authority to win her lawsuit. No-one talks about other women of colour in these movements… and so I had to really dissect that.”
Still unpacking the reality of being at the intersection of many movements, they share that they are still coming to accept that it’s ok to occupy a space at a table that was never designed for them, (and you shouldn’t have to feel grateful just to be invited).
“It’s hard, because when you enter these professional spaces, or digital creative spaces, even then you’re seen as less than compared to all of these environmental scientists […] And so, it’s like we’re competing against this other system. […] I’m trying to find the balance of decentering and centering myself at the same time.”
Creating a new legacy
Creating a new legacy for what it looks like to work in the climate movement, Isaias talks from the heart on how they’ve gone from zero to 100,000 followers. His platform, QueerBrownVegan, is one of the best in the business, taking a truly intersectional approach across sex, race and gender.
“You’ve charted a path for other people to be able to see”Ben Hurst, Climate Curious podcast
A day in the life of Queer Brown Vegan
Managing a team of four to five people, Isaias spends three to four hours a day reading research articles. Then the real work starts. They dissect, simplify, rewrite, and cite them, asking themself, “how would you explain this to someone trying to understand the intersections of these issues?” they share. This creation part of the process takes around three to four hours also, resulting in beautiful, colourful, easy to understand infographics. As far away as humanly possible from the science textbooks of their past. Instead of solidifying issues and making them even more partisan, Isaias seeks to create content which helps people connect the dots themselves.
“We cannot just keep looking at eco-friendly products and sustainable lifestyles, but really extend ourselves to these deeper topics, because they’re uncomfortable. A lot of the time I didn’t know about them, and I feel ashamed for it.” Isaias Hernandez on the content creation process he goes through for his platform, Queer Brown Vegan.
Content is not always king
Despite achieving huge success, critical acclaim and the love and admiration of 100,000+ followers, Isaias shares how important is to remain grounded in this crazy social media world: “When we’re facing a crisis, your followers aren’t gonna run to your house. The people that are gonna run are your neighbours. Those are the people that you truly want to care about.”
What is youthwashing?
The immense pressure put on young people to be the face of a crisis movement, whilst doing the work, being the figurehead, giving the speeches, protesting on the streets, all whilst being a child, is something which needs to change.
And the latest iteration of this ‘leaving it to the kids’ mindset? Youthwashing.
Youthwashing is the latest ‘eco’ marketing strategy. Corporations, institutions or organizations team up with younger environmental advocates in order to use their voice and platform themselves as a face for justice in the climate movement. When in reality, their business practices and beliefs are far from that – creating a fake reality – and trying to appear greener, or more socially conscious, than you actually are.
The result? The image of kids as our climate saviours is reinforced, youth advocates mental health is further compromised, and the real culprits of climate change – greenwashing multinationals – make more money.
How do we help young people?
“There’s so much pressure on the youth. They’re almost moulded to become this robotic person.” shares Isaias.
The solution? Putting our foot down on the youthwashing, getting involved with local politics to say no to fossil fuel polluters, and also simply by removing the everyday pressure we all put on ourselves. As Isaias aptly points out, “we need to be imperfect environmentalists to be better people in this world.”
In this conversation, hosted by TEDxLondon’s Maryam Pasha and advocate and activist Ben Hurst, Isaias explains what ‘youthwashing’ is, why traditional environmental education is inherently racist and how we can reduce pressure on young people through multigenerational wisdom.
Oh, and don’t forget the latest eco-self-care activity you never heard of… mushroom foraging! Go try it.
Until next time – stay curious!