Last Update: April 20, 2022
No matter where you are on the sustainable-living spectrum, Isaias Hernandez has a message for you: “You are an environmentalist.”
Hernandez, also known as @queerbrownvegan on Instagram, is an environmental educator and climate justice activist. Although he has an academic background in environmental science, he believes it shouldn’t take a college degree to understand the most pressing sustainability issues — or to participate in finding solutions.
“I really believe everyone should have access to equitable environmental education,” he told us during a recent Instagram Live. “I strive to present introductory forms of environmentalism to help people feel empowered in their communities.”
When we sat down with Hernandez, we were eager to get his thoughts on an increasingly common issue: eco-anxiety, or as he puts it, “the fear of the future of the planet.” The conversation around climate change can quickly take on a tone of gloom and doom, but Hernandez is one of a number of sustainability advocates who are rejecting that fatalistic attitude in favor of optimism coupled with action.
“The best way that’s helped me manage climate anxiety is building community and recognizing that this is an Earth-based emotion. Individuals are interconnected with the Earth.” While thinking about the enormity of the climate crisis can feel overwhelming, Hernandez offers an important reminder that individual actions add up, and that acknowledging our interconnectedness is an essential first step.
Below, we rounded up three lessons he taught us about coping with eco-anxiety. For more on the role of privilege within climate justice and how sustainability isn’t one-size-fits-all, check out our entire conversation with Hernandez here.
Your sphere of influence might not be quite as large as Hernandez’s, but you still have the power to impact others. That’s why individual actions really do matter, he says, because “You’re influencing those around you. People pass along the knowledge to their families. That’s how you build community and validation.”
He adds that you don’t have to be doing actual policy work or working for an environmental organization to make a difference; by simply by educating yourself, making sustainable swaps in your routine, and sharing your efforts with others, you’re setting a positive example. “There’s a domino effect,” he adds.
Sustainable living doesn’t always look like growing an entire vegetable garden or buying the latest high-tech composting device. Hernandez says a lot of people learn sustainable values from their upbringing.
“When you tap into those stories of your elders or your culture, there are a lot of things that made you an environmentalist,” he explains. “You just never made that connection to the larger globe.” He reflects on his own family’s use of hand-me-down clothing — an inherently sustainable practice he didn’t fully appreciate as such at the time.
With the popularization of “green values” like plant-based, zero-waste, or flight-free, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the task of trying to reinvent your entire lifestyle at once — so don’t. “Ask yourself, what is one thing you’ve always wanted to work on in your entire life but you’ve never had the chance, or you had momentum but you didn’t have support?”
Hernandez shares that his own journey started with veganism but evolved into consciously seeking out ethical and sustainable brands. “When I started to divest from these systems I started redirecting my energy to other things. ‘What else can I do?’”
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