In Southern California, roughly 2.5 million people live near clogged-up freeways. Most of them are from low-income backgrounds, and they can’t afford to live anywhere else.
But in other, richer Los Angeles neighborhoods, children grow up safer, away from the road, surrounded by leafy green trees. Their risk of developing certain diseases, like asthma and lung cancer, is lower because of it. That’s environmental racism, and it’s something that content creator Isaias Hernandez is very familiar with.
Hernandez, who now runs the blog Queer Brown Vegan (QBV), grew up near a busy intersection in Los Angeles. It was noisy, and the air was always thick with smog.
“My earliest memories are growing up in poverty in Los Angeles,” they told Plant Based News. “I would go on field trips and notice how different cities in Los Angeles had more amenities based on their socioeconomic status. It made me wonder why so many poor people did not have access to a healthy, safe environment.”
“I’ve always been a curious soul,” they added. “I was a troublemaker asking questions.”
Rightfully so. Because, even as a child, Mexican-American Hernandez’s instincts about injustice were spot on. In 2019, an analysis found that Black people and Latinos breathe in 40 percent more particulate matter from traffic than white Californians.
Hernandez’s spark of curiosity and impassioned outrage at societal inequality kept growing, eventually leading him to UC Berkely to study environmental science. But, in the end, it was education, nurturing more curious “troublemakers,” that had his heart.
Hernandez isn’t an educator in the conventional sense. He doesn’t teach classes in schools or colleges. They’re part of a new generation who impart their wisdom via infographics, short videos, and memes on social media. Ultimately, he took a difficult upbringing and turned it into a powerful platform for education, change, and progress.
Using social media as a tool for climate education and awareness
Every week, Hernandez breaks down topics like ecological wealth, ecofascism, white veganism, and carbon offsets for his more than 100,000 Instagram followers and more than 35,000 TikTok followers. He also shares sustainability tips, like how to forage, cook vegan recipes, and upcycle food pulp.
Their mission is to bring environmental awareness to as many people as possible. A necessary feat, considering most schools in the US don’t teach about the climate crisis. (This is despite the fact that 86 percent of teachers think it should be taught in schools.)
“I saw myself originally as a scientist, but I realized how much education is inaccessible for so many communities,” they said.
For them, social media is an important tool, not a platform to leverage fame or freebies. “I think about legacy work, not virality work,” he added. “On Queer Brown Vegan, my work is everlasting. It’s a building block, a tool for people to be able to access for free.”
Spreading the message of Queer Brown Vegan
Everything Hernandez does is considered, deliberate, thought out. The name of his blog is no exception. It was intended to showcase vulnerability, it’s a powerful expression of three valued parts of his identity.
“I’ve always found that my identities are sacred to me,” Hernandez explained. “Especially because there are not many people who typically look like me in the industry.”
“Whether we look at movies or social media, there aren’t many Queer vegans of color doing equitable work,” they added. “I wanted to showcase to the world that, regardless of who you are, you can continue being your authentic self.”
Social media is a key part of Hernandez’s work. But he also frequently attends climate-focused events, most recently speaking alongside Plant Based News Co-founder Robbie Lockie at Billie Eilish’s “Overheated” at the O2 in London. The event, which coincided with the singer’s London tour dates, was all about meaningful climate action and covered a number of topics, including fashion, privilege, and climate injustice.
Also presenting the event were music platform REVERB and plant-based advocacy organization Support + Feed. (Hernandez works alongside the latter, which was founded by Eilish’s mother Maggie Baird, as a consultant.)
For the environmental educator, high-profile events like “Overheated” are vital, as they allow the sustainability conversation to grow and expand. “Many people don’t typically see themselves as environmentalists,” they said. “Events like this bring people from across sectors who may have not been exposed to these types of issues.”
Holding on to hope amid climate doomism
People are more engaged than ever in climate crisis issues. Young people, in particular, are passionate about action. According to a Pew Research study from 2021, more than 30 percent of Gen-Zers and 28 percent of Millennials took some sort of action to help address the climate crisis in the year prior. (This is everything from voting to rallying.)
But, as Hernandez is all too aware, all of this takes a toll. The educator aims to address this on his social media, with videos about climate change and mental health, ecotherapy, and climate doomism. The latter refers to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, often caused by media sensationalism.
But if there’s one reason to keep going, it’s community, says Hernandez. That’s what drives them forward, anyway.
“Community has always been a lifeline,” he noted, before adding that we need to unlearn “perfectionist values.” Going forward, we need to allow room for nuance. “You can feel both hopeless and hopeful at the same time,” they said. “Understand that the days that we fall in despair, it doesn’t mean that others aren’t working hard for the shared collective goal.”
For Hernandez, his work, and the work of others like him, is another reason to keep fighting. As we all know by now, what happens on the internet, stays on the internet. And in the case of Queer Brown Vegan, that can only be a positive thing.
“My environmental education work is a tool that will never rot,” noted Hernandez. “It will last for future generations to take and build upon.”
Check out their work at Queer Brown Vegan here.