Every day is a good day to learn something new. Today is about frontline communities and how they experience the most devastating effects of the climate crisis. Isaias Hernández is Queer Brown Vegan, an environmentalist educator who helps us learn how the different facets of our identities define our experience of confronting global warming, and most importantly, systems of oppression.
The world as we know it is ending. But most of us don’t get to see the same picture as others; our idea of an unfair planet is far beyond the reality of social injustice. Intersectionality is key to understanding that colonialism, privilege, and abuse lie at the heart of climate change and global warming. Transversal environmentalism dismantles the global situation that threatens the identities of those who live under oppression. It is vital to acknowledge this to restore and care for nature.

Isaias Hernández was born in Los Angeles, California (known as Tongva land to the Indigenous people who reside in Southern California) and grew up in a community that faced environmental injustices. He earned his B.S. in Environmental Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Queer Brown Vegan is his activist platform in which he focuses each day on three main topics such as veganism, zero-waste, and environmental justice, with an impressive educational perspective rarely seen on Instagram. We had the opportunity to discuss responsibility and diversity within the warnings of the IPCC’s latest report on Climate Change, and learn more about the infantilization of animal liberation, toxic petromasculinity, environmental racism, and why queerness isn’t just about existing.
Hi Isaias! First of all, a big thank you for taking your time to speak to METAL. The world is absolutely upside down in many ways, and we’re going through an unprecedented pandemic. So how are you, and how have you been for the last 15 months?
Thank you so much again for having me, I am truly blessed to be speaking with METAL. These past fifteen months have been both exploitative and therapeutic. For starters, when the pandemic started, I lost my job and was hopping between side jobs and running my account. I found a way during this frozen period of time to be more still and quiet but also to express myself in ways that I didn’t think I would. Being able to build relationships online has truly kept me grounded during times of injustices.
The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report was released last month. It was daunting and it gave me eco-anxiety. There are two main points highlighted in the report; stopping the increase of temperature is overdue, and humans are responsible for this. However not all countries suffer the same or contribute the same to this crisis. Can you tell us more about environmental racism?
Environmental racism is the policies and practices that are implemented to prevent Black, Indigenous, and POC from achieving environmental liberation. This encompasses the right to have safe and clean water, soil, and food. However, we’ve seen how primarily low-income communities face the highest rates of environmental burdens, and also bear the legacy of racism, colonialism, and imperialism. It is true that we all have an environmental impact in some way, but when we examine our impacts through a broader lens, corporations and governments create the highest levels of pollution and degradation to the planet and people.
In your opinion and experience, what are the companies and governments that are more dangerous to the future of climate change, in terms of behaviour? And how is this related to the refugee crisis?
In my view, companies and governments play some of the largest roles in the fight against climate change, yet they continue to focus on maximising GDP growth to uphold unsustainable futures. Examining extractive systems like the prison, immigration, and military industrial complex allows us to further question why we continue to funnel resources into them when they are creating large-scale injustices.
When it comes to the climate crisis, people are being rapidly displaced from their homes because of militarism, privatisation of lands, or the plundering of resources from nation governments. People have no choice, they can either die in their lands or escape for a better opportunity, which leads them to different countries in the Global North. Due to the rise of anti-immigration ideology and policies we often blame immigrants as if the West had nothing to do with their displacement. The refugee crisis is experienced by BIPOC, primarily women and children, trans women, non-binary, and femmes that face the highest rates of violence. Companies that continue to exploit immigrants for their labour also uphold these systems of oppression.
It also looks like finally colonialism is being put at the front of the mainstream conversation. In Spain, people from my generation grew up thinking that “Columbus discovered (South) America by accident” (sic). This narrative detaches our analytical abilities when it comes to understanding the atrocities of colonialism and how to take responsibility for it. I was shocked to hear you talking about your experience as a kid from a lower income neighbourhood going to clean up the waste of white richer neighbourhoods in a recent interview. How has this historical capitalisation of territory become responsible for the disproportional effects of climate change in certain countries?
It has altered the rich cultural history of how many BIPOC globally around the world have tended the Earth. The idea of preserving natural resources and admiring its beauty with separation from nature and humans is presented through Western conservation leaders that were known to be both Anti-Indigenous and Anti-Black. The capitalisation of lands and resources presented a system of exploitation for colonisers that attempted to rip away culture, memories, and lived experiences. However, as many Indigenous communities say that their existence is part of the resistance, these memories and wisdom are everlasting and being poured into their groups to empower and create collectivised movements to educate.
Fossil fuel industries, for example, were not normal in the world. We live in a very linear system where we waste resources. Many Indigenous cultures practiced circular systems where natural resources were not used, but entered through a cyclical phase that ensures the resources come back into the Earth for future generations. Colonialism not only enslaved people, it also created policies that were specifically targeting Black and Indigenous folks. The privatization of lands presented ownership for home owners that view their land as sacred but it is not shared with others. This is erasure and the land that we are currently on is stolen from Indigenous communities, so we must take accountability to acknowledge where we are staying.
It’s obvious that our lifestyles are something we have to definitely start changing in some many ways. But how much of it can really impact our planet in a healthy way? And most importantly; how much of this situation is a responsibility of our capitalist system? Would you say this is an all-human-beings responsibility?
I believe that as beings on this planet, we have a desire to be in a community. A desire to connect with the living world. With that being said, growth and accountability makes us better environmentalists, not perfect environmentalists. We have to take the time to work together with our communities to choose lifestyles that are more ecologically sound. Systemic change is one the most powerful ways to create long-term change in a system that upholds unsustainability. But with the climate crisis increasing year over year, it seems that governments and corporations do not want to label corporate power interest as a player, so they say human supremacy. We have to organize and empower ourselves collectively to demand change. For people, that may look like overturning systems of oppression, reforming, or even changing laws, but it is important that we focus on local systemic change. Individual lifestyle changes are often more accessible steps in our lives to learn about environmentalism and I believe that when we confidently engage in those subjects we are advocating for ethical practices. We all have to start somewhere, and lifestyles are the first step.
One of the most intriguing concepts I learned about in your website is Petro-masculinity which suggest that fossil fuels means more than profit; “fossil fuels also contribute to making white toxic male identities even more dangerous” according to Cara Dagget’s article Petro-masculinity: Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire. It makes so much sense when you read the definition articulated by the word “fuel”, not only as it implies all the white male activities that need fossil fuel to be executed, but also to describe how much of the white toxic male behavior is fuelled by hatred. As many other issues that seem to be the same one, this is a classic #notallmen for some, but also the epitome of intersectionality. Is climate change another issue we won’t be able to solve unless white cisgender males take responsibility?
At its root, patriarchy and capitalism feed off of each other and continue to oppress women, trans women, femmes, and non-binary people. I believe that when it comes to understanding where the rapid economic growth model stems from, we have to look back at how colonisation, primarily composed of White men in the “discovery” of the United States, contributed to long-scale damage to ecosystems, BIPOC, and culture. When we look at governmental systems in the West, most specifically the World Bank, Rockefeller, or IMF, these are composed of white men. Regardless if they are white or not, men hold much power in these institutions but the real issue we are dealing with is white supremacy and how white men continue to benefit from this racist system. Whether white men work at the government or not, they still benefit from white privilege. We need allies in this movement, to acknowledge the legacy of harm and to continue fighting along the journey to dismantle white supremacy that is known to exploit natural resources from Mother Earth at a fast rate for economic needs.
Greta Thunberg tweeted that not one politician has been held accountable or asked about actions in line with the IPCC report publication. I saw some of the usual hate she gets online. It really upset me. As an environmental educator do you think there’s an infantilization of the green discourse, as if it was only involving adults?
At younger ages we have deeper relationships to the land. Unfortunately, many people have been ripped away from their lands, have seen the plundering of resources, and have fragmented memories from their native lands and this changes their worldview as they get older. We are of the interrelated whole, the system we live under is designed to suppress our relationships with Earth. The reason why environmental discourses are limited is due to the fact that we live in a very polarized world where if we begin to question the systems and power forces at play, it threatens western nationalism. I believe that adults who continue to work for these corrupt, exploitative systems treat younger climate activists as less than because they can’t even respect themselves as beings. When your goals are centered on profit over the people, you lose touch with your community and younger-self. The resistance in movements that have been held by many Indigenous communities are the key to the regenerative world, yet they continue to face the highest rates of violence and death when protecting the land.
A simple question that I think a lot of people would reflect on. Why should I be vegan and how is this a subject that goes beyond animal abuse?
For me, veganism is an ethical stance of a lifestyle, not a diet. I often feel that plant-based diet versus veganism is intertwined as one when they vary in many ways. For me, veganism is an anti-oppression stance that seeks to fight for the liberation of humans and animals. The current supply chain that we get our food from is from a globalized food system that upholds unsustainable futures. The people who pick our food, who are migrant farm workers, have high rates of PTSD in slaughterhouses or are being exposed to environmental toxins from pesticides in the fruit and vegetable fields which cause a myriad of health issues. Animals that are grown in an industrialized setting are tortured, stuffed in cages, and killed for the consumption of the Global North. I believe many of us who live in the Global North and who have control of finances, ages 18+, are able to take steps to divest away from these horrific industries and advocate for just food systems. Veganism also takes an anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and anti-colonial lens that seeks to localize food systems where it is ecologically sound and hopefully one that is free from the consumption of animals. To attempt to dismantle industrial agriculture is to threaten economic GDP growth from Western countries which continue to produce large amounts of meat and dairy. Not only from an animal and human stance, but from an environmental stance. We don’t consider the plundering of natural resources these industries have created across the world.
You share about freeganism, polyculture, agroforestry, foreging, solastalgia, ecoparalysis and tierratrauma on Instagram in an educational, constructive and calm way. What does it take to be a queer environmental educator? How do you manage brand collaborations and most importantly, hate or disbelief online, if you get any?
Educating is my passion; I see myself as an organic bridge builder to help strengthen the gaps in the environmental movement. It takes a lot of mental energy to put yourself out there. I am glad to have done a lot of mental health work before entering digital media spaces and at the age of 25, I feel like I want to be more compassionate to others. When it comes to brand partnerships, I am not perfect! Half the time I am saying no to companies that just do not align with my values and taking pay cuts for smaller owned brands that cannot afford my rates but have an ethical purpose.
My criteria is often simple, that they are vegan, small-owned, or mission-driven to address their issues and work on actionable steps. When it comes to hate, especially in my views or writing, it can come off as very uncomfortable for people when reading about it. I’ve had individuals use my photos without my permission, make YouTube videos about me, and continue to criticise me even when I have them blocked. I take it one day at a time, meaning, I do wish those people well, but if I continue to self-shame myself thinking that everyone hates me, it will decrease my work.
My education is not rooted in provoking, but rather educating. What is sustainable in my work is my dedication to extend myself in a slow manner. I am not someone who sets out to traumatize others because I know myself better than anyone else. There will always be people who disagree with your work, and that is okay.
So many people struggle to be part of the change in an active way but also holding a coherent position from where to act up. Sharing awareness posts on Instagram fuels the distorted meaning of what an activist should be or do. In terms of consumerism, what would be your main advice to contribute to the health of our world?
Get to know your community! I feel that often people assume they have to be earning badges or awards to show how worthy they are in this world. The Earth doesn’t care about your awards, it wants you to exist and create everlasting relationships that are cyclical, where we are born into this Earth and return right back into the Earth. Communities hold so much collective power to create change. When we build stronger coalitions with each other,we can be there for each other during times of crises. With regards consumerism, do what you can, whether it’s supporting locally, or even challenging yourself to read, watch, or listen to other people.
You’ve walked an interesting path to this day, and as someone who is self-made, what are your cultural references? What did you like to listen, read or watch that helped you shape your identity and also your work? What does a young queer environmental educator do for fun?
I would like to thank the people who raised me, my friends who empowered me, and the land that gave birth to me because that makes me collectively-made, not self-made. As a Mexican, learning about my cultural traditions, such as clothing, food, and writing makes me feel at peace. I’d say the books that have had a great influence in the work I do are The Red Deal: Indigenous Action To Save The Earth and many more that can be found on my website. For fun, I love to partake in foraging! It’s one of my favourite activities and I get to listen more to the land and find ways to give back. Mushrooms hold so much magic and power.
Sharing our own stories within the LGTBQ+ community not only helps us to understand each other better, but it also brings us closer, since our experiences are similar. How did you became aware of the intersectionality of these parts of yourself? When, and how, was the moment you realized that being queer, brown and vegan were aligned given your personal context? And how would say they intersect in groups of two; why someone queer would or should be vegan, for example?
I love to talk about the term queer sustainability, which allows us to examine how we can fight for the liberation of species in this world through a multi-dimensional lens, one that includes both humans and animals. For me, growing up my identity was also suppressed and I was forced to act in a way that was not truly me until I got older and tapped into my younger self and apologized for not being there. I believe at the age of 17, I started to make these connections with my identity and the environment. As I got older, my veganism was an extension of my queerness because in animalia kingdom we learned that animals are LGBTQ+. So, when we talk about animals being queer as a natural thing, then we should also extend ourselves to not consume them as Queer beings on this planet. Queerness isn’t just about existing, it also seeks to create harmonious relationships with multi-species.
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