We recently had a conversation with Isaias Hernandez: an environmental educator who helps followers ‘unlearn’ things about being the perfect environmentalist on their Instagram. We were especially inspired by their post on why we should be “imperfect environmentalists”, meaning focusing less on unrealistic standards when we think of environmentalism and more on progress, even if it means making mistakes from time to time.
Tell us how you first got into environmentalism.
Isaias: I grew up in affordable housing in Los Angeles, known as Section 8. At a young age, I realized the environment I was living in was not designed the same as other communities in the San Fernando Valley. I started to ask questions about why some communities had access to healthy air, soil, and water while mine didn't. From asking questions in a classroom to learning about global warming, it almost seemed as if global warming was positioned as ‘othering’ or like it was happening in a different country. When I was in high school, I learned about the term “environmental justice” from a local assembly. They talked about the concept of environmental justice that looked into advocating for people of color who have been affected by air pollution in Los Angeles. This was the pivotal moment of my life that reaffirmed that I wanted to study Environmental Science at UC Berkeley.
What characteristics typically come to mind when someone thinks of an environmentalist? Do you think that should change?
Isaias: The image is of someone who hugs a tree or is white. However, when I entered college spaces, I was exposed to various environmentalists from the research, social justice, and design spaces that were people of color. The modern environmental lifestyle movement has often highlighted white environmentalists in media, television shows, and academic spaces as the experts when in reality, Black, Indigenous, and POC have been doing environmental work for centuries. Yes, our idea of environmentalism should shift away from these heteronormative narratives and be diverse in body, ability, and gender identity. As a Queer environmentalist, I believe that our existence is nothing to be ashamed of but something to feel empowered by because many Queer environmentalists have done the work.
What does it mean to be an "imperfect environmentalist"?
Isaias: For me, an imperfect environmentalist recognizes that our efforts to love ourselves sustainably are active in the motion of time. This means that we focus less on critiquing ourselves and loved ones and more on redirecting our energy to celebrate our imperfections and build upon them.
Being an imperfect environmentalist makes you a better environmentalist.
For example, we all use plastic every day, whether we like it or not. Sometimes, we don’t properly or compost items due to either haste or not knowing the specific recycling and composting parameters that are different from county to county. Additionally, in most places in the United States, it is a near requirement to have a car rather than walking or taking public transportation.
While I admire and honor people who go the extra lengths to make sure they never use plastic, know every single composting or recycling law, and walk or bike everywhere they need to go, everyone has a different approach and different standards they need to create for themselves in order to live the best sustainable life for themselves.
As we get older, societal pressures mold us into the good and bad, where we often feel that we have to uphold being happy, joyful, and making zero mistakes in our careers. But in reality, we all make mistakes every day. If we want to inspire others around us, we need to normalize being ready to be wrong, rather than always being right.
Why should more people focus on being an "imperfect" environmentalist?
Isaias: Because these are real values that we truly hold in our work, when we create unrealistic standards we are setting ourselves up to abuse, punishment, and creating a strained relationship with the environment.
When I say unrealistic standards, I mean living completely eliminating plastic waste, when in reality, people don't even have access to grocery stores in their neighborhoods. Not everyone has the ability to buy in bulk due to the cost of items. Everyone in the world makes mistakes, and if we place value on living a perfect lifestyle that will never be obtainable and is reinforced in the eyes of social media, we will hurt ourselves rather than celebrating our small wins.
Mother Earth recognizes our unique roles in this movement and allows us to live on this planet every day. When we recognize that our ways of life are circular and not linear, it cultivates change. Blossoming is learning from our mistakes while giving others the gift of love.
Any last words of advice for those who want to do better but don’t know where to start?
Isaias: Look into your personal experiences of what your loved ones instilled in your life and lifestyle. Do you have a passion for art, dancing, music, writing, gardening? Then, activate those interests and you'll realize how much it interconnects with the planet.
For example, if your interest is in fashion, find out how clothes are made and find out what makes a specific material sustainable and look into fast fashion. If you’re interested in food, learn about industrial agriculture and its impact on the environment. If your passion is computers or technology, learn about the environmental impact of producing a computer.
We all start somewhere and should not shame ourselves. Start living in the now and do what you want to do to help create change on this planet!
Follow Isaias and his environmentalist know-how on Instagram @QueerBrownVegan.