04 Sep Levi Hildebrand
In this monthly series, the team behind Genus Fossil Free speaks with Canadians at the heart of where finance meets climate action. Know someone we might want to speak with? Suggest them in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Levi Hildebrand is an activist, filmmaker and YouTube “edutainer” based in Victoria, B.C. A former actor (you might recognize him from The Tomorrow People or Living Life or Waiting To Die), Levi felt a pull towards impactful storytelling that wasn’t being satisfied in his acting career. He uses his knack for humour, engagement and virality to give people ideas for their lives in a more meaningful way.
Filmmaker and YouTube “edutainer.”
Where are you from originally?
A small town called 100 Mile House, BC.
How did you become involved in the environmental movement? Why do you do what you do?
I’ve always had an interest in preserving the environment. My parents were hippies, I grew up in a small town, and that was the seed. I wasn’t always involved in environmentalism, my first career choice was acting. I spent three years in acting school and realized pretty quick that it wasn’t fulfilling a certain portion of what I wanted to accomplish. So after travelling for awhile I enrolled in the Geography department at the University of Victoria. That’s where I started focusing my energy on sustainability and environmentalism in general. It was in these classes that I noticed the depressing way that we discuss environmental issues and the state of the world. I decided I would change it in whatever way I could by making videos about the positive things that are happening.
How do you combat people’s apathy around climate change? There’s a pervasive attitude that the problem is so big that we can’t move the needle, so how do you use your videos to help people get past that?
I think that the stories that we are telling about climate change and other environmental issues traditionally has been the exact opposite of what we should be doing — and that is to personalize things. It’s much easier to say “Wow, you know what? There’s this beautiful park near where I live, and I would love it to remain a park and not get turned into massive developments, or a mine.” Instead, what we hear traditionally is “Wow, there’s too much carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere and I need to stop driving my car so that I don’t worsen the situation.” It’s too huge, it’s too massive for people to comprehend, so my videos take people to a tangible example of something that’s happening on a small scale. Real world examples of individuals doing good things give people hope, and that’s what we need the environmentalist story to be about.
On the side of The Foundation (now The Rumpus Room) on Main Street, there’s a Margaret Mead quote that says “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens have the ability to change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And that’s the truth of it. We’re not all going to be able to collectively act on one single issue, but we will all individually act on a variety of issues which will equal the same sum. That’s what I’m working to showcase.
When people express an interest in becoming active in the environmentalist movement and want to make a tangible difference, where do you suggest they start?
People need to start with something that is simple and interesting to them. I think a lot of people get overwhelmed with the need to do something ‘big.’ They think, “well, if I’m going to do something, I need to go full-vegan right now.” I think that’s hugely daunting and stops a lot of people from putting their foot in the door. Something easy, for example, is just riding your bike instead of driving your car. You don’t even have to use it as a commuter to get to work, just take your bike out for fun. Maybe you ride your bike that one time and realize that riding your bike is frickin’ awesome, and so you ride your bike more times. Then eventually you somehow end up riding your bike to work and that becomes a new part of your lifestyle that’s more sustainable.
Something that I’ve recently gotten into is gardening. This doesn’t mean I’m growing all of my own food, but it’s a start. Getting involved with the food that you eat in fun, tangible ways gives you a different relationship with the food that you eat. When you have no understanding of how food is grown, you buy as much as you can from Costco, and “oops, it went bad in the fridge, I’ll just throw it out.” But if you start to understand that growing a tomato takes love and care and attention, and that tomato means more to you in that way, so when you eat tomatoes in the future, you understand where they came from.
Not to mention, it tastes so much better when you’ve tended to it for the whole growing season.
Yes, and I think it’s that effort that we’re not putting into a lot of things. We put as little energy into as much of our lives as we physically can. We like to have our food delivered than go and get it or make it ourselves. We’d rather drive than bike or walk. Everything is about speed and efficiency, and growing your own food is pretty much the opposite of that.
With the resurgence of farmers’ markets, there are a lot more young people getting into agriculture, which is cool to see.
It’s changing, too. My girlfriend and I are part of a community garden down the road, and a good 15-20% of the people there are quite young, which is pretty impressive.
What role do you think brands have to play in advancing the environmental movement?
Brands are probably going to be on the frontline of these issues in the future, as we’re seeing globally, political affiliations are wrought with private interest groups. So it’s up to those private interest groups like Facebook and Google to lead their own charge. They don’t require votes or unanimous, broad-sweeping support. They just need to decide the values that they choose to uphold. Patagonia is a pretty extraordinary example, I don’t think there are many brands out there that literally ask their customers to not buy their product. I know that Patagonia’s solutions won’t be for everyone, but there are little things, once the standard is set, that brands can do. While Patagonia might be extreme, you see a lot more other businesses fall within the sustainable side of the spectrum than you’d think. I’d say brands play a pretty big role, and they will continue to even more so in the future.
Thinking about the next generation of activists, do you think climate action is the next big thing Canadian youth will rally around?
I think the environmental movement is going to be a silent, sweeping thing that we don’t notice but continues to happen as things go along. The fact that ‘responsible investing’ is a term that people use now is remarkable. The fact that greenwashing is a problem that we have to face now, well it’s a great problem to have — because it means the tide is shifting, that people already are wanting other alternatives, and it will only become more dominant. The dream for me is that all this isn’t an issue someday. I hope in the future my job isn’t to convince, but to celebrate.
In the future, sustainability shouldn’t really be a question, but an economic priority, because what we have is finite. I never understood why economists don’t support environmentalists, because they’re fighting for the same thing. Sustainability is the idea that we should sustain ourselves off of what we have. One wants to make money off natural resources, and one wants to preserve our natural resources, a balance between the two is absolutely essential to our survival. The hope for me is that it will become the norm and people won’t need this term “environmentalists”.
What would you say is your Climate Action Superpower?
Humour and the power of a good story. If people aren’t laughing, they’re limited to the rest of the emotions they can feel, which generally don’t serve us very well when we’re trying to convince people of an idea. So first I make them laugh, and then I show them something interesting, and hopefully they care or learn something related to how they can live their lives in a better way.
Who would you say is your own personal Climate Action Superhero?
I have a few. Rupert and Franny are two really young environmental rights activists, and they are next-level. They are 14 and 11, and they’ve been lobbying municipal and provincial governments since they were 8, to mandate environmental rights. Autumn Peltier is an Aboriginal indigenous youth water advocate, and she’s doing a lot of great work. And Cam Owens at UVic is a great teacher who’s taught a lot of the classes that were formative for me, such as “Biketoria.”