Episode 35: What you do counts

The 22-year-old activist Eyal Weintraub has been at the forefront of Argentina’s nascent, youth-driven climate movement. Now, as a Nat Geo Young Explorer, he’s working to change the climate conversation across Latin America.

On this year’s Earth Day, April 22, a climate strike was organized by Argentina Youth for Climate and other environmental organizations, seen near Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, where the government seat is located.
Photograph by Gaston Zilberman

Some of the most crucial countries in the global fight against climate change are in Latin America, and yet there are few resources on the crisis for Spanish speakers. Eyal Weintraub, a 22-year-old National Geographic Young Explorer and climate activist from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is working to change that. Guest host Jordan Salama joins Weintraub to talk about the popular podcast, Lo Que Haces Cuenta, which unpacks the climate crisis in bite-sized episodes—and explores the everyday ways people can fight it.

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AMY BRIGGS (HOST): Hey there. It’s Amy. Today we’ve got something special for you. We’ve invited our Nat Geo colleague and Reporting Resident Jordan Salama to guest-host Overheard.

He’s going to introduce us to a 22-year-old climate activist and Nat Geo Explorer who he met in Argentina earlier this year, and whose environmental education projects are helping to change the climate conversation all over Latin America. Take a listen.

JORDAN SALAMA (HOST): Across Latin America, young people are asking questions about climate change. Lo Que Haces Cuenta, a podcast produced by Nat Geo Latin America and Radio Disney (that means “what you do counts") is trying to answer them. The show unpacks the climate and ecological crisis in bite-sized episodes and has reached hundreds of thousands of listeners, elevating the environmental conversation across the Americas.

I’m Jordan Salama, I’m a resident writer here at National Geographic, and you’re listening to Overheard, a show where we eavesdrop on the wild conversations we have at Nat Geo, and follow them to the edges of our big, weird, beautiful world. Today I’m having a conversation with Eyal Weintraub.

EYAL WEINTRAUB (CLIMATE ACTIVIST): My name is Eyal Weintraub. I’m a climate activist from Argentina and also a Young Explorer at National Geographic.

SALAMA: He also helped co-create Lo Que Haces Cuenta. We’ll be talking about climate, Latin America, and the role education and technology can play in moving the needle in all aspects of society. And a little later in today's episode, we'll also highlight some of our other incredible Nat Geo explorers working in the region, from an eco-feminist storyteller in Mexico to a Chilean mycologist working with the kingdom of the fungi. Stay tuned.

Adventure is never far away with a free one-month trial to Nat Geo Digital. For starters, there’s full access to our online stories, with new stories published every day, plus every Nat Geo issue ever published in our digital archives! There’s a whole lot more for subscribers, and you can check it all out—for free—at natgeo.com/exploremore.

SALAMA: We're here with Eyal Weintraub, a climate activist and Nat Geo Young Explorer in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eyal, thanks so much for being here.

WEINTRAUB: Hey, Jordan. Thanks for the invitation. It's my pleasure.

SALAMA: This is kind of a pinch-myself moment because we met just a few months ago in Buenos Aires in Argentina and that we're now here talking on the Nat Geo Overheard podcast is pretty awesome.

WEINTRAUB: Yeah, I remember when I first saw your DM saying, “Hey, I saw that you're now a National Geographic Young Explorer. We have a few people in common. My family's from Argentina. Let's get together to talk sometime. And then suddenly, a few weeks later, you told me, Hey, I am going to Buenos Aires. And then we saw each other many, many times.

SALAMA: Many times I was at your house. We went to see a soccer game in Atlanta in Buenos Aires.

(Sound of chants at a soccer game)

SALAMA: We got coffee, walked around the city. And it's really cool to see that you were just getting started as a Nat Geo Young Explorer. I was about to join the staff of the magazine, and now here we are. I'm really excited that we get to have this conversation, so let's get right into it.

So I often write about climate change and the natural world in Latin America for a U.S.-based audience. And I've noticed that many people in this country tend to think about environmental issues in the region very broadly. Things like the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed. Drought and flooding are ruining farmers' livelihoods in Central America and pushing more people to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. And sometimes it's easy to forget that every country and every community has specific challenges and needs and goals. So do me a favor: take me to Argentina. How are ordinary people in your country living through the climate and ecological crisis in their everyday lives

WEINTRAUB: So first we need to recognize that Argentina is a huge country. It has a very diverse ecosystems and very diverse people. We have lots of heat and types of wetlands in the north and mountains, and then in the south you have snow in the winter and it's very, very cold. And then in the middle you have lots of industrial poles. So there is a lot of diversity, basically because of how extensive it is, geographically speaking. And so it affects differently each region. For example, in the big cities, maybe there is a bigger emphasis in terms of the quality of the air and how that affects the health of the people. Right now, for example, in Santa Fe, there's a huge amount of fires. Wetlands are burning, and there's smoke that is making it very difficult for people to breathe. We have glaciers in the south that are melting. And then our country is also depends a lot on agro-exportation—exportation of agriculture. So suddenly, climate variability, like an increase in the amount of droughts, can reduce significantly the amount that farmers can harvest, and that affects our economy as a whole. So we're very, very sensitive to changes in the climate

SALAMA: It's not too different from certain parts of the United States. The pampas—the grasslands of Argentina—can be compared in some ways to the Great Plains in the U.S. And in regions that are so heavily dependent on farmers reaping crops or livestock, droughts, as you mentioned, for example, could be really, really harmful and could affect people's ability to feed their family.

So, you’re one of the founders of Jóvenes por el Clima Argentina, which means Youth for Climate, a social and political movement that’s fighting to reverse the effects of the climate crisis. How did that get started?

WEINTRAUB: I've been involved in environmental issues ever since I was a small kid. It's always been something I've been interested in. And then in the beginning of 2019, started circulating on social media an international call for the first young, youth-led climate strike all over the world by the new Fridays for Future Movement that their main figurehead, even to this day, is Greta Thunberg from Sweden. And there was lots of interest in social media. Lots of people suddenly sharing around the flyer on Twitter and Instagram. But there was no organization, no collective, transforming that interest into a strike.

SALAMA: In Argentina?

WEINTRAUB: In Argentina, exactly. How are we going to nationalize those international revendications? How are we going to adapt that to our local and regional reality? And so we decided to found Youth for Climate in order to organize that first climate strike in the city of Buenos Aires, and rapidly lots of youth for climate local movements started appearing all over the country to organize their version of a strike. And so between two to three weeks’ time from when we started, suddenly we were organizing a massive climate strike that had thousands of people participating all over the country—over 5,000 just in the city of Buenos Aires. And from that, everything kind of started growing in a snowball.

SALAMA: I'm really interested in this idea because historically in Latin America, for some context, I mean, many significant social movements have been led and started by student groups and young people mobilizing—in a way that I don't think is as common in the United States. And since first taking to the streets, your group Jóvenes Por El Clima has had a tremendous impact in terms of legislation and kind of messaging and communication on the ground. To highlight a few things: in 2019, that same year as the first strike, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to declare a national climate emergency, paving the way for subsequent legislation that your group pushed for, including a law outlining a plan for mitigation and adaptation, as well as an environmental education law that you're now trying to add on to.

But this does also get us into a conversation about the importance of communication, maybe on a regional level, even more so than just within Argentina. So across Latin America you have this podcast that is teaching people through bite-sized episodes about what the basics are of the climate and ecological crisis. Why do you think that's important?

WEINTRAUB: One of the main problems we face with global warming is that those communities who suffer environmental violence firsthand, who suffer the brunt of the climate and ecological crisis, are those that are historically marginalized, are those that have less resources, are those that are most vulnerable. Places that have the most amount of political power and most amount of economical power, the places where the media spotlights the different—where the media is concentrated usually isn't the places that suffer the worst of the climate and ecological crisis.

And so there's this disparity that makes it very hard a lot of the time for those of us who live in big cities to see currently the worst consequences of environmental issues. And that's something that we need to work on, I think, by creating much stronger bonds between, for example, urban activists and climate activists from rural communities or those who live in those neighborhoods that are the most vulnerable, that have less resources, that have been historically marginalized. That's something that the climate movement needs to work much more on.

SALAMA: And I think that something also that you also mentioned about environmental violence in poor areas is something that we should talk about, because in Latin America, as opposed to the United States—thankfully here we do not notice as much violence against environmental activists—but Latin America is one of the most dangerous regions for environmentalists and conservationists to be working in these areas, especially those who are working in poorer areas and in more remote areas. So how does that inform your work?

WEINTRAUB: Luckily, it's not something that happens in Argentina, but it does happen a lot, for example, in Colombia or Brazil, where there's hundreds of climate activists who usually come from these most vulnerable neighborhoods, from Indigenous communities, that are assassinated every single year because of defending their environment. And I think that that's why it's really important. Different agreements, like, for example, El Acuerdo de Escazú—the Escazú Agreement—is the first regional attempt to start developing a framework that can protect environmental activists all over Latin America.

And for example Youth for Climate has worked really, really hard for Argentina, for example, to join and ratify that agreement. And Nicole Becker, that's part of Youth for Climate, has been one of the champions—one of the regional champions—that CEPAL, an organization of the U.N. designated to help enforce that that agreement all over the region. And so that's, for example, one of the ways that we've been working to tackle this issue.

SALAMA: I've spoken with lots of people about the Escazú Agreement, especially in Colombia, where the issue of environmental and social leaders being assassinated for their work protecting the land and water and culture in certain rural regions of the country is particularly pertinent. I did a story for National Geographic not too long ago about how more than 1,300 environmental and social leaders in Colombia have been assassinated since 2016 because of land grabs and territorial disputes over resources and a lack of state economic and social investment in the regions where there are often the most natural resources.

And so this is a hugely important thing to be talking about when we talk about climate change in Latin America, because there is no systemic protection in place for activists, for conservationists who are making voices heard, who are educating and expanding knowledge about these issues, but who fear for their lives because of it. So I'm glad that it's not something that you have to worry about necessarily in Buenos Aires or even in Argentina, but we know that it's something that happens across the region that's important to recognize.

When we come back from the break, we’ll hear from a Nat Geo Explorer helping young women in Mexico’s countryside use their voices to tell stories about the environment and their communities. Plus another explorer tells us how fungi can help fight climate change.

SALAMA: We're back with Eyal Weintraub of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eyal, in addition to Lo Que Hace Cuenta, you're a Nat Geo Young Explorer, which means that you've received a grant to carry out a project in your area of expertise. In this case, you're working to use technology to expand environmental education opportunities across Argentina. Can you tell me a little bit more about that project?

WEINTRAUB: Yeah, sure. So with the National Geographic grant, we developed the project called Alerta Celsius. And what we're doing is developing workshops, capacitations, and interactive guide to create and fortify an ecosystem of environmental education here in Buenos Aires this first year, which we're taking it kind of like a prototype. And our focus is to include a youth perspective and technology to how environmental education is taught in schools and the formal and non-formal educational system. And it's been going really, really well. We've managed to already work with hundreds of kids. By the end of the year, we'll have developed technological and digital tools to increase the quality and quantity of environmental education here in the city of Buenos Aires.

SALAMA: What's amazing about the Society's explorer program is that it funds people all over the world to come up with these creative projects that are not only creative but they are also specific to the region where each person is working, from activists to scientists to storytellers.

So what I thought we could do now actually is highlight, each of us highlight, another Nat Geo explorer working in Latin America because there are so many others and they are all doing such amazing things. What do you think about that?

WEINTRAUB: That sounds great. Let's do it.

SALAMA: OK, so for this, we each picked one person and we asked each of them to send us a clip introducing themselves and what they do. You want to present your pick first?

WEINTRAUB: Yeah. Let's start with Andrea Villarreal, who's an ecofeminist from Mexico and a National Geographic Young Explorer.

ANDREA VILLARREAL (CLIMATE ACTIVIST): I’m Andrea Villarreal Rodriguez from Mexico, and I believe storytelling is a powerful tool for social change. I teach girls how to build effective narratives through documentary film, and I hope their experiences empower others to take collective action for their planet

WEINTRAUB: So what Andrea's doing is working with Girl Up to develop a storytelling lab for young girls all over Mexico so that they can tell with their own narrative, a narrative that comes many times outside from the capital of Mexico and from the peripheries, where lots of the time environmental violence is felt much more crudely, so that young women are empowered to be able to tell their own stories, from their own voices, from their local communities, and in that way, communicate the climate and ecological crisis in a way that can impact with a large diversity of people.

SALAMA: Her work sounds amazing and so important. And do you know what different kinds of mediums she uses to tell these stories or to help these young girls around the country tell the stories?

WEINTRAUB: So these young girls, hundreds applied from all over the country and 10 were selected to participate in this whole formation course. And what they're doing now is developing short documentaries about environmental issues that they're facing in their communities. And right now, they're in that production phase, recording the documentaries, and then they're going to be editing, and finally presenting them in different parts of Mexico.

SALAMA: This sounds like a really special project.

WEINTRAUB: Yeah, definitely. I'd love to hear a bit more about the explorer that you chose.

SALAMA: Absolutely. Okay. So the Explorer that I want to highlight is Giuliana Furci, a Chilean mycologist, which means that she's an expert on fungi. Here's her audio.

GIULIANA FURCI (MYCOLOGIST): My name is Giuliana Furci. I am from Chile. I am a field mycologist focusing on studying the fungal diversity of our planet and understanding ancestral and traditional uses of fungi and humanity.

SALAMA: OK. So Giuliana Furci, she focuses on understanding and protecting the fungal diversity of her country, of Chile. Chile is a place that did not have much information about the diversity of the kingdom of the fungi for many years. And she built not only the first field guide of Chilean mushrooms, but she became the first mycologist expert in the country. She also founded an international NGO, the Fungi Foundation, in 2012 dedicated to the research and protection of fungi across the planet.

So for some context here, I first met Giuliana a few months ago actually, in June, at the 2022 National Geographic Explorers Festival. And I cannot wait for you to come to one of these. It's no joke. maybe the most incredible gathering of people that I've ever been to in my life. So people are there from all over the world, all over the Nat Geo ecosystem, from conservationists to photographers, biologists, archaeologists. Everyone has these amazingly niche areas of interest and expertise, which make for some really incredible conversations. And one night gathered back at the hotel where a lot of them were staying, Giuliana came up to our table of writers and editors of the magazine, off to the side, and started passionately telling us about what she called the kingdom of the fungi, a world that's really often overlooked.

WEINTRAUB: So what, what is it that Giuliana wants us to know about fungi? What's so unique?

SALAMA: This is the thing, it seems like everything is unique about fungi and they just don't get that much attention because a lot of it happens underground. They’re a crucial carbon sink. They sequester like billions of tons of carbon dioxide in the ground, which of course is crucial in the fight against global warming. And at the same time, they provide really important nutrients for plants and especially trees.

Giuliana likes to say that to understand fungi is to change our understanding of how the entire natural world works, instead of a collection of disparate species as a web of natural connections in this ecosystem that's very interdependent and symbiotic. Giuliana likes to say, and this is something that I absolutely love, that people often refer to flora and fauna in the environmental conversation, but in reality, Eyal, there are three Fs: flora, fauna and fungi.

WEINTRAUB: I had no clue that fungi was its own F. That's actually really good, really good information.

SALAMA: This is the thing, and neither did I. And now when I write stories and I think about flora and fauna, I always have in the back of my mind the question about what is what about the fungi? And I think this is an important kind of cognitive change that somebody like Giuliana has done a really good job of instilling into experts and storytellers around the world.

Which is why it was really cool to see that the next day, after I first met Giuliana at the Explorers Festival, they were announcing this award for Leadership in Conservation, one of the most prestigious awards given to an explorer from National Geographic every year. And who's called up to the stage but Giuliana Furci. So congratulations, Giuliana. We're so glad to hear about your amazing work.

WEINTRAUB: I feel it's quite interesting as well how she talks about fungi as creating these communities beneath the ground. And I think that's actually a really good parallel to what we need to do to be able to solve the climate and ecological crisis. We need communities of changemakers of normal people, like Andrea was saying before, doing the best they can. I think that's also really nice.

SALAMA: On the topic of finding connections and building communities, I want to talk about something that I've gotten questions about from many people, but especially young people around the world. And that is this question about climate change and mental health. Scientists have coined terms like eco-anxiety and eco-grief. There are people who we've already spoken about who are directly affected in the worst of ways by the climate and ecological crisis, whether that's losing their homes to floods and storms, becoming ill from air pollution, or fearing for their lives as Indigenous defenders or environmental activists in regions marred by conflict. But how would you suggest kind of on a general level, somebody combat these feelings of despair, those sleepless nights, those periods of doomscrolling on Instagram when it's very easy to feel helpless, like there's nothing we can do.

WEINTRAUB: To be honest, I try not to overthink about it a lot of the time, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I think it's very personal, but from my experience, if the motor that makes you act, that gives you the energy, the willpower always comes from a place of fear, from a place of angst, it's not sustainable. It's not sustainable in the middle and long term. Then we need people getting involved for as long and as much time as possible. And in that sense, I always try to find hope, to find joy in what I'm doing, even though it's dealing with very difficult issues a lot of the time. Trying to do it in a way that takes care of my mental health and that I enjoy the activities in which I am a part of and try to not always focus on the negative aspects.

But I think it's very personal. I don't think there is just one way to deal with it. And I think a lot of the time it's a process. It's not something we can turn on and off. Sometimes we just feel what we feel and we need to deal with it.

I think the best way, which I've found, at least personally, to deal with this eco-anxiety is to speak about it with my friends, with fellow climate activists, with people who are involved, and at the same time, to transform that eco-anxiety, esa angustia, we would say in Spanish, that existential angst into into action, into organization, into concrete things we can do in our day-to-day lives, be them small, be them big, to make the world just even a slightly better place.

SALAMA: Es una angustia tremenda. It's a tremendous feeling of angst that I think can come and consume us all. And I think you're absolutely right about the importance of finding community in different ways. And I think in my experience, I mean, being able to tell stories and to speak with people who are so passionate about specific parts of the natural world and their relationship to it has been really gratifying.

And I live in the New York City area, and I think that people often think of New York as like the biggest, busiest city in the whole world as a purely unnatural place of skyscrapers and urban sprawl. One thing that in the past few years I've started to do is kayak. I love getting on a kayak in the waters of the Hudson River or the Long Island Sound—these places in and around the New York City area that people don't think of as natural at all but are actually filled with life. I've found this colony of seals, eight or nine seals, and in the winter I can get out of my kayak and with my binoculars from a distance away, kind of just watch them and be at peace. You can go whale watching out of Brooklyn, like in the most unexpected places you can find…


SALAMA: Yeah, you can find ways of being in touch with the natural world, of having hope and realizing, essentially, how much can actually live alongside humans. I think people often frame this crisis as a battle between humans and nature. But at the end of the day, this is a confluence. This is something where we have to work together. And by building off of Indigenous groups and other cultures and communities that are able to live in harmony with the natural world, I think that we're able to build a better future.

WEINTRAUB: There's a concept in guaraní, which is an Indigenous culture and language of Latin America that means, that's called de gua. De gua means basically this indivisible nature, this indivisible relationship between nature and humanity. We as humans are part of nature, and nature is a part of us. And I think that's the concept, that's the way we need to start thinking about it in our day to day lives in order to not see this as a fight, as a domination between humanity and nature. But seeing as we're both part of the same ecosystem. We are nature and nature is us. And that's an Indigenous concept that for me is quite beautiful.

SALAMA: Eyal, I want to thank you again so much for coming on and having this conversation with me. It's been a real treat.

WEINTRAUB: It's been a pleasure.

SALAMA: If you like what you hear and want to support more content like this, please rate and review us in your podcast app and please consider a National Geographic subscription. That’s the best way to support Overheard. Go to natgeo.com/exploremore to subscribe.

Follow Eyal Weintraub on Instagram @eyalwein.

And follow me on Instagram @JordanSalama19 for more National Geographic stories and adventures from the Americas and beyond.

You can listen to Lo Que Haces Cuenta wherever you get your podcasts.

And for more content celebrating Hispanic Latin American Heritage Month, visit NatGeo.com/HLAHM.

And listen to some other Overheard episodes like “The Guerrilla Cyclists of Mexico City” and their efforts to build DIY bike lanes, or “Solving the Mystery of the Boiling River” about Explorer Andres Ruzo’s search for an Incan legend.

That’s all in the show notes, right there in your podcast app.


This week’s Overheard episode is produced by Khari Douglas.

Our producers include Ilana Strauss.

Our senior producers are Brian Gutierrez and Jacob Pinter.

Our senior editor is Eli Chen.

Our manager of audio is Carla Wills.

Our executive producer of audio is Davar Ardalan who edited this episode.

Our photo editor is Julie Hau.

Ted Woods sound-designed this episode and Hansdale Hsu composed our theme music.

This podcast is a production of National Geographic Partners.

The National Geographic Society, committed to illuminating and protecting the wonder of our world, funds the work of National Geographic Young Explorer Eyal Weintraub.

Michael Tribble is Vice President of Integrated Storytelling.

Nathan Lump is National Geographic’s editor in chief.

And I’m your host, Jordan Salama. Thanks for listening.


Want more?

Learn more about Eyal Weintraub by following him on Instagram @eyalwein and follow Jordan Salama @JordanSalama19.

Listen to Lo Que Haces Cuenta wherever you get your podcasts.

Also Explore:

For more content celebrating Hispanic Latin American Heritage Month, visit NatGeo.com/HLAHM.

Listen to some other Overheard episodes that feature Latin America like “The Guerrilla Cyclists of Mexico City” and their efforts to build DIY bike lanes or “Solving the Mystery of the Boiling River” about Explorer Andres Ruzo’s search for an Incan legend.

For subscribers: 

Since a 2016 peace deal, nearly 1,300 Colombians living in former guerrilla territories have been killed resisting mining, logging, and drugs. Read Jordan Salama’s article about the Colombian environmentalists risking their lives to defend their land.

New York City has a rich and storied maritime history. Now, after centuries of degradation, both people and wildlife are finding their way back to city waters. Read more here.