Finn and Jack Harries open up about society’s misunderstanding of the climate crisis, how they’ve adapted to life as “internet celebrities,” and climate anxiety.
Finn and Jack Harries are among the world’s most well-known climate activists. The 28-year-old British identical twins have amassed a following of over five million between them, spread across their respective Instagram accounts and Jack’s eponymous YouTube channel.
It was YouTube that propelled the then 21-year-old brothers to fame, almost overnight, when Jack took to the platform to document his gap year (the British moniker for taking a year out before college to travel the world) under the handle “JacksGap,” with regular guest appearances from Finn.
Society has a thing about twins, particularly those on the good-looking side, and the Harries brothers have a glossier—arguably more fashion-forward—exterior than Greta Thunberg and company. For this reason, a large portion of their social media following is not just people looking to learn more about the climate crisis but also amorous young women in their teens and early 20s. It’s this new-fangled identity as activist-cum-heartthrobs that makes them some of the first of their kind. “I think our generation are the guinea pigs for having social media accounts,” says Jack.
But for every comment gushing over their good looks, there are 10 heralding them for their work, including fans thanking them profusely for their role in educating the masses—“You are helping to change the world, and it’s amazing to see how you’re using your YouTube powers for good. Already learning so much”—and the odd encouraging comment from their dad, famed executive producer OBE Andy Harries.
On the day of the shoot and interview, telling the twins apart isn’t as difficult as I had feared. Jack’s side-parted hair is long and shaggy, while Finn’s is shorter and coiffed boyishly for the shoot, and he has a more angular nose. Jack’s voice is slightly plummier, perhaps due to his brief foray into acting. Both boys are chatty and engaging, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the climate crisis that belies their years.
As their career as bona fide YouTubers grew, so did their interest in climate change, and Jack began utilizing the platform to document his travels to what he describes as the “front lines of the climate crisis.” (He returned from a “sobering” trip to Antarctica mere days before this interview.) Almost a decade on, he has produced and starred in several YouTube documentaries, including Seat at the Table, filmed at COP26 (the United Nations Climate Change Conference), for which he interviewed President Obama. Finn, meanwhile, has dedicated seven years to studying architecture—at both Parsons School of Design and the University of Cambridge—with a specific focus on the role it can play in making populated areas more sustainable.
During the height of the pandemic, frustrated with being unable to go out and protest, the Harries launched Earthrise Studio, an “independent media company and full-service creative studio, dedicated to telling stories for a new world,” alongside Jack’s partner and fellow filmmaker and activist Alice Aedy.
It was the twins’ mother, writer and documentary filmmaker Rebecca Frayn, who instilled in them an interest in the climate (and likely Jack’s propensity for the art of documentary). When the boys were teenagers, she founded the female-run environmental group WeCan and took the then 14-year-old boys to protests at London’s Heathrow Airport and the Houses of Parliament. “We consider ourselves second-generation climate activists… It was really formative to watch our mum take a stand and protest for what she believed in,” explains Finn.
But it was on a documentary-making trip to Greenland with the World Wildlife Fund where climate change hit the boys like a hydrogen-powered train. They were dropped, by helicopter, to Greenland’s southernmost glacier to spend the night with a glaciologist who’d been studying the ice sheet for over two decades. The following morning they retrieved data from the Extreme Ice Survey, which revealed pieces of ice carving off the front of the glacier—some, according to Jack, “the size of Manhattan.” “That night changed my life, turned my world upside down… It was the first time personally that I really understood this issue… It was a real wake-up moment, like, ‘Wow, this thing is happening, and it’s going to affect all of us,’” he explains.
For Finn, it wasn’t just the chilling trip to the Arctic but his studies that enabled him to fully fathom the reality of the situation. “I was just beginning my studies in architecture, and in my class, I was asked to design a flood barrier for London in the future because of rising sea levels. And it just smacked me across the face like, ‘My God, this isn’t my kids’ problem, or my kids’ kids. This is something we’re going to have to face up to in our lifetime.’”
In 2019, Jack was arrested at an Extinction Rebellion protest outside the International Petroleum Conference in London. During the 12 hours he was held in a cell, he had a reckoning, coming to the realization that protesting may not be the best way he could lend himself to the movement, especially when he harbored skills as a filmmaker. The solution? Earthrise Studio. Like many passion projects borne out of the chaos of 2020, Earthrise was founded at the junction between the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter. It was designed as a means of digital protesting, highlighting “minority voices” and coming to terms with the fact that environmental destruction may have been one of the key causes of the pandemic, or at least will likely engender viruses to come.
It’s through Earthrise that the brothers hope to bring the immediate reality of the climate crisis to the masses. “The people who don’t think climate change is happening today live predominantly in the Global North because climate change disproportionately affects those living in the Global South, who are those who’ve done the least to cause it,” says Jack. “So our aim with Earthrise, with the films we make, is to tell the human stories of people living on the front lines of climate change, to help people understand that this is already an everyday life or death reality for millions and millions of people living around the world.”
As far as climate activists (particularly vegan climate activists) go, the Harries brothers are insistent but not sanctimonious, understanding that the climate crisis can be thorny to comprehend. “Fundamentally, climate change is an overwhelming thing. It’s complicated. It often happens in faraway places. And so we really saw it as a storytelling challenge. If more people can understand this issue and understand the urgency of it, then more people will take action,” he adds.
Indeed, the twins have become a somewhat palatable source for climate education, softening the blow through their dulcet voices and optimistic attitudes. As one Instagram commenter put it, “You are such a calming presence in this terrifying process! Thank you for all the informing and reassuring you do.”
Despite his success as a public persona (both brothers make an income on the side thanks to sponsorship deals, always with eco-friendly companies), Finn favors his studies to life in front of the camera. His passion lies in design, and he’s hyper-aware of the (not always obvious) link between architecture and sustainability. “The deeper I got into my design education, the more powerfully I understood design as a tool to bring our ideas into reality. Design is the framework by which we can make systemic transition happen,” he passionately elucidates.
And what does he plan on doing with all these years of studying, I probe? “Good question!” Jack cajoles, smiling. But Finn’s answer is deeply considered. “There are two areas I’m really interested in that we address through Earthrise that I’ll continue to address in different projects,” he explains. “One is community resilience. So that just means trying to adapt to some of the changes that are happening—that’s particularly applicable in communities that are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis… And the other is circular systems. How do we close the loop and minimize the waste we create? Try to regenerate the damage we’re doing? So we live in a linear economy now; how do we transition to a circular model?” (A circular model is one which, according to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, works to “eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature.”)
Jack’s Seat at the Table documentary about COP26 ended on an optimistic note with a powerful call to action. He is, however, skeptical, not only about the involved world leaders’ follow-through but also about the lackluster promises they made in the first place. “We’re not anywhere near where we need to be,” he says, unusually grave. “The third part of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report came out today, and it’s pretty clear we’re headed for a devastating climate collapse.”
Finn chimes in, demonstrating the twins’ ability to balance one another out when hope feels lost. “I think people are starting to lose faith in the COP conferences. But they’re still important because we need policy change,” he says. Finn suggests that the summits should shift their focus to “loss and damage,” the third pillar of international climate policy, which aims to mitigate the consequences of human-caused climate change or, as Finn puts it, to “create some sense of justice for people who are being impacted the most, and who have done the least to cause the crisis.” “That’s better than my slightly negative, pessimistic answer!” Jack enthuses.
Over the years, the Harries’ platform has grown exponentially, placing them firmly in the newfangled “internet celebrity” bracket. As a society, we’ve bore witness to myriad twins navigating the spotlight and their often differing responses to it. Being half of a famous duo can mean you have less agency over your own public exposure. Did one of the brothers find it easier to adapt than the other? “I found it very overwhelming in the beginning when we launched JacksGap—the scale at which it grew,” the self-effacing Finn explains. “One of the reasons I went away to study for the last seven years was… I’m an introvert by nature, so I wanted to create a sort of safe space to retreat.”
And did Jack, who briefly studied acting at the prestigious University of Bristol, take to it more naturally? “I don’t think I did. Finn would probably say I did. I grew up doing acting, so I’m definitely more of an attention seeker,” he admits. “I’ve had my own battles with mental health, including depression and anxiety, which have all been a product of being on social media and existing in that world… It’s this kind of love/hate thing,” he adds.
In today’s cultural climate, public criticism has been exacerbated by cancel culture and its (slightly) gentler sister, call-out culture. “There have been some moments, particularly the last year and a half, of being called out quite publicly, and they have been, at times, really uncomfortable,” acknowledges Jack. (The brothers have been reprimanded for being “selective” about the causes they highlight and their paid partnerships.) “But I also learned that they’re meant to be uncomfortable, and sometimes you just have to sit in that discomfort. There’s a lot to learn, particularly for us as young, white, middle-class men. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of work to do. And so I think that in a way it’s a good thing, even though it’s painful sometimes.” “We need to bring each other up, not put each other down,” Finn adds optimistically.
Jack has just wrapped up the follow-up to Seat at the Table, a two-part documentary about climate anxiety (also known as eco-anxiety), a relatively new phenomenon affecting millions of young people and children globally. For the doc, Jack interviewed prolific psychotherapist and eco-anxiety and climate psychology researcher Caroline Hickman, who the twins quote fervently. “One of the things Caroline Hickman talked about is that there are many different ways to respond to climate grief. And if you look at the five stages of grief, they are anger, denial, bargaining, and”—Jack takes a beat to remember the final one—“depression. So denial is one form. It’s one way of dealing with that grief. But I suppose where we all ultimately need to land is in the place of acceptance. And it is natural to feel that grief, to feel that sense of anxiety.”
And their ultimate advice for, quite literally, saving the world? To come together. “We’re only going to tackle this as a collective. It can’t be done individually, and it feels so much better to be able to share these feelings,” Jack says. “There’s so much power in that sense of collective.” Talk about a family legacy.
Photography by David Hughes. Styling by Karina Givargisoff. Homepage image: Jack wears blue corduroy shirt by Brava Fabrics, and Finn wears blue cashmere sweater by Valentina Karellas. Black parasuit jacket by Ræburn.
Inside image left:Jack wears cream and pink pattern shirt by Stella McCartney and blue pants by Ahluwalia. Inside image right: Finn wears camouflage parka by Raeburn and blue fluffy jacket by Stella McCartney.
Grooming: Michael Harding at Streeters. Talent: Finn and Jack Harries. Fashion assistant: Julia Veitch. Set designer: Thomas Conant. Tailor: Gillian Ford. Photo assistant: Pete Hargroves. Digital tech: Grzegorz Stefanski. Production: Chebabo & Co. On set producer: Dan Line.