Many of you write to us and tell us about your feelings of powerlessness in the face of a global climate catastrophe. That sentiment is creating a small but potentially powerful force in the climate movement: mothers catapulted into action by the dangers their children face.
In Brooklyn, moms set their sights on the world’s largest wealth manager, BlackRock.
In Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Denver, moms are pushing congressional lawmakers for climate legislation.
In London, Lahore and Delhi, mothers are urging their governments to rid the air of the very pollutants that are warming the planet.
Chandra Bocci, a mother of four in Brooklyn, summed up her motivation: “I want to be able to tell my kid, ‘We’re trying to do something.'”
Of course, many climate groups have long been led by women who happen to be mothers. But what I am referring to here are groups that intentionally use the mother’s moral authority. They are driven by grief and anger and, as Bocci put it, “a desperation as mothers of small children.”
Some focus on local issues. Mothers Out Front has been agitating against a gas pipeline in New York City. Others, like Bocci’s group Sunrise Kids NYC, have singled out fossil fuel financiers who once hosted what they called a protest playdate at the farmhouse of BlackRock chairman Larry Fink in Westchester County.
As Bocci and I spoke on a video call, her son Zasper climbed onto her lap to complain that he didn’t get the chance to repeatedly ring Fink’s doorbell like the other kids. (More on this game date coming soon.)
Mother-led environmental movements are not new. The Mothers of East Los Angeles, or MELA, were among the first groups to call out environmental racism when they protested the establishment of a toxic waste incinerator in a predominantly Latin American neighborhood in the early 1990s. The Chipko movement in India and the Green Belt movement in Kenya were built by mothers. Lois Gibbs used her credentials as a mother to raise awareness of a toxic waste dump in Niagara Falls, NY, which eventually led to the creation of the Superfund program.
A catastrophe affecting your child can spur any mother to extraordinary measures. That was certainly true of Columba Sainz from Phoenix. It wasn’t until her daughter was diagnosed with asthma that she found out about the city’s extremely dangerous air. Sainz is active in a group called EcoMadres, which is affiliated with a national group called Moms Clean Air Force. In Phoenix, its members have urged city officials to plant shade trees in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by extreme heat, testified at federal hearings to tighten air pollution regulations, and marched to their state senators’ offices to demand climate legislation. Nationally, Moms Clean Air Force has successfully lobbied for federal funds for electric school buses.
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Extreme heat in Europe. Scientists say heat waves are increasing in frequency and intensity faster in Europe than in almost any other part of the world, including the western United States. Global warming is one of several factors that can make Europe a heatwave hotspot.
“We are mothers and we know what our children are going through,” Sainz said. “We just have to go everywhere and be that voice and motivate other mothers’ voices.”
The thing is, moms are never just moms. Some are climate scientists who call themselves Science Moms and have created tips and videos online to help others understand the science. “As scientists and moms, we want to give other moms the climate change information and resources they need,” said Melissa Burt, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University and co-founder of the group. “Mothers are worried, overwhelmed and concerned about the climate crisis and the way to overcome fear is to take action.”
Which brings us back to the game date at Larry Fink.
On a clear Sunday last October, after a morning’s apple picking, Bocci drove up from Brooklyn with half a dozen other moms. They brought a basket of apples, posters and infants. They had planned to take photos of their protest on Fink’s lawn and share them on social media.
Only Fink came out to talk. They asked him to drain BlackRock’s trillions of dollars from coal, oil and gas. Zasper kept rolling down his yard. Some of the other toddlers had an outright meltdown.
The mums said they were dismayed when Fink told them there were limits to what BlackRock could do. “If he can’t make changes, I don’t know who can!” said Marlena Fontes, one of the other mothers who were there.
(BlackRock confirmed the meeting did take place, although not what was said. Fink has said in the past that as a trustee organization in charge of other people’s money, the company can’t divest fossil fuel companies over climate issues A company spokesman added that the mothers’ group was later invited to speak with two BlackRock executives responsible for sustainability.)
Sunrise Kids, part of a network called the NYC Climate Families Coalition, are primarily mothers of young children. They work in the playgrounds and farmers markets. They meet online in the evenings after their kids are in bed. They plan weekend protests and avoid nap times.
Several Sunrise Kids members said they felt consumed by the climate crisis as they became parents. They found individual measures such as composting insufficient. They turned to each other to take on what Fontes, mother of a 2-year-old and another soon-to-be, called “the levers of power.”
“We’re a predominantly white, middle- and upper-class group based in Brooklyn,” she said. “This is a constituency that has access to power and resources and has a responsibility to take action.”
Before You Go: A Legacy of Racist Housing Policy
If you haven’t heard of redlining, here’s what it means: In the 1930s, the federal government rated neighborhoods in hundreds of American cities for real estate investments. Officials would draw red lines around locations they considered most risky, and those were usually black and immigrant areas. Now, a study has shown that decades later, these neighborhoods typically had higher levels of harmful air pollution. You can read about it and see the maps here.
Thank you for reading. We’ll be back on Tuesday.
Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward.
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