Moms take charge

National group gets parents involved in fighting climate change

Moms Clean Air Force co-founder Dominique Browning (left), with fellow climate activists, including Bill McKibbon, of <a href="http://350.org/">350.org</a>.

Moms Clean Air Force co-founder Dominique Browning (left), with fellow climate activists, including Bill McKibbon, of 350.org.

Photo by ted fink photography

About this story:
This story originally ran in Environmental Health News. It can be found online at www.environmentalhealthnews.org.

We’ve all heard it before—“listen to your mother.” Now an effort is underway to get Washington, D.C., to follow this age-old wisdom when it comes to the issue of climate change and clean air.

The Moms Clean Air Force is a community of mothers and fathers working to tackle air pollution and climate change in order to protect children and the planet we’re leaving them. The organization is connecting the dots between air pollution, climate change, an imperiled food system, toxic products and the well-being of kids, and encouraging parents to learn and take action.

Led by co-founder (and mom) Dominique Browning, 59, the organization now has more than 570,000 parents involved, and is working at both the national and state level to organize parents to push for air pollution regulation and climate change action.

Browning and I had a phone chat this week about the group’s work, what her sons think about their mom yelling at politicians, and getting celebrities to join the cause.

How long has the Moms Clean Air Force been around and what do you all do?

We’ve been around 3 1/2 years. We’re over half a million parents around the country demanding clean air on behalf of our children, to protect children’s health. We’re trying to protect health regulations and health laws. And we also work on the ground in 20 states doing the same thing.

I see you’ve been a writer and editor for some time. What made you want to get involved in clean air and children’s health issues?

I’m obsessed with climate change. As a magazine editor for all of my life, I was struck by how much the conversations about climate change were directed at people in the know, instead of people like me who want to know more and understand but couldn’t understand it. I wanted to change the conversation from polar bears to people, reaching out to people like me to see what we can do to make a difference, and communicate how urgent this problem is.

For example, when I first got started, while I knew some things about mercury, like don’t eat tuna sandwiches when you’re pregnant, I had never understood it was an air pollution problem from coal-fired power plants. All of this is interrelated, so we want to talk about climate change as a clean air issue.

Parents are busy people. Knowing this, how do you get them get involved?

I call it “naptime activism” for parents that might be too busy. It takes maybe 10 minutes to sign a petition, or read, or send something off to a senator. Some of these things don’t take a lot of time, and your voice as a citizen does matter.

And lots of parents, including me, are starting to think, “What are we leaving behind for our children?”

With so many things to worry about when it comes to children, how do you make clean air a top priority for parents?

For one thing, I’m not really fighting against anybody’s idea of what’s most important. When you look at the polls, climate change ranks way down there on people’s concerns, and I understand, we have to pay our mortgage, work at our jobs. I’m not saying you should put climate change at the top of your list.

But I am saying recognize it’s an important part of your everyday life, by letting people know there’s a health connection, asthma connection, a food-you’re-eating connection, and to be aware of it. And there are solutions.

That brings me to my next question. What is it that you all are advocating for? What’s the goal?

Well, first off, we are nonpartisan. The only place we see solutions coming from are the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]. We are supporting EPA rules that are strong and good, such as the regulation of methane emissions from new sources, and we’re pushing for regulations for existing sources.

In terms of renewables, a lot of that is state-level work, supporting the Clean Power Plan and helping people understand why their state should stay in the plan and not opt out.

We call for an end to fossil-fuel subsidies … there’s no traction for that right now, but we would love that.

I see you have two sons (26 and 30). What do they think of your work as a mom for clean air?

My sons are thrilled by it. My younger son is a lawyer with an interest in environmental issues … so this is very much on his radar.

I find in general that people younger than 20 years old, everyone wants to say they don’t care about climate change, but I don’t find that to be the case.

Some celebrities have signed on to the Moms Clean Air Force. Were any of these a particularly big deal to you?

I’d say the biggest deal was getting Julianne Moore on board. She was a friend of a friend of a friend, and it took like five phone calls, but she’s really passionate about mercury and clean air.

I wish more voices like hers would jump in on climate issues.