Wednesday, February 6th, construction workers in San Francisco hit a gas main. Their accident set off an explosion that set fire to four buildings, sent people running for their lives and left thousands without power during a cold snap.
As I watched black smoke rise from an office window downtown, I only had one thought: my kids are over there!
The explosion occurred less than a mile from my home. It occurred even closer to the homes of many of my kids’ friends. There’s a park with a tree my son loves to climb nearby. My family loves getting weekend dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge II, a restaurant engulfed by flames.
Today, the dangers posed by natural gas literally hit close to home.
In my new, densely populated neighborhood of Arlington, MA, I find so-called “natural” gas infrastructure everywhere I turn. A couple of streets over is a compressor station that regularly emits chemicals into the air. And Mothers Out Front Arlington has helpfully alerted neighbors to gas leaks all over town with their “Fix the Leaks” signs.
One of the gas leak signs is right across the street from National Grid’s odorant facility. The gas smell is strong, coming not from the odor station but from the leak under the street. At one place in town it is easy to smell gas even with the car windows closed.
Growing up, as a member of a political family that by necessity divided our time between Washington DC and Colorado, my heart always belonged to Colorado. And so it is with great excitement and anticipation that I announce Mothers Out Front has hired a Colorado State Organizing Manager, Laura Fronckiewicz. Based in Niwot, Laura comes to us from another great organization, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, where she was a regional organizing manager for several states including Colorado. In the coming months, Laura will be building our statewide operation to engage mothers across Colorado as active leaders in protecting our children from climate change and the damaging health and other impacts of fossil fuel extraction and use.
My plane landed on Thursday night about 11:00 pm, bringing me back to my beloved San Francisco Bay Area for the first time in more than 2 years. I have lived on the East Coast for decades now, but my native state remains central to my being. If I go too long without visiting, I feel the pull of friends, family and place.
I rarely take trips without my family. I left my three children with my husband and set out for a visit that would culminate in attending the first fundraiser for Mothers Out Front in San Francisco. This time was meant for me to connect with important people, go for walks and hikes, take in my favorite views and the scents of eucalyptus and other familiar plants.
Arriving at my brother’s house at midnight, the scent of smoke was in the air but I thought nothing of it. The next morning our cars were layered with ash, and the smoke was thick enough that you could not see the famous San Francisco Bay Area views.
On a clear August evening in 2012, the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California caught fire. Residents remember the blue sky turning dark as toxic smoke filled the air around their homes. Although young people in the community have witnessed neighborhood gang violence, crime, and the deaths of family members and friends, that day made a lasting impact on them.
“Companies put their refineries in places where they think no one will notice if a few more people die,” Linda Scruggs, an 18-year-old Richmond resident, told me at the San Francisco rally to support the 21 young people, known as the “climate kids,” last week.
Linda Scruggs (left) stands alongside participants at the San Francisco rally to support the climate kids.
By Mother Out Front, Laura Haugh, in Washington State:
When I became a mother three years ago, I hadn’t anticipated how dramatically that new little life in my arms would reshape the way I approached the world. My actions and choices had more weight to them; it wasn’t just myself I had to think about anymore. Like any parent, I spend a lot of time thinking about, and investing in, my child’s future. I also spend a lot of time fearing what kind of world will she be growing up in and contemplating my role in shaping this world.
Here we are again. Almost exactly a month after my fellow Mother Out Front Jean Cummings wrote about the Four Ways Hurricanes Are Different as a Result of Climate Change in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, we’re witnessing the devastating results of Hurricane Michael.
Jean did an excellent job of connecting the dots between climate change and hurricanes, and others are demonstrating how Michael is yet another example of extreme weather and climate change, so I’m not going to go over that again. If you need convincing, please go read those articles then come back here. If not, stick with me to learn what we can do about all of this.
As Hurricane Florence makes her way across the Carolinas, we at Mothers Out Front feel deep concern for the people in her path who face a number of life-threatening perils. Eleven people have died three days into the ongoing superstorm. The weather system is moving very slowly at 2 MPH. Twenty-four inches (as I write this) of rain have fallen and more continues to fall. Rivers are expected to crest at up to 40 inches flooding communities. One million people are without power and many are displaced from their homes. People all over are asking, “What is happening?”
All of us at Mothers Out Front are holding our neighbors in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover in the Merrimack Valley close in our hearts as we watch the disaster of gas explosions and fires unfold across their communities.
We are deeply grateful to the gas workers, first responders, and others protecting homes and caring for the injured and displaced people. We also are concerned that all affected have the resources needed to face this situation.
Mothers across the state are reaching out to ask what they can do. We welcome all ideas for how we can support the families and children evacuated from their homes, especially those who won't be able to go home. Our members around the state are standing by to help in any way they can. We are looking at different ways that Mothers Out Front members and friends may offer support, and we will keep you updated. Please check our website and social media sites often to learn what you can do.
Going forward, we hope that catastrophes like this one will be prevented by more proactive maintenance of our state's leaky gas infrastructure while we rapidly transition off gas and other fossil fuels.
We, mothers and grandmothers and allies, work hard every day to accelerate the transition we need to renewable energy so that children will not have to face disasters like this one in Massachusetts or like the hurricane in the Carolinas.
Climate change has been impossible to ignore this summer. Extreme heat waves and droughts sparked fires around the world and cloaked California in hazardous smoke.
While less visible than orange skies and wildfire evacuations, our dependence on carbon-rich fuels is changing how our children are growing up. About 5.4 million Californians, primarily in low-income communities, live within a mile of an oil or gas well and breathe polluted air. Some children report near daily nosebleeds, dizziness and nausea. Poor air quality and extreme heat make outdoor play hazardous.