Driving from the Denver Airport to Boulder in mid-July, as I do every year to visit with family before heading higher into the mountains, I could hardly make out the front range of the Rockies that signal to me that summer is here and I am home. The haze in the air was thick with a combination of record high ozone levels — driven largely by oil and gas extraction across the state — and smoke from the California wildfires. Only gray was visible on what should have been a beautiful Colorado blue sky day.
The sight was shocking at first. I felt heartsick. And I was filled with outrage that this is being allowed to happen. I thought about my family and friends who live there, about my nephews running around the lacrosse field in 96 degree heat amid heavy smog. I thought of the people who have no choice but to work outside in such conditions, who have no air conditioning in their homes and daycares and schools, nowhere to escape the heat and the polluted air. The health implications for those who live and breathe the air can be severe and, in some cases, life threatening (1).
What’s happening in Colorado is part of the broader reality of record heat and droughts across the West, leading to ever worsening fire conditions, driven by our burning of fossil fuels that are causing unprecedented changes to our climate. This summer brought us dramatic signs that we have altered our planet, from the “heat dome” and fires raging across Oregon, California, and Canada (not to mention Southern Europe) to the smoky air from those fires reaching the beaches of Cape Cod and the Great Lakes of northern Michigan. Then along came the newest IPCC report telling us what we’ve already known: if we don’t take urgent action, what we are experiencing now pales in comparison to what children born today will be contending with.
Many of us are growing increasingly familiar with a sense of anxiety about climate change. Therapists sometimes refer to this as climate distress, or ecological grief (2). Many people understandably feel helpless to do anything, which adds to a sense of hopelessness. But we are not helpless. The most powerful treatment for the anxiety and grief is giving people a sense of agency that they can do something to address the problem, through action. This is the work of Mothers Out Front. Mothers Out Front finds ways to engage mothers, grandmothers and other caregivers and bring them together around shared values related to the health and safety of our children and our communities. We help organize mothers into teams where they build relationships with one another, discover the power of their unique mom voices, develop their leadership, and drive strategic campaigns at the local and state levels to address the climate crisis. Examples include stopping proposed gas plants and pipelines, getting high-emitting gas leaks fixed, passing community-choice energy programs, banning gas hookups in new construction, creating green rooftop gardens on municipal buildings, and pushing for the passage of statewide legislation.
Mothers Out Front was founded with the vision of creating a multiracial movement of mothers from all backgrounds, united in our shared determination to protect our children and our communities. We know that only by creating a large, broad, diverse movement can we build enough power to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. This vision demands an understanding that the impacts of climate change, and of the extraction, transportation and burning of fossil fuels, do not affect us equally. Certain communities and people — primarily poor, Black and Brown communities — are being and will continue to be disproportionately impacted, largely due to gross injustices rooted in a history of racist policies intended to restrict wealth accumulation, good housing, affordable healthcare, and access to clean air and water to a privileged white minority. Our work at Mothers Out Front must therefore be centered around equity and justice, our campaigns informed by the needs and priorities of frontline communities, and our organizing approach flexible and adaptive in order to engage and develop mothers of all backgrounds as leaders in our movement.
We all know what mothers can do when they put their minds to it. We see the roles they play in our families and in our communities. Most recently, during the pandemic, we’ve seen them organize mutual aid to take care of neighbors in need. This is the power Mothers Out Front is tapping into and nurturing and supporting and growing. For moms, turning away from reality or being debilitated by despair are not options. From the innermost core of our beings we reject the notion that it is “too late”. Our sacred duty is to protect our children, and we know that when we come together we have the power to create the world we want for them. Now is the time. We invite you to Join Us.
- The EPA states “Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:
- premature death in people with heart or lung disease
- nonfatal heart attacks
- irregular heartbeat
- aggravated asthma
- decreased lung function
- increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.
Image Credit: Timothy Hurst for Daily Camera