An interview with author Mary DeMocker

Mary DeMocker helps people find their role in the fight for a livable planet, and is cofounder of 350.org’s Eugene, Oregon chapter. She lives with her family in Eugene, and speaks frequently about creative ways to make the world more healthy, just, and fun.

Her new book is: The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution: 100 Ways to Build a Fossil-Free Future, Raise Empowered Kids, and Still Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Q: What is “climate revolution”?  

It’s the global transition to a clean energy, low-carbon future. It’s anything that says “yes” to life, yes to smart climate policy, yes to a thriving planet for children. It’s already underway everywhere, and we parents can help it along in ways that work for our own families.

Is your book about helping people shrink their carbon footprints?

No, actually, because we cannot avoid climate chaos by just recycling and using cloth bags and turning down our thermostats. In fact, all of that focus on individual efforts has become a huge distraction, when you weigh those efforts against today’s North American fossil fuel frenzy. Trying to live lightly on Earth is good for us and models healthy habits for our kids, but it’s much more important, at this critical moment in our climate crisis, to shrink industry’s footprint. That means changing our system, not just changing our lightbulbs.

It means saying no to short-sighted, earth-killing policies. No to all new coal, oil, or gas projects, no to subsidies for polluters, no to misleading climate science in schools, no to fracking that uses up water just when we’re running out of it, and much more. Those things aren’t just foolish. They threaten our health now and, in the long run, our very survival.

That’s a lot of  saying “no.”

True, but every “no” is tucked inside a larger “yes”: Yes to clean and abundant energy from the wind and sun. Yes to energy innovation, careful management of refrigerants, green jobs, bullet trains and electric busses, women’s literacy programs, no-till farming, community compost systems, good science to help us organize around this crisis—and a huge yes to regenerating our soils and forests that then pull carbon from the atmosphere. Much of the world is in an exciting phase of energy innovation, and the US government should be leading that global transition, not scaling up last century’s dirty energy infrastructure and derailing global climate talks.

Why bring that message about system change specifically to parents?

Every parent I know would do anything to keep their child safe. We’re great at teaching kids to cross the street safely, or to alert an adult if they’re being bullied, or not to text while driving. But we also want to protect our kids in the long run, and that means protecting their habitat. Children are the ones most impacted by our generation’s trashing of the climate, and it’s up to adults–the people in power right now—to reverse course as swiftly and boldly as we can.

How can parents nudge things toward “YES”?  

We can just support the countless people already working on solutions. Maybe we publicly thank a climate writer, or a teacher who brings good climate information to students. Or we support the children suing the government for violating their rights to a livable planet. Maybe we give money to groups trying to pass carbon pricing laws in our states or give our business to our local credit unions instead of to the mega-banks like JP Morgan Chase that fund oil pipelines. We can publicly support school administrators starting zero-waste lunch programs, which help the climate and improve children’s health with fresh, local food, or donate money or time to local candidates truly committed to protecting our soil, water and air. We don’t need to do it alone  and we don’t have to become eco-super-heroes.

What are some easy things super-busy people can do to help reverse the climate crisis?

1. The most important one takes no time:  Stop blaming yourself, meat-eaters, or SUV drivers for our global crisis. Individual lifestyle changes won’t save us, so don’t let them distract you from what we need most: bold policy changes that slash emissions and reel in pollution we’ve spewed into the atmosphere. It’s crazily ambitious to achieve the cuts we need in time, but scientists say it can be done—IF we act now. The problem is that oil companies and politicians they control block solutions, imposing on us a dirty infrastructure that enriches them and threatens life on earth. So first is to understand we must abandon fossil fuels and embrace clean energy—quickly.

2. One easy action is to dump your bank if it invests in oil or gas pipelines. Switch to your local credit union, which invests in communities. Encourage others to do the same.

3. Another easy way is to subscribe to one newsletter about innovations in clean energy. Seeing clean energy take off worldwide is exciting and makes it easy to imagine a clean energy future everywhere. I like Grist’s daily Beacon or Yale Climate Connections’ weekly e-newsletter.

4. Find your local fossil fuel fight. Oregon is threatened by the Jordan Cove fracked-gas-for-export project that communities have battled –and defeated—over the last decade. It’s back under Trump. Learn about it, show up at key hearings, give money to groups opposing it.

Can you describe your book?

Gladly! It has 100 chapters divided into eight sections, such as “Save Time and Money,” “Care For Your Soul,” and “Raise Empowered Kids.” You can read it start to finish, or crack it open and see what title appeals to you. Each chapter has a short story—I choose the funniest or most moving moments from my 21 years of parenting—and ends with two to ten ideas for busy people with varying levels of time and money to try.

What are some of your favorite chapters?

“Bury Your Neighbor’s Dead Chicken” is one. It’s about what happened when one of the chickens in our neighborhood co-op died at an extremely inconvenient moment. I also like “Divest. Get Everyone to.” because it celebrates the successes of the fossil fuel divestment movement, and gives us ways to join a campaign that’s really shifting the world’s economic power out from under dirty energy.

Another chapter I love, but that makes me cry every time I read it, is “Howl When Necessary.” It’s about our friends who lost a child and are teaching me so much about grief. Grief and loss are huge parts of the climate crisis. If we don’t find ways to integrate them, we can lose our capacity to fight for what we love.

Aren’t parents too busy to take on climate change?

We are busy, and that’s why we need easy, affordable, fun ideas that fit into busy family lives.  Many of the ideas take only a minute or two and cost very little or nothing. I want to emphasize that this book isn’t about doing more. It’s about doing some things a little differently.

For example, if we’re already donating to environmental groups, we can give to a group truly working for a fossil-free future, instead of one with polluters on the board shaping the organization’s mission. Every family needs to eat, so we can choose more plant-based foods to reduce our meat and dairy consumption. If we’re chatting with other parents on the sidelines, we can mention how cool it is that wind power is now cheaper than any fossil fuel. Few adults actually know this, or that China is driving solar boom—and even built a solar farm in the shape of a giant panda. That kind of information-sharing helps people understand that the large-scale shift to clean and renewable energy is already happening, and it can be high-tech and affordable and, at the same time, be playful and life-affirming.

Parents are especially well-positioned for these kinds of positive climate conversations, because we’re part of a network—through our kids’ schools, after-school programs, neighborhoods, faith communities, and extended families—of adults who really care about our children’s well-being.

You mention “co-benefits” of climate action. What are some examples?

What’s good for our planet is also good for human beings—especially the most vulnerable ones. Blocking a new fracking operation helps the climate, but it also protects our  drinking water from hundreds of toxins. Cultivating awe in nature makes us more likely to protect it, but it also makes us happier. Reducing materialism is good for the planet and family budgets and closet-space, but it’s also good for our souls. Planting trees captures carbon, but it also gets us out in fresh air and off of screens. Shifting to clean, renewable energy is good for planetary and human health, but it’s also better for local economies and resilience.

Any kind of active engagement in solutions—from decorating bikes with earth-friendly signs to marching against a pipeline or for climate literacy—connects us to one another. Doing it with children empowers them and it energizes the conversation. It also makes it a lot more fun.

How does waging climate revolution empower kids?

Kids—especially older ones—know their planet’s in trouble. When they’re offered age-appropriate ways to help, they tend to feel empowered.  Over and over again, I’ve seen that engaging in solutions is exciting and a relief to finally do something. Many youth are now choosing to speak publicly for the first time in school assemblies, letters to the editor, or to elected officials. That can be a great learning experience, and it can also be a thrill.

You write that families inhabit more “climates” than just our atmosphere. Can you elaborate?

We each inhabit multiple climates, such as the climate of our individual body and its health—which is especially important if we’re pregnant—and the climates of our homes, relationships, schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, and national politics and culture.

We have a right to feel safe within each of these climates—a right to harassment-free workplaces, good health care, safe shelter, schooldays without bullying or shootings, and freedom from racism and oppression in our communities. We also have a right to healthy air, soil, and water. And all present and future generations—those least responsible for climate destruction—have a right to a livable planet.

All of these climates are deeply interconnected. They’re also badly threatened, so much so that, in 2015, Pope Francis wrote a letter calling on every person on Earth to help end income inequality, war, and the degradation of the Earth. Families are on the front lines of every one of those climate crises, which means that parents find ourselves at an unprecedented crossroads: Do we let the planet go down on our watch? Or do we set boundaries with ruthless industries, just as we do with bullies on the playground?

Are you getting more sleep yourself?

I used to lie awake often at night a decade ago, fretting over my kids’ future. Even though my husband and I were valiantly leading our little foursome in biking and eating organic and vegetarian food and buying every “green” product we could afford, the global temperatures kept rising year after year. I knew something big had to change, and it took me a long time to figure out my role in it.

Once I started engaging in solutions that seemed most likely to do what scientists said we had to do—specifically, slash emissions drastically and sequester carbon—I got to know a lot of other parents willing to do whatever it will take to keep our kids safe. So yes, I do actually sleep better. I don’t feel alone anymore, and that’s been huge.

What do you most hope readers will take away from your book?

I hope they’re entertained. I hope they feel more alive, empowered, and connected. If they walk away with even a handful of practical ideas for taking action, that’s a fantastic start.

 

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