Why mothers hold untapped power in the climate fight

·6 min read
Why mothers hold untapped power in the climate fight
Why mothers hold untapped power in the climate fight

It was almost two years ago now when Brianne Whyte vividly remembers standing over her newborn son’s crib and crying.

No stranger to taking climate action, mostly spurred on by feelings of anxiety and dread, she says it was looking at the tiny new life in front of her that really kicked things into high gear.

“We see the impacts of climate change all around us. It's no longer a future problem. It’s impacting us in the now and we know it's getting worse,” the Toronto mother told the Weather Network.

“For parents, particularly, when you see the future that our kids are inheriting, it's terrifying. This is an all hands on deck project. We can't kind of sit back and hope our governments do the right thing, because they haven't been doing the right thing for a really long time.”

After searching the web, Whyte stumbled across a group called For Our Kids that she felt was a perfect fit when it comes to taking action. Eventually Whyte would help launch the Toronto chapter that dedicates most of its time lobbying politicians, curating an online discussion toolkit to talk about the problem, and connecting with other parents facing similar feelings.

2022.03.19 Nhattan JT/For Our Kids/Flickr
2022.03.19 Nhattan JT/For Our Kids/Flickr

For Our Kids is an organization of parents, grandparents and allies fighting for climate action under smaller umbrella groups across Canada. The kids pictured here attended the Montreal Action for a Just Transition on March 19, 2022. (For Our Kids/Flickr)

“People are just so happy to find a community of like-minded people where they can talk and kind of gain support and also take action together,” said Whyte.

“I just know that in the future, I need to be able to look at my son and tell him, ‘I did everything I could. I tried.’”

THE MOM FACTOR

Mothers are more powerful than they realize, according to Dr. Melissa Lem.

As president-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), the Vancouver physician’s bio states she is an internationally recognized expert on the nature-health connection.

“My son and the beautiful landscapes in this country are the most wonderful things I've ever seen in my life. And I'm really inspired to protect them,” she said, adding that’s how she got involved in the park prescriptions program for the BC Parks Foundation.

2021-03-26 Mount Pocahontas Submitted by Melissa Lem
2021-03-26 Mount Pocahontas Submitted by Melissa Lem

Dr. Melissa Lem stands with her son on Mount Pocahontas in beautiful British Columbia. (Submitted by Melissa Lem)

“As a physician, I'm trying to inspire my fellow health-care professionals to prescribe nature to their patients to connect them to nature to both improve their well-being and also inspire them to want to protect the planet.”

And it’s working. The program has motivated more than 6,000 health-care professionals to register to prescribe nature to their patients.

The work was, in part, inspired by an opinion piece she wrote in 2019 for The Narwhal.

“In some ways, I think writing that piece down almost spurred me to take more action because it was concrete. Now it’s a real thing,” said Lem. “I like to think that every time I write a prescription for nature, that I'm doing a little part for the planet at the same time.”

While Lem’s goal is that every province and territory follow the parks prescription initiative, she hopes to also see mothers realize just how powerful their voices are — something she thinks is more prevalent south of the border with highly organized American groups that come with fancy websites and deep pockets.

“It is hard though because often as mothers, as parents, we're doing this off the side of our desks, right? Like, this is not our full-time job. My full-time job is as a family physician, and I do this after my son's asleep or on the weekends or in evenings. So that can be really hard to fit it in. But because it is so important, I think more and more parents and moms are stepping up.”

POWER IN NUMBERS

And there is power in numbers, not only politically but economically too, as women are believed to control a large share of household spending in Canada.

“So when we decide, for example, what kind of stove to buy, or what kind of housing decision to make, or even what kind of consumer goods to buy, what food to feed our families, that has a major impact on the economy within Canada…. We can really wield that power to make sure that the right decisions are happening,” stated Lem.

As a doctor, Lem also suggests parents provide more of a plant-based diet not only for the health of their kids but the environment too.

But swearing off meat has been a touchy subject for some Canadians, especially in Alberta.

TAKING ACTION IN ALBERTA

It’s part of a larger public opinion puzzle that Claire Kraatz, a mother of two teenagers, is trying to navigate as she helps launch a new For Our Kids chapter in cattle country.

“It can be a polarizing topic here in Alberta. And there's a lot that goes along with that. So listening will be a big part of it,” she said.

Claire Kraatz image taken by Rachel Maclean/The Weather Network
Claire Kraatz image taken by Rachel Maclean/The Weather Network

Claire Kraatz has taken up the fight against climate change in Alberta in honour of her two growing boys. (Rachel Maclean/The Weather Network)

After seeing the devastating wildfires in Fort McMurray in 2016, Kraatz felt she could no longer just sit back and be silent.

“I think the health impacts will be quite significant,” she said. “We see it in the summertime with all the fire last summer. [It] was weeks on end.”

Kraatz teamed up with another Alberta mom from Camrose to launch online meetings on how they can best take action.

“She and I teamed up on Twitter and decided it was time for us to do something together and try and rally the troops across the province to join us,” Kraatz said, adding she couldn’t leave all the climate action work to her two teenaged sons — one of whom has a great love for the outdoors.

Since launching in February, the first goal is to build a community of like-minded Albertans and then connect with other environmental groups in the province.

March 2021 Montreal PourNosEnfants/Flickr
March 2021 Montreal PourNosEnfants/Flickr

For Our Kids has chapters for parents, grandparents and allies countrywide and organize events like trash cleanups, protests, and marches — like this one in Montreal in March 2021. (For Our Kids/Flickr)

“I needed to get out and talk about it more with other like minded people. So that's what really inspired me,” she said.

Kraatz says they also want to support the For Our Kids campaign to electrify school buses across the county.

“It's happening much faster in other provinces. So if we can highlight the positive things about that, then I would say that would be a success,” she said.

THE PUSH FOR ELECTRIC BUSES

Campaign organizer Ruth Kamnitzer says there are many health and climate benefits to switching to electric buses.

“They're also financially viable in the long run, there's financial savings. And so they're really a great deal all around for schools and for kids,” Kamnitzer said.

Walking school bus For Our Kids/Flickr
Walking school bus For Our Kids/Flickr

One of the biggest For Our Kids campaigns underway is lobbying for electric school buses, which campaign organizer Ruth Kamnitzer says is gaining momentum. (For Our Kids/Flickr)

Like many of the moms involved in For Our Kids, she believes the technology is improving everyday for range and operating in cold climates but the fact that children won’t be inhaling diesel fumes while standing near an idling bus is a great place to start.

“If you've ever ridden a school bus as a kid, I'm sure you remember the experience. You know, if you stand next to a diesel bus, you can smell the exhaust coming out. You don't need to be a doctor to realize that's not great for your health,” said Kamnitzer.

Besides advocating for cleaner transportation, the For Our Kids organization is an umbrella group that oversees dozens of volunteers in chapters around the country — connecting generations together looking to take up the fight.

They have also launched a Mother’s Day pledge drive to help raise funds for future battles.

It turns out that climate change isn’t going away in the coming decades, but maybe there will be a brighter future for the next generation if moms realize their power to take climate action.

Thumbnail credit: For Our Kids/Flickr

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting