3 Planet-Saving Moms

With their kids’ future at stake, these mothers are leading the way on climate action.

By Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

You don’t have to be a parent to care about protecting the planet. Even before I had kids, I composted and biked to work, among other things, and felt like I was doing my part. But then my son was born, followed by my daughter, and everything changed. The climate crisis went from feeling like an abstract problem to a dire threat to my children’s future. I got worried, scared, and angry—and then I started doing something about it. I joined up with a local climate action group (Families for a Livable Climate, below) and am now working on projects to increase access to solar panels, pressure our electric company to invest in renewable energy, and keep the Earth a safe, beautiful home for my kids.

The climate crisis feels more personal, and the stakes feel so much higher, when viewed through a parent’s eyes. So it’s no surprise that some of the most dedicated players in climate action are parents—specifically, mothers. These three moms are leaders in climate action groups that aim to leverage a mother’s fierce, protective love for her kids. From local projects to global campaigns, they are a force to be reckoned with.

Kelsey Wirth

Co-Founder and Board Chair of Mothers Out Front

Cambridge, MA

Kelsey Wirth’s “lightning-bolt moment” happened in 2013, sitting on her couch, looking through a book about the ocean with her young daughter. Though she’d grown up in a progressive family with climate scientists regularly dropping by the house—her father, former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth, focused on the environment and climate change—the climate crisis remained distant.  “It wasn’t something that felt terribly close or relevant to my life until I became a mom,” Wirth says. But that day, looking at colorful illustrations of coral reefs with her daughter, changed everything. “I realized I was showing her things she was never going to see. It gave me an overwhelming sense of despair. And a sense of outrage. And also the feeling that I couldn’t possibly be the only mother out there feeling this way.”

Soon after, Wirth, whose daughters are now 15 and 17, founded Mothers Out Front with climate activist Vanessa Rule. The nonprofit’s goals: mobilizing mothers to fight climate change, with a focus on healthy communities, inclusivity, and climate justice (the group also welcomes non-mothers and non-binary people). Mothers Out Front now counts more than 36,600 members with 42 community teams from California to Massachusetts. The group works on everything from state-based action around supporting specific legislation or electrifying local school bus fleets to national climate campaigns. 

“Moms are powerful, period,” Wirth says. “They’re the linchpins of our communities. There’s a saying, ‘If you want to get something done, ask a mom.’ We know how to multitask. We always make extra time in the day to get done what needs to get done in our families. And as important as anything else, we have an absolutely fierce determination to protect our children. That’s what we’re tapping into.”

Dr. Melissa Burt

Founding member, Science Moms

Fort Collins, CO

The urgency of the climate crisis didn’t exactly catch Dr. Melissa Burt by surprise: As a research scientist who has been studying climate change in the Arctic for almost two decades, she was well-versed in the threat. But, she says her viewpoint changed once she had a daughter (Mia, now 6). “Thinking about her future, it lit a fire under me to want to work toward a solution,” Burt says.

So Burt joined with five other climate scientists who were also mothers to found Science Moms in 2021. The group focuses on educating mothers about the climate crisis and empowering them to do something about it. “A lot of people are worried about climate change, but they don’t feel as though they have all the resources or information necessary to really take action,” Burt says. So Science Moms produces relatable explainer videos (a recent one tackles the connection between climate change and drought), shares infographics on social media, puts together toolkits to help people talk to kids about climate change, and recommends books. “We’re scientists, and we’re also mothers,” Burt says. “We’re that trusted, credible messenger. Moms ask other moms for advice on lots of different things, like ‘What’s the best stroller?’ Why not think about that from a science perspective?”

Burt points out that while polls show that 66 percent of voters say they’re worried about climate change, that number jumps to 83 percent when just mothers are counted. That’s an opportunity for Science Moms. After all, she adds, one day soon her daughter might ask her what she’s doing about the climate crisis. “It’s given me more fuel to do the work I’m doing,” Burt says. “I keep going because of her.”

Photo: Lara Tomov

Winona Bateman

Founder and Director, Families for a Livable Climate

Missoula, MT

When Winona Bateman looked for a local climate action group that was focused on kids and parents, she struck out. Bateman wanted to connect with a group in her hometown of Missoula, Montana, but what she was seeking didn’t exist. So in 2020, she started one: Families for a Livable Climate

“I’m an introvert, so starting a group was the last thing I wanted to do,” Bateman says. And at the time, she worked in communications and website design (as well as writing poetry), not organizing. “But it felt like there wasn’t a conversation about [climate change’s] impact on families. It felt really valuable to have a space where families can come together and support each other during this really challenging time.

Like the other leaders, Bateman’s dedication to fighting for a better future starts with her daughter, Ellis, now 8. After the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report came out, Bateman “had a terrible night coming to terms with where we are right now,” she says. “I just decided that when my kiddo grew up and could absorb what was happening, I wanted to say ‘I’ve been working on this since you were really little, and I’ve worked as hard as I can.’”

Families for a Livable Climate brings Western Montana parents and kids together for a variety of actions—from organizing rallies and picketing in front of the local energy utility to sponsoring workshops on climate conversations and holding “climate superhero” bike rides. It also produces a quarterly magazine, The Changing Times, for community members to share writing and art centered on the crisis and solutions. 

“I’m a person who, like most people, loves the world,” Bateman says. “I love nature as a part of how I recover from a hard workday or big changes in my life. I’m a gardener, and I’ve grown a fair amount of food. I love to experience other creatures. I want my kid, and all the kids in the world, to be able to have those things, too.”

— Read more on Public Lands’ efforts to address the impact of climate change on our nation’s public lands: providing volunteer opportunities with conservation organizations, engaging in issue-based education and advocacy, and as members of the Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corps. The diverse collaborative of outdoor brands, retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and supporting organizations works toward a 2030 goal of creating the world’s first climate-positive industry through measuring, planning and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (to removal levels that exceed the carbon emitted into the atmosphere), while advocating for broader systemic change.

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