Addressing climate change: “Mothers are the “sweet spot” for inspiring social change”

Sarah Kaplan writes on the Washington Post website about the important role that mothers play in educating the public about climate change. Five fellow climate scientists who are also mothers, she has teamed up with Potential Energy, a nonprofit marketing firm, to launch Science Moms, a $10 million campaign to educate and empower mothers to do something about climate change.


Female scientists focus on a secret weapon to fight climate change: Moms

“What world have I brought my child into?” the new mom pleaded. “What can I do to make sure my baby isn’t brought up in a world that’s being destroyed?”

It was 2019, and climate researcher Katharine Hayhoe was at a church breakfast in Fairbanks, Alaska, when a young woman tapped on her shoulder and confessed that she was terrified. Ever since the birth of her daughter, the young woman said, she couldn’t stop worrying about the threat of a rapidly warming planet.

“That heartfelt question is one I thought I could only really answer as a fellow mom,” said Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University and an evangelical Christian who has spent years trying to educate the public about climate change. Hayhoe told the Alaska woman the same thing she sometimes had to tell herself when she worried about her own son’s future: Channel your fear into action. Talk to your friends and family. Advocate for change in your town, your church, your school, your state

Now, Hayhoe aims to replicate that exchange on a much bigger scale.

Along with five fellow climate scientists who are also mothers, she has teamed up with Potential Energy, a nonprofit marketing firm, to launch Science Moms, a $10 million campaign to educate and empower mothers to do something about climate change.

Advertisements featuring Hayhoe and the female scientists will air on national TV and online for the next month. The initial push will be followed by ads in several key states where the effects of climate change are already being felt, including North Carolina, Arizona and Wisconsin. Organizers said it’s the beginning of a multiyear effort.

In one video, Colorado State University atmospheric scientist Melissa Burt narrates a montage of images of her 4-year-old daughter, Mia, juxtaposed with footage of a hurricane.

“You don’t have to be a climate scientist to want to protect the Earth,” she says. “And for Mia, I want you to know that I worked really hard to be a part of the change and to make it a better place for you.”

The campaign has also a website featuring facts and resources, including links to books on talking to kids about climate and a form for contacting elected officials.

“One of the most powerful ways for us to connect over climate change is … this fundamental value that we share,” Hayhoe said. “We all want to ensure a better and safer future for our child.”

Mothers are the “sweet spot” for inspiring social change, said John Marshall, a veteran marketing executive and consultant and a founder of Potential Energy. They have a long track record of political activity: Mothers Against Drunk Driving helped lower the legal limit for blood alcohol content in drivers. Moms Demand Action has lobbied for initiatives to prevent gun violence. Politicians prize their votes; corporations go after their pocketbooks. They are also disproportionately likely to say they are already concerned about climate change, making it easier to move them to act.

“A dollar spent on a concerned mom goes a lot further than a lot of other segments,” Marshall said.

But his research suggests that mothers are not more vocal about the warming threat because they’re not confident they understand the science and are unsure of what to do about it. That’s where Science Moms comes in.

“Moms trust moms,” said Burt. She hopes that viewers will see her — a Black woman who studies the warming Arctic and presents at scientific conferences but also cooks spaghetti for her family and gardens with her daughter — and feel represented.

“I want to connect with moms who look like me,” she said. “Black moms and Brown moms, and moms who are in communities of color, because we are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.”

“I just want other moms who look like me to know they have a role in combating this crisis,” she added.

Science Moms is funded through donations, including large gifts from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and former Nature Conservancy chief executive Mark Tercek. It will be the biggest educational awareness campaign around climate since Al Gore’s $100 million ad blitz about the issue in 2007.

Science Moms is a 501(c)(3), which means the group cannot engage in political campaigns or seek to influence legislation.

Marshall will measure success in heightened awareness of the threat posed by global warming and increased willingness to take action. He said his aim is to double the proportion of Americans who say they are “alarmed” about climate change — a number that hovers around 26 percent, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

“That’s really low,” he said. “If you were an alien and looked at the planet, you’d think, ‘How could only a quarter of people be concerned about this?’ ”

Hayhoe hopes the ads will help counter the climate misinformation and misconceptions that so many Americans are exposed to: claims that it only affects polar bears (weather-related disasters cost the United States $95 billion and killed more than 200 people last year); assertions that the climate is always changing (in 4.6 billion years it has never warmed this fast); accusations that other countries are more at fault (the United States is the largest historical source of planet-warming emissions).

These misconceptions persist even though scientists are the second most-trusted “messengers” on climate, according to the Yale center, Hayhoe pointed out.

“What we want to do is empower other moms to become messengers in the most-trusted category, which is friends and family,” she said. “I really believe that using our voices is the way we can make a difference.”

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