By Laurie Goering
Jan 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Some of the largest wildfires in Colorado's history left atmospheric chemist Emily Fischer and her two young daughters breathing in smoke for nearly two months last year.
"It really rattled me," the Colorado State University climate scientist admitted this week.
Like many mothers, she is increasingly worried about her children's safety and future as global warming impacts worsen — and that has led her to join a new effort to harness maternal concern to propel lagging climate action.
"I'm hoping I can help shift the message from just, 'kids are impacted by climate change' to 'your kids are impacted by climate change'," Fischer told the online launch of the "Science Moms" campaign this week.
"To me, that's really powerful," she said, noting that — like most mothers — the children she worries most about are "the same kids making noise outside my office door right now".
Fischer is one of the scientists and mothers featured in a multi-million-dollar online and television advertising campaign, launching this week, which aims to do what others have not: make climate change a personal battle for millions of Americans.
After Democratic President-elect Joe Biden takes office next week and tries to push forward an ambitious climate-change agenda — aiming for net zero emissions by 2050 — winning greater public support for the action needed will be key, analysts say.
The Science Moms ads, backed by a coalition of foundations and other donors, will air initially in the US Midwest, South, and Southwest, and will eventually go national, backers said.
Most feature a climate scientist who is also a mother, describing her personal concerns about climate change and for her children.
"From the second you have a child, you want to do everything you can to protect them," Fischer says in one of the ads, as home video footage shows her small girls learning to ski and ride bicycles.
"Our action on climate change is no different — it's just an extension of being a mom," she said.
Research suggests people are most likely to trust information from friends and family — but scientists aren't far behind, said Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian scientist and leading climate change communicator from Texas.
Polls also show a growing number of Americans — about two-thirds currently — are concerned about the warming planet, and women in general are both more worried and keener to act.
The problem, said Hayhoe, one of the founders of the new campaign, is that not all mothers have the information they need to understand climate change or feel confident talking to others about it — something the campaign aims to shift.
Its website, for instance, takes on myths — from that the science around climate change remains unsettled, to views that warming is a distant future problem, or so far advanced there is nothing that can be done.
The campaign hopes to reach groups that have so far not played a major part in global warming pressure campaigns, including Black and other minority communities who often have been on the front line of impacts like worsening floods and heat.
Climate change "matters to all people, and Black and brown people even more", said Melissa Burt, a research scientist at Colorado State University, an assistant dean for diversity and inclusion and one of the mothers featured in the ads.
"We have to stand up and take action," she said, noting mothers are well-placed to share information on climate change as "moms tend to trust moms".
The campaign joins other US efforts to channel the worries of mothers into climate action, including advocacy groups Mothers Rise Up and the Moms Clean Air Force.
Joellen Russell, a climate scientist at the University of Arizona and a resident of sweltering Tucson, said she — like many mothers — sees climate threats as increasingly personal.
"It's getting hotter and hotter. There were hardly any days I could take my kids out to play" this summer, she said.
She became a founding Science Mom because she wanted to be able to tell her children she had done all she could to protect them, she said.
"I don't want my kids and potential grandbabies to think their mom didn't go all the way to the mat for their future," she said.
(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)