It’s probably no surprise to anyone living here that the air quality in the Washington DC area is poor; it gets a grade of F in ground-level ozone (smog) from the American Lung Association, putting the Metro DC among the top 10 most polluted U.S. cities in the ozone category. This matters to every living being, but especially to small children whose bodies are more acutely affected by inhaled toxins. Organizations like the American Lung Association and others advocating for healthy air quality describe breathing smog-filled air as “getting a sunburn on your lungs.”
Leaders of Northern Virginia’s environmental education scene met last week to discuss recent renovations and sustainability initiatives taken at George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County and to discuss plans for a possible statewide environmental education organization.
Members of the leadership team of NoVA Outside, an alliance of environmental educators, took a student-led tour of the school and its green features. The school’s student environmental organizations, Earth Force and the Native Species Club, sponsored by Barbara Brown have been busy for years on environmental initiatives and were successful at getting several environmental features and design components worked into the renovation.
NoVA Outside leadership team member Elenor Hodges shared some of the sustainability components that were worked into Marshall’s recent renovation. Hodges, a member of the Arlington Public Schools Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability and also the director of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment said, “I was really impressed with what they had accomplished, specifically with the student-driven projects and the excitement and engagement of the students. It was very apparent that these were students who had come up with these ideas. I was inspired, and I hope that we can learn how to take a lot of what Arlington focuses on in LEED certification and take it to the level of using student leadership and student ideas.”
The best example at Marshall, Hodges said, was a green roof. A student who has since graduated wanted a green roof to be in a very visible location even if students did not have access to the roof. During the renovation, this was made possible. The money needed to install and expand the green roof was raised by students. The students who led the tour talked about what it does to reduce the school’s stormwater impact but also noted the fact that it’s a visible project that students can see every day. The students did the design, planning and fundraising for this and other projects. Hodges said Marshall has great examples of student initiatives as well as greenovation.
Hodges said there was also lots of student engagement with the two courtyards they viewed on the tour. One of which was a modern space for which, after the renovations, students in the Native Species Club designed a complementary landscape plan using native plants. One feature is this herb spiral that helps drain water down the courtyard.
Climate change has been all over the news in recent months, and moms are leading the charge. This summer, Moms Clean Air Force, the country’s largest group of moms working on climate change with over 400,000 members, organized a play-in on the Capitol in early July and later that month brought the same energy to a rally supporting the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
Recently, the Keystone XL Pipeline failed in the US Senate. This is good news, says MCAF. If passed, the Keystone XL Pipeline would have dramatically increased production of Canadian tar sands oil, one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. MCAF argues that approval of the pipeline would have endangered our country, our children’s health, and the lives of many, all while worsening our dependance on fossil fuels and accelerating climate change. The issue is now to be decided by the Obama administration.
But the fight continues. On Monday, December 1, Moms Clean Air Force staff and volunteers, including local mom Jessica Hunt, delivered 175,000 comments to the EPA to ask for the strongest possible regulations on carbon pollution under the Clean Power Plan. Right now, there are no limits on the amount of carbon that can be released from coal fired plants. Our children’s health is depending on us to protect them from carbon emissions that pollute the air they breathe and lead to our warming planet.
But the Clean Power Plan is under attack in most every state legislature next year with model legislation designed to kill or gut the carbon rules. MCAF is calling on its members to join the group in demanding that states work to protect our children and communities from toxic air pollution and climate change.
An easy way to learn about local events and actions on climate change and clean air is to request to join the Facebook group for Moms Clean Air Force DC, the Facebook group for the Maryland MCAF chapter, and the Facebook group for the Virginia MCAF chapter.
Great Falls Park seemed like the perfect excursion on a sunny day during a long holiday weekend when we’d all eaten too much and not gotten outside nearly enough. Each pairing in our family of four needed to be broken up every 20 minutes. I hoped watching the water tumble over rocks would be good for all of our souls.
It was. The trip even garnered my son’s “favorite part of Thanksgiving” when asked today by the dentist. But that doesn’t mean it was perfect. My daughter, aged four, is not one to go long without whining these days. She’ll turn it off on an instant if we find the right antidote: a race, a “look over there,” and sometimes things I don’t care to share! She’s spunky and opinionated, and not accustomed to the kind of long hikes I thought I might take my kids on all the time if I hadn’t had so many postpartum (and lingering) health issues. Fortunately, her older brother has more stamina than he did when I read and wrote about the memoir Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure, but I still marvel to think about how long Patricia Ellis Herr’s 3- and 5-year-old hiked with her. And how often!
Unlike those treks to peaks in New Hampshire, our short excursion in Northern Virginia was alternately beautiful and blissful and incredibly annoying. Mostly due to the finicky nature of my four-year-old. The path was fun until her brother outpaced her and me.
The reflection of a tree north of the falls was pretty cool until she complained she was hungry (which will happen if a child doesn’t eat her lunch and her parents don’t give in to piling her with snacks instead as they might on weaker days).
The view of the kayakers was impressive and garnered lots of commentary, but once we left the overlook, it was all downhill, so to speak.
I thought we might last more than 90 minutes and actually get a little ways down the River Trail. I recalled her brother scrambling over rocks at not quite her age and enjoying it. But alas, she had to pee. And we didn’t learn until later that further into the park, just before entering the woods, was a building with a flush toilet. Read More
As if the July 9 Play-In for Climate Action on the Hill weren’t enough to inspire an environmentalist parent, Moms Clean Air Force, along with a host of environmental and faith allies, organized another impressive event on July 29 during the EPA hearings on its Clean Power Plan.
Sure, one result may have been for parents like me to get religion on the importance of the plan, but of course the real goal of the July 29 Play-In at Federal Triangle was to show the government how much public support there is for action to clean up the air address climate change.
The Play-In brought out more than 300 people from all around the DC Metro area and many other states besides to call on the government to support limits on power plant emissions. The plan would cut carbon pollution from existing fossil-fuel power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
At the press conference, the array of speakers addressing problems with human health and the health of sea life and forests was truly impressive and included several VIPs who had just testified or would be testifying later that day. These speakers included Delaware Governor Jack Markell; Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR); Cindy Parker, MD, MPH, Board Member, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Professor, Johns Hopkins University; Senator Ed Markey (D-MA); Cristóbal J. Alex, President, Latino Victory Project; Mark Magaña, President and Founder, Green Latinos; and Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. The event was emceed enthusiastically by Terra Pascarosa, Virginia field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force.
The closing speaker was New Jersey Moms Clean Air Force field organizer Trisha Sheehan with her 8-year-old son Logan, a duo that would be testifying later that day. Together, they asked, “What do we want?” to which the crowd answered, “Clean air!”
The bookend performances of the band Emma’s Revolution ignited the crowd at the outset and, after the speeches had concluded, sent everyone off with hope and inspiration. And with a fabulous rendition of “This Land is Your Land!”
It was a morning to feel lucky to get to demonstrate and participate in democracy.
Trisha reports that, later that day, she delivered to the EPA the banner pictured above with another New Jersey family, Nancy Kunz-Merry and her son, Jack, and then she and Logan delivered their testimony.
Logan had his own ask that he was adamant about adding at the end: “Please help Moms Clean Air Force and bring back clean air.”
To view the hearings, go to http://www.c-span.org/video/?320725-1/epa-public-hearing-clean-power-proposal
For more on the July 29 rally, read my report on TheDCMoms.com.
I was also inspired to reflect on my own role as mother and activist on my personal blog, Crunchy-Chewy Mama, where you’ll find more photos and some of the rally quotes that moved me the most.
The DC Area gets a failing grade on air quality, but air pollution isn’t just unhealthy to breathe; it threatens our children’s future. That’s why Moms Clean Air Force is calling for government action to limit climate change.
On July 9, Moms Clean Air Force held a historic “Play-In for Climate Action” along with 200 moms, dads and kids, in Washington, DC.
It was so much fun, they’re doing it again! This time, the event is taking place while the Environmental Protection Agency will be holding hearings about the proposed Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants. The goal of the action is to make public support for the plan visible. Similar actions are being planned for Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Denver where more hearings are being held.
On Tuesday, July 29, Moms Clean Air Force is holding its second Play-In for Climate Action with many partners, including Virginia Conservation Network, Interfaith Power & Light, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, American Lung Association, Clean Water Action, and Environment Virginia.
This outdoor, family-friendly protest and press conference will feature a festival atmosphere. Kids will enjoy playing with an Earth parachute, inflatable globes, pinwheels, sign-making, free ice cream, and more.
Activities for the July 29 event begin at 10:00 a.m. with the press conference at 10:30 and short rally to follow its conclusion at 11:00 a.m.
The location is Federal Triangle, near the William Jefferson Clinton East Bldg., 1201 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington DC.
Organizers ask that you register ahead of time so they can plan the appropriate number of red shirts (and water bottles!). Register for the Play-In at http://www.momscleanairforce.org/play-in-climate-action and join the Facebook event .
If you’d like to testify during the public hearings, email ASAP to Terra, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions? Want to help out in other ways on the 29th? Contact Julie at jhantman (at) momscleanairforce (dot) org.
Wednesday’s Play-In for Climate Action organized by Moms Clean Air Force was a great example of parenting meets civic engagement. The message the group wanted to deliver to Congress about climate change was: “Use your power to clean up our power!”
As the morning drizzle faded into a pleasant morning in Upper Senate park at 10:00 a.m., children and their parents donned red t-shirts that read, “Fighting pollution with mother love” on the front and “Tell Washington: Listen to your mothers!” on the back, picked up Moms Clean Air Force “MOMpartisan” buttons and Klean Kanteen stainless water bottles, and registered to win an organic mattress or pillow from Naturepedic. Children practiced yoga courtesy of lil omm yoga studio, enjoyed the healthiest snacks you’ve ever seen at a mass event like this, played with a parachute and with pinwheels, and worked on posters to carry for the march portion of the event.
I had the chance to talk to a few of the moms who turned out for the event, which was conceived of by Biome Studio principal and NoVA mom of two Heather Clark, who shared more with us about her vision before the event in this interview.
Two of the attendees I spoke to were originally from the West Coast and had moved to Northern Virginia within the last two years. Elizabeth Epstein of Fairfax said she felt the “urgency of the moment,” especially as she prepares to welcome her second baby in September. After she learned of the event through an online forum, she thought, “How could we not attend?” It felt good, she said, for her and three-year-old Deena to be visible supporters of the effort.
Phoebe R. of Arlington, who has worked as a sustainability consultant, said she came because she didn’t want the generation of her daughters, aged two and a half and 4 months, to look at her generation and think it let the opportunity slip by. “Let’s let our generation be the one to act rather than kick the can down the road. It’s not fair to our have it be our children’s problem,” Phoebe said.
At 11:00, children from around the country formed a semi-circle for the press conference, during which they held giant signs that would be delivered later that day to individual Senators to ask them to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan announced in June.
Moms Clean Air Force’s Gretchen Dahlkemper-Alfonso emceed the event, opening with the hope that politicians would put aside partisan bickering so that her three children would be “gifted a world that is healthier than the one they were given.” With her message of hope and love – including the reminder, “Guess what? Love always wins” – Gretchen set the stage for an event that stuck to positive energy in the face of some scary possible futures that the sponsoring groups hope to keep from happening. The partnering groups for the event were Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environment, Climate Parents, Healthy Child Healthy World, and The Mothers Project United for Sustainability.
Heather Clark shared the prediction that her children will see 12 times as many heat record days per year but offered that “visionary changes are here today” and called Congress to stand behind those promoting innovations that can address climate change.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) opened by asking for a show of hands of how many people had or knew someone who had asthma. It was tough to spy any hands that weren’t raised. She introduced Senator Shelton Whitehouse (D-RI) who told the crowd, which numbered upwards of 200, that “nothing has the power to stop an idea whose time as come.” He optimistically spoke of gaining momentum for the understanding that you “can’t recklessly pollute air and water.”
When Danielle Hilton of Charlotte, North Carolina came to the podium, she spoke of having done “all the little things” one person can to limit her family’s carbon footprint but that, as the EPA tells us, it’s not individuals like her who are the major source of the problem: it’s the power plants. If regulation is not going to come from the states, as it likely won’t in North Carolina where Danielle lives in the 8th most polluted city in the country, we “need Congress to take the lead.” Danielle, who sits on the Board of Clean Air Carolina and is involved with Charlotte Environmental Action, called on Congress to put public health over private interest.
Director of Programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments Katie Huffling, RN, CNM, spoke of the harm polluted air can cause to a child’s developing young lungs, noting that ozone inflames the lungs like a sunburn hurts skin. Ozone levels in the metro DC area are high with the District and counties in Virginia and Maryland all receiving grades of F from the American Lung Association in its State of the Air report.
First-time expectant mom Leah Qusba is involved with Climate Parents and, in her work with the Alliance for Climate Education, has tried to “change the face of who cares about climate change” by activating and inspiring youth and helping lawmakers see that the issues of air quality and climate change are important to their constituents. “Climate change is apple pie and baseball,” Leah said; it’s not something apart from our reality.
Keya Chatterjee explained how the issue of climate change hit her “like a ton of bricks” in 2010 when she was expecting her first child. Senior Director of International Climate Policy at the World Wildlife Fund, Keya is the author of Zero Footprint Baby. She expressed optimism that “we are going to win,” in part because renewable energy is getting cheaper than “dirty energy” and also because of people power, as evidenced by the Play-In.
After the press conference concluded, attendees gathered signs and marched across the street to the front of the Capitol building chanting, “Clean air for kids!” “Our children get sicker, their pockets get bigger,” and “What do we want? Clean Air! When do we want it? Now!”
A group photo taken in front of the Capitol showed the event’s strength in numbers.
Heather Clark closed the official event at 12 noon and invited interested attendees to stay to deliver messages to some 40 senators’ offices. A group of parents and children went door to door in the Russell Senate Office Building to deliver state-specific signs with children’s signatures and hand prints along with a letter calling on the senators to act on climate change.
Visit http://www.momscleanairforce.org for more information and opportunities to take action.
Northern Virginia mother of two Heather Clark is so serious about climate change that she’s organized a day of play to draw attention to it! On Wednesday, July 9, parents concerned about the effect air pollution is having on climate change will join Moms Clean Air Force for a Play-In for Climate Action on the Hill to raise awareness and demand action from politicians.
I had the chance to chat with Heather to learn more about how this event came about. As principal of the Biome Studio, Heather has long been passionate about sustainability. Her work is involved in visionary projects that start to change the places we live and the way those places behave with an eye toward zero energy communities.
Heather says, “We currently have the knowledge to redesign the places where we live so that they can power themselves with renewable energy, clean themselves with plants and micro-organisms, produce food organically, and provide habitat. This is the type of work I do – I have firsthand experience that it is possible. By overcoming climate change, we will solve other problems in the process – toxic waste, air pollution, water pollution, habitat destruction, etc. As a society, we just need the vision and will.”
After Heather had her second child, now two years old, she spent more time researching climate change in particular. In February 2013, Heather attended her first protest since she was a teenager, the “Forward on Climate Rally” in Washington, DC organized by 350.org, an organization that has led global climate action events since 2009. She brought her children, aged 1 and 3 at the time, in a double stroller with a sleeping bag with a sign that read, “We need a future. Please! Stop dumping carbon.”
When Heather got loads of attention from photographers, NPR, and other reporters because of her children, she saw the promise of parents getting together around climate change.
Inspired by sit-ins for civil rights, Heather mulled the idea over for an organized action around climate change, initially envisioning something in Congressional buildings. “It’s hard not to notice kids playing in a government space,” she says, adding that she hopes Wednesday’s Play-In for Climate Action will be replicated by informal groups across the country of parents and their friends. Wednesday’s event took off after a friend of Heather’s at the Natural Resources Defense Council pointed Heather to Moms Clean Air Force, which got very excited and ran with the idea.
“I have tended to be fairly quiet about sharing my thoughts about climate change, until now. As a mother of two toddlers, I realized that creating a smaller carbon footprint at home is not enough. I am deeply concerned about what the world will look like in 2045 when my children are my age and having children of their own. Climate change threatens our food supply, our homes, our safety, and most importantly, the health of our children.
I first learned about climate change in seventh grade. Then I studied climate change in college, but it seemed so abstract and futuristic that I had a hard time believing it would happen. Somewhere between Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, climate change became very real for me. Those storms prompted me to read climate change reports from the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) formed by the United Nations, the Pentagon, NASA, the National Academy of Sciences, The U.S. National Climate Assessment and other sources.
On YouTube, I watched the Philippine representative at the UN Climate Summit announce his hunger strike, as he spoke tearfully about how climate change is devastating his country. I also began looking at flood maps of Cape Cod and Virginia Beach, where my sisters and parents live. I cringe when I think about the world our families will live in if we don’t do something now to curb climate change.
As a parent, I know that we must take action! After attending my first climate change rally when my kids were one and three, I experienced the power of children and families together, calling attention to climate change. I recently came up with the idea of a Play-In – a family-friendly event that gives parents the opportunity to demand action from our politicians.
Sadly, some polluters and politicians are doing everything in their power to undermine solutions As parents, we must vocalize our power by supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency efforts to regulate carbon at power plants.
Please join my family at the Play-In for Climate Action in Washington, DC on July 9, 2014. As parents, let’s join together and let our voices be heard loud and clear!”
Thanks to Heather for talking with us here at Mindful Healthy Life!
For more information on Wednesday’s event, which will take place 10 a.m. to 12 noon in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill, go to http://www.momscleanairforce.org/play-in-climate-action/ or the Facebook event page.
Attendees who register ahead of time are eligible to win either one organic crib mattress or two organic pillows from Naturepedic.
Here’s a glance at the schedule for the event:
10:00 – Arrival and sign-in
10:15-11:00 – Yoga with Holly Clay-Smith of lil omm yoga studio; Music with Rose Tootle; Parachute activity; poster-making
11:00-11:30 – Press conference
11:30-12:00 – March to Senate offices
Refreshments to be provided by MOM’s Organic Market