Life as a climate-mum isn\’t straightforward – but it is interesting


I\’m torn. Between work and family, between trying to make a difference in the world and at the same time do the dishes. Right now, for instance, I\’ve spent far too much time trying to find a clean table to write on, one without breakfast dishes, unfinished pizza or Lego, and at the same time figure out how to talk about melting sea ice, all the while thinking about where to buy organic back-to-school clothes. And dinner isn\’t on yet.

Life as a climate-mum isn\’t straightforward, but it is interesting. Take for example, this past summer: I was invited aboard the CCGS Louis S St-Laurent traveling through the Northwest Passage, the Arctic sea route in Canada\’s great white north. The purpose of the trip was to get a first-hand appreciation of the effects of climate change.

Voyaging on a polar-class icebreaker is not what mums usually do (at least it\’s not what my mum did). But this wasn\’t a holiday or an adventure to write home about – visiting the Arctic archipelago was part of my job at the university, and also integral to my work at home as a mum.

Scientists study the Arctic closely because it\’s where the effects of climate change are being seen (particularly The Canada Basin). Far from my kitchen table, there is no doubt that the earth\’s climate clock is ticking fast in the land of the midnight sun.

All indicators show that trouble is coming, and in some cases it has already arrived. Arctic waters are warming from the surface to depths of 2,000 metres. And, it\’s getting fresher and more acidic.

The sea ice is retreating faster than all predictions. Satellites show that the ice is only half as thick as it was two or three decades ago. Permafrost is thawing and collapsing, and along with this comes rapid coastal erosion.

From the middle of the Arctic ocean, it was easy to see a huge open expanse of water, but not much multi-year ice (it\’s turquoise, so would have been easy to pick out).

There are plenty of reasons for mothers to take note of these shifts. Significant loss of sea ice will affect where and how we live, our water supplies, food, health, finances, and even the future of human life itself.

Although our children didn\’t create the problem, they\’re the most vulnerable to its effects

I admit that right now when I look at my kids, doom and gloom seem hard to imagine. My son, Max, is an 8-year-old with an attitude. He wave-boards and plays football with a vengeance.

When I got back from the Arctic, he was excited to see me for five minutes, and then scowled. He was suddenly furious. When asked why, he said: \”Well, Mum, you went away and it is just not fair that you get to do these fun things without us!\”

Like many working mums, I am torn between work and spending more time with my kids. But it is more complicated than that.


Max and his brother are part of what we are calling Generation CO2 – kids born in the last five or 10 years, and those to be born in the next fifteen or so. For Gen CO2, climate will be the overwhelming issue of their time.

I know, as a mum and as a scientist, that we really have to do something about this. Yet even as I type this, my husband arrives home with the kids and calls from the front door to see if I put the chicken on for dinner (free-range/organic, and yes, we had vegetarian last night) and so I have less time than planned.

It\’s a cliche to say every generation needs their mothers. But after being an official observer of the UNFCCC climate conference in Copenhagen last year, it\’s obvious that Generation CO2 really, really needs us.

The policy-makers in Copenhagen or Bonn, or those who will go to Cancun in late November just don\’t seem to get it like we would, if mothers were negotiating.

In the UK, mothers are taking action and organised Low Carbon Day on June 24, with 1,600 UK schools registered and over 600,000 children taking part. This kind of \”cool the world\” action puts pressure where it\’s needed.

But we need to keep the heat on. Gen CO2 needs more of us mums to step into the climate debate in a bigger way. They need mothers, godmothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, soon-to-be mothers, one-day-in-the-future mothers, all of us working together to get the world\’s elite to wake up and smell the carbon.

The force of a mother\’s love can move mountains. Let\’s use that to move the world to a better and more carbon-neutral place.