“We Need Warriors, Ambassadors, And Bards For The Earth, How About It, Beyoncé? Brad? Lebron?”
A Conversation With Climate Activist Mary DeMocker
“I am trying to start a movement, actually, or at least grow an existing one. I’m hoping to inspire more parents to bring their ferocious love for their children to the climate justice fight — and it really is a fight, because the oil industry blocks the clean energy solutions we desperately need. When we make a rapid and just transition to a 100% clean energy economy — through planting trees, cutting emissions, and all the other things we already know how to do and have the technology for — we will impact all present and future generations of every species of life on earth. Can you name another movement that will help everyone and everything — and for all of time? This movement is not only possible, but growing worldwide. The question is whether we will succeed in time, which is why everyone, everywhere has a role to play.”
I had the pleasure to interview Mary DeMocker. Mary is the author of The Parents Guide to Climate Revolution: 100 Ways to Build A Fossil-Free Future, Raise Empowered Kids, And Still Get A Good Night’s Sleep. In this book, Mary offers a wide-ranging menu of positive actions for anyone who cares about the future.
Thank you so much for joining us. What is your “backstory”?
I am the sixth out of nine children, so I started out fighting for fairness. My mother says my first words were “No!” and “Get out of my room!” which amused everyone because my crib was in the hallway. As a teen, I gravitated toward social movements in the larger world, such as the fight against apartheid in South Africa, and for gay and women’s rights. I noticed that storytelling could inspire people to political action, and that’s when I decided to learn how to tell stories well. That led to my working in the NYC film industry, in art departments, while I studied politics, music, and literature at NYU. I later went to music school to study the harp, which I’d played since the age of nine, and my grand plan was to do multi-media performances with the electric harp, weaving it together with film, politics, and storytelling. That dream crashed when I fell on a rock at age 27 and never recovered my full performance ability.
When I had a baby in 1996, I was worried about global warming, so my husband and I worked at a simple, “green” family lifestyle we believed would help. In 2007, the author Bill McKibben convinced me that individual lifestyle changes alone would never be enough to re-balance our atmosphere. We had to shrink industry’s footprint, so I starting working to change the system, not just our lightbulbs. I wrote op-eds and songs and, with my family, created interactive art on our front lawn. In 2013, I co-founded and became creative director of the Eugene chapter of the grassroots climate group 350.org. 350 Eugene supported my ever-larger interactive art protests that began to get a lot of media attention, and that’s when other moms, also worried about the climate, began to ask, “Can you make me a list of five or 10 easy things I can do to make a difference?”
That list became my book, The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution: 100 Ways to Build a Fossil-Free Future, Raise Empowered Kids, and Still Get a Good Night’s Sleep. I intentionally made each of the 100 chapters short, with easy, affordable ideas at the end of each one and tried to make it light by sharing the funniest stories from my 21 years of parenting.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred in the course of your career?
An interesting and pivotal moment happened when I was 25 years old and playing street music with my harp in Soho. I’d put my hat out for tips, and one afternoon noticed that I had received money from a well-dressed elderly woman, a famous middle-aged actor, and a family whose toddlers danced to the music. A young guy sat down and meticulously rolled a joint he placed in my hat. I realized then that music was helping me connect with people of all ages, races, and backgrounds. I decided that day to stop working on movies — which are huge collaborative projects with dubious messages controlled by producers — and become a solo artist. Since I was already reaching people, maybe, with good messaging, I could make the world a little better.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on stories about people already impacted by global warming as well as people creating or using some of the innovative — and fun — solutions out there. I’m also designing new interactive art projects that use humor and storytelling to help energize resistance to the Trump administration — before it destroys too much.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Hildegaard von Bingen, who wrote the first opera, and was a doctor, abbess, gifted artist, political leader, and Christian mystic. She wrote about the “juiciness” of nature as a divine life force. That’s pretty radical for a nun.
Harriet Tubman, who risked her life over and over smuggling dozens of people out of slavery.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She had several children and talked politics with Susan B. Anthony while stirring pots of chicken soup. Susan unleashed Elizabeth’s ideas into the world, and that eventually helped women win the right to vote.
Wangari Maathai, a mother who fought for women, families, and sustainability by planting trees throughout Kenya. Government soldiers fought her, sometimes brutally, until she convinced them to grab shovels and help her.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
The Overstory, by Richard Powers, which is a page-turner about the mysterious intelligence and power of trees. It’s stunning.
Trevor Noah’s memoir Born a Crime. I laughed hard while learning so much about South Africa under apartheid.
Anything by Mary Oliver. Her poems light up my mornings.
Anything by Bill McKibben, who is a truly gifted writer and leader.
Kathleen Dean Moore’s Holdfast and Pine Island Paradox. She’s a philosopher and mother grappling with life’s biggest questions in her gorgeous personal essays.
Comedian Jon Gnarr’s memoir Gnarr! about his gag campaign for mayor of Iceland’s biggest city. He surprised himself by winning, did some good while in office, and showed the world how creative disruption can shake up the status quo.
I also love true wilderness survival stories such as And I Alone Survived and Adrift because they offer compelling stories about people who overcame seemingly impossible odds — the kind we face now in the environmental crisis — and overcame them through resilience, creativity, and cooperation.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
Readers can laugh and relax a little about a very scary subject — climate breakdown. They often report that they try new ideas after reading just a couple of chapters. My goal is for people to feel less alone in this crisis, and more inspired and empowered to fight for what they love.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
If you have to consider it, book writing might not be the best path, at least not yet. If a book idea doesn’t sink its talons in you so that you can’t think or talk about much else, either wait until it does, or search for the medium your idea needs for expression. I wrote many plays, essays, videos, songs, and articles before attempting a book.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the largest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am trying to start a movement, actually, or at least grow an existing one. I’m hoping to inspire more parents to bring their ferocious love for their children to the climate justice fight — and it really is a fight, because the oil industry blocks the clean energy solutions we desperately need. When we make a rapid and just transition to a 100% clean energy economy — through planting trees, cutting emissions, and all the other things we already know how to do and have the technology for — we will impact all present and future generations of every species of life on earth. Can you name another movement that will help everyone and everything — and for all of time? This movement is not only possible, but growing worldwide. The question is whether we will succeed in time, which is why everyone, everywhere has a role to play.
What are your “5 things I wish someone had told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Always listen to your gut when signing a book contract. Mine was shouting “You can’t finish your first book in 10 months — especially while parenting!” and my gut was right. I had to request two extensions and pull several all-nighters, my first in decades that didn’t involve the stomach flu.
2) Start publicizing three to four months before your book release. I didn’t really get that memo, which is why I haven’t had a nap in months.
3) You need a freelance publicist to help your in-house publicist for three to six months. It will cost more than you ever imagined.
4) Do not try to fix your crooked teeth while writing your first book. My braces hurt my teeth, head, and self-esteem. They also ended my afternoon popcorn fests with my teenager when I desperately needed a writing break.
5) You can’t force the muses to deliver the goods. So many times, I pushed through my fatigue only to toss whole chapters the next day. It’s always better to sleep, dance, or howl at the moon instead of powering through writer burn-out.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Mark Ruffalo. He’s a passionate climate activist and dad. Could someone have him call me, please? Seriously, we have an astounding opportunity right now in our corner of the universe: We really can yank our planet back from the precipice — if we act now. I’ll happily share breakfast, lunch, or stale bread with anyone of the “biggest names” reading this if they’ll advocate for the things scientists say we need to do: Keep fossil fuels in the ground. Cut emissions. Transition to 100% clean energy. Conserve. Educate women and girls everywhere. Sequester carbon in the soil. Stop wasting food. Stop razing forests. Plant a trillion trees.
We need warriors, ambassadors, and bards for the earth. How about it, Beyoncé? Brad? LeBron? You name the time and place to help me plot fun, creative ways to save everything for our kids. I’ll even pick up the tab.