A classically trained actress (who played a reporter on the series, Criminal Minds), Terra Wellington is also a forceful advocate of healthy living and the environment. She is a popular wellness and lifestyle contributor on TV programs, such as Montel Williams and CBS This Morning. She is also the author of The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green: Saving the Earth Begins at Home.
Terra recently spoke with Moms Clean Air Force about her passions, her family, and what she considers the three most important things parents can do to protect their families and the environment.
In addition to being an actress, you are a strong advocate of healthy living and the environment. Why have you dedicated yourself to these causes?
You know, it’s a family thing. I believe in a quality life. It’s important to take care of my family and myself in a way that helps them and me be the best we can be. We’re big on organic, love the farmer’s market, and cooking at home. My kids know their mother cares. It’s good. I also talk with my children about how the environment requires our stewardship — mostly, while we’re doing simple things like composting, recycling, or reducing our car driving. “Stewardship” is a great word. It means actively doing something to protect something else and nurture it. Sort of like being a mother or father. It’s not about being passive.
In your book, The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green, you say that saving the earth begins at home. Today, many people believe that Moms and Dads also need to be politically active, as so many recently were at the People’s Climate March in New York City. What are your thoughts about the role of the personal and the political when it comes to taking care of the environment?
I’ve always felt that you don’t have much right to complain if you’re not willing to be part of the solution. Apathy is not the answer. For me, I still believe in the power of a phone call or letter to my government representatives for issues I care about. Just the other day, we got a knock on the door, and there was an older man running for city council going door to door with his flyers. These are the people I’m interested in: those who are truly interested in serving the public and reaching out to them! There’s too much big money these days in our government and in politics. I wish we could turn the tide on this to a more honest, people-oriented, and planet-oriented government.
You write in your book that, “The environment is not something “out there”; rather, you and the environment coexist and what happens to the environment also happens to you.” Do you think most people understand this? And if not, why not?
Some people get it, and certainly more than ever before. This is what I call “the convergence of healthy living and eco.” We need both in order to be well. Just take the bee population decline issue. Friends of mine who scoffed at an eco-conversation just two years ago, are now switching their thinking because of this one issue. It’s sad, but also good because there’s positive action to take.
You’re the mom of three children. I wonder if, like many of us, you’ve struggled with finding ways to talk to your kids about healthy living and a healthy environment without turning them off or scaring them. Have you learned any good tricks along the way?
It hasn’t been a problem for me. I’m a solution-oriented person and am always looking for what I can do, not what I can’t do. So, that’s my natural way of thinking about it. I’ve also spent time with Julie Packard, the executive director and vice chair of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Board of Trustees; and I’ve have been influenced by her attitude because she has helped me see that it’s important to be educated on environmental issues, but not be so overwhelmed by all the problems that you become paralyzed. It’s always better to look at the problems you most connect with, and then take just a few simple steps that you know you can do well. There’s no way you can solve the whole problem. But everyone doing their part and sharing their talents is impactful. This also means you need to have faith in your fellow people that they will also do their part. It’s better to turn your energy into something useful.
Moms Clean Air Force, which is a network of more than 365,000 moms, focuses primarily on combating air pollution and climate change. One of your great interests has been ocean conservation. What connection do you see between ocean conservation and climate change?
The ocean and everything that’s in it are like the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to climate change. Basically, this means that when excessive greenhouse gases trap more heat in our atmosphere, then the oceans absorb that increased heat. And the oceans influence our weather — causing climate change. The hotter the ocean gets — not only does marine life suffer but — we have more intense storms and rising sea levels due to melting ice. No good at all! So many people love the oceans. And because climate change is becoming more visibly obvious in the oceans, more people care. Hurricane Sandy was also a tipping point. You had politicians on national news calling it what it was: climate change. And since then, there have been more meaningful discussions on not only adaptation but also real solutions to reverse the trend. Let’s keep it up!
What are the three most important things you think parents can do to protect the health of their families and their environment?
- Teach stewardship to your children from an early age. Even grandparents can have a huge impact on their children and their grandchildren. Our throwaway culture doesn’t have to continue. We can all learn to be more protective and nurturing of our resources and our environment.
- Don’t give in to apathy. Don’t listen to the voices that say “no one will listen” or that “your voice doesn’t matter anymore.” It does! Call or write your government officials when you feel passionate about an issue. Your sincere, non-form letter voice has a lot of credibility.
- Seek after truth. This means you educate yourself. But be educated from a multitude of sources in order to find the truth. Unfortunately, real journalism is hard to find because so many “journalists” are now commentators expressing their political views via their “journalism” in order to sensationalize or politicize their work for an uptick in Internet traffic or Nielsen ratings. This means you need to be a good Googler to dig a little deeper in learning what are the actual truths about an issue. Go beyond the political. Learn to see propaganda early. Be informed of world events and world history to see the big picture. There’s a resource I can recommend, called Roots of Change. A few years ago, I was part of its first pilot program created by Helena Norberg-Hodge, director of the important documentary, The Economics of Happiness. And now it is a non-profit study circle program.
When you think about today’s threats to our environment, what gives you the greatest hope that we can make positive changes?
There are a lot of good people in the world who love their families and want to do the right thing. If you’re lacking faith in humanity, then you are spending too much time watching or reading bad news. Solution? Get out of your house! Volunteer with meaningful, honest organizations that are making a positive difference in the world, and it will be life affirming. Volunteering in your child’s school or local church will also help you in this respect. Give of your talents and your time to make a difference. It’s all a balance, that’s for sure. But every little bit helps. Together, more of us caring about doing what’s right creates big change in a positive direction.