This was written by Dr. Heidi Hutner, Director of the Sustainability Studies Program at Stony Brook University:
My seventeen-year old daughter, Olivia and I traveled to Northern California for winter holiday break. Olivia is in the throws of an intense “junior year” of high school, while I’m busy with my work as a professor. This vacation gave us a chance to catch up and reconnect – take stock and also have fun.
One Sunday morning, while enjoying an Asian Fusion brunch in foodie-land San Francisco, Olivia asked me:
“You work so hard on environmental issues, Mom. How do you know all those hours will pay off?”
When Olivia was three, she held up a sign that read: “Don’t Spray on Me.” This particular protest was about the spraying of Malathion (a powerful and carcinogenic pesticide) by New York State during a West Nile Virus outbreak. It was the late 1990s and she was barely out of diapers.
These days, she has become more considered. A teenager’s job is to question everything. To Olivia’s question about whether my hard work will pay off, I replied:
“When you have asked me that before — ‘Does activism work, Mom, aren’t you just spinning your wheels?’ — I’ll be honest: it made me a tad defensive. Yet, I pointed out to you that historically it has been activists who brought us so many successful and important freedoms that we take for granted today — the women’s right to vote and equal gender access to education and more, the end of slavery for African Americans, Civil Rights, many LGBT rights, the Clean Air and Water Acts, and so on. People acted and stood up for what they knew was right and, eventually, they won. Even as I said this to you, Olivia, part of me worried that we wouldn’t succeed. Today, however, I feel more hopeful! I say to you with confidence, ‘Yes, environmental advocacy works. Look at what a year we’ve had!’”
I then reminded my daughter of the wave of environmental successes of 2014 and early 2015: some big wins, some partial wins, some in-progress wins; many of which we were a part of.
In September, 2014, as mother and daughter, and with many of my students, faculty, and friends, we marched together in September in NYC at the People’s Climate March, among the throngs of 400, 000. This was the largest environmental rally of its kind since 1982 (the anti-nuclear rally of one million in NYC).
- In December, 2014 Governor Cuomo pledged to ban Fracking in our state.
- In Fall, 2014, the importation of fracking waste to Long Island, New York, where we live, was banned. This is true in many other areas of New York as well.
- Fall, 2014. My students successfully led an offshore wind turbine power campaign on Long Island.
- January, 2015. Obama pledged to veto XL Pipeline.
- Now: We’re working to help push the ban on Port Ambrose LNG (liquified natural gas) project and the proposed Algonquin pipeline, which would run dangerously close to Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.
- In January, 2015, Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant was shut down. San Onofre Nuclear Power plant was shut down in California (in 2012).
I told Olivia,
“Of course, there is still much to be done. Climate Change threatens our civilization and we need the world governments to agree to radically reduce carbon emissions, stop producing and clean up nuclear radiation waste, and shift to renewable energy. We need an even more effective Safe Chemicals Act to stop the polluters from contaminating our water, soil, and air, and so much more. Yet the tide is changing. Look at the People’s Climate March. We couldn’t have imagined 400,000 showing up five years ago. Governor Cuomo just banned fracking. It’s just amazing.”
“Okay, mom. I see your point.”
We finished breakfast, rented two bikes, and rode through Golden Gate Park. It was a beautiful day.
Dr. Heidi Hutner is the Director of the Sustainability Studies Program at Stony Brook University and Director of the Environmental Humanities major. She teaches and writes about environmental topics. Her current book project is entitled, The Ecology of Education. She also blogs at her website: HeidiHutner.com.
Olivia Fine is a busy high school student. She is passionate about global politics, women’s issues, the environment, social justice, and photography. In Olivia’s spare time, she acts and sings.
As mother and daughter, Heidi and Olivia are excited to be new members of the Mom’s Clean Air Force!