Heather McTeer Toney is a force of nature. She’s the first African-American woman to become mayor of Greenville, Miss. She served as regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and now she’s the national field director of Moms Clean Air Force, a powerful group of passionate climate activists who also pack school lunches.
Moms Clean Air Force comprises almost 1.2 million moms, dads, grandmas, cousins, aunts and uncles across the country who are committed to protecting their children from the harmful impacts of climate change and air pollution.
McTeer Toney considers climate change to be the social justice movement of our time.
“I'm from Mississippi,” she said. “And as an African-American woman who has worked in these spaces for some years, I know that vulnerable communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, are often left out of the conversation and not a part of these critical pieces of policy that are being developed that impact us.”
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McTeer Toney has personally witnessed climate change already happening.
“The reality is, we're experiencing climate change now,” she said during a recent interview. “I'm sitting in Mississippi looking at snow falling, and a lot of it. Yes, it’s December, but believe it or not, this is not normal for us.”
Moms Clean Air Force is an ardent advocate of climate change policy on Capitol Hill, in state legislatures and in local city halls. It advocates for policy that supports climate action, like the 100 percent Clean Economy bill, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., last month.
“Moms were at the forefront of this bill,” McTeer Toney said, “making sure that our members of Congress were not only aware of it, but we also signed on as co-sponsors, to say we absolutely must have a commitment to clean energy for our country.”
The bill seeks to achieve a clean economy no later than the year 2050. Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said: “Achieving this ambitious target means the U.S. will not produce any more climate pollution than we can successfully remove from the atmosphere. That will require transforming the way we generate energy, manufacture products, transport goods and grow our food to ensure we limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We need to rapidly drive down climate pollution across the entire economy, and across the entire country.”
McTeer Toney said the bill is important because reducing carbon pollution and improving access to clean energy will also create new jobs in new sectors, which will be especially helpful to vulnerable communities.
“As a mother, I'm thinking about the future of my children,” she said, “but I'm also thinking about what they're going to do in that future. I'm thinking about what types of jobs they're going to have. What jobs are going to be available? Where are they going to be available? Are there going to be places for them to live? To grow? To raise my grandchildren?”
Moms Clean Air Force not only supports climate change legislation, it also encourages moms — and dads — to run for office themselves.
“We encourage moms to use their resources and their passion to run for sustainability boards and commissions for climate action,” McTeer Toney said. “We had one mom in San Antonio who sat on the board for climate action in city planning sessions. Another mom in Nevada sits on her local sustainability board, another mom does the same thing in Colorado. We begin to see this energy in mothers, who are really taking their activism to new levels of engagement. I know moms are busy — I’m busy myself — but if you can be the secretary of the PTA, trust me, you can be on a sustainability board. We can bring our expertise and bring the climate conversation to anything.”
McTeer Toney believes anybody can get involved and help the climate change cause.
“In many places, there are seats sitting wide open,” she said. “Every mayor has got a bunch of seats that have to be filled. So, pick up the phone, call your local city hall, and ask them for a list of all the boards and commissions that have open seats. There's always a starting place. Anyone can bloom where they’re planted.”