First published May 19, 2014.

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“Climate change is an overwhelming, unhappy subject,
but it’s really important to understand that we can beat this—
there are answers,” Browning says.

 

Mother’s Day isn’t the only big May event—this is also Clean Air Month. Pairing mothers with the fight for clean air makes perfect sense to environmental activist Dominique Browning. So much so that when she set out to create a clean-air advocacy organization, she began by harnessing the power and passion of mothers. Browning, a writer, former magazine editor, and mother of two adult sons, is co-founder and senior director of Moms Clean Air Force (MCAF).

“I was an ardent feminist in college,” she recalled during a recent phone interview. “I feel like I am coming full circle back to that. A lot of this is about the power of women and that we need to have our voices heard.”

Since its launch in 2011, MCAF has grown into a national movement of more than 200,000 members—many of them mothers, but also fathers, grandparents, and concerned citizens—anyone who wants to protect our children’s right to clean air.

The MCAF website provides information about air pollution and climate change and their impacts on the environment and on children’s health. The site also keeps its members informed of pending legislation, linking them to petitions and letters that urge their legislators and the EPA to take actions that will protect us all from environmental toxins. MCAF also rallies its members for more direct actions such as in-person meetings with legislators, or to testify at EPA hearings about the need for a specific regulation—stronger carbon standards, for example. In June, MCAF will hold a series of Town Hall meetings, moderated by Browning, that will feature health professionals, climate scientists, high-level administration officials, and moms, who will discuss the health impacts of a changing climate.

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Dominique Browning

Browning has always attracted a devoted following. Readers of House & Garden, where she was editor-in-chief for more than a decade, were as addicted to her warm, thoughtful editor’s letters—which opened each issue—as they were to the design porn that followed. When Condé Nast shut down the magazine in November 2007, Browning not only attracted new followers with her third memoir, Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on my Pajamas & Found Happiness, she also started a conversation with them through her blog, “Slow Love Life.”

Her journey toward environmental activism began at her father’s knee. “My father is the one who taught me to love nature, the stars, building paths, gardening with him. I have loved being in the garden since being a child,” she says.

As a gardener, she became keenly aware of significant changes in weather patterns—plants thriving in an area where they had never before survived a winter, for example. And after decades of spending summers on the Rhode Island shore, she took note of the rising tide line.

Her awareness of the changes in her own environment, coupled with her growing concern about—and self-proclaimed “obsession” with—climate change led her into environmental activism after a long career as a magazine editor that in many ways prepared her to lead a movement. (Before House & Garden, she worked at Mirabella, Newsweek, Texas Monthly, and Esquire.)

According to Browning, building a movement is similar to building any kind of brand identity. Both require “being clear about what you stand for, your values, what you want to achieve, and then coming back at people over and over again,” she explains. “These are skills that were part of my training as an editor that I’m now drawing on.”

Engaging in grassroots activism—sitting down with people one-on-one and pushing them into action around policy, however—demands a different type of urgency.

For example, during this interview, Browning was en route to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for one of MCAF’s “Mama Summits.” Hundreds of parents, grandparents, and kids from around the country are traveling to their state capitals this month to show their united, bipartisan support for children’s health by meeting with their legislators and demanding action on climate change.

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