New York mom unites other parents to take action against crisis burdening children: 'I wouldn't do this if I didn't have hope'

A New York-based mother didn't let fear hold her back from moving forward after a conversation with a coworker created a desire for positive change.

Marlena Fontes told the Guardian that she was inspired to take action in 2018 after hearing that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned the world must massively reduce pollution from dirty fuels by 2030 to prevent catastrophic consequences.

"I always thought we had more time," she explained, noting that she was about to give birth to her first child. "Hearing an actual number about how much time we had was horrifying."

This information drove Fontes to co-found Climate Families NYC, a grassroots volunteer group that began with six other mothers who refused to sit on the sidelines. The hope? To influence policymakers to ditch dirty fuels and empower the younger generation to protect our planet.

"That is one goal that I have through Climate Families — to not just have an impact on climate change but to also have my kids grow up with a sense of agency and power," Fontes told the Guardian, sharing that her son has joined her during the family-friendly rallies since he was three months old.

Climate Families NYC, which now has around 1,200 members, connects in Brooklyn's Prospect Park every month to chat, paint, and find potential new members.

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In addition to organizing and participating in awareness-raising rallies, such as September 2023's March to End Fossil Fuels, Climate Families NYC has petitioned for healthier, more planet-friendly schools, and it supports an ambassador program, according to the official website.

In 2022, Fontes became the organizing director for Climate Organizing Hub, established that same year to advocate for the end of the gas, oil, and coal industries. Those highly polluting fuels have led to unhealthy air and a dangerous rise in global temperatures linked to extreme weather and food insecurity.

"My intention is to win," she told the Guardian. "I wouldn't do this if I didn't have hope."

While the United Nations has recommended a transition to clean energy, countries that are more dependent on dirty fuels have been hesitant to commit to a complete phase-out, though a tentative plan was approved at the 2023 iteration of the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference.

Fontes hopes the combined efforts will ultimately lead to the full adoption of clean solutions. Green hydrogen, fusion, solar, and wind farms are just some of the potential options.

"I owe it to my children to tell them that I am doing absolutely everything I can to make sure that they have a livable planet and a livable future," she told the Guardian.

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