SAN FRANCISCO -- Just before the presidential election in 2008, Lisa Hoyos began thinking about the year 2035.
She was driving to pick up her son when she heard a radio broadcast how climate change could affect food chains. In the marine world, it warned, there could be a systemwide collapse by that future year, resulting in seafood scarcity.
Hoyos' new baby, Cruz, then 4 months old, was riding in the back seat. Her older son, Kai, was 3 years old at the time. She did the math.
"I thought, 'Oh my God, my kids are going to be in their late 20s in the year 2035,'" Hoyos said. "It was this very kind of lightning-bolt moment for me. And I thought, why aren't all parents at the helm of calling for bold action for climate solutions?"
In that election year, people were talking about "soccer moms" and "hockey moms." Hoyos thought, "Why aren't there climate moms?"
She went home that day and registered the domain name climatemoms.org.
Hoyos, 48, today is co-founder of Climate Parents, after she met author Mark Hertsgaard and he asked her, "What about climate dads?" The group seeks to get moms, dads and grandparents fighting for a shift to 100 percent renewable power.
There are 155 million parents in the United States, Hoyos said, most of whom are voters. They're also consumers with significant market power. Her goal is have those people "understand the real threat posed by climate change" and to "use their political capital to push for a solution."
She has amassed an email list of 42,000 supporters. In five years, she hopes to have recruited "several million" battling at local, state and national levels. The group now is a nonprofit, but Hoyos said she doesn't rule out someday adding an arm that would act politically, supporting and opposing candidates.
Using the 'unstoppable dedication' of parents
Those who know Hoyos see her as a potential game-changer in the fight for action on climate change.
"She is bringing that unstoppable dedication that all parents have for their kids to the climate battle," said Annie Leonard, the new head of Greenpeace, who has known Hoyos for about 20 years.
In its short existence, Climate Parents has tallied what Hoyos sees as important victories.
Climate Parents prevailed in a battle with Walt Disney Co. earlier this year. Hoyos collected 100,000 signatures and persuaded the corporate parent to end its involvement with "Rocking in Ohio," a science education effort funded by the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. Radio Disney had hosted stage shows in which workers distributed Disney merchandise between geology and physics lessons.
Hoyos argued that it was promoting fossil fuels, "energy that's harmful to kids."
She then pushed Disney to promise that in the future, the company would focus on clean energy in its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) efforts. After an email exchange with Hoyos, Beth Stevens, senior vice president for corporate citizenship, environment and conservation at Disney, said that the company would "only talk about energy safety and renewable energy in our STEM content."
"We always find conversations and collaboration with stakeholder groups, like Lisa and Climate Parents, an effective contribution that helps us gain better perspective on those we serve," Stevens said in an email.
Climate Parents, working with the Sierra Club, now wants to influence other corporations. It is asking supporters to send letters and emails urging PepsiCo to stop shipping products in trucks filled with diesel from the Canadian oil sands. The Sierra Club has traced the sources of the fuel PepsiCo uses.
PepsiCo did not address Climate Parents but in an email said that "like other fleets in the US, PepsiCo utilizes fuel that is available. From refinery to the end user is a complex supply chain, which isn't set up to segregate source of oils. However, PepsiCo has implemented a formal process with our suppliers seeking high carbon fuel alternatives."
Fighting for education on climate
Climate Parents has also campaigned to have schoolchildren learn about warming as part of the Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, framework for grades K-12 on a variety of subjects developed in coordination with the National Academy of Sciences. In some states, people opposed the changes because they tied climate change to the burning of fossil fuels, Hoyos said.
Through online petitions, the group found parents in other states, developed strategy over a series of phone calls, and dispatched moms and dads along with their children to board of education meetings. They prevailed in Kansas and Kentucky against conservative opposition.
They lost in Wyoming, however, where the standards were not adopted. Parents in those states criticized Climate Parents' involvement.
"The NGSS indoctrinate students to particular views by incorporating assumptions, excluding evidence and essentially treating 'consensus' as if it were a scientific, rather than a political value," Cynthia McKee, a spokeswoman for the opposition, said in an email. "While Climate Parents has basically argued that 'science standards shouldn't be subject to politics,' the truth is that NGSS arrived politically loaded."
During the fight in Wyoming, some also blasted the Climate Parents founder.
Christy Young Hooley, a Wyoming public schoolteacher, in a blog post targeted Hoyos' history as it's described on the conservative website. It states that Hoyos in the mid-1990s served on the board of directors of the Oakland, Calif.-based Institute for Social and Economic Studies. That organization was the sponsor of CrossRoads magazine, which according to KeyWiki sought "to bring diverse Marxist and socialist traditions to bear."
"Crazy stuff," Hoyos said about the post, which was reposted on several sites. CrossRoads magazine probably had a reference somewhere to Marxism, she said, "but it wasn't like by being on the board of it, anyone was an established Marxist. It's amazing what people will kind of dig up."
An activist from a young age
Hoyos chatted about her background and her move into the climate field over a lunch of Italian food at a restaurant near San Francisco's Embarcadero neighborhood. A vegetarian, she ordered a basil, cheese and tomato pizza, along with a plate of Brussels sprouts and artichoke hearts, and offered that it was "to share."
Clad in a leather jacket with zippers and distressed black jeans, and with her long blond hair worn loose, she came across as relaxed and open to talking about anything.
She grew up in San Jose, Calif., where she was influenced by her mother, Sylvia Hoyos Tweten, whose "strong Catholic faith" had "a strong focus on helping others. ... It really shaped me."
Her father, John Tweten, worked as a school psychologist and later as a principal at a continuation high school for students who had left or been suspended from other schools.
"Their example really inspired me to be an activist," Hoyos said, "even if my path is a little different from theirs."
In her early 20s, she took as her legal surname her mother's maiden name, to connect with her mother's Colombian heritage. At the time, Hoyos was working for a labor group and talking to Latino janitors, she said, and wanted "that part of my identity to be more obvious." She initially used the name Hoyos Tweten, but later dropped Tweten after getting her father's blessing. John Tweten is of Norwegian and German descent.
Her activism started young, and Hoyos has employed multiple means to accomplish her goals. She's been arrested four times, each time for civil disobedience while protesting wars. The first was when she was 24.
"I respect civil disobedience as a strategy," Hoyos said. Asked about Climate Parents and whether she envisions someday having moms and dads in handcuffs, Hoyos said, "We've never even talked about it as an organization."
Environment, labor, politics part of work
Hoyos directs one full-time worker and one part-time contractor. She became a nonprofit entrepreneur after a career path that wound through several fields.
She worked for Greenpeace out of college, then later moved into the labor arena. In the late 1990s, she worked for then-state Sen. Tom Hayden (D) as committee consultant and legislative analyst to the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which he led.
She lived in South Africa, where she campaigned against the World Trade Organization. It was arguing for trade rules, Hoyos said, that would have blocked countries from enforcing environmental and labor laws.
When Hoyos returned to the United States, she went to work for the AFL-CIO, then to the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of business, labor, environment and community groups advocating for green energy. It later became the BlueGreen Alliance. She was still working there when she began to develop Climate Parents on a part-time basis.
In 2011, she heard an NPR interview with Hertsgaard, who had just written the book "Hot," about the need to cut carbon pollution and to put measures in place to adapt to the changing climate. He spoke about the impact of climate change on his children.
"He's saying exactly what I've been feeling," Hoyos said.
When she learned that he was speaking at a nearby festival a week later, Hoyos went to the event with her older son. She approached Hertsgaard and told him she wanted to start Climate Moms. When he asked, "What about dads?" Climate Parents was born.
Finding supporters early
Hoyos and Hertsgaard early on sought advice from people they knew in the environmental space, including Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club; Betsy Taylor, on the board of directors of 350.org; and Greenpeace's Leonard, who at the time was with "The Story of Stuff," advancing the idea of reducing consumption.
Kate Gordon, vice president and director of the energy and climate program at the nonprofit Next Generation, said that move shows Hoyos' savvy. She got leaders of other groups invested in Climate Parents.
"She's a fantastic networker, one of those people who knows everybody. She's extremely generous and not particularly competitive," Gordon said.
Having supporters is essential, Gordon said, because there is competition for financial support and attention in the climate change space.
"The tendency of funders is to either fund individuals -- charismatic leaders -- or organizations with a track record," Gordon said.
With her background in organizing, Hoyos thought that would be her first step to finding supporters. Leonard advised her to reach out the Citizen Engagement Lab (CEL) in Berkeley.
Pictures of a mom and kids attract support
CEL early on helped Climate Parents with its online presence, crafting its fundraising presentations and its campaign strategy.
Elizabeth Beier, social media and design specialist at CEL's Climate Lab, helped Climate Parents "tease out" what people most responded to in online pitches. It wasn't images of floods or renewable energy, Beier said, but rather a picture of Hoyos.
"People are connecting to the mother who started this," Beier said.
They worked to give people actions they could take, Beier said, like signing a petition. People who started with that step later became local campaign leaders, she said.
CEL provided seed funding. Starting this past July, Climate Parents was responsible for its own budget, currently about $400,000 annually. Hoyos said her supporters include the New World Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Rockefeller Family Fund.
"There are funders out there that really believe we need to grow the chorus of voices who care about climate change," Hoyos said.
Daniel Souweine, director of the CEL Climate Lab, said Hoyos and Hertsgaard's vision dovetailed with the lab's plan at the time to bring "new constituencies into the climate fight." Souweine said the lab decided to get involved after meeting with Hoyos and hearing her pitch.
When it comes to new organizations, he said, "the single greatest predictor of success is: Is there a strong leader at the top of the organization who really believes in what they're doing and is willing to go the extra mile to make it happen, and to get people behind their vision? Lisa has that."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500