Mothers, Daughters, and Intergenerational Climate Action

In this unique blog post, Climate for Health Ambassador Dr. Kristin Hampshire and her daughter Karly, currently at UC San Francisco School of Medicine, share their joint purpose and passion for engaging with our climate crisis.

Karly: Growing up, my two younger brothers and I would fill the house with whiny, loud, incessant calls for “mommm”. As in “mommm, when is dinner ready?”, “mommm, I hurt my toe”, “mommm, come look at this lego tower I built”. One evening, my mom, exhausted after a long day of seeing patients as a family medicine physician, called a halt to the endless cacophony of “mommms”. “Can you please call me something, anything other than mom?” Devising replacement names became a running joke and we alternated through many titles over the years, each more ridiculous than the last (“Mashushkafushka” was the family favorite for a spell). But there is one name in particular that, though conceived jokingly, unites my mom’s identities as mother, physician, and increasingly, climate activist: chief life giver. Just like Mother Earth, she creates, heals, and fiercely protects. 

Kristin: It is not surprising that moms are a growing force in the climate movement. The maternal instinct to protect our children blends naturally with advocacy in protecting their planet. An impressive coalition of climate scientists, Science Moms, is working to combine their scientific training with their maternal devotion. Being a “chief life-giver” is a forever commitment of lifelong wonder. The cacophony of mommms has quieted and I strive to be worthy of this nickname once given to me in jest. Our three kids are now three young adults who are taking three different paths. A common thread that unites us all is our love of nature. We bask in its glory at every opportunity. Karly took this background to medical school and she wove it into her professional journey by advocating for planetary health in a way that has inspired me to do the same. Rather than accepting the absence of core curriculum connecting climate change to adverse health outcomes, she worked for curricular change, founding the now-international Planetary Health Report Card initiative. Currently on a gap year devoted to the intersections between climate change and health, she has taken on many new projects, including seizing upon the climate-friendly benefits of virtual medical training interviews to reduce their carbon footprint. As is often the case in the youth-led climate movement, the student has become the master — Karly taught me to step WAY out of my comfort zone of clinical practice to recognize that I too have a role to play — as a steward of health, as a mother, and yes, as a “chief life-giver.” Climate advocacy, health advocacy, science, and motherhood are inherently intertwined. Engaging in climate advocacy is an act of community mothering. Ultimately, there is no greater cause than the world that we leave to our children.

Karly: As temperatures climb, ice sheets collapse, and wildfires scar landscapes I once treasured, I consider my own hopes of one day having children. How can I know what I know and bring children into this world? What would it mean to be, as the journalist Amy Westervelt puts it, a “mother in the age of extinction”? I know these questions fill the minds of my friends and colleagues, but it’s a challenging, and truthfully, painful, subject to ponder. Like all family planning, it is a deeply personal choice steeped in emotional, situational, and biological realities. Regardless of what comes next, I will continue to reflect on the wisdom shared with me by a respected climate mentor: “One of the most environmentally responsible things you can do as an individual is raise environmentally responsible children.” I owe my work to the sustainable values and natural wonderment my parents instilled in me. 

From us both: Talk about sustainability and climate action with your loved ones. It doesn’t have to be complicated; simple and clear messages, repeated often, by a variety of trusted messengers can be effective. Climate communicator Ed Maibach summarizes the message in 10 words: “It’s real. It’s us. Experts agree. It’s bad. There’s hope.” Be inspired by the youth-led climate movement to step outside of your comfort zone and contribute to climate action within your sphere of influence.

About Kristin Hampshire: Kristin Hampshire is a Family Physician practicing in San Diego for 20+ years, trained with ecoAmerica as a Climate Health Ambassador, co-chairs a Climate and Planetary Health Committee in her medical group, and serves on the Public Health Advisory Council with San Diego’s Climate Action Campaign

About Karly Hampshire: Karly Hampshire is a fourth-year medical student at University of California San Francisco applying into Internal Medicine residency this fall after a gap year devoted to climate change and health. She is the founder and co-director of the Planetary Health Report Card Initiative, the curriculum co-chair for Medical Students for a Sustainable Future, and a fellow at the newly-launched University of California Center for Climate, Health and Equity. Twitter: @hampshirekarly 

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