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Science mom: UW scientist joins campaign to teach fellow mothers about climate change
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Science mom: UW scientist joins campaign to teach fellow mothers about climate change

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UW-Madison professor Tracey Holloway, with her sons, Henry, 9 months, and Peter, 11. 

As a climate scientist, Tracey Holloway has spent two decades thinking about future projections: How much heat-trapping gas will the atmosphere contain in 2030? How warm will the planet be by 2050?

As the mother of two young boys, that future seems far less abstract.

“These always seemed so far away. My little Henry will just be turning 30 in 2050,” Holloway said. “It takes these long-term projections and suddenly makes them much more immediate.”

Holloway, a professor of atmospheric science at UW-Madison, is one of half a dozen leading climate scientists (and mothers) who’ve banded together to motivate other moms to take action on the threat of climate change.

“We all wear a lot of hats,” Holloway said. “I always thought of them as two separate hats, but they have a lot of overlap in terms of education and action.”

Science Moms is a $10 million campaign — which includes digital and television advertising in political swing states like Wisconsin — that banks on the idea that mothers as a group are the most concerned about climate change but don’t necessarily have access to accessible and reliable information about the science.

“Moms don’t have a lot of time to learn the ins and outs of climate change,” said Anne-Marie Kline, managing director of campaigns for Potential Energy, the nonprofit coalition of ad agencies that organized the campaign. “We create content that can fit into a mom’s life — short, bite-sized stuff that feels like an escape rather than a chore.”

In addition to ads, the campaign also includes a website with basic information on climate change, recommended reading, and short animated clips framing the problem, which has already made hurricanes, fires and floods more powerful and frequent and could lead to the loss of thousands of species.

“If an entire neighborhood’s worth of doctors told you your mole was cancerous, would you keep it,” a narrator asks. “If an entire planet’s worth of scientists agreed that climate change is real, would you ignore them? Because you know there ain’t no coming back from this, right?”

The campaign is not aimed at getting people to reduce their individual carbon footprints but to pressure political leaders to support the policies needed to make meaningful change more quickly.

An international panel of climate scientists has warned that greenhouse gas emissions need to fall 45% from 2010 levels in this decade and to near zero by 2050 in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts to human health, security and livelihoods.

While there are deep political divides when it comes to opinions on climate change, about two-thirds of Americans are concerned about global warming, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. By contrast, 83% of mothers are concerned, according to surveys conducted for Potential Energy.

“We know analytically and from deep data that this particular message of a mother’s love for her child actually works equally across the political spectrum,” said Potential Energy CEO John Marshall. “The hope is that we can cut through the divisions with something that is bigger and more powerful than that, which is the love that these women, and all women, have for the next generation.”

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Tracey Holloway, a professor of atmospheric science at UW-Madison, said her children -- 11-year-old Peter and 9-month-old, Henry -- have made the future impacts of climate change feel more immediate.

Holloway, 47, said she was invited to join the project by her friend Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas Tech University professor who’s given public talks on ways to communicate the science to people who don’t believe in climate change.

Holloway said she isn’t out to change anyone’s mind but wants to be a source of accurate and reliable information.

“For me as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, I feel like I have a mandate to support the communication of science,” Holloway said. “As a mom I make decisions every day about what’s best for my kids. Being a scientist is no different. It’s all about uncovering the information we need to make informed decisions.”

Fave 5: Reporter Chris Hubbuch's favorite stories of 2020

My favorite stories to write are those that require me to learn about something new and force me to see the world from a different perspective. There were many such stories to tell during this extraordinary year, though none of my top five were directly related to the pandemic.

I’d known Wisconsin was a big producer of mink pelts, but I didn’t know that most of the North American fur trade moved through a Stoughton business that traced its lineage back to the Hudson Bay Company. The folks at Saga Furs, who took over the operations of North American Fur Association, were kind enough to teach me about the business and let us photograph them.

Few landscapes have captivated me like the Driftless region, where I was fortunate enough to live for nearly 15 years. It’s an enchanting place with unrivaled beauty, and, it turns out, is also highly resilient to climate change, providing habitat for species that left other parts of southern Wisconsin with the retreating glaciers more than 10,000 years ago. Also, never pass up a chance to spend time in the woods while on the clock.

Journalists spend a lot of time writing about problems -- after all, it’s not news when a plane lands safely -- so it’s refreshing to be able to write about solutions. In this case, a very simple solution -- farming the way it was done for centuries -- fixes so much. It can help farmers turn a profit, keep soil where it belongs, protect lakes and streams, and even fight climate change. And the Gruenfelders are good people running a quality farm on some of the most scenic land in the world.

Full disclosure: for the better part of five decades many of my happiest moments have occurred while riding a bike. I’ve also seen how outdoor recreation opportunities played a role in economic development of two cities I’ve called home -- Chattanooga and La Crosse. So the prospect of developing a city-wide offroad trail network excites me for personal reasons as well as its potential to improve the quality of life for all residents.

This was one of the more difficult stories I wrote this year, largely because of the complexity of the contamination and remediation concerns but also the long history of the plant and redevelopment efforts that weren't familiar to me as a recent transplant. It didn't help that I wrote the story from my daughter's hospital room during a one-day procedure that took four days. (She's fine.)

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After a 350-year-old Canadian fur trading company went bankrupt just as Wisconsin mink farmers were beginning their harvest, a Finnish competitor is breathing new life into the state’s oldest industry.

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As the climate changes, species move to adapt. Preserving these unique areas can help them survive.

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For an industry battered by unstable commodity prices, rising costs, market constraints and extreme weather, grassland farming represents a bright spot.

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Madison has long enjoyed a reputation as a two-wheel haven. But opportunities for off-road adventures are limited, usually involving a trip to a neighboring community or beyond. A new plan seeks to change that.

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“This was a lot more than Weinerville,” said one resident who hired an environmental law firm to report on potential contamination. “It’s a big evolution from a century ago when the Mayer brothers came up here from Chicago."

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