Climate Mama: Maya van Rossum


used with permission

We are incredibly honored to introduce you to someone that we at ClimateMama have had the privilege of working with, getting to know and watch in action, with awe: the indomitable Maya van Rossum. Maya is our Wonder Woman; putting herself directly on the line – daily – on behalf of us all, as a guardian for truth and justice!

As the Delaware Riverkeeper, Maya leads the charge in protecting the watershed that provides drinking water to 15 million people, including about seven million people in New York City and northern New Jersey who live outside the basin. Maya is truly a beacon of hope and a true leader and hero in an uphill battle to preserve and protect the natural resources, air, water and soil that are the Delaware River basin. It is with humility and excitement that we present to you May van Rossum, and we look forward to you getting to know more about her, her work, her thoughts and her hopes for all us! Maya makes us hopeful, that together we will find a way to create and preserve a livable future for ourselves and our children.

P.S. Make sure not to miss Maya’s playlist!

Current project/position/adventure: I am the Delaware Riverkeeper and head of the advocacy organization the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Parent or Grandparent: I am a proud mother of 2 and step mother to 4 others.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, the steps you took, life events, decisions you made, that helped you arrive at where you are at today? Being the Delaware Riverkeeper is about ensuring the Delaware River, all its tributaries and all the communities that depend upon them have a voice at the decision-making table. But more than that, my job is to make sure that their needs are not just known but are given the highest priority possible in the decisions being made. Clean and abundant water supplies for our communities and the River itself should not be considered a privilege – they are rights that need to be honored and protected. Not only do we need that clean, fresh water to live, but we also need a river watershed that is healthy so it can protect us from floods and drought and other harms. My job as the Delaware Riverkeeper is to ensure that all these rights are protected, and where they have been taken that they are restored. I am indeed privileged to bear the title the Delaware Riverkeeper, but as we all know, it takes more than one person to protect a River, a watershed, and all the communities they support. And so I have a wonderful staff of 20 and over 14,000 members and active volunteers that are part of my organization the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and that help me do my job.

What inspires you to keep going, to keep fighting this challenging battle against climate change? Many things inspire me to keep going – it really depends upon the day and the moment. Sometimes it is the River itself or a stream I am visiting, their beauty, power and majesty; sometimes it is watching a community struggle because they are suffering from dangerous decisions that are polluting their water or destroying the forests that are an integral part of their community; sometimes it is thinking about my kids and the kind of future they will have if we don’t change our behaviors and start recognizing that protecting our environment needs to be among our top priorities; sometimes it is watching a critter or plant struggle because of poor choices people have made and marveling at the lack of regard we give to these creatures with whom we share this earth; sometimes it is just that inner voice and champion of what is right, fair, moral and honorable instilled in me by my parents and that incredible pain I feel when I see someone or something suffering needlessly and without their voice being heard.

What are the three greatest challenges, and or opportunities you feel the world faces from climate change? Among our greatest challenges when it comes to dealing with climate change is the power of the political influence and the slick marketing that the power industry has – the gas drillers, the pipeline companies, the coal companies etc. Their slick ads and one liners that have little regard for the truth nor the devastation they are bringing upon us with their continuing press for reliance on fossil fuels and extreme energy extraction practices such as shale gas development, fracking, mountain top removal and ongoing oil drilling are overwhelming and difficult for the public to understand and for nonprofit organizations to challenge on equal footing.

Another great challenge that needs to be tackled is politicians in office who feed into the lies of the extreme energy industry either through their own ignorance or gullibility, or their greedy desire for power and campaign contributions. We need to find a way to get good people to run for political office and win – people who have the fortitude, strength, and commitment to protect the environment and who understand that the best way we can protect our present and future communities is to ensure a healthy environment.

By contrast, we have an incredible opportunity to change the future from one devastated by climate change to one that is safe, and bright and clean because it is powered by genuinely clean, sustainable and renewable energy which ensures clean, healthy and abundant water and air, and healthy soil for supporting sustainable farms and food. But we need to seize upon this bright future by investing in sustainable energy options today. Truly renewable, clean and sustainable energy is no longer a future goal, it is here today, powering homes, businesses, and communities. There are a number of studies which give us the road map for how we can become reliant on these energy options in this country and the world in just decades. So it is no longer about developing clean energy options, it is about ensuring the rules, regulations and funding are there to take full advantage of them instead of dirty and devastating fossil fuel options or nuclear power which bring devastation, pollution, threats, massive water consumption and the needless killing of billions of fish every year.

Scientific studies and real world scenarios seem to be pointing to more frequent extreme weather events, a shorter time frame for a warmer planet and all of the negative ramifications that this will cause. What will it take for us to mitigate these consequences? And/or how do you see us adapting to climate change in our “part of the world.” While the science is making clear that climate change is already having an affect, (increasing flooding, flood damages, drought and a dramatic alteration of our ecosystems that is impacting what grows where and to what degree, often with dire consequences) science is also demonstrating that sustainable energy is a real and available option – one that we can seize upon today.

Right now it is all about the political will to make the change from fossil fuels and other dangerous power options to truly sustainable ones like wind, solar, geothermal and the amazing new energy options that great minds are quickly developing. Clean energy is here for our communities and homes – I know, I have solar panels on my roof and geothermal in my garden that light, warm and cool my home. It is up to us, the public, to demand that our politicians put in place the rules, regulations, policies, programs and funding incentives needed to make sustainable, clean energy the king and fossil fuels the dinosaur that it once was and should be again.

Do you see any hopeful signs that people are waking up to the dangers of climate change? I see many hopeful signs that people are sitting up and taking notice of the climate change issue and feeling the need to get informed and active. In our region, rallies to speak out about climate change, shale gas development, pipelines and fracking are routinely attended by thousands even when they are happening in the middle of a work day – people understand this is a vital issue that requires their voice. When I go to public meetings where energy issues are the focus, I have the honor of listening to hundreds of people share their testimony, their stories, their concerns, even their songs. Listening to all these people moved to stand up and speak on behalf of their community, our environment and for a better energy path it is clear that people are recognizing the need to get informed and active on the issues of energy and climate change.

From what I have witnessed in my work, I believe that across the nation, communities concerned about the health of our environment and the ramifications of global climate change are not only seeing and feeling the need for action to avert climate change, but they are feeling disenfranchised, undermined, and betrayed by elected officials at every level of government who they once trusted to protect them. The increasing loyalty to the energy industry demonstrated by politicians is resulting in a rise of public dissent. After repeated and fruitless efforts to wade through the approved bureaucratic channels to have their voices heard regarding our energy future, people of all walks of life are so concerned that when faced with an ill-conceived defeat, they are even willing to turn to their last option: protest.

Increasingly, protests, sit ins, blockades, and street theater are among the methods being used to demand a sustainable energy path that rejects fracking, drilling, and other extreme forms of energy extraction. In fact, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network is a sponsor of an online a pledge folks can sign to say they are concerned about shale gas development and its infrastructure and are willing and wanting to stand together to prevent it if that is what it takes. Over 2,000 have already signed the pledge, found at That so many are willing to sign their name to this pledge shows me that people understand that this is a moment in time when they can and must, with their actions, come together to demand needed protection and change.

What advice would you give to other Climate Mama’s and Papa’s, steps they can take both as individuals and collectively to help change the course we currently find ourselves on with climate change? When a child expresses any desire or concern for a part of nature it is important that parents and other respected adults in their lives listen, express understanding, show support for their concern, and that we help the child find a path to act upon their upset – whether it be taking an injured animal to the wildlife rescue facility even when we don’t have the time, or helping to free a tree in the woods being choked by invasive vines and expressing out loud our joy at being part of this rescue. I think that when adults diminish, ignore, or set aside demonstrated concern by a child for animals or any element of the environment we teach them that concern for the earth is a quaint concept but not one to be respected – when they learn that lesson they live it as adults. So the best thing we can do for our kids is nurture their cares and concerns for any element of the earth and help them find a way to act upon their concerns whatever they are – -not listen and set it aside or but even in our busy lives that we find the time to hear, support and help them act upon their upset.

I think it is vitally important that we don’t scare our children but are honest with them about how each and every day we can individually and collectively make decisions that make a difference. My kids are very much part of my activism on environmental issues. We talk about my concerns on a variety of environmental issues from shale gas development to fish kills to harmful development to factory farms to why lawns are harmful and need to be restored to healthy ecological systems (of course in an age appropriate way). My husband and I lead by example but not silently, always explaining why we are choosing to get solar panels installed, to use only cloth bags at stores or carry our items in our hands, to cycle or walk rather than drive. I bring our kids with me to protests and film viewings that they can find fun but also, once there, are engaging and allow them to be inspired by the words and wisdom and hearts of the many people there who care.

Other thoughts or ideas that you would like to pass on to our community? We are at a turning point in our country – will we take the path that protects our communities, which includes protecting the environments we need to survive and thrive, or will we sit back and hope someone else does the right thing. We all know the right choice – we need to stand up and act, and we need to ensure our children will carry on this work into the future so we never again become complacent about environmental protection as we have in our past.

I am hopeful for our future but it will require work to ensure a safe future for our kids and ourselves – we do not have the luxury of trusting that legislators and regulators are going to do the right thing on our behalf – sadly our political system and too many of our politicians don’t seem to be playing the role of protector. But we do have the power, as a community, to secure a changed energy path now in order to ensure a safer future for us all. We need our children to understand and seek that empowerment with us so they grow to be informed and sensible adults who understand that we best protect ourselves when we best protect our rivers and environment. We need our children to grow into adults who understand that it is wrong to exploit the environment for personal gain at the expense of every one else.

We need our children, and ourselves, to understand that we can accomplish all of our goals and needs in a way that supports, protects and restores the ecological systems we need to have healthy and happy lives. Whenever I speak publicly I always tell the audience, no matter what your personal priorities and goals – whether it be a healthy environment, the health of your family, the economy, education, recreation, mental health, protection from flooding, kids, adults, animals, plants, art —you will always, as a community, best accomplish those priorities and goals if you make the decisions that best protect the River. And I challenge folks to challenge me on that assertion; I have yet to encounter a scenario where I can’t make the case. Finally, we all need to embrace the title of Tree Hugger, River Rat, Water Lover, Environmentalist – these are honorable titles that show us to be honorable people who love ourselves and love our earth.

Contact information, website, or related story you would like us to link to this article? Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper Delaware Riverkeeper Network telephone: 215 369 1188

Favorite book or movie? I think my most current favorite book is Last Child in the Woods – an amazing vision of the power of nature for supporting, nurturing and growing our children.

When it comes to movies, I like movies that have a good and powerful message for environmental protection, there are a lot of great ones targeted towards kids. The Lorax (the original one not the modern recent one), Fern Gully, Wall-E, Babe, Fly Away Home, Avatar. And of course, Gasland and Gasland2 are amazing films that have helped awaken our nation to the ravages of shale gas so that is among my favorites not only for its content but for the understanding, care and action it has inspired.

When I am traveling to a meeting to advocate for the River and our environments I love to listen to music that makes me feel empowered and inspired and that I can really connect to in terms of my environmental protection energy and concern. Here are among those on my favorite play list: • “Clear Blue Skies” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young • “The Rape of the World” by Tracy Chapman – listen for the part where she urges you to “stand up and testify” • “Nature’s Way” by Spirit • “We Bought it” by Brother Tree • “Help Your Mother” by Brother Tree • “All Over” by Brother Tree • “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson • “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks as I see this as a song about speaking for what you believe is right despite the opposition you face • “If a Tree Falls” by Bruce Cockburn • “Way of the World” by Chante Pierce • “Good bye to a River” by Don Henley • “Simple Living” by Fred Small • “Treehugger” by J.P. Taylor • “Rise to the Challenge” by J.P. Taylor • “Down along the River” by J.P. Taylor • “Hug the Earth” by J.P. Taylor • “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver • “Don’t Cut Me Down” by Olivia Newton John • “Silent Ruin” by Olivia Newton John • Of course: “Maya van Rossum’s Blues” by the Donuts (a song about the Athos I oil spill on the Delaware River) •

Solar panel photo credit: Presidency Maldives via photopin cc

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