Christmas has her 6-year-old so excited, Danielle Hilton and her daughter are celebrating the season by writing carols together. But these aren’t your traditional “Deck the Halls.”
Hilton, who is concerned about the state of the environment and natural resources that her daughter’s generation will inherit, has been posting videos to YouTube of her family, friends and strangers singing carols for clean energy. She and a group of carolers are headed to the Duke Energy building in Uptown today around lunchtime to serenade the corporation, part of an action organized by the state’s Moms Clean Air Force.
“I’m encouraging anyone to record a song to contribute,” Hilton says. “I know it’s time to be with family, but take a moment to record two to three lines about clean energy and hopes for the future,” she says.
Songs on the YouTube channel include a parody of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” called “Who Did This” and a spoof of Jingle Bells called “Benzene Smells.”
Moms Clean Air Force has about 9,000 members in North Carolina and more than 100 participants on Facebook. People become members when they sign petitions. The nonprofit organization focuses on improving children’s health by promoting clean air and fighting industrial air pollutants. Locally, coal ash, the toxic material that is generated in enormous quantities by coal-burning power plants, is one of their biggest concerns, and the reason they are focusing on Duke Energy this Christmas. On Friday, Dec. 19, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that coal ash be classified as regular waste, instead of a toxic or hazardous material. It is now subject only to a set of guidelines that state regulators can adopt — or ignore — instead of federally enforceable rules that would be consistent nationwide. In addition, the guidelines apply only to the disposal of coal ash, not to the full lifecycle of the substance: generation, storage, transport, management and disposal.
Hilton, who is also involved with Clean Air Carolina, Greenpeace and Charlotte Environmental Action, says moms are uniquely positioned to raise awareness of how the environment affects children’s health, without being partisan.
“Everybody wants clean air and water for their kids, but people get turned off if they’re told that this [issue] is only for Democrats or this is only for liberals. Lots of conservatives in the state don’t want their kids drinking coal ash,” Hilton says.
In Hilton’s opinion, it’s all a matter of framing, as the environment often isn’t tangible enough of an issue for broad audiences to latch onto.
“So we frame it around children’s health. For me that’s the bottom line, not melting icebergs or polar bears. What’s tangible to me is the asthma rate in our state is the No. 1 reason for missed school in Mecklenburg County, and the Orange Alert days when children and seniors are told not to go outside. This has tangible effects on children. Somebody would have to really be far out there to come out against children’s health, and the reason some policies get far as they do is because the children’s health message is not out there enough. We’re trying to change that,” Hilton says.
Hilton’s own daughter was born with allergies, so Hilton became hyper aware of all the threats to her child’s health. She eliminated a lot of the potential pollutants in her home, and in the process became aware of how power companies like Duke were impacting the environment.
“When my daughter comes to me and realizes the water is poisoned, the beach is destroyed and the air is bad and says, ‘Mommy, what did you do,’ I want to be able to say that I was fighting. Not that I was busy stirring the pot or making noise but intentionally making the best effort to spare her resources so her children could thrive,” Hilton says.
Watch the #carols4cleanenergy on YouTube and consider adding your own to the mix.