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Community Climate Hero- Cynthia Braun

Cynthia Braun is the first recipient of Bedford 2030’s new award for exceptional volunteerism, the Mary Beth Kass Climate Leader Award.

Interview conducted and edited by B2030 Communications Intern Mia Handler

During her time as a Bedford 2030 volunteer, Dr. Braun has advocated for the Packaging Reduction & Recycling Infrastructure Act (S4246-a) in Albany, organized the Power of Trees Expo, and will work on connecting climate with public health as our Climate Action Now Ambassador. Her experience as a pediatrician brings expertise on children and environmental concerns to our organization. Bedford 2030 was lucky enough to sit down and have a wide-ranging conversation with Dr. Braun about sustainability, children’s mental and physical health, and advocacy.

How did you find Bedford 2030, and what made you want to volunteer with the organization?

Bedford 2030's Earth Day Festival at Bedford Hills Train Station

We moved to Katonah back in 2006, and that was before I was aware of Bedford 2020 (at the time, Bedford 2020). Over the course of the 10 years – between 2010 and 2020 – Bedford 2030 was able to achieve this 44% reduction in greenhouse gasses produced by the town of Bedford. I thought, ‘this is an amazing organization that with a small, but powerhouse, staff has created awareness in the community, done all kinds of events and educational programming to connect with kids in school, as well as with community members and the leadership in the town. They are trying to help all of us living here change our behaviors with greenhouse gasses and our relationship with natural resources.’ So, I thought, if I have some time to volunteer, let me be as effective as possible with my efforts [and volunteer with Bedford 2030].

I wanted to volunteer for an organization where my time, efforts, and energy really matter. There’s nothing more important than the climate crisis we’re dealing with, and I think every single action we can do in order to mitigate that, to change our trajectory, is so worthwhile and valuable.

How has your experience as a pediatrician shaped your interest in environmentalism?

Mount Kisco Elementary School students leading a planting activity at The Power Of Trees Forum

Working as a pediatrician, I was always focused on keeping kids safe and healthy. We also focused a lot on education and prevention, the choices families can make in keeping kids healthy. So, now that we’re looking at all these threats to our water, air, and environment, kids’ health is at risk.  Taking care of our environment and resources is crucial to their future. I’m speaking as a pediatrician, but I’m also speaking as a parent. Everything our generation, and generations before us have done, in terms of our practices and lifestyles, has contributed to damage to our environment and our planet. So, I see rising incidents of asthma, allergies, autoimmune diseases, and even genetic disorders, that are affected by environmental exposures. Pregnant people too; the developing fetus is the most vulnerable to all these environmental toxins. All of that has contributed to my interest in working for a healthier climate.

Kids are the most vulnerable members of our communities. Their bodies are more vulnerable to all these environmental toxins than adult bodies are. So, how we take care of our land – land management practices, chemicals we might be using – will affect the quality of the water we drink, the food we grow, etc. Kids’ health is dependent on access to clean air, clean water, healthy food, access to nature. You can’t separate kids’ health and environmental health- they are intimately connected.

Can you expand on the “access to nature” point you made above?

[It is especially important] for kids to have an opportunity to be outdoors and connect to nature, observing wildlife and feeling connected to animals. Really, learning their place in the natural order. I think it is grounding – for any one of us – but also, it is such an antidote to social media and screens. [Kids are] anxious, they’re consumed by worries and fear, they’re targets of advertising; all those hours on the screen are so detrimental, and I think now, social media is about to be declared a public health emergency. Spending time outside, learning how to grow vegetables, how to take care of animals… it’s beautiful!  Exposure to nature is really essential for kids, and unfortunately, a lot of kids just don’t have access to the natural world, or are too obsessed with their screens and social media to disconnect and get outside to experience the beauty. A lot of studies do show that it’s calming to be outdoors, and it allows us to forget some of these worries that obsess us. It places us in the context of something greater than ourselves. It’s a therapy, really, to be outdoors.

We’ve had this progression over the last decade or so, of kids falling into anxiety, depression, and mental health problems. Nature is an antidote to that.

What personal actions do you take in your daily life to reduce your carbon footprint?

Advocating for Packaging Reduction in Albany

I see so many opportunities to effect change in a variety of places, whether it’s composting your food scraps at home, or shopping at a thrift store, buying an electric vehicle, installing a heat pump, just walking or biking instead of driving. There are so many small ways to effect change that are easy to do. I would like to see everybody feel empowered to take actions like that, and I am excited about energizing our community to implement those practices in their own lives. But, for me, advocacy and legislation is the holy grail. If we’re able to mobilize, and create a groundswell of support to pass legislation, that will really change our practices as a society. We need fast and large-scale action now, which is why outside of Bedford 2030, I work to support campaigns of candidates who will support environmental legislation. I collect donations, write postcards, and get voters registered.

What would you say to others who may want to take Climate Action or get involved with B2030?

People often are worried about getting involved with an environmental organization, because there is a fear that that organization will be sort of militant, or scolding, making us feel bad about our lifestyles. They’re going to tell me that something I love is a bad choice for the planet and makes me feel bad. That’s not what Bedford 2030 is at all: they will meet you where you are. There is a place for everybody in the movement, and every action makes a difference.