An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Years back, after taking her mother and son to see former US vice president Al Gore’s environmental documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Cathy Buckley ’71, SM ’73, had “an amazing moment.”

“We were three generations,” she says. “I realized I wanted my son’s generation to have the kind of habitable Earth that I had, and I also wanted to honor my mother’s generation who fought in World War II for us to have a better world.”

A transportation planner in metropolitan Boston for 36 years, Buckley planned bicycle and pedestrian projects, but seven years ago she traded her routine to become a full-time champion for the planet because “nothing felt more important to me.”

She joined the Climate Reality Project, founded by Gore, which advocates climate action in communities across the world. Nearly 14,500 Climate Reality Leaders work to mobilize communities in more than 100 countries, with 80 activist chapters across the United States that push for practical clean-energy policies.

“Our main challenge is to get enough people to know that our situation is extremely threatening to civilization, yet solutions are already here so we must move very quickly,” says Buckley, who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science. Now she speaks publicly on the topic “to anyone willing to listen.”

She credits her MIT education with giving her an edge when it comes to grasping the science behind the crisis. “MIT’s logical, rigorous way of thinking is so worthwhile in this work,” she says. In addition to working with Climate Reality, she serves as lead ambassador for the Environmental Defense Fund, recently served as chair of the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club, and was an organizer for the Democratic Party.

Buckley grew up in a family of 10 children. “There wasn’t a lot of peace and quiet,” she says. “I craved it then and welcome it now, especially the serenity of nature. I love being near trees, the ocean. It’s primordial.”

She moved last year from Boston to Raleigh, North Carolina, where she tries not to drive a car, takes Amtrak to Boston to avoid flying, and has happily acclimated to setting her thermostat lower in winter and higher in summer. Last year for Mother’s Day, her son, Sean, 28, got solar panels installed on his townhouse. “It was my best Mother’s Day gift ever,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of MIT News magazine, published by Technology Review magazine.

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