Mary Robinson and Maeve Higgins’ new podcast finds feminist solutions to man-made climate change

Image: Ruth Medjber

As if to underline the message, the launch of climate justice podcast Mothers of Invention takes place on a searingly hot heatwave morning at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art.

The show’s co-hosts, former Irish president Mary Robinson, and comic and New York Times columnist (and Little Atoms contributor) Maeve Higgins manage to look cool while the assembled journalists and climate activists gulp water (for reasons unclear even to myself, I have worn a jacket and tie, so am probably sweltering even more than most).

Mothers of Invention, they tell us sets out with a simple premise; climate change is a manmade problem with a feminist solution. The podcast meets women from around the world who are working to confront the problem of climate change in interesting and innovative ways: in the first episode, Robinson and Higgins look into the role of legal action in holding governments to account on climate targets. Episode two, just released, features women from around the world discussing divestment as a route to climate justice.

The idea was originally Robinson’s, she tells the audience at the ICA. Working at the UN and with her own foundation, she felt an urgent need to communicate the need for action on climate. Originally, she had thought of a documentary film, and approached film producers Doc Society. Doc Society were blunt: the climate documentary is a crowded market, and a new approach was needed. Why not try a podcast? Robinson jokes that she had never listened to a podcast before: likewise Doc Society had never made one.

Higgins, on the other hand, is an experienced podcaster. Her series Maeve in America intertwined her own story of leaving Ireland for New York (via a stint in London) with the stories of the many different migrant individuals and communities that make up America – bringing a human face to the immigration “debate” while Donald Trump campaigned to build walls to keep people out (a book based on the series has just been published). 

Robinson likes the idea of working with a comic, she says, pointing out how many young people now get their news from semi-serious programmes like The Daily Show.

The chemistry between the two presenters is palpable in the room and on the podcast. Robinson is, as you expect a serious presence. “I always do my homework” she comments at the opening of the first episode, and here she is, at the ICA, with pages of notes and talking points – a sight that can’t help but remind one of the glibness of a world where speaking without notes is seen as some kind of essential skill for politicians rather than the Oxford Union parlour trick it often is.

Higgins’ hosting style hovers between gentle prodding of Robinson (episode two starts with questions about who paid for dinner on the former president’s first date with husband of 48 years, Nick), and informed questioning. The rapport is obvious, and impressive, given that for most Irish women (and men – me for example) of Higgins’ generation, Robinson occupies a position somewhere between inspiration and deity.

Those familiar with Higgins’ stand up and writing (including the Irish Times columns in which she frequently fantasised about a romantic relationship with the current Irish president Michael D Higgins) will know her ability to switch quickly between innocence and sharp insight. Higgins keeps the podcast moving, teasing – in every sense – the most of out of Robinson and guests.

Mothers Of Invention heralds an interesting point in how we talk about climate change: the time for convincing people that climate change needs to be fought has pased. Post-Paris climate conference, we have a target (staying below 2 degrees change from pre-industrial temperatures this century). We’re not defining the problem anymore: we’re now working toward the solution. And Mothers of Invention is an invaluable resource of the different approaches that we must hope will get us there.

You can find out more about Mothers Of Invention at

*Editors’ note: 89up, Little Atoms publisher, has worked with Doc Society on social media promotion of the Mothers Of Invention podcast.