Where does YCP’s writer-in-residence get her story ideas? As a climate writer, they come from all around her

By Evie Giffin

ON WHAT ironically turned out to be a cold early March evening during what has been a warmer-than-normal winter, York College of Pennsylvania was visited by this year’s writer-in-residence Kendra Pierre-Louis, an environmental journalist who writes about the effects of global warming and other unexpected changes.

Around 100 people attended her public reading, entitled “Why Stories Need Science and Science Need Stories,” inside the Weinstock Lecture Hall on March 2.

During the event she showed examples of her own writing, gave examples of science benefiting other stories and revealed some of her writing/research techniques she uses. It was a 30-minute talk followed by 30 minutes of questions directed to her. This was just one stop during a busy four-day visit to campus that included engagements with multiple classes, including to a roundtable discussion with members of The Spartan staff, and culminated in a five-hour Saturday workshop at the Center for Community Engagement where she went over her writing methods and gave advice to prospective journalists. 

Kendra Pierre-Louis presenting at the Cultural Series event on Mar. 2, 2023. (Brendan Bilo/The Spartan)

Pierre-Louis has an S.M (M.S) in Science Writing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), an M.A. in Sustainable Development with a focus on Policy Analysis and Advocacy from the SIT Graduate Institute, and a B.A. in Economics from Cornell University. This makes her uniquely qualified to read and interpret the different research papers and studies being produced. She said that was always interested in the way the world works and how beautiful it is, which helped inspire her to pursue a career spreading accurate information that tells the public what is happening in easily understandable ways.

She often gets her story ideas from news, stories, or just looking at the environment around her. Although she has been to Greenland multiple times to write articles that impact the world, most of the time she is using Google scholar and other sources to research her stories.

Pierre-Lewis has worked as a senior climate reporter with the Gimlet/Spotify podcast called “How to Save a Planet,” as a climate reporter with The New York Times, and as a staff writer for Popular Science (PopSci) where she wrote about science, the environment, and, occasionally, mayonnaise (more on that in another story). In addition, her writing has appeared in FiveThirtyEight, The Washington Post, and Slate, and is also the author of the book, “Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet.” She will begin a new job in April with Bloomberg.

She is a recipient of the 2022 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award, receiving the gold award in the magazine category for her story “How rising groundwater caused by climate change could devastate coastal communities in MIT Technology Review.

Several of the stories she has written for The Atlantic include “The East Coast Will Not Escape Fire” and “A Recipe for Climate Disaster.”In addition, here is a link to the stories she wrote during the several years she worked at the Times and a link to her website.

Pierre-Louis told her Weinstock Lecture Hall audience that she reads research papers to identify the tests that explain some of what is happening to our planet , which helps find stories. She obtains statistics through right-to-know requests or searches other public websites and organizations.

She also always gets a second opinion from an expert to make sure that her information is accurate. If she can’t, she usually decides that there is something wrong with the study or results. This ensures the accuracy of what she is writing. She also said she was “lucky” to join the industry when she did as interest in climate change is increasing and the number of environmental journalists, while still small, has been increasing.

She often works during disaster seasons (the season with hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods) because that is where you see the most change in the world. This means she can write stories about animal migration, groundwater levels, or people displaced that might not make the news.

Kendra Pierre-Louis presenting at the Cultural Series event on Mar. 2, 2023. (Brendan Bilo/The Spartan)

When people hear what her job is, she said, they often think she only writes depressing stories. She still tries to make the stories fun to read and easily accessible through her guidelines that “you can make jokes if nobody dies,” which allows her to give the stories the correct level of seriousness that it needs to be respected and interesting.

She said she believes that science adds the context needed to make a story accurate, meaningful, and better. Her favorite show, “The Expanse,” is written and produced by a team of scientists that check to make sure every scene is scientifically accurate. She said that “we remember stories better than facts,” and that has been proven in schools and stories.

Finally, she notes that giving a story a villain and a character to root for to help make the story more interesting helps to convey the science behind what she is saying.

Evie Giffin is a senior majoring in Professional Writing and Literary And Textual Studies.

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