The climate journalist sees all the changes, but also the difficulties in getting society to act

By Hayley Leitzinger

KENDRA Pierre-Louis has a huge love for the Arctic and has visited it several times. 

The York College writer-in-residence for 2023 was asked why the Arctic was inspiring to her and why it’s an important ecosystem on our planet. She responded by saying, “…it’s like the best air I’ve ever breathed…[(and] it’s just so beautiful…” 

Pierre-Louis talked to members of The Spartan class during her visit to campus March 1-4. A climate writer who previously worked for Gimlet, the podcasting company, in addition to the The New York Times, and Popular Science (PopSci). She is also the author of the book, “Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet.” Here is a link to her web page.

Pierre-Louis remarked how ironic this fondness for the Arctic was because she hates the cold. But her opinion of colder climates was changed when she arrived in Alaska, and within eight hours of landing, saw a polar bear. She has a special connection with the Arctic and she feels an acute loss of the ecosystem when asked why it was so inspiring to her. “It’s one of the fastest warming ecosystems on the planet,” She said. “We’re losing it, so it’s just a huge tension of trying to see it and enjoy it as much as possible.” 

She also pointed out how New York City (and York, for that matter) have both had snowless winters and the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada, the world’s longest naturally frozen skating rink, didn’t freeze over this winter for the first time ever. “And that’s Ottawa. That’s Canada,” she said,

So how can we help slow down climate change? Pierre-Louis had a specific answer.

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

Part of what helped spur her idea for slowing climate change came to her on a normal work day in her office. She noticed how everyone was using disposable water bottles and throwing many of them away or losing them throughout the course of the day. She remembered thinking to herself how “…huge of an environmental footprint water bottles are when we don’t need them. And it was a weird moment because I’d lost three in a year. And I was like, I just don’t think that’s green.” 

Naturally, the question that followed Pierre-Louis’ experience in her office was how do we fix this? She said one of the issues surrounding this problem is, “I think we do a really poor job of letting people know how to become socially and politically engaged. Not even how to [become engaged] but the information needed to be good citizens.”

Educating the public is one part of the solution to the climate change problem, according to Pierre-Louis. The other part of the solution requires changing “everything all at once.” 

Pierre-Louis explains: “That’s the biggest issue with climate change, because we need to move to building electrification, ASAP. We need to revamp our transportation ASAP. We need to eat differently, which means different agricultural policies ASAP. We can’t do it sequentially; It has to be done all at the same time. And I think there are opportunities because if we have to do all of these things at the same time, there’s opportunities for work.” 

Pierre-Louis recognizes how well this idea could work, but at the same time, how uncomfortable this change will be for people for a while. She says, “…we have to find a way of explaining this to people. For example, construction is uncomfortable, right? Let’s say you move into a home and you’re doing construction while you’re living there. It’s a hot mess until it’s done. So there also has to be a way of, as a country, accepting the fact that things are going to become harder for a while before they become easier, but that the alternative is that things will just become horrible.” 

She said that despite this change being very uncomfortable, society has to recognize that “We’re not choosing between good and bad. We’re choosing between less bad and awful.”

Hayley Leitzinger is a freshman at YCP and her major is currently undeclared. She is considering Occupational Therapy and is tailoring her classes this semester towards that career. 

ALSO READ: Is a climate writer an activist? Not in Kendra Pierre-Lewis’ book: ‘I’m just reporting the science’

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

ALSO READ: For this writer, there’s one ‘horrible’ condiment you’ll never find in her refrigerator


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