The Essential Climate Solutions Reading List
Kendra Pierre-Louis, a climate reporter for Gimlet Media who is shifting the conversation from problems to solutions, shares some of the stories she's found most inspiring.
A few days before the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dropped its latest report, the climate reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis issued a warning to her followers on Twitter: “Your feed is going to be filled with all of the horrible things that a warming climate will do.”
She was, of course, correct. Several outlets quoted U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ statement calling the report a “code red for humanity.” Eric Holthaus called the IPCC report “difficult” to read: “Chances are, you’ll learn new truths about the climate emergency that will be terrifying in a way you haven't yet felt.” The New York Times reported that, whatever we do now, 1.5 degrees of warming is essentially “locked in” within the next couple decades. At that point, “[n]early one billion people worldwide could swelter in more frequent life-threatening heat waves. Hundreds of millions more would struggle for water because of severe droughts. Some animal and plant species alive today will be gone.”
But it was not the dire state of affairs that Pierre-Louis wanted to call attention to now; it was what we could still do about it. Much of the former Times staffer’s most recent work as a reporter and producer on the podcast How to Save a Planet has been an attempt to turn the lens in climate reporting from problems toward solutions. Her most powerful work goes beyond the low hanging fruit of tweaking our existing society with energy efficiency and renewable fuels and asks readers to completely reimagine the way we live in the world.
In her contribution to the book of essays All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, Pierre-Louis digs into the widely held idea that humans will inevitably destroy any environment they inhabit. Taking a survey of pop culture representations of our relationship with the natural world, Pierre-Louis finds that we have a hard time even imagining what it could look like for people to live in harmony with the planet — the one exception being Black Panther’s Wakanda. This is a problem, Pierre-Louis has noted elsewhere, because “film and television don’t only reflect culture; they also shape it.”
“The stories we tell about ourselves and our place in the world are the raw materials from which we build our existence,” she wrote. How can we build a new world if we can’t even imagine it first?
In the wake of the harrowing IPCC report, The Postscript reached out to Pierre-Louis to find out what recent stories and solutions she’s found inspiring, and which solutions it’s time to let go of. Here are her picks.
Earlier this summer, as a heat wave enveloped much of western North America, Sarah Miller perfectly articulated what it feels like to be a climate reporter in this era of inescapable climate change for Nieman Lab; chiefly, like writing about it is no longer enough. “Recently, a fellow climate reporter lamented to me that it’s gotten to the point where she feels like she’s rewriting the same climate stories but with different words,” Pierre-Louis says. “Miller’s story captures that feeling that I think many people who’ve been steeped in climate work for awhile feel. We understand the scale of the problem and we need fewer words and more action at this point.”
The trouble with so many of the climate solutions we’ve turned to so far is that they don’t get to the root of the problem — and might actually make things worse. Swapping out every gas-guzzling car on the road for an electric one sounds great until you learn that companies plan to start destructive, deep sea mining for the precious metals required in batteries. We don’t need to drive different cars, we need to drive less. Similarly, as Lisa Song of ProPublica and James Temple of MIT Technology Review reported, offsetting rather than reducing carbon emissions hasn’t gotten us any closer to our climate goals.
“For decades companies have tried to convince us that we don’t really need to reduce our carbon emissions, we can offset them, by planting trees that absorb CO2 and other activities designed to pull carbon out of the atmosphere or reduce the amount of carbon emissions we emit,” Pierre-Louis says. “This story does a good job at illustrating how, while the concept might be theoretically sound, the actual application leaves a lot of problematic wiggle room that leaves the rest of us much worse off.”
Contrary to popular belief, the solutions that do work won’t necessarily come from new and innovative technologies. The state of California has spent decades and trillions of dollars fighting wildfires, and all the while the fires themselves have grown larger, hotter, and more destructive. What gives? All that fire suppression actually created a landscape that was primed to go up in smoke as temperatures rose and precipitation fell across the state. One of the most promising solutions, profiled here by Susie Cagle in the Guardian, is to bring fire back to landscapes that used to burn.
“One of the hardest messages to convey is that fire is an essential part of many landscapes and that, in a warming world, we need more (carefully managed) fires not fewer,” Pierre-Louis says. “Cagle does an incredible job of capturing the wrongheaded legacy of fire suppression and of the belief that adapting to a warming world means turning to new solutions. At least some of the ideas that we need to reduce emissions and adapt to the climate crisis are not new but were abandoned in favor of ideas around technological progress.”
The Essentials is a recurring column that introduces readers to a subject, concept, or notable individual’s work, with expert recommendations for what to read, watch, and/or listen to.We’ll get you up to speed in minutes, but provide resources for taking a deeper dive, when it works for you.
Additional content and context, added to everything we do.
Listen: Recycling! Is It BS?
If you’ve ever stood over your recycling bin wondering if the piece of metal, paper, or, most likely, plastic in your hand is actually recyclable, this episode of How to Save a Planet is for you. Kendra Pierre-Louis walks host Alex Blumberg through the ins and outs of the widely misunderstood process, including how to decipher those numerical codes on plastics and what that triangle of arrows we associate with recycling really means. (Spoilers: It doesn’t mean the piece of plastic is recyclable!)
Listen: Where’s Our Climate Anthem?
Every social movement needs an anthem. Where are all the climate bangers? Pierre-Louis talks to How to Save a Planet host Ayana Elizabeth Johnson about what makes for a great anthem, based on one of the most well-known anthems from the civil rights movement, “We Shall Overcome,” and how to apply those lessons to create a climate change anthem for the future.
Meet: About the Author
Kate Wheeling is a freelance journalist based in California covering the environment, climate change, and our relationship to each other and to the natural world. You can find her work in Smithsonian, The Nation, The New Republic, Outside, and others.