On Twitter, Kendra Pierre-Louis is Kendra “Gloom is My Beat” Pierre-Louis.It’s a nod to the black humor journalists deploy to ease the burden of often being the bearers of bad news.
Pierre-Louis is a reporter on the New York Times’ 3-year-old climate team, a group of Washington, D.C., and New York City journalists and editors who report the latest issues surrounding the changing climate. Before joining the Times in 2017, Pierre-Louis was a staff reporter with Popular Science, which is where her Twitter handle was born. She covered climate change and water there while a colleague covered earthquakes and volcanoes.
“The joke was she was Doom and I was Gloom,” said Pierre-Louis, in a phone interview with Inland 360 last week.
They made a fake D&G logo and Pierre-Louis changed her name on Twitter in a moment of fun that stuck.
Tonight Pierre-Louis will present the talk, “Is Gloom my Beat? Reporting on our Changing Planet,” at the University of Idaho Administration Building Auditorium. She will describe the challenges of covering the global effects of climate change, the ways in which climate change is already affecting humans, and the current status of action.
Pierre-Louis is also the author of “Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet.” Inland 360 talked to her some more about her work.
What has it been like for you as a journalist to solely focus on climate change? Is it all depressing news?
It’s been good as a reporter, I get to really understand the issue and really focus in on it and become well-versed in the science around it.
At Popular Science I focused on environmental issues. Once in awhile I’d get a break to write food stories, which was nice because no one dies at the end of them.
Every so often we get (a story that is upbeat at the Times). I did one about how lawns and grasses can act as carbon filters called “A Secret Superpower, Right in Your Backyard.” I started with a reference to “Black Panther”:
“As the verdant hills of Wakanda are secretly enriched with the fictional metal vibranium in ‘Black Panther,’ your average backyard also has hidden superpowers: Its soil can absorb and store a significant amount of carbon from the air, unexpectedly making such green spaces an important asset in the battle against climate change.”
What is one of the most important stories you think you’ve done in the last year?
That’s a tough question. I’ll say one that resonated with a lot of people and got a lot of pickup was, “The World Wants Air Conditioning. That Could Warm the World.” It was a story on how increased use of air conditioning is exacerbating climate change, which leads to increased energy usage. The U.S., India and China have the least efficient air conditioning systems. One thing you can do is buy more efficient air conditioning systems. India and other countries are getting hotter under a warming climate, so it’s a paradox because air conditioning is literally saving lives, warming the planet and becoming more necessary at the same time.
What’s one of your most controversial recent stories?
(Laughs) That would be about hamburgers, “No One is Taking Your Hamburgers. But Would it Even Be a Good Idea?”
The story was about beef, grain and the Green New Deal, whether taking all our hamburgers away would impact consumption, environment and health. … The answer is, it’s complicated.
A lot of people have strong feelings one way or another. Some people reached out accusing me of being vegan or not wanting to give up my hamburgers. What I eat is not a contributing factor to the story.
Statistics in “No One is Taking Your Hamburgers” stated that U.S. agriculture was responsible for 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the country in 2016 and that cows, whose guts produce the greenhouse gas methane, account for 26.9 percent of U.S. methane emissions, more than any other source.
What is complicated about reducing U.S. cattle production?
Removing meat assumes other foods will be available. On a lot of the land in the Midwest they have gotten really good at growing a tremendous amount of calories in a short time — grain, soy and corn (which are used to feed animals). What could they grow instead in a short time that can be stored easily? The Midwest experienced floods this year but we in America will not starve because we have a large store of grain. If everyone in Iowa became a kale farmer, it’s not as clear that you can store kale for two years. Those are the kind of things people are trying to figure out when you’re trying to create an agricultural system to feed a large amount of people. … If we get it wrong, hunger can happen. If we have a bad wheat year, most people in the U.S. don’t really notice. We are pretty sheltered from the volatility of the food system. A lot of people underestimate what famine looks like and how it can take hold.
IF YOU GO
WHO: New York Times reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis, “Is Gloom my Beat? Reporting on our Changing Planet”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 28
WHERE: Administration Building Auditorium, University of Idaho, 875 Campus Drive, Moscow
Another opportunity to get involved…
People can learn more about ways to reverse climate change April 19-20 at the “Bridging the Climate Divide” conference presented by the Idaho and eastern Washington chapters of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
The Moscow conference is open to anyone interested in action on climate change. There will be a free talk and reception April 19. Registration is open for events April 20, which include speakers, workshops, a panel discussion and dinner.
The keynote address, on “The Path Forward on Climate Change: Bipartisan Congressional Legislation” will be presented by Steve Ghan, contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. April 19 in Room 111 of Renfrew Hall at the University of Idaho.
Topics covered April 20 will include climate and sustainable agriculture, health impacts from climate change, environmental justice, outreach across the aisle, and youth outreach. Registration is $35 through April 12 for non-students.
The Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a nonpartisan national organization that builds political will for action on climate change. More information and registration is available at cclpalouse.org.
Recent headlines from the New York Times’ climate change reporting team