Interview with Journalist Kat Friedrich

I met journalist Kat Friedrich through an online group of women writers that focuses on climate change. Kat approaches these issues from an engineer’s standpoint, which is a critical voice in the conversation. She works with clients across the United States to create content related to clean energy, green construction, and higher education. You can read samples of her work here.

“Communities that deal with racial disparities in environmental health – also known as environmental justice communities – may become the places that suffer most. Environmental justice health risks and global warming go hand in hand…With global warming, there is no ‘opt out’ button. Either we face the situation or we don’t.” – Kat Friedrich writing for Scientific American

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I reached out to Kat to see if she might answer some questions on water, climate change, and engineering. Her responses are below:

Disclaimer: This interview represents Kat’s personal viewpoint and is not intended to reflect the views of any of her previous, current or future clients or employers.

How does your background in mechanical engineering inform your work as a writer on climate issues?
 

My entire writing career has been built on my experience and training as an engineer. It isn’t just a foundation stone––it’s the entire first floor. I write about engineers frequently. I help them share their enthusiasm about the solutions they are trying to develop. I understand their culture, but because I am a writer, I can see the bigger picture and help engineers communicate with non-specialists.

My training as an engineer also taught me how to plan projects and meet deadlines, which is an asset in my work as an editor at Yale’s Clean Energy Finance Forum.

Engineers and tradespeople will be some of the unsung heroes of the battle against climate change. They are the ones who will work to save the infrastructure of our society––our buildings, our dams, our bridges. They will also provide us with energy technology that can allow us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Engineers helped to create the environmental problems we face today, but they can also solve them. We need to harness the best tools at our disposal to fight climate change.

Do you have a story about water or climate change that you would like to share? 

I wrote an article for Scientific American about how a Burger King in East Boston would be flooded as sea levels rise. I think it’s really important for reporters to write stories that bring climate change down to the local level.

In East Boston, this is also an environmental justice issue because that area is not a wealthy community and a lot of new immigrants come to that neighborhood. When seas rise, where will those people go?

What concerns me is that a lot of people can’t afford to retrofit their homes to withstand the onslaught of sea level rise and cope with other weather disasters. Wealthier people may be able to move to higher ground more easily than others, but that will not be a panacea, because other natural hazards come with global warming too. Not everyone will be able to sell their homes when sea level rise arrives. Where is that money for resilience and relocation going to come from?

I write about creative clean energy financing strategies for Yale and talk about how it is very intelligent to invest in renewable energy. That conversation is now expanding internationally to include resilience and adaptation funding. New York and New Jersey are two of the states that are leading the way here in the United States.

But there is an immense amount of investment beyond these funds that will be required to help people relocate or retrofit their properties. I have no idea where all of that money will come from. I am concerned that many people may be left with rotting basements and no money to maintain their homes. The Washington Post published a story about maggots in a Chicago basement that illustrates this.

How can we continue to push for meaningful measures to address climate change?

My work involves online journalism. Much of it is business-oriented. I do not consider myself an environmental activist. I think that’s an important distinction to make. I am not in a public relations or lobbying role.

But based on my research on environmental communication, I can say news reporting is not enough to change behavior. Providing environmental information and creating awareness do not lead to consistent action.

Social scientists say a major piece of what is needed for sustainable behavior is a fundamental change in social norms. I would recommend that you visit the Community-Based Social Marketing website to see how environmental behavior change operates. It’s really very thought-provoking how few results come from information-based campaigns.

My personal opinion is that climate change needs to be approached from a large-scale, system-wide standpoint, including people of all social classes. This requires massive financial investment––we need large, mainstream organizations to put their shoulders to the wheel and change the course of our future.

Climate change prevention is a very good use of our collective financial assets. We should make extensive use of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

I see this as an opportunity to retool our industries and communities so we can survive and thrive on this planet. We cannot afford to have environmental choices remain part of a non-mainstream ideology––they need to be the default option.

Do you believe that the solution to this problem lies inside or outside of the political system?

Both. This is a large-scale problem and it requires a massive collective effort. The powerful organizations in our society need to spearhead that effort. Decision makers need to be on board. We really can’t afford to look at climate change mitigation as a matter of individual action at this time.

In the United States, because of our federal political gridlock, it is necessary to move this effort forward at the state level and at the corporate or business level. Other countries that are less polarized may be in a different situation. The political polarization in this country is really regrettable.

How do you respond to people who don’t believe that climate change is an issue? 

It is not necessary to believe that climate change is an issue to support clean air, energy efficiency, or the wide variety of benefits that come along with taking steps toward a resilient economy. There are even national security benefits that come with clean energy.

It also isn’t necessary to convert every single person to a belief that climate change is real. What is necessary is to change the social norms and default options we choose for our lifestyles to make them more environmentally sound and efficient. This requires a massive cultural shift.

Most of those norms and default options are in fact created by the owners and managers of businesses. If they say the default type of new house will now be a more energy-efficient one, that’s what people will buy, as long as the houses are well-designed and marketed.

What do you hope for the future? 

To be honest, my hope is limited. We are a resilient species, but until I see proof of more concrete progress toward curbing global warming, I will not be very hopeful. There is a great deal of work to be done.

Of course, there are industries that will benefit from the transition to a cleaner economy. We need to act quickly to take advantage of the window of time we have available to improve our future.

There are some things that can be done to make local communities more resilient. One of these things is to access local renewable energy resources. I am encouraged by the efforts that communities are starting to make in this direction. Much more needs to be done.

What is your favorite word?

Copacetic. Most of my life is relatively copacetic right now, even though I deal with difficult subjects in the news.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently expanding my geographic areas of coverage and writing more about the West, South and Midwest. I am also writing about some of the climate finance challenges facing developing nations. They are really experiencing an uphill battle. I am very impressed by the work of some of the overseas solar entrepreneurs. This month, I have been writing about the auto industry; engineering students are designing an energy-efficient version of the Chevy Camaro. I wish I had time to take on more projects than I am doing… I have a long list of unfinished story ideas.

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2 thoughts on “Interview with Journalist Kat Friedrich

  1. I’m so happy to read about the increasing scope of your inquiry and journalism in this area – and your contribution to this project for humanity, Kat.

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