Thursday, June 29, 2023

Q&A with Rachel Sarah


Photo by Katherine Briccetti Photography


Rachel Sarah is the author of the new young adult book Climate Champions: 15 Women Fighting for Your Future. She also has written the middle grade book Girl Warriors. A journalist, she is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Q: What inspired you to write Climate Champions?


A: I started writing this book during the pandemic as “red flag” warnings pinged me in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live. Dry lightning with strong wind gusts is not a good combination. 


My inspiration came from a note tacked above my desk that says, “Decide to hope.” (Even if hope itself sometimes feels like a scarce resource to draw on...)


To write this book, I reached out to women around the world who are tirelessly working to repair our climate. They are scientists, policymakers, journalists, lawyers, activists, professors, researchers, and organizers.


Their lives are absorbed in seeking solutions. They’ve persevered harder than ever through the pandemic. And yet they said yes to talking to me.


These climate leaders rallied me: It’s not too late to act.


In this book, they walk you through the steps to change. They show us what we can—and must—do for our future. Saving the world is overwhelming, and these women reminded me that the world is right outside our windows. They are facing the most pressing challenges we’ve ever experienced, rather than turning away.


Q: How did you choose the 15 women to profile in the book?


A: The women truly led me to each other. Every time I interviewed someone, she’d say, “Have you spoken to so-and-so? I can connect you.”


Yes, I did have a list of climate leader “rockstars” I wanted to interview, and understandably, some were not available. Climate leaders are incredibly busy with full lives.


Some of the high-profile leaders in this book are:

Molly Kawahata, founder of Systemic Impact Strategies and a former White House Climate Advisor who’s also the heart of the Patagonia documentary The Scale of Hope.

Wawa Gatheru, founder of Black Girl Environmentalist and a Rhodes scholar.

Amy Westervelt, Climate journalist. Reporter/host of Drilled. 

Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I read A LOT. I asked questions. I listened to podcasts. I dug deep. One of my first jobs after college was working as a fact-checker. I love to research.


What surprised me? I asked every woman I interviewed, “If you could tell me (or anyone) just *one* thing that I should do to rise up the climate/our future, what would it be?” 


And almost everyone had the same answer: “Vote.”


Q: The Kirkus review of Climate Champions calls it “An inspiring collective biography that is also an empowering call to action.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I’m so honored by this Kirkus review. As I tell teachers and librarians, it is such a privilege to interview girls and women who are rising up in real ways on the ground to create change. I hope that readers will see that change is possible.


Molly Kawahata in the book says: “We've spent too much time talking about arctic polar bears and melting glaciers. "The average person struggling to get by doesn't have the luxury of being able to worry about things happening thousands of miles away. That’s why we must solve climate change for everyone.”


This is what I hope readers take away.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I work in media relations at RMI, an international nonprofit that’s helping the world transition to clean, zero-carbon energy for all.


I’m also currently writing my fourth book, Farming is Female: 20 Women Shaking up the Field (due out with Little Bee in 2025).


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thanks again, Deborah, for this opportunity. 


I love to hear from readers. You can connect with me on Twitter and Instagram


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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