An Interview with Alizé Carrère | South Carolina Aquarium

An Interview with Alizé Carrère

Nov 01

An Interview with Alizé Carrère

It’s rare to hear someone list their favorite career memory as being peed on by a black-and-white ruffed lemur while in the field in Madagascar. For environmental anthropologist and filmmaker Alizé Carrère, it’s just one of many experiences that have taken her around the globe in search of communities creating hope, inspiration and adaptation within the changing world surrounding them.

What’s your niche topic of work?
My work focuses on the dynamic relationship forged between people and changing environments, specifically how we adapt to profound landscape change — whether that’s climate change, invasive species that are rapidly altering an ecosystem or severe deforestation.

What inspired you to pursue a career in climate change and storytelling?
I have always been interested in good narratives and storytelling experiences, but when I started exploring a career in science, I realized how powerful the connection between science and narrative could be, and that we needed more of it! I realized how much I liked the communication side of science and wanted to continue working at this intersection. Science is not something that only happens behind a lab bench or a microscope; there are elements of science that are deeply human and interpersonal, and I was drawn to these dimensions of it from the beginning. This is still where my work sits today.

What does it mean to be a National Geographic Explorer?
This is a great question! A National Geographic Explorer is someone who has received a grant from the National Geographic Society to pursue research and/or a media project on a given topic of relevance, whether that’s wildlife, climate change, ecosystems or our own human past. I have received three grants from National Geographic to support research and storytelling for my work on human adaptation to environmental change. With these grants I was able to travel to three incredible countries: Madagascar, Bangladesh and India.

Credit: Justin DeShields

Out of every location you have been across the globe, where has been the most unique/surprising in the way that they’ve adapted to environmental changes?
Oh wow, it is hard to pick just one! I think the example that sticks with me most is the one that inspired my work on this topic in the first place, in Madagascar. I had received my first National Geographic research grant to examine how farmers in the Malagasy highlands were adapting to severe deforestation by using large erosional gullies called “lavaka” to plant crops. It was an unexpected agricultural adaptation to an otherwise very negative socio-ecological phenomenon.

There can be so much negativity concerning climate change. Who, or what, inspires you and keeps you motivated to continue?
I am incredibly inspired by the upcoming generation of young people who are demanding powerful changes to the system. I am also inspired by the people I work with every day, both out in the field and in my research lab, who are working toward just and equitable transformations for our future — whether that’s reducing vulnerability from climate risk, demanding action on decarbonization efforts or thinking creatively about solutions for complex social and environmental problems.

If there was one thing that an individual can do to combat climate change, what would it be?
I know it sounds trite, but vote! Know where certain candidates stand when it comes to protecting our environment and supporting sustainable futures. And then vote them into power. We need them at the helm more than ever.

If there was one thing that a community can do to combat climate change, what would it be?
The most powerful communities taking climate action are those that have a strong sense of trust, cohesion and alignment on a cause among their members. Community efforts that build a sense of solidarity and that are centered around a common goal for climate change are critical. So, I would say create a strong connection in your own community and make sure everyone is informed and feels passionate and motivated about a specific outcome. Then go out and demand action as a group. It makes the work go so much farther.

What’s a fun fact most people are surprised to learn about you?
They recently passed away, but I had two wonderful pet rats for the last few years: Alfonso and Romeo. They loved eating spaghetti. Rats are such smart and lovely animals. I wish they were better understood.

If you could sit down and have a conversation with anyone from conservation history, who would it be?
Jane Goodall! And also, Rachel Carson.

What’s your favorite ocean creature?
Sea dragons!

Want to hear more from Alizé herself? Join us as the Charleston Gaillard Center presents National Geographic Live: Adaptation with Environmental Anthropologist and Filmmaker Alizé Carrère on November 29 at 7:30 p.m.! National Geographic Live is National Geographic’s touring series that brings to life the real and awe-inspiring stories of Nat Geo Explorers and Speakers.

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