William Arthur Hanson, author of the Alaska Billy Blog, interviewed author Kate Troll for 49 Writers the first week of January, 2018. Kate Troll is an op-ed columnist, wilderness adventurer, speaker on conservation and climate issues, author of The Great Unconformity, and a member of 49 Writers. She moved to Alaska in 1977 and has more than 22 years’ experience in climate and energy policy, coastal management and fisheries. As Executive Director of the Alaska Conservation Voters, Kate helped draft the creation of the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund and lobbied for the Sustainable Energy Act. She served as Executive Director for United Fishermen of Alaska. Internationally, Kate was Regional Fisheries Director for the Marine Stewardship Council, a global eco-label program. She was elected to public office twice. Kate was appointed by Governor Palin to serve on the Climate Mitigation Advisory Board, and was the only Alaskan invited to participate in Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2008 Global Climate Summit. From 2010-2016, she wrote for the Juneau Empire and is currently a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News.
WAH: Your book cover includes a quote from Heather Lende, NY Times bestselling author of If I Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name, who lives in writes in Haines, Alaska. She says: “To read The Great Unconformity is to spend time with Kate Troll, a wonky, funny, bossy, passionate, widely read and accomplished outdoorswoman, who is delightful and inspiring company.” Did she get you right?
KT: Yes. Even the “bossy” part. It speaks to the fact that I open up my heart in writing this book. Because it is one-part memoir, I have to be vulnerable and expose myself so I tried to make sure I captured my voice, and that you see all sides of me, including the foibles, the drive, the passion.
Could you talk about how that translates from your Alaskan experience, where your passion comes from.
I feel emotionally very connected to the wilderness and the great outdoors. I gain a lot of personal and spiritual strength from my expeditions into the wilderness. I wrap that up with what I experienced in my professional career. I find that these two sources of strength blend together.
Your professional career spanned a variety of jobs. Can you give us a snapshot?
One of the keys to my book comes from my 30-plus years of working in the trenches of environmental conservation and politics. I come with a practical, get-the-job done perspective. I’m looking for solutions. I’m looking for allies to take on the challenges.
In my capacity as Executive Director of fishing organizations, including United Fishermen of Alaska, I’ve testified before Congress on three separate occasions. I’ve worked for an international eco-label program for wild fisheries where my region was all of North and South America so as you see I’ve been in the trenches here in Alaska and around the world. As the Executive Director of Alaska Conservation Voters, I worked to get the renewable energy grant program established by the Legislature. And I’ve been elected to local office twice.
From a writing standpoint, I’ve been an op-ed columnist for the last eight years. I write for the Anchorage Daily News, and previously wrote for the Juneau Empire.
You mentioned that your book is one-part memoir. What else is it?
It’s also one-part nature writing and one-part policy wonk. The policy part deals with some of the biggest questions that we face as a civilization: how to live on this Earth sustainably, and how to cope with the challenge of climate change.
We hear new dire warnings about climate change almost every day. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the barrage of information. What sets The Great Unconformity apart from climate-related books? Why choose this one?
Because I deliver the key essential facts that you need to know, but I deliver them wrapped up in stories of personal growth, and challenges, and adventure. But most importantly, I make sure that I include Points of Hope.
Many of the climate books are very serious in their nature because it is a serious topic. They go into all the dire aspects, the flooding, fire, famine, loss of species and biodiversity. Those are all very real concerns, but you can feel overwhelmed.
I acknowledge those serious facts and trends, but I try not to overwhelm you. I want to inspire you to pick up the challenge. What can you do? And to do that, to pick up your part, you have to be hopeful. So that’s what differentiates my book from the other climate books out there.
The title of your book, The Great Unconformity, seems a bit strange. Why choose that one?
Because I think it makes people curious. What is the Great Unconformity? I just loved the title when I first discovered it as a point of geological interest in the Grand Canyon. It made me curious and it seemed to fit the mode we’re in as a society right now. For me, the Great Unconformity became a powerful metaphor, because on one hand, mankind itself is the great Disruptive Unconformity. We are an evolutionary force. Nature is bending to our will. We’re changing climates. We’re acidifying oceans. We as a species are having a profound impact on the Earth, to the point where we act as a disruptive evolutionary force.
Then I pivot to our imagination and creativity. It is only through awareness that mankind can hold a billion years between their hand at the geological Great Unconformity. The Great Unconformity then becomes a good metaphor for the positive side, the creative side of mankind’s role as an evolutionary force.
This book unites several genres: Current Events, Nature Writing, and Memoir. Was it hard to find a path to bring those together? Was that something you had experience with, or not? How did that work as a writer?
It’s the most challenging writing I’ve ever done. I had to keep track of three narrative arcs. Each chapter had to touch on each of those three arcs in one way or another. I’m a very serious person who delves into policy, and I look at trends. It’s just part of who I am. I wanted to make sure I carried that sense of awareness and my insights about sustainability and climate change all the way through the book.
But I wanted to also tell my personal story about coming to Alaska almost forty years ago, and where I am now. I think it’s an interesting and intriguing story because I have had, and still have, lots of adventures.
This leads into the third narrative arc, Nature Writing, which is a source of constant inspiration and solace for me. When you work on behalf of the environment in a deep red state like Alaska, you face challenges. Weekly. You can get discouraged. My treks into the wilderness bring me back around again.
Who is the book written for? You’ve gone on speaking tours. Do you think your message is resonating, or will resonate, with your intended audience?
I wrote the book for everyone who cares about the environment. You don’t have to be a scientist to read this. I pull in technical and deep information, but I make it accessible and convincing to everyone.
My one-line description of the book is that it’s an adventure memoir wrapped up in the global events of sustainability and climate change. I want to emphasize the adventure part. I try to make this book a fun read, so you’re climbing Denali with me; we’re running wild rivers; we’re in danger in a kayak. I take you for a wild ride, as well as an insightful path through the challenges that lay ahead.
The target audience for me is the Millennial Generation, the next great civic generation of America. I want to inspire them to pick up the challenge, and to learn from the insights as well as the mistakes along the way. When I’ve talked to student audiences, I feel my talk really resonates, the book really resonates, with a lot of students engaged in natural resource management, environmental policy, community sustainability.
Students come up to me and say thank you. They believe in their work, but it’s discouraging. The news every day is quite daunting. Particularly in the current Trump administration. There’s rollback after rollback. We’re not moving forward. We’re moving backward. So, what are those things we can affect that lay beyond politics? That are making a difference in our society? Students thank me for these points of hope.
Kate Troll will appear at the Anchorage Barnes & Noble on Friday, January 12, 2018 at 6 pm.
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