Undergraduate Academic Affairs

March 29, 2023

Protecting our shared home: A conversation with author, climate advocate and alum Brianna Craft

Danielle Marie Holland

Photo of Brianna Craft

Brianna Craft, ’10, author and senior researcher at International Institute for Environment and Development. Photo by Gemma Turnbull.

Brianna Craft, ’10, had a panic attack and from that moment, everything changed. An undergraduate in the Honors Program at the University of Washington, Craft found herself in an environmental studies lecture freshman year, with her heart beating rapidly and her fingers gripping her seat.  “Learning about the climate crisis changed everything for me,” Craft shared.

Far from remaining frozen in panic, Craft spent the following years diving into the issues behind the climate crisis. Craft credits some of her journey through fear and into deeper understanding to the UW Honors Program’s interdisciplinary approach. She was awarded a Bonderman Fellowship in 2008, and used the following year to travel through 14 countries. As she spoke with biologists in Costa Rica, families in Fiji and farmers in India, she learned how global warming was impacting people. She has worked hard to protect our shared home from the climate crisis ever since.

After graduating from the UW with a B.A. in architectural studies and minors in environmental studies and urban planning, Craft went on to earn her master’s degree in environmental studies from Brown University. As a graduate student, Craft began her involvement in U.N. climate negotiations, participating as a member of The Gambia’s national delegation. During the years that led to the signing of the Paris Agreement, Craft supported Mr. Pa Ousman Jarju, chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group. Post graduation, Craft joined the staff of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). As her role evolved, she took on research, writing briefings and directly supporting LDC delegates in negotiations on technology development and transfer.

Today Craft is a senior researcher at IIED, where she continues to bring together diverse fields of knowledge to make informed policy recommendations. Her memoir, “Everything That Rises: A Climate Change Memoir,” will be published on April 4, 2023.


Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was your personal call to writing “Everything That Rises: A Climate Change Memoir”?

Image of the book cover for the book "Everything that Rises."After four years spent in United Nations’ negotiations, I celebrated the 2015 adoption of the first universal climate treaty, the Paris Agreement. Months later, the world’s largest cumulative greenhouse gas emitter (the U.S.) elected a climate change denier to their highest office. I needed every American to hear me, to see what my colleagues and I had worked so hard to accomplish. So I started what turned out to be a six-year journey from the memoir’s inception to publication.


In “Everything That Rises,” you write of “growing up in a house where the loudest voice always won and violence silenced those in need.” Can you speak to the intertwined natures/futures of oppression in the home with oppression in the global political sense?

I see so many parallels between the climate crisis and oppression dynamics. My father was violent and I grew up terrified. Living with the climate crisis is like living with him. The stress and the fear — the constant risk of death. The pressure and despair that impacts everything, underlies everything.

As a researcher, I work to support the LDCs in the U.N. climate change negotiations. The 46 countries are classified as the world’s poorest. They have done the least to cause the climate crisis – emitting less than 1% of global emissions – and are disproportionately impacted by the havoc it wreaks. Watching them push for adequate international decisions reminds me of what growing up was like. How every day I watched those with power undervalue things that were precious, irreplaceable. And the silence around it, the isolation. The pretending, when it is not safe. These dynamics are not talked about, in part, because doing so would mean owning up to reality and the part we play in its perpetuation.


How did you learn to be an advocate, and what do you hope readers will take away from your story in how they use their voice and personal power?

I started my time in the U.N. climate change negotiations as a 24-year-old graduate student. I went from looking to others for solutions, to advocating for those I love myself. The climate crisis is the single greatest threat we have ever faced. I hope readers will use their voice and power to shape our collective response: that they will vote to elect officials who will cut our greenhouse gas emissions to net zero; that they will protest climate inaction; and that they will divest their time and their money from fossil fuels. It will take all of us to protect our shared home.


How did Honors’ interdisciplinary studies inform your relationship to learning about the environment, and how does it inform your current research?

I would not have learned about climate change if not for the Honors’ interdisciplinary approach. Being an Honors student landed me in an environmental studies lecture. I’ll be eternally grateful! I continue to use interdisciplinary approaches in my current research — bringing together many fields of knowledge to craft policy recommendations. The climate crisis is a wicked problem. Climate change combines the interconnected problems of sustainability and pollution with many actors, long timescales, great economic burden, and uncertainty. Interdisciplinary approaches are needed to implement effective solutions.


What is your day-to-day like as a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development?

I love the people I get to work with. LDC negotiators and my badass team, whose motivation to make change fuels them (and me) through the marathon of effort required to reach international decisions.

When not in U.N. negotiations supporting countries to reconcile what the climate crisis has irrevocably lost and damaged, I do a lot of writing. I write briefings, toolkits and research papers about climate diplomacy. I help run training workshops for new climate negotiators from the LDCs. And lately, I’ve spent some quality time helping authors from Nepal, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands and Sierra Leone tell stories about how climate change will mean their lives will never be the same.


We understand that you are a lover of peanut butter. Was it that which truly brought you to the environmental movement?

I could wax lyrical about peanut butter. It’s the most delicious, low impact protein source I can think of! I don’t know if I’d say that the love of peanut butter brought me to the climate movement, but it has certainly fuelled me through it.