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Meet National Geographic Explorer Alizé Carrère

Alizé Carrère, an Ithaca, New York -native, conducts fieldwork around the world to collect and share the stories of humans adapting to the changing climate. She is the speaker for the sixth and final installment of Cornell Botanic Garden’s Fall Lecture Series. Here is an insider’s look at Carrère, her work, and her insights on human ingenuity.

How did you get involved with National Geographic? What do you do with National Geographic now?

The National Geographic Society has a grant program on its non-for-profit side called the National Geographic Young Explorer. It pays a maximum of $5,000 to young students and scientists wanting to get a start to their careers.

I went to a workshop held at McGill University, where I was finishing up my master’s program, to learn more about the grant opportunity. At the workshop, I heard a story from a geography professor about farmers in Madagascar adapting to the deforestation occurring across their lands. It was extremely inspiring to see how these farmers—and the human species in general—work within changing ecosystems and environments. I applied for and received the grant.

I used my grant money to plan a fieldwork expedition to learn more about the farmers in Madagascar. I was inspired to discover more about adapting to change. I thought of looking at climate change and humanity through a lens that portrayed our resilience in change, rather than the usual doom-and-gloom climate change talk everyone is familiar with.  I applied for another grant and now I’m working with National Geographic on a web-series that explores different stories around the world, showcasing humanity’s ability to adapt to environmental change. These stories are what I’ll be sharing at the Fall Lecture Series.

What countries have you visited? Does one place stand out as your favorite?

I’ve been to quite a few countries. For the web-series with National Geographic, the first episode we shot was in Bangladesh about two years ago. There we saw how Bangladeshis are coping with sea level rise by building floating gardens and infrastructure.

The second web series was shot in Northern India in the Ladakh region. The story I was looking into was about a man utilizing the melting of glaciers in the Indus River Valley to capture and conserve freshwater for an area with troubled access to water.

It seems like my favorite place I’ve visited changes every time I get asked this question, but I lean towards Madagascar most of the time. It is just such a unique place that has evolved in isolation. But at the same time it is also a melting-pot of cultures and ecosystems. Truly incredible.

What is the best lesson you have learned from your worldly experiences?

The best lesson I have learned is that nothing goes as planned. I learned pretty quickly into my first expedition how to be resilient and open to unexpected changes, to roll with the punches. And there is definitely a beauty in the flexibility to change. Easily adapting to any situation has helped me immensely in my career.

What are some things that you never travel without?

Chapstick for sure! But also Turkish towels, my computer, notebooks, and field journals. I have kept all my notes and journals from every trip and expedition I’ve gone on.

You were born and raised in Ithaca, what has brought you back and kept you here?

I love Ithaca because it has an incredible mix between the intellectual community and the grassroots small- town community. I like the town-and-gown feel--being able to attend mentally stimulating talks and lectures and then afterward, getting a local bite to eat at Glenwood Pines, for example.

Do you have any advice/words of wisdom you want to share that would resonate with young, adventurous college students?

It’s kind of trite, but I would tell ambitious college students not to be afraid of being unconventional. Early in my career, I heard an inspiring quote that I’ve kept with me ever since. It goes, “if you don’t go out and build your own dreams, somebody will hire you to help build theirs.” I think the message I want to send is that it is okay to struggle at the beginning of your career if it means doing something you’re passionate about, rather than following the cookie-cutter lifestyle and working for a big company out of college.