Kalee Kreider ’92
April 01, 2009
By Leigh Perkins Brown
When former vice president Al Gore calls, answer. “He said, ‘I have a crazy idea: I think you should move to Tennessee and work for me full time,’” said Kalee Kreider ’92.
Part of her agreed that it was a crazy idea. After the turmoil of the 2000 Presidential election and its contested hanging chads, Gore was no longer in—or seeking—the limelight. Kreider wasn’t sure such a quiet post would be right for her. She’d spent years in high-profile, high-stress positions with environmental organizations like Greenpeace and the National Environmental Trust. Still, trading Washington, DC for Gore’s office in Carthage, Tennessee would at least give her a rest from the craziness of the capital.
Or so she thought.
She answered the call and became Gore’s communications director and environmental advisor in 2006. However, Kreider happened to join Gore when he was putting the finishing touches on a little project about his global warming slide show. It would become the film An Inconvenient Truth, for which Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, two Academy Awards, and, for its accompanying book, a long run on the New York Times Best Sellers List. Almost instantly, he was transformed from a respected also-ran into an A-list global celebrity, on the same level as a Bono or a Bill Gates.
Kreider insists that when she signed on, she had no inkling of the fanfare to come. “It was all just a big gamble,” she said. “We had absolutely no idea how the film would fare, how we were going to market it, who would want to see it. We all considered the project to be a huge risk.”
Kreider has built her career on such smart risks, allowing her passion for the environment to be her guide. A history major at Rollins, with a minor in Russian, she was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist and a Harry S. Truman Scholar, a prestigious national scholarship awarded to only 70 students each year.
“Kalee was—and is—a brilliant student, passionate about environmental and social issues, and a most forceful and motivated activist,” said Pedro Pequeño, professor emeritus of anthropology and the man Kreider credits with bringing her to Rollins. “Her performance at Rollins was outstanding and her work and devotion to public life have been exemplary.”
After graduating, while working at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Kreider was named Scholar-in-Residence at the White House (only one recipient of the Truman Scholarship is chosen each year for the honor). There, she worked on the Clinton Crime Bill, then parlayed that experience into a post at the Justice Department. “I had a friend who was starting up a small nonprofit and he wanted me to help him run it,” she said. “People said, ‘What are you thinking? You’re leaving the Justice Department for a little NGO?’ But I knew I had to do something I was passionate about.”
After building Ozone Action, Kreider was ready to take another risk—this time with Greenpeace, the global environmental interventionist organization. As director of the U.S. Climate Campaign and communications director, Kreider’s most important work with Greenpeace was helping to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. “I loved every minute of it. I was out of the country about half the time,” she said. “I spent three summers in the western Arctic, living on a ship, seeing firsthand the impact of global warming on the Poles.”
The frequent flier miles finally took their toll, though. By early 1999, she was ready to give her passport a rest. “I was tired,” she said. “All that travel was exhausting.” She went to work for the National Environmental Trust, now part of The Pew Charitable Trusts, to run its Climate Change Program, based again in Washington. When the 2000 election made it clear that the Kyoto Protocol wouldn’t be ratified and far-reaching domestic environmental legislation more than likely wouldn’t be enacted, Kreider took another risk, taking a break from climate questions altogether.
Or so she thought.
She accepted a position at Fenton Communications, a public relations firm dealing with clients involved in issues Kreider was expert in handling: global warming and the environment. While at Fenton, she was recruited—as a volunteer— to help Gore write a speech about his opposition to the Iraq War. It didn’t take long for Kreider and Gore to find their common ground. “We were in a meeting with top legal scholars, to discuss Iraq, and I mentioned to him some new research about methane gas in the Arctic and it became an all-night session,” she said. “This is legend in Al Gore’s world. Once he latches onto a topic, he will bear down on it until it is intellectually exhausted. That’s when my life slowly started to change. I guess you could say I was entered into his internal Rolodex.”
It’s clear Kreider’s gamble to join Gore in Tennessee has paid off, both professionally and personally. Within a 12-month period, she attended the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway, dressed up for the Academy Awards and after-parties in Hollywood, joined Gore on his book tour, donned a gown for the Emmy Awards, met heads of state in 40 countries, and married a young Tennessee farmer turned local politician, Jack Pratt. “I like to can preserves and I was looking for apples to make applesauce. I found Jack’s hundred-acre farm on a Web site and that’s how we met,” Kreider said. “He just won his election in August and we were married in September. It’s been a good year.”
Understatement aside, Kreider recognizes the breadth of her success, but said she still feels as though her life’s objective has not been met, another bit of common ground shared with the former Vice President.
“Global warming is the issue I care about the most and, honestly, I have failed my entire career,” she said. “We still have no legislation to cut pollution and the treaty in Kyoto was not ratified and we failed to complete the treaty at The Hague in 2000. It looks as if I’ve had great personal success, but it’s hard to truly enjoy it when we haven’t gotten done what we need to get done. We can’t rest until we get this country past the tipping point on this issue and make lasting change for the whole earth.”
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