“Here Is How We Can Inspire The Next Generation About Sustainability” With Penny Bauder & Professor John Morano

Listen and encourage. When our children showed interest in science and the environment, we listened and encouraged them. The subtext is this matters and you matter. The result is more interest in science and the environment, among other things. If parents are chatting with their children about nature and science, there’s a good chance when […]

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Listen and encourage. When our children showed interest in science and the environment, we listened and encouraged them. The subtext is this matters and you matter. The result is more interest in science and the environment, among other things. If parents are chatting with their children about nature and science, there’s a good chance when those children are grown you will still be chatting about those things.

I had the pleasure of interviewing John Morano. John is Professor of Journalism at Monmouth University in New Jersey. He has authored four novels in The Morano Eco-Adventure Series, and a textbook for aspiring film critics, Don’t Tell Me the Ending! Under contract with Grey Gecko Press, John is currently working on his fifth novel, a story following the lives of endangered wolves. John has served as the founding Editor-in-Chief of ROCKbeat Magazine, managing editor of Modern Screen Magazine, and senior editor of Inside Books Magazine. A writer very concerned with endangered species and habitat depletion, John employs the journalistic ethic of giving a voice to the voiceless as he pens stories of imperiled creatures and habitats that can’t speak for themselves. With over twenty-five years of experience at Monmouth University, Professor Morano has won many teaching awards, including The Distinguished Faculty Award, The Celebration of Teaching Award, and five consecutive Student Choice Awards. Morano advises the student newspaper, The Outlook, which has been recognized nationally as University Newspaper of the Year three times (2009, 2012, 2013) by the American Scholastic Press Association. In addition to his work at Monmouth University, John has studied at Clark University, Penn State University, and Adelphi University. John enjoys playing basketball, reviewing films, hunting for fossils, throwing Frisbee with his dogs, and barbecuing with his family.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in East Rockaway, NY, which is on the south shore of Long Island. We lived on a canal. My father was a policeman in the Marine Bureau, and my mother was a first-grade teacher. I spent much of my time on the beach, and in the bays surrounded by marine life. I remember watching the water getting dirtier, noticing that fewer and fewer fish and crabs were around, seeing people display harmful behaviors for the environment. As a boy, it puzzled and confused me. I believe all of this directly affected the course my literary life has taken.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist, educator or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

When I was in graduate school at Penn State studying journalism, I went to my parents’ home in Florida for spring break. They lived on the water, across from a bird sanctuary. I had decided that I wanted to write a book, but I didn’t really know what I would write about. That can be a bit of a problem.

I remember sitting on their sun porch watching the evening news. A reporter stood in front of a cage, and inside was an obscure hamster. The reporter explained that this hamster was a male, and he was the last of his kind. There was no female. So when this creature died (as it surely would one day), on that day, the planet would never see this animal again. That’s when I knew what I was going to write about. Extinction. What could be more dramatic than that? And, it was happening every day. It was real.

So, rather than spending my spring break on a surfboard, I spent it in the local library looking at books on endangered species and imperiled habitats. When I came across the Guadalupe Island petrel, I had found my main character, and my career as an environmental novelist began.

Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?

Well, if someone had told me back when I was a student in high school, or even as an undergraduate that I would wind up as a journalism professor who writes environmental novels, I would have been sure they had me mixed up with someone else. Yet, that’s exactly who I turned out to be.

Life is often unpredictable. Even when we think we know ourselves, and where we’re headed, it can turn out very differently. I regularly tell students, “It’s not where you start that matters, it’s where you finish. No one gets a medal for being the first one out of the blocks. You get the medal for finishing well.” Life is a marathon, not a sprint. If we’re willing to work hard, willing to learn, willing to pay the price, remarkable things can be achieved at almost any stage of one’s life.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

On one level my ‘company’ is Monmouth University. Just last week the school had a university-wide teach-in on climate change that was interdisciplinary, spanning several schools and majors. The approach illustrated that climate change touches everyone, and every area of study will face its effects. At Monmouth, people like me are encouraged, even celebrated at times, for focusing their work on environmental issues. It’s a great setting to be in if you’re concerned with the planet.

Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks/ things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

I don’t like to tell people what to do, I think there’s an arrogance to that, it suggests that I believe I know more than you. But if someone asks then I’ll speak up, and since you asked, here are three things that I try to do. Sometimes I fail, but I don’t let that keep me from trying.

First, I try to live by the “less is more” philosophy. As a society, we’re conditioned to consume. I certainly consume, it’s difficult not to. But I try to keep it in moderation. If I can fix something, I fix it. If I can repurpose something, I’ll try that. If I can do it myself, I’ll do it.

Diminishing one’s footprint is a good thing. I don’t want to call on the planet to provide things that I don’t really need, if possible. Walking softly is a good thing.

Secondly, I buy into the idea of “think globally, act locally.” I try to have a sense of what issues the world faces, beyond my small corner of it. Then, in my daily life, I try to conduct myself in ways that won’t diminish the lives of others, not only people but other creatures and other environments. We are all more connected than many seem to realize.

Lastly, when in doubt, natural seems to make sense to me. I live in the woods, so it’s a little easier, but I don’t fertilize or water my lawn. It looks lovely, but it consists of what would grow naturally in a clearing in the woods. While others have grass (and I have some), but I often wind up with wildflowers.

I kayak or paddleboard, rather than jet-skiing. I hike rather than four-wheel. If I can avoid packagings like plastic utensils or bags, I try to do it. Am I perfect? Far from it, but I still try. On those occasions when I do get it right, it helps, and it makes it easier to get it right again.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

Again, I’m uncomfortable telling others what they should do, but, as a parent myself here’s what my wife and I have tried to do.

First and foremost, model the behavior you’d like to see others have. How can one possibly expect others to do something when they don’t do it themselves? Be the change/behavior you’d like to see.

Try to include your child in the thing you’re doing. For example, if you’re filling the bird feeder, let them play an important role in that. Maybe it actually becomes one of their responsibilities, then it will become part of the fabric of their life. Have an activity or two that is environmentally focused, but fun.

As a family, we joined an effort with the county park system to monitor and record the nesting habits of endangered piping plovers that summered on the Jersey Shore. We strolled the shore, observing plovers, oystercatchers, least terns, all nesting on the sand. We actually walked alongside recently hatched plovers who went to the surf to feed, since the parents don’t feed the young. Involvement like these encourage youngsters to care.

We also set up a large enclosure behind our home where we received rehabbed wildlife from trained experts. Every day, my sons and I would have to feed the raccoons, or whatever creature was in residence at the time, change the water and make sure it was comfortable and adjusting to its new setting.

One especially large raccoon, Steve, would emerge from his box when I entered the cage. As I filled his bowl, he’d climb onto my back and tug at the chain around my neck. He’d try to take the wedding ring off my finger. He played with buttons on my shirt and grabbed at my earlobes. My family loved watching him do this.

After a month or so we’d leave the cage door open, and whatever was living inside at the moment would walk out into the woods and begin a new life. Involvements like this can have remarkable effects on young minds (old ones, too).

If one doesn’t live in the woods, or on the bay, take the time to get outside. If possible take a vacation, weekend, or afternoon, every now and then that involves a hike, swim, or a little paddling.

Listen and encourage. When our children showed interest in science and the environment, we listened and encouraged them. The subtext is this matters and you matter. The result is more interest in science and the environment, among other things. If parents are chatting with their children about nature and science, there’s a good chance when those children are grown you will still be chatting about those things.

When my sons were young, as little as three and four, I would bring them with me through the woods to streams where we would find fossils. At an early age, they knew how to identify what they found. They then applied these outings for school projects. We sponsored class trips. It became a part of their lives.

Along the way, we’d see frogs, butterflies, deer, fox, all types of wildlife. We’d look up a plant in a book afterward. We’d sit on a log and eat an apple. While both sons are off to grad school, I still sneak into the woods to collect fossils. I take pictures of what I encounter, and send them to my boys. We’re still talking about these things.

Once all of this is part of your life, part of your soul, it becomes impossible to ignore climate change and other environmental issues.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

There’s a saying, “You can do well by doing good.” This can apply to businesses as well as individuals. When a company like Volvo, for example, announces that all their new models that emerge in the future will be electric, they seem to feel that they can do well as a business by doing good for the planet. Other companies have done, and are doing similar things.

When I started out with my first novel, publishers (who are essentially businesses) turned my manuscript down (almost always without reading it) on the basis that the story was about environmental issues, and they couldn’t sell that.

I disagreed with them. It seemed to me, and this was over 25 years ago, that you could make green (dollars) by being green (environmental). Today, that seems to be an easier sell. But, it is sad that too often doing the right thing must prove profitable before businesses are interested in doing it. There is, perhaps, some truth to Kermit the Frog’s lament, “It’s not easy being green.”

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people who have made a difference in my life. People who have nudged me in the right direction, either by example or with an actual nudge. But intellectually, as far as being a writer and with respect to what I write about, I have to say that it was my best friend’s father who had the biggest impact on me.

I grew up in a house that didn’t really have books. We really didn’t discuss the news or issues. It was a wonderful life, (my parents were incredible) but from an intellectual standpoint, there wasn’t much happening.

That, however, changed the moment I walked through my best friend’s door. His father, Dr. William Wipfler, was a Canon in the Episcopal church. He was on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International. He was a missionary, received honorary degrees, represented his church at the United Nations, and advised a president on Latin American affairs. He was inspiring to say the least.

I remember often waiting for Mark, (my friend) sitting on their couch, peering into Mr. Wipfler’s office; and I would often see him hard at work, bent over a pad, a book, or banging at the typewriter. The sound was music to me.

He was writing a book. Actually writing a book! It was something I just couldn’t wrap my head around.

By watching him, by talking often with him, just by being in his presence, I realized what might be possible. I saw that it wouldn’t be easy, but I saw that it could be done. I saw my friend’s dad write books.

But what to write about? Mr. Wipfler confronted dictators, he fought to free political prisoners, he spoke truth to power. He did none of this for himself. He did it, at least from what I witnessed, because it was what must be done. It was the right thing to do.

Later, when I was in graduate school (Dr. Wipfler wrote me a letter of recommendation), and I wondered what I might write, I went immediately to the example I saw as a boy.

I would write about the right thing. The thing that must be written about. And for me, that was endangered species, imperiled habitats.

These were things that faced annihilation if their stories were not told. Yet they would never be able to tell their own stories. So, embracing journalistic ethics, and the fine example of Dr. Wipfler, I would (in my own way) give a voice to the voiceless. I would use my ability to write to make whatever difference I could for something (in his case, someone) that could not help itself.

I was lucky enough to have Dr. Wipfler share in my work. He read my books, discussed them with me. And, as one of his “adopted sons” I knew he was proud of my choice. I believe he also knew that I was trying to use my voice to echo his own.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?

I think the best way to understand what I’d like to see humanity do, if that matters, is to read my words. I’d like us to care about each other, about each other’s lives, all lives, human and otherwise, about this only planet that we share.

I’d like us to respect good science, to use common sense, to be willing to sacrifice for the greater good with an eye towards tomorrow. I’d like leaders to lead with integrity. If this is all we do, we would actually do so much. I don’t know what one would call this movement, but it is the one I would like to see.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

As a young man at basketball camp, I had a coach, Mike Morse, who wrote on my basketball report card, “Never be satisfied with ‘good enough’. You have unlimited potential.”

That phrase kind of stuck with me well beyond basketball. I realized there are certainly times where one might be wise to accept ‘good enough’, but the essence of the thought is a good one. Push yourself, strive, don’t settle, expect big things. I’m getting a bit older (just a bit), but it’s not time to settle. There are great challenges ahead, for me personally, and for the world. Let’s not settle.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

Full disclosure, I’m a bit old school. I have a website, a facebook page, an email address; but I don’t spend my time tweeting, instagraming, or following. There are only so many hours in the day, and so much time I’m prepared to look at a screen, so I have tried to manage my exposure. I do check my facebook page, my website, and my email several times a day. I’m happy to hear from readers and friends. So, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. It will be welcomed. If you get the chance, try turning the pages of one of my books, or give the audio versions a listen. I think you’ll enjoy the journey.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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