May 11, 2012
Morgan Erickson-Davis: How did you get your start as a writer?
Morgan Erickson-Davis: What conservation issues most interest you?
Susan Cosier: A better question might be what conservation issues don’t interest me. I’m particularly keen on covering how we’re going to balance our need and desire for energy with preserving rich and important habitat. I’m also a sucker for conservation success stories—those tales of passionate individuals who work tirelessly to bring a species or an ecosystem back from the brink of extinction or destruction. Combining the scientific endeavor with conservation—meaning finding a way to preserve habitat while working with local people—is fascinating to me, as is green travel, which, if done correctly, might offer conservation options previously unexplored. What else? Chemicals in our environment, the consequences of global warming, uncovering the complexities of life and ecosystems on the planet all grab my attention, too. I could name so many more, but I don’t want to bore your readers.
Morgan Erickson-Davis: A few years ago, you tried a “100-mile” diet. Was it difficult to source food from within 100 miles of Brooklyn? What did you do in the winter? Do you still eat locally?
Susan Cosier: When I was reporting my 100-mile diet story, I bought a lot of my food at farmers’ markets. Thankfully there are a number of those in New York that encourage nearby farmers to sell their produce in the city. I found myself going from one place to another, picking out products sold in specialty stores that catered to people looking to support their local producers. It was an eye-opening experience to learn about what is grown in or flown into my region, and how our decisions—when we do something as simple as go to the grocery store—affect the urban environment and its surroundings.
Morgan Erickson-Davis: With all the dire predictions and depressing situations of the environmental beat, it's sometimes difficult to keep an eye on the positive things. Yet it's so important to keep them in mind. Of the success stories you've covered, have any in particular stuck with you? What are some of your favorites?
Morgan Erickson-Davis: You recently wrote an article about nature-centered preschool programs, and how they simultaneously inspire interest in conservation while promoting brain development. It was fascinating to read about how just 20 minutes spent outdoors can so substantially counteract ADHD in young kids. What inspired you to write this story and what have you learned from it?
Susan Cosier: There’s a growing body of evidence that time spent outdoors is beneficial to both physical and mental health. One of the things that motivated me to delve into this topic is what the teachers at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Preschool are finding. There are only a few schools that have adopted this curriculum of allowing children to explore their surroundings all day, yet it seems to be a model that will become more popular as educators see how valuable it is to expanding minds.
Every story frames the world in a slightly different way, and this piece was no different. It taught me the value of exploring and learning about the world around us, and how those lessons lead to others that are difficult to quantify until later in life. Another thing that this story shows me is that a few individuals who are passionate about a particular topic like education and the outdoors can inspire and motivate others.
Morgan Erickson-Davis: What would you say is the most important thing you've learned about environmental writing?
Susan Cosier: I think that what’s true of most writing pertains to environmental writing. Environmental writers have this vast group of scientists to draw upon when looking for and developing ideas, but one of the most important things is to take the reader on a journey when a writer finishes his or her research and tackles the writing process. Covering the research results of a study (or studies) on chemicals, for example, and turning the findings into a riveting story can take some time, effort, and poetry. On the occasion that you can do it, though, it feels like everything is right in the universe. It’s hard for anyone to put down a story that keeps you wanting more.
Morgan Erickson-Davis: Any advice for aspiring environmental writers?
Susan Cosier: If I were to give any advice, it would be to do two things: keep asking questions and take the initiative to turn what you find into great stories. I can be talking to someone for half an hour when they mention something off-topic that makes you stop and say, what? Little snippets of an interview or a conversation with a friend, even, can lead to captivating stories. But the only way those stories are going to be told is if you pitch them, develop them, and turn them into something really wonderful that your editor can’t say no to and that your readers, or listeners, or watchers, will love. Even if an editor does say no, try it anyway, if only for yourself. Write a draft, make an audio file, or shoot a video. Not every project is going to be a success, but one might turn out to be great, and even with the ones the flop, you might learn a ton in the process.
Specifically to environmental writers, I’d say don’t be afraid to ask easy questions like, what does that mean? How would you define that? Can you describe that process? Like everything in science, environmental issues can be complex, so when you’re interviewing a source, ask about the basics and try to come up with analogies that might make the study, issue, or process easier to understand to your readers, who can then contribute to the environmental conversation, too.
You can learn more about Susan and her pursuits by visiting her website and checking out her Twitter feed.