John H. Giordanengo was drawn to Colorado in ’96 to study ecological restoration at Colorado State University, and never left. His business and nonprofit work in Colorado, economics research and investigative interviews across the globe, and three decades of ecological experience are interwoven in “Ecosystems as Models for Restoring our Economies.” This book serves as a foundation for his lecture series at universities and public venues across the U.S.
SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
Giordanengo: Studying economics and ecology in business school in the early ’90s, a profound realization struck, that these two global systems were somehow interconnected. The intrigue stuck, accompanying my later graduate research in ecology, business and nonprofit work in Colorado, and decades of ecological and conservation work. Inspired by growing protests against globalization, and nudged by the ’07 Great Recession, I dug into the formal research and writing for “Ecosystems as Models for Restoring our Economies.”
SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you sat down to write?
Giordanengo: The 2011 “Occupy Wall Street” movement was unfolding as I was juggling a full-time job, a new baby, and early research efforts for this book. A key take-home from that protest, and so many others, is that the collective field of economics, the community of protestors, nor academia could pinpoint what is fundamentally wrong with a global market economy.
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There was just anger over the countless social and environmental injustices being wrought by the system. That lack of understanding, combined with the aimless anger, simply flamed my passion to continue this project. A deeper source of inspiration is the wonderment and awe of the natural world, the beauty of our human communities, and the undeniable quest for coexistence as one seamless whole.
SunLit: Are there lessons you take away from each experience of writing a book? And if so, what did the process of writing this book add to your knowledge and understanding of your craft and/or the subject matter?
Giordanengo: Each book requires significant research and reflection, which itself brings great value to my lifelong learning journey. Every book project demands that the writer intertwine creative and technical elements into a compelling story. In the process, each book is a venue to hone my writing skills.
The substantial research and writing of “Ecosystems as Models for Restoring our Economies” required a significant lift in my own knowledge base, to question my own beliefs, challenge common wisdom, and to interweave seemingly disparate patches of economic and ecological research and experience into one seamless whole.
SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing this book?
Giordanengo: Ecosystems and economies exist as highly complex systems, which by their nature require research approaches that go beyond the traditional scientific method. A more fundamental challenge exists, in that complex systems do not abide by the simple linear processes and logic that are so comforting in our daily lives.
“Ecosystems As Models for Restoring Our Economies”
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Presenting such complexity and non-linearity into the logical sequence of parts, chapters, and pages was one of the greatest writing challenges of my life.
SunLit: If you could pick just one thing – a theme, lesson, emotion or realization — that readers would take from this book, what would that be?
Giordanengo: To resolve humanity’s most important social and environmental challenges requires that we first address the economic flaws responsible for their creation.
SunLit: In a highly politicized atmosphere where books, and people’s access to them, has become increasingly contentious, what would you add to the conversation about books, libraries and generally the availability of literature in the public sphere?
Giordanengo: It is this very same politicized atmosphere that drove me to intentionally craft this book so as to attract and galvanize the interests of readers across the political spectrum. We cannot achieve a sustainable economy by calling upon the actions of only half the population: the left or the right.
SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Giordanengo: Balancing the needs of family and work, the bulk of this book was written before 9a.m. Growing up in a family of seven kids, I was forced to focus amidst constant chaos. Today, my most creative writing is done in social atmospheres such as coffee shops, cafes, restaurants, and (yes) bars, where the surrounding chatter and clanking tends to stimulate the written word rather than obscure it.
SunLit: In a highly complex non-fiction work like this, how do you balance the need for scientifically valid research with the broader systems understanding?
Giordanengo: Finding this balance is the charge of every economist and ecologist. However, the “tools” to accomplish this are not universally accepted by scientific communities tasked with studying just one part of the system (e.g., cells, a single species, just plant communities, just energy, supply-demand, microeconomics, etc.)
Instead, this subject required I use a “cross-cutting” approach to synthesize a wealth of seemingly disparate research into a systems level understanding. This work was supported by an integrative review of the literature, as well as applied experience in ecology, ecological restoration, and business.
To make this book more tangible for a broader audience, and in support of “experiential research,” a series of interviews and site visits with economics, community, and business leaders, factory workers, farmers, and others from around the globe were conducted. This experiential research continues today, and is integrated with current writing projects and professional talks on this subject.
SunLit: Tell us about your next project.
Giordanengo: My next project is an invited article for Sustainability and Land, a special integrated issue of two Denmark journals. That article is a summary of this book, integrating dozens of more recent research findings and interviews with economists, scientists, laborers, farmers, and others in Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Italy, and across the U.S.
Two future projects are a full 2nd edition of “Ecosystems as Models for Restoring our Economies,” and a new book on this subject, interweaving stories of economic collapse and recovery from across the globe, tailored to a more general audience.
Quick hits: A quirky collection of questions
SunLit: Do you look forward to the actual work of writing or is it a chore that you dread but must do to achieve good things?
Giordanengo: The promise of writing a good story is an alarm, making me rip the covers off every morning with a smile.
SunLit: What’s the first piece of writing – at any age – that you remember being proud of?
Giordanengo: It was a business school research article I wrote on the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
SunLit: When you look back at your early professional writing, how do you feel about it? Impressed? Embarrassed? Satisfied? Wish you could have a do-over?
Giordanengo: It’s easy to look back and be critical. There are no do-overs. There are simply lessons learned, which I am thankful to integrate into every new page.
SunLit: What three writers, from any era, can you imagine having over for a great discussion about literature and writing? And why?
Giordanengo: Alexander Von Humbolt, for his insights into natural and human systems, and his skill integrating scientific and creative writing. Adam Smith, to discuss his 18th century work in economics, in light of current countless global challenges to earth’s social, environmental, and economic systems.
SunLit: Do you have a favorite quote about writing?
Giordanengo: “A book that is made up of only great sentences is not necessarily a great book.” ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
SunLit: What does the current collection of books on your home shelves tell visitors about you?
Giordanengo: John loves economics and ecology.
SunLit: Soundtrack or silence? What’s the audio background that helps you write?
Giordanengo: The human chatter in a crowded café, bar, or coffee shop.
SunLit: What event, and at what age, convinced you that you wanted to be a writer?
Giordanengo: I think it was the stories about a great uncle who was a writer, and the interpretation that good writing was a life-long challenge. I was about 10 years old.
SunLit: As an author, what do you most fear?
Giordanengo: Technical mistakes, typos, and lack of clarity.
SunLit: Also as an author, what brings you the greatest satisfaction?
Giordanengo: Telling a good story.