Eleven years ago, Dan Sosland founded Environment Northeast. In that time, it’s grown into one of the largest climate and energy policy nonprofits in the Northeast. ENE helps to research, develop, and implement policies that deal with the region’s environmental problems, while still promoting reasonable economic practices. The organization creates environmental policies that are both innovative and practical.
Sosland did his undergrad at Brown, and then got his law degree from Cornell. He worked for a few big law firms in New York City before moving to environmental law. Before founding ENE, he worked for the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston and Rockport, Maine, where he lives today. He’s also on the board of directors of Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships and the U.S. Climate Action Network.
We caught up with him for a conversation on why what he does is important and what it means to be a good man:
Why create ENE? Why get involved with climate change?
I think I was always interested in getting into an area where you can make large-scale changes. The environment affects everyone in so many different ways: air pollution, water pollution, it can damage people’s health. There are so many smarter ways of doing things in society around energy consumption. Finding a way to participate, crafting new ideas, and trying to promote them effectively is something that I was very interested in doing.
It’s near-term and it’s long-term. There are near-term impacts that could improve people’s lives—from having healthy buildings to living in a cleaner environment. There’s also a long-term impact, and that’s the way our environment affects our quality of life and our kids’ quality of life. We don’t appreciate the beauty of the environment and the way that it contributes to human happiness. We lose things permanently when we destroy them.
Are you a good man? Why or why not?
I’m sure, like anyone you ask, I try to be a good man. I try to think most people would say that I am. I try hard to be fair and to listen, and I like to treat people the way I would like to be treated. I think I try to lead an ethical life, which is really important. I try to live by those maxims.
What makes a good man, in your eyes?
I think in this day and age one of the most important characteristics of a good man is his empathy, just a willingness to listen and try to understand where other people are coming from—what has led them to be a certain way and what they aspire to be. I think most people aspire to do good things. I think the attempt to try to understand other people and reach out to them, both intellectually and emotionally, is something we need more of in this society, instead of so much division. That comes to mind as a primary attribute of a good man.
Who has been the ultimate good man in your life?
I think of my grandfather. He was a very honorable, ethical, and intelligent man who exhibited the characteristics I’m talking about. He empathized with people. They looked to him and they confided in him. I remember he took me on a trip when I was 13. Something was going on with a kid and his parents. They went to my grandfather, and he worked it out. As a total stranger, it was quite remarkable that he could give people that kind of confidence.
I think another man was the father of a friend of mine. We spent our summers together on a little island. He was a neighbor, but over time, if something needed to be fixed at my house, and I had to fix it, he would come over and help. And I would help him. We never really talked about what we were doing or why we did it for each other. I think he was just an incredibly strong and caring person.
What other men would you nominate as a Man of the Day? What guys, like you, are doing equally awesome things?
I’m recently most influenced by people I’ve been reading. There’s a poet named Philip Levine and I think he’s amazing. His poetry’s about people who are going through hard times, and I dig the he way can talk about what they experience to make you feel it. People in parts of society who aren’t looked on as leaders, he writes about them and it’s very compelling.
Another person I’m amazed by—he actually died recently—is Janusz Bardach. He actually was arrested in World War II and sent to the Soviet Gulag. He survived it. One horrific thing after another, he somehow got out of there and became a doctor in Poland. They later went after him and Poland, and he ended up in the United States. He had gone through things that were almost unsurvivable. They’re unspeakable. At the University of Iowa he became one of the world’s leading cleft-palate surgeons. He devoted his life over to helping children. No one in Iowa knew about his background. This is a man who was exposed to the worst evils of the 20th century. Everyone in his family was killed in the Holocaust. Millions of people were killed in the Gulag, and yet, what did he do with his life? He became a surgeon. I think it’s one of the most amazing stories I’ve heard.