Award winning environmental educator believes others are like him and want to make difference
Justin Dearing feels comfortable on beaches. He met his wife, Stephanie (Simms) Dearing, on the beach in St. Philip’s and had wedding pictures taken there. The Grand Falls-Windsor native has also helped lead hundreds of beach cleanups with thousands of youth from across the province.
“It’s kind of neat to be standing here,” reflects the 34-year-old Dearing when speaking with The Telegram on that same beach in St. Philip’s. “I’ve just been in such a retrospective mode that I’ve been thinking about all the different things that led me to where I went and where I am.”
A conference co-ordinator with Marine Institute Ocean Net, Dearing was recently named as the 2013 Individual Environmental Award recipient for the province at the Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Awards in Cupids.
Dearing was recognized as a leader in the province promoting environmental awareness and action, organizing and leading beach cleanups and educating youth about climate change.
He was also chosen, according the news release, to be one of the team of educators and experts from around the world on the upcoming Students on Ice Artic Expendition in July.
It was in 2005, through a job with Conservation Corps Newfoundland and Labrador as a green team leader, that Dearing became invested in environmental issues like climate change.
“What struck me — and it’s like a lightbulb went off — this issue is a collection of individual behaviours and decisions that then add up to this large problem everyone’s trying to solve, and it seems like so few people are thinking about, what’s my role in it,” said Dearing.
Connecting with individuals is at the heart of his environmental education efforts.
“It’s so easy to point fingers or catch someone or find someone or make a policy or make a law, and people just don’t think, how can I help it. What’s my role?”
Dearing likes to point out during presentations that every decision a person makes throughout the day has a consequence and impact on everything that surrounds them.
Thinking about that impact as an individual pays off in any locale, but particularly so in a place like Newfoundland and Labrador, he says, making note of the province’s industrial, historical and cultural connection to the sea.
“I really believe that we have such an opportunity in Newfoundland and Labrador, because we’re not all huge centres and cities, so in a community it’s so easy to ban plastic bags or stop buying bottled water or really advocate for a clean water source. We can manage our waste differently because we’re small enough that if a couple of leaders and a couple of decisionmakers get involved, we can have control of it.”
In this regard, Dearing says Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a great attitude for making a difference on environmental matters, noting they are often willing to fight tooth-and-nail for their family, community and history. People he meets are passionate and sometimes frustrated to the point of tearing up.
“They’re just that frustrated, and to go as an outsider and just find whatever it takes to be honest and just say, ‘There’s something we can do.’ And then have those people all of a sudden turned on to ideas to make it better, rather than how it’s never going to change — that’s been the most inspiring thing I’ve ever seen.”
Inspired by others
Much of Dearing’s inspiration comes from the work of Robert O’Brien, who founded the original Ocean Net as a non-profit organization in 1997, and Kay Coxworthy, its former executive director.
“Robert O’Brien was really a mentor for me,” says Dearing. “He was extremely passionate. It didn’t matter what the obstacles (were). He made the work about the people and the purpose, not about himself. That, as a young person starting out, it really shaped me.”
When Ocean Net ceased operations in 2009, the Marine Institute elected to start a new Ocean Net, and Dearing immediately came on board.
“I’m very proud of it, and I would imagine that Bob and Kay are pretty proud of it, too,” he said. “The heart of what made Ocean Net strong when it started in ’97 is still strong today.”
Always with an eye towards the future, Dearing says that engaging young people about the importance of respecting the environment results in positive outcomes.
“If we don’t share new ideas or new attitudes or other options with these young kids, they’re going to grow up and they’re just going to continue to accept that drinking out of a plastic bottle is where you get water, and electricity comes from the wall and that’s all we know, or when you throw one thing away, that’s no big deal. Or, I’m just one person. I’m not really that important. There’s all these false beliefs.”
Dearing will have a unique educating experience four weeks from now when he joins the Students on Ice Arctic youth expedition.
It will explore the eastern Canadian Arctic and western Greenland over the course of two weeks, involving 70 high school students from around the world and 35 world-class scientists, historians, artists, explorers, educators, innovators and polar experts.
“With my projects, I might have kids or youth, citizens in the community, for an afternoon or a couple of hours. But I’m going to have constant exposure to these young people for two weeks. That’s a great opportunity to show them some of the points of view and beliefs that I have — what we can do about climate change, the environment and sustainability.”
Dearing is involved in youth conferences, presentations and cleanups year-round, and he hopes that work will continue to grow, particularly if it can help develop empowered people who one day become policy makers and leaders.
“I’d like to take my work that I believe in so much and broaden it to really get involved in youth leadership in an ongoing, throughout-the-year way.”