Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Samuel M Goodman Is Helping To Change Our World

Posted on

Most of the things I wish I knew generally revolve around the publishing process. It would have been helpful to know how the industry works and what my options were going into it. I probably would take a different approach if I had to do it all over again. Instead of working with a hybrid publisher, I would have tried to go the more traditional route by securing an agent and working from there. Publishing a book has so many idiosyncrasies and unique terms that it would have been helpful to have a guide rather than having to learn it all myself.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Samuel Goodman.

Dr. Goodman is a chemical engineer by training, earning his doctorate from the University of Colorado Boulder after undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Following graduate school, Dr. Goodman was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Academy of Sciences and, subsequently, was the recipient of a prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowship (STPF) at the U.S. Department of Defense. He is currently an analyst at the U.S. International Trade Commission. All views expressed in this interview and Dr. Goodman’s book are solely his own.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Thank you for having me! I was born and raised in a modest Wisconsin city. My childhood was probably pretty typical for semi-urban Midwestern America. We spend holidays on my grandparent’s dairy farm, I played saxophone in band, spent a birthday in France on a class trip, and a bike was my primary mode of transportation through high school. My parents both worked in education, and it’s their efforts that probably helped encourage my interest in subjects like climate change. There were many trips to the Science Museum of Minnesota when I was young. Overall, not a bad 18 years.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I can’t remember the precise title, but there was this astronomy book that made a considerable impact on me in my early teens. One section dealt with the future, things like the sun engulfing the Earth once it becomes a red giant or the potential heat death of the universe. Between the unimaginable scales involved and seeming impermanence of everything, reading about these cataclysms caused me to have a bit of an existential panic.

The fact that I was reading outside on a beautiful day probably helped prevent a spiral towards nihilism. Having knowledge of the end doesn’t make the rest of a story pointless. Instead, I’ve since changed my outlook to embrace change. If nothing is permanent, then we don’t have to be beholden to ideas, institutions, or practices that aren’t working or could be done better. It also gives us a kind of real control, the ability to choose what is worthwhile to pursue in our limited time.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Before becoming an author, I started my career as a research scientist. Chemistry, specifically. My first experience in a real laboratory was as a sophomore undergraduate student. It was an experience that made me realize just how much of a novice I truly was.

The graduate student I worked with started by trying to teach me how to properly do a relatively straightforward reaction. However, it involved equipment and procedures I had never encountered before. He did everything the first time while I watched and listened. We would need to do it again to make enough material for later experiments, but he was going to be out for a couple days and gave me the option to try it myself. That was the mistake.

One of the steps involved neutralizing a modestly strong acid. As a side effect, doing so created gas, and you had to be careful to constantly release it to avoid building-up pressure. I was not careful. While shaking the mixture, the top of the glass vessel burst out and the contents spilled all over me! Thankfully, I was wearing a lab coat and it wasn’t that dangerous, but the reaction was ruined and I reeked of vinegar.

The major lessor I learned was not to overestimate my own abilities. People have a tendency to think they know more about something when in fact we often know very little. I got lucky, and my overconfidence had no lasting repercussions beyond looking like a fool. From then on, I’ve been careful to know, as much as possible, exactly what I’m doing and what I’m talking about.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

The goal of the book is to show that there is hope for solving climate change. I wanted to lay out how we could use the technology we have available to us right now to get there. Beyond the technical, I also wanted to highlight all the other decisions we have to grapple with. Many factors ranging from our consumption and culture to the political process all introduce bottlenecks that will work against taking action.

I structured the book so that the reader would know what needs doing, what will stand in the way, and how to overcome those issues. The key to solving this societal issue is to build a movement that can wield political power, and my hope is that this book will contribute to that effort. In the best-case scenario, we end climate change decisively and my work becomes happily obsolete.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

One of the more fascinating things that came up was the reason we can count the number offshore wind turbines in the United States on one hand. They’re larger, more efficient, and closer to population centers than those on land, making them a natural priority for investment. Europe has certainly taken this route, and thousands of them are now in operation across the pond.

What happened was that a small group of wealthy people were able to override public opinion. Through a never-ending series of lawsuits, they were able to prevent the installation of more turbines. Basically, they were willing and had the resources to override democracy so that the view from their mansions wouldn’t be slightly different. It’s a cautionary tale about the kinds of non-technical bottlenecks we face when confronting this problem.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I remember exactly where I was when I had the idea to write the book. It was afternoon one day in spring 2018, and I was walking back to my apartment from the Metro station (the DC subway). I had been mulling over some article, another in a long series of pieces that seemingly rehashed the same dead-end ideas about dealing with climate change. Once you recognize the patterns, it becomes easy to spot them, and I just couldn’t let it go.

The only way to fully process my own ideas was to take the time to write them out. That was a proposition I dismissed about a minute later, knowing I simply didn’t have the time to do it. The pandemic, however, left me with plenty of time and nowhere to go. So, I sat down and started hammering it out to see where it would lead. As a bonus, it kept me from driving my wife crazy during the lockdown.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Several readers have commented on how the book influenced their perspective on climate change. One of my friends found the book very useful to prepare her for an upcoming project at work. She was having meetings involving discussions of climate change-related issues, which was outside of her normal area of expertise. The book provided the background and context she needed to fully engage on the topic. Others have also noted how they’re better able to understand news and are more engaged with political events surrounding climate change since reading the book.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Absolutely, and they’re all interrelated. The first step is for people in the community to organize and provide the grassroots political force to enable the kind of transformational response we need. With a solid group putting pressure on politicians, and doing some gatekeeping of who is able to wield power, such a movement can start to demand action.

Politicians are ultimately the ones who must direct the resources necessary to deal with the crisis. Through direct appropriations and other mechanisms, they are the ones who need to take action to ultimately reverse course. That will involve investing in a wholistic renewable power grid to wean society off fossil fuels and engage in unprofitable activities like carbon sequestration to ultimately reverse the damage. And there is no time to waste, because even recent legislation is only scratching the surface of what needs doing.

Creating such a movement necessitates a change in our society. We presently think as individuals and gauge our response to problems through the lens of personal action. However, you yourself can live a perfectly conscientious life, make all the right decisions, and still have no impact on our climate trajectory. It is a fundamentally systemic issue, and the only way we will reach a solution is by building solidarity and working within a larger movement to create wholesale change.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

The way I approach leadership is that it’s how to motivate people to choose to do something. Ultimately, I don’t have the power to force someone to do anything. They can always just walk away or ignore me. Sometimes you might have innate leverage, like in an employee-employer relationship, but there are limits even then. That leaves a couple of ways of being a good leader, in my experience.

The first is to lead from the front. Demonstrate you have the same concerns and burdens to build a shared sense of purpose. People are more likely to follow you if you have the same connection to the work being done and don’t fall into the trap of “do as I say, not as I do.” Everyone’s had a boss or manager who gave themselves perks that were denied to everyone else or unfairly distributed work, and nothing destroys your credibility as a leader like that.

Similarly, good leaders are transparent, so that even if a bad situation comes up you can still maintain trust. Leaders operate under their own constraints or directions from higher-ups, and that means having to enforce decisions they don’t always agree with. Empathy is key. We’ve all been on the receiving end of seemingly bizarre decisions and policies, so remember how you would like to be treated in similar situation. If you’re up front and treat people with respect, they will respect you back.

Finally, good humor goes a long way. It can make a bad situation more bearable and shows that the leader is comfortable with and respects those following them. Presenting a good attitude can help everyone get through a tough situation more easily. There are limits, of course, as not everyone’s sense of humor is the same. You’ll have to get to know the people you’re leading to know what is out of bounds.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Most of the things I wish I knew generally revolve around the publishing process. It would have been helpful to know how the industry works and what my options were going into it. I probably would take a different approach if I had to do it all over again. Instead of working with a hybrid publisher, I would have tried to go the more traditional route by securing an agent and working from there. Publishing a book has so many idiosyncrasies and unique terms that it would have been helpful to have a guide rather than having to learn it all myself.

No matter which publishing route you use, you, the author, are ultimately responsible for the quality of the book. No editor can improve your book if you’re not willing to put in the work to make it happen. I wish I would have known I would be doing almost two full re-writes, just to mentally prepare for it. Similarly, I wish I had known what I was doing when I started producing the audio book version, because that would have saved me from spending a lot of time making bad recordings.

It would have also been helpful to mitigate my own ego from the outset. Grinding away and wordsmithing every single sentence and listening to your own voice for dozens of hours tends to do that naturally. Getting over my initial need for “perfection” in a first draft would have helped me move forward much quicker, which is ultimately more important. The key is to not be afraid of starting.

Once the manuscript is done, you need a cover before it can become a real book. I wish I had paid closer attention to small details on other cover designs. Notably, most have a smooth color and design transition between the front cover, spine, and back cover. This approach allows for any slight deviations in printing to be hidden and unnoticeable. I went with a sharp transition between my front cover and spine, and I would not do that again. Some copies were just too misaligned to hand out, which was so much wasted printing costs.

Finally, you need the right equipment during the marketing stage. I did multiple interviews and podcasts with a crappy built-in microphone. Nobody wants to hear audio quality like that, it just doesn’t make for a good listening experience. The audience will be focused on your bad sound rather than the content of your message. I would have told myself to invest in a better microphone much earlier.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There is one quote from a professor, the first one I worked for as an undergrad, that I’ve used throughout my career. His recommendation was to “live in as many places and try as many things as you can, otherwise you won’t know what you really like.” That philosophy is part of what drove me to move across the country and change fields for my graduate studies, then switch gears by leaving academia for Washington, DC, and ultimately try my hand at writing a book.

I’m always on the lookout to try new things and expand my horizons. It doesn’t just have to be related to your career either. You can push yourself to try a new activity like going to a climbing gym (very fun) or ordering something different at a favorite restaurant (mixed results). We only have so much time where we have the capability to do so. It’s easy to fall into a comfortable pattern, but you don’t know what you might be missing if you’re afraid of a bad experience.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

At the moment, I’d be interested in talking with Bradford DeLong. He’s an economics professor who recently came out with a book (Slouching Towards Utopia) that presents an interesting view on modern development. That’s a field I’m very much interested in, given how tightly modernization and industrialization are tied to both the causes of and solutions to climate change. Beyond the book, Prof. DeLong has also had an interesting career and evolving perspective on economics. I think there are many fascinating conversations that could be had within that space.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I have more information about me, the book, and other projects on my personal website ( and readers can connect or follow me on LinkedIn ( and Twitter (@GoodestSam).

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you so much for having me, this has been great!

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Samuel M Goodman Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.