Monthly Archives: November 2011

Feeling Blue? Go Take a Hike!

Don’t just take my word for it.  Anne Frank said it so beautifully some 60 years ago in her book, The Diary of a Young Girl: “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

Keep in mind where she wrote this.  Anne and her family where hiding from the Nazis.  They were confined to in an attic of a house in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  She could not go outside for two years and basically had no contact with nature.  She only had a window to look out into the sky.  A vibrant chestnut tree that grew right in front of the window was her closest contact to the natural world.

I recently got into a debate with someone on Facebook whether or not there is really hope for the future with the immense problem of climate change.  With all the environmental destruction caused by humans, my friend did not think there was hope for the future.  On the other hand, I am endlessly optimism who believes all of us humans can lessen the impact of climate change.  How do I know this?  From all the time I have spent in nature.

I grew up walking the trails of a county park that looked the Mississippi River by my house, Bee Tree Park.  I loved walking the woods and exploring the creeks by around my parents house in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri.  As soon as I graduated from college in 1992, I worked at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.  Every summer since, I have enjoyed hiking as many trails as I can in my spare time.  Up until spring 2008, I spent my winters in Everglades National Park, Florida.  As much as I could, I would canoe, bicycle, bird watch and hike all around that magnificent park also.  Local, state and national parks, and wilderness areas have always provided me a sense of wonder, renewal, peace, and hope.

From the past 20 years of working in the national parks, I went from working as a housekeeper and gift store cashier to a naturalist ranger leading presentations to visitors.  I even used that Anne Frank quote in many of my ranger programs.  When I was not out exploring nature, I loved reading about it in the evenings to educate myself and be knowledgeable for the park visitors.  My quest for green knowledge led to my interest in climate change.

For ten years now, I have been reading as many books as I can about climate change.  Most of the authors and scientists I read are very alarmed by the negative impact it is having on planet.  However, most seem hopeful that we can take lots of actions to lessen the impact for future generations.  Thus, I have always maintained hope we can solve climate change.

Four years ago, in November 2007 while still working in the Everglades, I had an epiphany.  I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to find some way to educate and inspire people to resolve climate change as some kind of public speaker or teacher.  Ever since then, I have been looking for a grad school to truly learn the art and science of effective climate change communications.  This is now my fourth winter in St. Louis trying to make this life transition.  While I am living with family and working various winter temporary jobs, I still have sought out nature.  I still make regular pilgrimages to Bee Tree Park to hike the trails, admire the wide Mississippi River, and look at the deciduous trees in amazement, especially how they change with the seasons.  Nature is still blessing me with renewal, wonder, peace and hope.

For my friend on Facebook, whom I was debating on the solutions to climate change, I tried to instill my hope from spending time in nature.  He was just not going to buy it.  Oh, well.  Some people are never going to be persuaded by your point of view.  However, I was really shocked by his pessimism and lack of hope for the future though.  After a conversation with him, you may not be hopeful that humans can take meaningful actions to reduce the threat of climate change.  I have never been convinced either that total pessimism inspires people to change their ways and take positive actions.   If you are just going to focus on doom and gloom projections of the future, you not going to be a joy to be around.  People will not be challenged to live a healthier, more sustainable, green life for the planet.  You will not help the cause.

My friend Tom Smerling, who founded the website said something interesting to me a few weeks ago.  He remarked that if we (who are very knowledgeable and aware of climate change) are not providing some kind of hope to our family, friends, students and people whom engage about climate change, then we must take a vacation or sabbatical.  This is a very truthful statement.  Even more, if you cannot take that vacation or sabbatical, at least go hiking in a nearby park.  Reconnect with nature.  Find that wonder by being in the natural world.
Don’t just take my word for this either.  Keep thinking about Anne Frank.  She expressed this deep appreciate for nature at the age of 14.   She even had this deep longing to reconnect with nature especially because she trapped hiding in that small attic with her family for two years.  She never gave up hope and optimism, despite the Holocaust happening all around.  Her words and spirit of hope forever lives on.  She would want us to go spend time in nature, especially if we were feeling hopeless and pessimistic about global issues like climate change.

If you really are feeling hopeless about the state of the world and humanity, please do yourself a favor and go spend some time in nature.  Nature has been such a wonderful friend to me.  The natural world has really inspired me to be green (strive to live more sustainably) and educate people to take action to resolve climate change.  I know if you are feeling blue, taking a hike will inspire you also to be green and live your best life.


Big disappointment and setback happened yesterday: I was not able to present my speech at the Toastmasters meeting last night.  It was a huge letdown because I had been preparing for that moment for weeks last night.  It was not for lack of preparation either.  I could not give the speech last night simply because I could not get plugged in.
My speech preparation started immediately the day after the St. Louis Cardinals (my favorite team) won the World Series, on Saturday evening, October 29th.  With baseball no longer pre-occupying me, I sat down that Saturday evening to compose my next speech and accompanying power point for Toastmasters.  It took all evening and real late into Sunday morning to finish the speech.   Inspiration hit and I did not want to stop it, even if it meant missing out on attending the Cardinals victory parade in downtown St. Louis.  
The St. Louis Cardinals winning the World Series may never happen again in my lifetime, but it still was an easy decision for me.  No matter how much I love baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals.  It came down to my biggest priority: my life’s mission to educate and inspire people to take action to resolve climate change.  I passed by this possible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate St. Louis Cardinal red so I can promote living green for our planet.
On Sunday evening, October 30th, I presented my speech for the first time to my mentor in Toastmasters.  He seemed very pleased with the speech and had very helpful suggestions.  A week later, I spent a day practicing it with my godmother who is always a tough task master with me.  The next day, I practiced the speech with a former Toastmaster.  I drove this past Monday night to see a family friend to present it to him as he was working late hours as principal of his school.  Yesterday, I practiced it again for my parents and two of their close friends before they were literally walking out the door for a short vacation in Branson, Missouri.  I practiced the speech three times before the meeting last night.  After all this preparation, I was pumped up, locked-in, PLUGGED AWAY and fully prepared to inspire my audience that IT IS EASY AND FUN TO BE GREEN.
There was one glitch to my well prepared speech that I found out immediately when I arrived at the Toastmasters meeting: the landlord of the building where Toastmasters meets would not allow us to plug in our electronic devices.  I arrived at the meeting in plenty of time around 6:43 pm for the 7:00 pm starting time.  However no matter how early I arrived, the news was going to be the same: I could not give my speech with the power point.  The leaders of Toastmasters politely gave me a choice, I could give my speech without power point or I could delay until the next meeting to present my speech.  I felt I had no choice but to delay until a future meeting.  I have a great message IT IS EASY AND FUN TO BE GREEN.  The message was not going to connect as meaningful and as inspirational with without the power point images, accompanying humor, and the suggested tips I provide how you can be easily be green in your own home.
My speech would not have the same punch, not the same impact, without being plugged into electricity.  Pictures are worth a thousand words.  I had beautiful images of nature, funny pictures of the Toastmasters members, and solid statistics to project on a big screen.  This was all to persuade my audience that being green saves you cash.  Experts on public speaking say that you have got to know your audience to be present a successful speech.  This speech was designed specifically for this St. Louis South County Toastmaster audience.  I know I would have wowed them with this speech, but I needed electricity to do so.
It was very ironic that I needed electricity to present a message to be green.  Would it not have made more sense to skip the electricity, the power point, the laptop and the projector to just present the speech to be green?  The answer is no.   I could not see how the speech would not have made the same meaningful impact with my audience.  Last night reminded me of the old expression of fighting forest wildfires: sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.  Or, in my case, I had to stick to my guns of being less green (using electricity) to promote a message for all of us to be more green (live more sustainably by using less electricity).
The world’s leading voices for reducing the impact of climate change, such as the late Dr. Stephen Schneider, have had to struggle with this green dilemma.  The big question all the climate change reduction advocates: How do you convince people to be green when it takes a lot of electricity and carbon to get out this message.  Traveling in airplanes is one of the biggest carbon footprints one can have.  In a very large picture, jet setting across the world does beg to ask the question if these folks are energy hogs.  On a very small picture, ironically, I insisted last night that I needed electricity to give a presentation on living green to persuade people to use less electricity.   What is the answer?
In the book Science as a Contact Sport by Dr. Stephen Schneider on page 162 addresses this question directly.  He professor at Stanford University one of the world’s leading climatologists until his death in 2010.  He would directly ask his students, “Is your professor a hypocrite for having over 90 percent of his carbon footprint in the skies and thus far above the U.S. average?”  Great Question to ask.  His students then defended him by responding, “No, you may use more CO2 than average, but your work can save many millions of tons.” 

Unfortunately, American and humans collectively across the globe have not agreed yet that it is in our best interest to reduce our carbon emissions and the threat of climate change.  Until then, communicators of climate change, like me, will have to use carbon and electricity to provide the most effective message to inspire people take action to reduce the threat of climate change.  Ironically, I will have to use electricity with my presentations and even travel by car and plane to persuade people to be green.  The big message of being green is ultimately to live more sustainably with the earth, reduce your carbon footprint, and use less electricity.
Since I use the electricity of power point to convey this message that it is easy and fun for us to be green, my Toastmaster speech had to be delayed the next meeting on Wednesday, November 30th.  For the health of the planet and future generations, the message that cannot wait.  However, to have the most effective and inspiring message to my audience, the speech had to wait.  Just a temporary delay as I keep plugging away with my message:  IT IS EASY AND FUN TO BE GREEN.  Finally, no matter how much I love baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the sweetness of the recent 2011 World Series victory, inspiring people to be green and reduce the threat of climate change is my greatest passion.

It is Easy and Fun to Be Green, Part I

Tomorrow, I give my a speech for St. Louis South County Toastmasters.  It will be my fourth speech since joining Toastmasters last January.  I love public speaking.  I miss it when I am not working in the national parks. Plus, I have really enjoyed getting to know the members of South County Toastmasters.  They have all been incredibly warm and kind to me.  Even more, they have provided many helpful suggestions to improve as a public speaker.  Their tips have really helped me improve as I give presentations to the public as a seasonal  ranger at Crater Lake National Park.  My dream is to be a full time green speaker/climate change communicator.  Toastmasters is really helping me gain the skills to be a professional speaker.

Thus, I do recommend Toastmasters or a public speaking group to people who are passionate about climate change, environmental issues, and promoting living green lifestyle.  It will make you a more polished speaker.  Furthermore, you get to speak to a cross-section of society.  You are not just “preaching to the choir” like if you spoke at a conservation club meeting.  A Toastmasters’ audience ranges across the political spectrum from hard core conservative Tea Party supporters, moderate and undecided voters, to very progressive liberal voters who sympathize with the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Toastmaster members do a great job to evaluate your speech based upon your delivery, organization, and effective speaking techniques.  They are not suppose to be critical of your speech if they disagree with you politically.

Toastmasters has been a fabulous forum for me to present speeches on climate change and green issues.  I know for a fact that there are some hard core deniers of climate change in the audience.  They bristle as soon as I mention the word “climate change.”  There are a couple of members who question the evidence after my speeches, such as “What is the evidence that climate change real?”  “Isn’t climate change just natural and normal?”  “Don’t you drive a car and use carbon to heat & cool your home?”  “How do we know that the measurements that carbon dioxide is increasing are accurate?”  These are all great questions that challenged me to really learn more in depth about climate change so I can speak more fluently about it.  I appreciate the members of the club who are deniers of climate change because they have been very tough taskmasters to me.  At the same time they have been respectful and kind to my passion on climate change.  I appreciate their openness to allow me to use Toastmasters to create speeches on the problem and solution to climate change.

This past April, I presented a speech for Toastmasters, with the title: I am Drop a Stink bomb on You!  The speech was about the key evidence that scientists point as the key indicator of climate change, carbon isotopes.  My key point was that scientists know humans are pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, not volcanoes or the ocean, because they can measure the carbon 12 versus the Carbon 13 or Carbon amount in the atmosphere.  It was very tricky, technical speech.  I definitely felt like I was performing a high wire balancing act with heavy scientific information to a non-scientist audience.  For the most part, I felt like I succeeded with the speech.  However, I had technical difficulties with the power point remote and I kept turning around to point at the large screen.  Both of these speaking glitches my audience found distracting.  However, I did scare them pretty intensely with the information about climate change.  A few weeks after the speech, a good friend in the Toastmasters club, Nilsa, informed me that my next speech had to be “more uplifting with solutions to climate change.   You scared the hell out of us that WE ARE STINKING UP THE PLANET with your last speech.”

Therefore, the speech I am giving tomorrow night is a sequel or flip side to the previous speech.  It is much more upbeat and light.  It is called It is Easy and Fun to Be Green.  I am aiming for the undecided and deniers of climate change in my audience.  I am speaking to them in a language they understand: CASH! and not even mentioning the sensitive word of climate change.  I am getting excited because I will be giving the speech in less 24 hours from now.  Wish me luck!

Tomorrow night, I will post the speech and the response I received from my fellow Toastmasters.  In a future blog posting, I will also post the I am Going to Drop a Stinkbomb on You! speech.