Monthly Archives: December 2015

With climate change action, you can receive far more than you can seek

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling at their wedding ceremony. Nov. 1, 2015.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir,

This is one of my favorite quotes by John Muir, who lived from April 21, 1838 – December 24, 1914. He was a Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States. His writings and activism helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas. He seemed to be happiest and most at home exploring Yosemite and the surrounding areas. If you spend time at Yosemite, like I have done a few times, you can seek why. It won’t take you long to see will see why he wrote that.

In my 23 years working as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon and Everglades National Park, Florida, I love quoting John Muir during my ranger talks and interactions with visitors. Yes, I have lived his quote spending time in the great outdoors of our national parks. I have received far more wonder for my heart and soul than I will ever know. While experiencing the inspiration, I have been deeply troubled Seeing Climate Change in my 22 years as a Park Ranger.

My Struggle as a seasonal park ranger and off-seasonal climate advocate

By the winter of 2007-08, climate change was really tugging at me to take action. I had read and seen enough of sea level rise in the Everglades and its impact on the amazing wildlife, such as the alligators, crocodiles, birds, dolphins, manatees, etc. I decided to give up this wonderful winter job and move back to St. Louis for the winters. I had no idea what I was going to do in my hometown. However, I knew I had to speak out, write and organize locally to inspire others to take action to reduce the threat of climate change.

I still spend my summers at Crater Lake National Park leading ranger talks and hiking in nature. Since 2011, I have been giving my climate change evening program at Crater Lake. From 1992-2008, my old routine was Crater Lake in summer and Everglades in winter. By 2008, I found it a little confining to be a ranger year round seasonally in two different national parks. I like to jokingly call myself a “city slicker who works in national parks.” I need my winters in St. Louis to reacquaint myself to the zany, urban civilization where I grew up.

Giving up my winters in the Everglades was not a smart move financially. It was giving up a middle class salary and to live on half of the money. It was forfeiting half of my annual experience in the National Park Service, which could have helped me land a permanent ranger job. It meant giving up independence to live with family. It meant always being somewhat of a stranger in my hometown since I am gone half of the year. Add up all of those factors, less financial security, less of a stable career, and living dependently on family, does not make for a good dating situation.

Brian Ettling working as a ranger at Everglades National. Park

Besides being a seasonal park ranger and climate change advocate, my other dream was to find a wonderful woman and get married. Yes, I have had many dates and some girlfriends. However, it was hard to maintain those relationships and settle down due to my insane migratory summer Crater Lake park ranger/winter St. Louis climate change activist lifestyle.

The Reward of Following my Climate Change Bliss

While working in the Everglades around the year 2000, I first discovered the quote Joseph Campbell quote, “Follow your bliss!”

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In my spare time from immersing myself in the Everglades, a friend recommended that I listen to the 1988 PBS documentary Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth.  I then bought the six cassette one-hour conversations between mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) and journalist Bill Moyers.

Their conversation focused on Campbell’s knowledge of ancient mythology. They discussed how mythology still influences society and individuals today.

During their discussion of the Hero’s Adventure, Bill Moyers asked, “How do I slay that dragon in me? What’s the journey each of us has to make, what you call ‘the soul’s high adventure’?

Joseph Campbell responded, “My general formula for my students is ‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.”

Thus, I took this quote to heart to follow my bliss as a climate change communicator. In 2009, I spoke to my nephew’s second grade class and Cub Scout Troop, my younger niece’s girl scout troop, and my older niece’s seventh grade class. A local Catholic grade school asked me to speak to their third and fifth grade classes.

Brian Ettling speaking at the school of his nephew Sam, February 2009

As I mentioned in my previous blogs, I taught around 7 continuing adult education classes for St. Louis Community College. These classes were about 3 hours in length. In addition, I co-taught or taught 3 climate change classes for the OASIS Center of St. Louis, which is a non-profit educational organization promoting lifelong learning for adults over 50 years old.

I joined my local Toastmasters group, where I have given over 15 speeches on climate change. My fellow Toastmasters voted for me as “Best Speaker” for 6 of those speeches.  I co-founded the Climate Reality-St. Louis Meet Up with local area resident and businessman Larry Lazar. I got a short term job at the St. Louis Science Center interacting with folks at temporary Climate Change exhibit. I became co-leader of the St. Louis Citizens’ Climate Lobby group.


Joseph Campbell
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As I followed my passion engaging my hometown St. Louis on climate change, I started understanding this advice of Joseph Campbell.

For Bill Moyers asked him directly: “What happens when you follow your bliss?”

Joseph Campbell replied: “You come to bliss.”

Later on Bill Moyers asked, “Do you ever have this sense when you are following your bliss, as I have at moments, of being helped by hidden hands?”

Joseph Campbell: “All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as the result of invisible hands coming all the time — namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

Taking action on climate change was leading to bliss for me. Furthermore, it helped me find the woman of my dreams.

Climate Change work leading to romance 

At one of the Climate Reality-St. Louis Meet Ups, there was this beautiful slender woman with long blonde hair sitting at the bar drinking a birch beer. As one of the founders of the group, I walked up and introduced myself. She was shy and quiet However, she seemed interested to meet me since I was one of the leaders of the group. Her name was Tanya and I asked her how she liked her birch beer soda. She let me try some of her soda. I invited her to a future planning Climate Reality-St. Louis event and she came.

Tanya and I struck up a friendship. I asked her to meet me for coffee to hear one of my climate change talks and she said yes. Thus, we met for coffee at a Starbucks in December 2012 and again in February 2013. I practiced climate change talks for her both times. During the second meeting, I asked her if she would be interested in having dinner and seeing a movie. We ended up eating a a fun Indian restaurant and seeing the Jennifer Lawerence and Bradly Cooper movie, Silver Lining Playbook.

Tanya and Brian Ettling. Trip to Little Rock, Arkansas. April 2013.

Right away, there seemed to be a wonderful chemistry between us. We started dating in March 2013. She kept coming to my climate change talks around St. Louis. In April 2013, I took the train to see her Little Rock, Arkansas when she performed with the Little Rock Sympathy. One week later, Tanya played the violin for my parents’ 50th Anniversary Party. Her parents had me over for dinner a few weeks later. That summer, Tanya came to visit me at my summer job at Crater Lake National Park.

Through Tanya, I started getting invited to speak at climate change events. In December 2013, her good friend Connie asked me to give a climate change talk. January 2014, Tanya and I started filming for YouTube goofy videos where we promoted ourselves as the Climate Change Comedian and the Violinist!

By the summer of 2014, we had so much fun being around each other that each of us was starting to think about marriage. I proposed to her on Christmas Eve, 2014 at Castlewood State Park, located west of St. Louis. My proposal was on one knee at a bench high on a bluff over looking the Meramec River and a vast Missouri forest. One month later, we made another goofy YouTube video with my mother, Climate Change Comedian, His Mom, & His Fiancée.

A Climate Change Wedding 

Throughout 2015, we had so much fun planning our November 1st wedding with Tanya’s mother, Nancy. Tanya and Nancy laughed and approved all of my ideas for the wedding. My inflatable Earth Ball that I use for all of my climate change talks played a dominant role in the wedding. The minister for our ceremony, Darla Goodrich, talked about our love for the earth and protecting creation from climate change during her homily. Tanya chose to wear a beautiful green dress. The front of our wedding bulletin had an image of the earth.

On the back of the bulletin, Tanya and her family were very positive on what I had printed for the back page:

Tanya, Brian and their parents are delighted that you joined us today.
Hope you have a ball at our wedding! 


The Marriage of Brian and Tanya:
Where Everyday will be Earth Day!
Quotes from Brian to meditate 
for today and everyday:
“Each and everyone of us 
can change the world. 
We do this by 
The way we vote, 
The products we buy
And the attitudes we share 
with each other.“ 
“Think Globally, Act Daily.” 
“Never leave home without 
your Earth Ball.”
Quote from Tanya:
“It is never dull with Brian, 
but I am not sure 
if he is actually from this planet.”
Our friends and family who came to the wedding thought all of this was hilarious and fit with our personalities and my passion for climate change. It was so special to see so many friends and family members who had been so supportive of me with my climate change work over the years at the wedding.
Receiving sublime affirmation for my climate change work at the wedding reception. 
The wedding was nothing to compared to reaffirming bliss I received at the reception.
My best man was Larry Lazar, who I had co-founded the Climate Reality-St. Louis Meetup. Without Larry asking me to join him in creating this Meet Up, I am not sure if I would have met Larry. Thus, all of the credit goes to him. Larry gave a wonderful toast how Tanya and I met and all of my climate change advocacy. During the toast, he invited the reception guests to come to our next meet-up, a screening of the Merchants of Doubt documentary, on Sunday, November 14, 2015.

Brian Ettling with his Best Man, Larry Lazar

Surprisingly, two people from the reception actually came to this event two weeks later. Larry joked during his toast and I concurred that people should come because maybe they too might meet the person of their dreams, like Tanya and I did.

Tanya’s Matron of Honor, Anne, next got up to speak. Anne joked, ‘Tanya, you have a lot of patience, much more than most women would tolerate. There seems to be three in your relationship: You, Brian, and his Earth Ball.’
The audience, including Tanya and me, laughed hard at that comment. That was hilarious, Anne!
Next, my Mother-in-law, Nancy got up to speak. She totally surprised me by what she said:
My mother-in-law,
Nancy Couture


“Tanya, we are so happy you have found in your life companion in Brian and gained someone who appreciates nature and the environment…

We admire you, Brian and welcome you in our family. The passion that drives you is admirable. You working hard at making people understand the seriousness of climate change and we thank you for this. 

(Tanya) and you are both make an impact on your surrounding in positive ways through music, work, and advocacy.

We love you both and wish you the very best for your future together.”

Her speech was a sublime affirmation for all of my climate change work. Her speech left me stunned and speechless for her heartfelt words that I had followed by bliss. At that moment, Nancy showed me that I truly had received far more than I have ever given with my climate change work.

Support for my climate change work from my wife

Since our wedding two months ago, Tanya has been so supportive of my climate change work.

On November 29, 2015, my new wife scheduled both of us to attend the People’s Climate March in downtown St. Louis. It was organized by, a group I did not know existed before this march. On social media, there was conflicting reports where the march started in St. Louis. Some of the announcement said the Arch grounds, other announcements stated in front of City Hall. One rumor on social media said the march had been cancelled. All of these confusing reports left me very frustrated if I wanted to attend. Tanya insisted that we go downtown and attend anyway.

St. Louis People’s Climate March, November 29, 2015
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I was so happy that Tanya pushed us to go and I did not cancel. According to Avaaz, around 75 people attended this march. It was a cold, damp, blustery day, not the most ideal conditions for an outdoor march. Immediately after our arrival, I introduced myself to the even organizer, Devon Rae Hartwig. I mentioned my efforts as the co-founder of the Climate Reality-St. Louis Meet Up and a Climate Reality Project Leader.

Before I knew it, Devon asked me to be the main speaker at the beginning of the march. It was a thrill for me to briefly speak to the marchers. Many of them complimented me on my words after the march. Thank goodness for Tanya for seeing the importance for us attending this event.

This past week, Tanya heard my frustrations of not feeling I am effective enough as a climate change communicator. Her response was to schedule a test drive of a Tesla Model S at the St. Louis Tesla store the day after Christmas. Tesla Product Specialist, Matt Daniel sat in the car with us during the test drive. Tanya and I were amazed how the vehicle performed. It drove very smooth, comfortable, and quiet. We liked the computer GPS, back up camera, and parking sensors. Even more, we were amazed by the automatic pilot feature that self steered the car on the interstate. It even changed lanes safely when we put on the change lane signal.

Best of all, this was a moral boost as a climate change communicator for me to test drive a 100% electric car. Hopefully, this is the future for transportation to eventually have all of our vehicles not emitting carbon pollution and contributing to climate change. Again, I cannot thank Tanya enough for scheduling this Tesla test drive for us.

Tanya is always fully supportive of my work to write, organize, and give public speeches on climate change. I could not ask for better spouse as I follow my bliss with climate change activism.

With climate change action, you can receive far more than you can seek

Some folks reading this are not interested in finding true love or a spouse. I have no problem with that. The point of this blog post: If you get involved with taking action on climate change, you may receive far more than you seek.

In my case, I met my wife after I have been following my passion. Even if I had not met Tanya, I have had the blessing of meeting so many friends, such as Larry Lazar, who have inspired me and given me hope. Through the Climate Reality-St. Louis Meetup, Citizens Climate Lobby, South County Toastmasters, etc, I have met countless friends that are way too numerous to mention here. If you are a friend reading this, you probably inspired me with my climate change work.

During the Power of the Myth with Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers asks: “When I take that journey and go down there and slay those dragons (finding and acting on your life’s purpose), do I have to go alone?”

Joseph Campbell: “If you can find someone to help you, that’s fine too. But, ultimately, the last deed has to be done by oneself. Psychologically, the dragon is one’s own binding of oneself to one’s ego. We’re captured in our own dragon cage. The problem of the psychiatrist is to disintegrate that dragon, break him up, so that you may expand to a larger field of relationships. The ultimate dragon is within you, it is your ego clamping you down.”

One of the rewards I have received from climate change action is the hope I have received from friends. Besides Tanya, many others have also pushed me beyond my personal limitations and comfort zone. Through their actions, I can see that action leads to more climate actions.

As Joan Baez once said, “Action is the antidote for despair.”

At a Citizens’ Climate Lobby meeting on Saturday April 6, 2013, my friends Juli Viel and Lucas Sabalka challenged me to write a climate change opinion editorial for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. They directly needled me saying, “We know you want to do this. If you don’t do this, one of us will write this oped.”

They threw down the gauntlet and I had no choice but to respond. Late that evening, I threw myself into composing an editorial that I completed and submitted around 3 am. To my astonishment, the Post-Dispatch published my oped, For Earth Day, a GOP free-market solution to climate change, on April 19, 2013.

As wise men and women have shared with us for years: ‘As you step outside of your comfort zone, that is where the magic happens.’

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As we all know, it must take action to make a difference.

As Dr. David Orr says, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

With climate change, a wide range of actions is available for you to make a difference. You can write your elected member of Congress, write a letter to the editor or oped to your newspaper, support a candidate willing to take strong action on climate change, divest your investments from fossil fuels while encouraging your university and other organizations to do the same, organize to force your local utility to not use coal and switch to clean energy for your local electricity, weatherize your home if you have not done this already, etc.

As I like to say, “Each and everyone of us can change the world. We do this by the way we vote,
the products we buy, and the attitudes we share with each other.” and  “Think Globally, Act Daily.”

As we take action on climate change, we can gain hope, friends, and love. Similar to spending time in nature, we may even receive far more than we seek.

As Bill McKibben, founder of, stated,
“Very few people on Earth ever get to say: I’m doing, right now, the most important thing I could possibly be doing.’ If you join this fight, that’s what you will be saying.”

Thank you Tanya, Nancy, Larry Lazar and so many others for helping me to see that I have received far more by taking on action climate change than all of the effort I invested!

Nancy Couture, Brian Ettling, Tanya Couture and Rex Couture

How to teach a climate change continuing adult education class at your community college, Part II

Since October 2012, I have taught around 7 continuing adult education classes for St. Louis Community College. These classes were about 3 hours in length. In addition, I have also co-taught or taught 3 climate change classes for the OASIS Center of St. Louis, which is a non-profit educational organization promoting lifelong learning for adults over 50 years old.

I promoted these classes on social media to inspire others passionate about climate change across the U.S. to approach their community college for teach their local citizens about climate change. The response I received from some of climate change communicators was: “Great idea! Can I see a copy of your syllabus?”

I did mail the class agenda to anyone who was interested. I will keep doing this for others asking me the same request. In this blog, I will expand more upon what I cover in my class agenda. Hopefully, this will help others borrow or steal ideas to create their own climate change classes.

Because of this length and details, I had to break this blog up into two parts. I freely admit this blog post will not be for everyone. However, it is my Christmas gift to my Facebook friend, Andrise Bass, and others looking for materials to teach a similar class.

In the Part I of this blog, I covered the first half of the class:

A. My introduction to the class: Why am I teaching this class?

B. Get to know the Partipciants

C. What is Climate Change? What is the Problem?
In that section, I covered the 5 Essential Messages About Climate Change:
•  Climate change is real.
•  People are causing it this time.
•  There is widespread agreement among climate scientists;
more than 95% of scientists are convinced that human-caused climate change is occuring.
•  It is harmful to people.
•  People can limit it, if we choose.

D. We take a 15 minute break.

This is about the halfway point of my 3 hour class.

In the second half of my class (covered on this blog post), I cover:

How do Americans really feel about climate change? (The 6 Americas Report)

How do you effectively chat with your neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers on climate change?

How do you engage someone who strongly disagrees with you about climate change?

Looking at “unusual suspects” who accept climate change.

Answering climate myth questions.

Ending by showing humorous climate change videos.

E. How do Americans really feel about climate change?

I start this section by introducing the class to 6 of their neighbors: The Yale & George Mason Universities 6 Americas Reports. These reports that give an insight into American perspectives on climate change have been regularly published since July 2010.

The 6 Americas gives the titles for the six different groups as: Alarmed Alice, Concerned Claudia, Cautious Carl, Disengaged Diane, Doubtful David, and Dismissive Dan. I then show the most recent poll from the 6 Americas graphed out from most motivated, most concerned, and highest belief in global warming on the left to least concerned, least motivated, and lowest level of belief on the right.

As of October 2014, the latest poll of the 6 Americas showed the Alarmed (13%), Concerned (31%), Cautious (23%), Disengaged (7%), Doubtful (13%), and Dismissive (13%).

Starting in October 2011, I exchanged e-mails with Dr. Connie Roser-Renouf and Dr. Ed Maibach, two of the authors of the 6 Americas. They each e-mailed their powerpoint slide decks about communicating climate change messaging strategies from Global Warming’s Six Americas.

From their information, I then give a brief description to each of these 6 groups:

Alarmed Alice is highly certain climate change is real, caused by humans and is a serious threat right now. She is uncertain by the effectiveness of her actions and she considered an opinion leader by those around her. She is taking steps as an energy user, consumer, and citizens to advocate for change. Alice supports a wide range of policy responses to address global warming.

Concerned Claudia is very sure global warming, is happening, human caused, but feels less personally threatened that Alice. She believes global warming will harm people 10 or more years from now. She is average in reducing her energy consumption. However, she is well above average in using her consumer power to advocate for change. She supports aggressive government policies, but is currently unlikely to contact her elected officials.

Cautious Carl is only somewhat sure global warming is happening, and he is equally like to see it as human caused or natural. He sees global warming as a distant threat – primarily to other people – that begins to her people in another 25 to 50 years. He is taking average steps to reduce his energy consumption, but isn’t involved in addressing global warming in other ways. However, he is modestly supportive of a range of green policies.

Disengaged Diane thinks global warming may be happening, but she is unsure. She has given it very little thought, not personally important, and doesn’t know much about it. She has done relatively little to reduce her use of energy at home. She has lower that average income and not likely to rely on her own car. In my own conversation with Dr. Ed Maibach, one of the authors of the 6 Americas, he told me ‘The Disengaged are the one segment most likely to be non White, although they are not majority African American.’ Despite her low of personal concern, Diane is more supportive than Carl of a national response to global warming.

Doubtful David doesn’t know if climate change is real or not, but he is pretty sure it is not human-caused. He is not worried about it. He sees it as a very distant threat that won’t harm people for at least 100 years. He is not in favor of a national response to global warming, but he is modestly in favor of a range of energy-saving policy measures. He is improving energy-efficiency in his home.

Dismissive Dan believes global warming is a hoax. He thinks many scientists share his views. He rejects any form of government action against global warming, although he does support efforts to develop renewable energy sources. He is more likely than average to be making energy-efficient improvements to his home.

All of these groups feel very differently about climate change. Therefore, the key question is
How do you effectively reach different segments of the 6 Americas?

In the polling of the 6 Americas, research asked the different segment groups:
“If you could ask an expert on global warming one question, which question would you ask?”

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The result was that different segments have different questions for climate change experts:

a. Alarmed Alice & Concerned Claudia want to know: “What can the U.S. and I do to reduce global warming?”

b. Cautious Carl & Disengaged Diane want to know: “What harm will global warming cause?”

c. Doubtful David & Dismissive Dan want to know: “How do you know global warming is occurring?”

With Doubtful David and Dismissive Dan, keep in mind that question is a trap. They tend to have deep internal reasoning for rejecting any scientific explanation about climate change. Thus, as I will explain in an upcoming section, it is much better to shift the conversation how David and Dan can save money with energy efficiency. From research and my own personal experience, they are very interested on tips for saving money.

From research from the 6 Americas, these are the topics to engage the different segment groups:

a. Teach Alarmed Alice & Concerned Claudia what actions they can take right now.

b. Tell Cautious Carol & Disengaged Diane stories that bring home the threat of global warming and engage them with characters who are addressing the problem.

c. Teach Doubtful David & Dismissive Dan how they can save money through energy conservation.

F. How do you effectively chat with your neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers on climate change?

In this section, I focus on how engage Disengaged Diane and Alarmed Alice. I leave engaging Dismissive Dan for the next section.

1. Tell Diane & Carl stories that bring home the threat of climate change and show them characters who are addressing the problem.

On December 31, 2012, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, my hometown newspaper, had this headline that grabbed my attention: One in five kids in parts of St. Louis area struggles with asthma. Underneath the headline was an 8 year old African American boy, Xavier Miles, with a big smile on his face  before receiving his spirometry test, which shows the function of the lungs, at his school. The caption stated that “Xavier has asthma and met with various educators who reminded him how to take of himself during an asthma attack.”

The article then mentioned that St. Louis has twice the national average of children suffering with asthma. What causes asthma?

According to the website MedicalNewsToday, environmental factors are one of the top causes of Asthma:

“Pollution, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ozone, cold temperatures, and high humidity have all been shown to trigger asthma in some individuals.

During periods of heavy air pollution, there tend to be increases in asthma symptoms and hospital admissions. Smoggy conditions release the destructive ingredient known as ozone, causing coughing, shortness of breath, and even chest pain. These same conditions emit sulfur dioxide, which also results in asthma attacks by constricting airways.”

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Just a few months later, St. Louis Public Radio reported “St. Louis area 12th worst among U.S. metropolitan regions for particulate pollution” according to the annual report State of the Air by the American Lung Association. What is causing our dirty air?

It turns out that St. Louis gets around 84% of its electricity by burning coal, that is over twice the national average of 39%. Even worse, Ameren, the local electric utility, operates 4 three coal-fired power plants in the St. Louis metro area, 3 of which run without modern pollution controls.

According to the Clean Air Task Force, retiring one coal plant prevents annually 29 premature deaths, 47 heart attacks, 491 asthma attacks, and 22 asthma emergency room visits.

Just a couple of miles from where I live is the Meramec Coal Plant. It was originally built in 1953. Its health costs to society is larger than profits from production. According to the Environmental Integrity Project, the plant causes about 1,000 asthma attacks and 57 to 100 premature deaths each year.

Meramec Coal Power Plant, south St. Louis County, Missour

The good news for Missouri and the planet is that we don’t need to burn coal. Missouri ranks 13th in available wind resources. In 2008, the small town of Rockport, Missouri, over 1,300 residents, announced that it was the first 100% wind powered community in the United States.

Even more, there are local characters making a difference. In the South County Times, December 14, 2012, was this story, “Living Green With Solar Energy,” about Jim and Judy Stroup. Earlier in 2012, the Stroups installed solar panels on their roof. As a result, their electric bills fell drastically by up to 87%. n 2011, their annual electric bill was $882.60. In a full year of providing up to 87% of his electric needs, Stroup estimated his solar array will cover $767.86 of his electric bill. As a result, their    electric bill dropped to roughly $115 a year, or $9.56 a month.

Judy & Jim Stroup
photo by Ursula Ruhl, Image source:

Commenting on his new solar investment, Jim Stroup remarked: “This past month, I spent more beer & pistachios than I did on gas & electric. And I am not a big drinker. It’s amazing how much (solar) cuts down on your bills and how economical it is to install.”

In December 2013, I met up with a friend Jim Seko who drove up to visit me in his electric Nissan Leaf. Jim told me that his electric car was so economical that it would be “too expensive” for him to go back to gas powered car.

St. Louis resident Jim Seko with his electric Nissan Leaf car.

2. Tell Alarmed Alice the actions she can take right now.

Unfortunately, Alice feels all alone at home when she reads stories about climate change or sees them on TV. The great news to share with Alice is that she is not alone. As my friend, Larry Schweiger, former President of the National Wildlife Federation, once wrote, “It’s not enough to care; we must link our concern to each other and act collectively”

a. Citizens’ Climate Lobby
One group that has given me hope is Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). It was started in 2007 by retired San Diego real estate broker Marshall Saunders. CCL is a a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change. With over 307 active chapters in the US and worldwide, CCL lobbies Congress in support of its Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal. Its thousands of volunteers do this by building friendly relationships with our federally elected representatives and senators.

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CCL’s purpose:
1. To create the political will for a sustainable climate.
2. To empower individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.

According to retired NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, “If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren, there is no more effective step you could take than becoming an active member of Citizens Climate Lobby.”

Brian Ettling with  NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hanson

CCL’s goal: get Congress to pass a carbon fee and dividend.

The fee would be placed on carbon-based fuels at the source, which is the coal mine, oil well, or U.S. border. The fee starts at $15 per ton of fossil carbon dioxide emitted. It increases steadily each year by $10, so that clean energy is then cheaper than fossil fuels within a decade. All the money collected is then returned to American households. Two thirds of all households would break even or receive more in their dividend check than they would for the increased cost of energy. A predictably increasing carbon price would send a clear market signal which will unleash entrepreneurs and investors in the new clean-energy economy. It is considered to be a market-based solution geared towards conservative Republicans serving in Congress.

Revenue neutral carbon taxes have been tested in outside of the United States and have proven to be successful. The best case is British Columbia. Since it was first implemented in 2008, British Columbia now has the lowest personal income tax rate in Canada (with additional cuts benefiting low-income and rural residents) and one of the lowest corporate rates in North America.

This tax been amazingly effective in cutting the root of carbon pollution: the burning of fossil fuels. Since B.C. implemented it, fuel use dropped by 16 per cent.  In the rest of Canada, it’s rose by 3 per cent.

In 2014, Regional Economic Models, Inc (REMI) did a study of Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal. REMI concluded that CCL’s proposal would create between 2.1 to 2.8 million jobs, reduce carbon pollution by 50%, increase household incomes, save up to 230,000 lives that would otherwise be lost from the pollution of burning fossil fuels, and add up to 1.3 trillion more to the GDP over a 20 year period. Basically, there was no economic case against this proposal.

1. To create the political will for a sustainable climate.

Congress is more likely to take a lobbying group seriously if they are growing in numbers and influence. When I first got involved with Citizens’ Climate Lobby in 2012, there was 74 groups. Now they have 310 groups and over 20,000 volunteers. In June 2015, around 900 Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers from all across the United States went to Washington DC for an annual conference. They met with 487 offices. In November 2015, I joined around 140 volunteers to meet with nearly 170 Congressional offices. As the CCL volunteers and I met with the staff with 6 Congressional offices, it felt like they were taking us seriously because of our group size and commitment.

Brian Ettling meeting with 6 different Congressional Offices November 17 & 18, 2015.

CCL also tries to build positive relations with newspaper editors and the media to build political will. On December 12, 2012, volunteers from Citizens’ Climate Lobby and I met with the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to persuade them to endorse CCL’s carbon fee and dividend. As a result the Post-Dispatch did publish this editorial on December 27, 2012: Editorial: Save the planet. Save Social Security. Save Medicaid. Tax carbon.

Brian Ettling, Carol Braford, Tom Braford, Steve Valk, and Lucas Sabalka
after our meeting with the St. Louis Editorial Board, December 12, 2012.

2. To empower individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.

Singer and songwriter Joan Baez once said, “Action is the antidote for despair.”

I can personally attest that Citizens’ Climate Lobby has empowered me to do things I only dreamed I would be doing. In my imagination, I hoped I could write an opinion editorial for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. My CCL volunteer friends challenged me to do this in early April, 2013. That evening, I composed it and submitted it to the Post-Dispatch. It was published on April 19, 2013, For Earth Day, a GOP free-market solution to climate change.

Just one year later, The Post-Dispatch published another oped I wrote for Earth Day 2014, For Earth Day: Asking our elected officials to be climate heroes. The print edition even had a beautiful picture of Crater Lake National Park to go with my opinion editorial.

As we take bold actions by getting involved with groups like Citizens’ Climate Lobby, it does change the world around us. As Mark Reynolds, CCL Executive Director likes to say, “We adamantly believe that politicians don’t create political will, they respond to it.”

Mark Reynolds, Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby with Brian Ettling

b. Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign

Another group I found to be effective was Beyond Coal Campaign. Their primary objective is to close coal power plants in the United States, including at least one-third of the country’s more than 500 coal plants by 2020, and to replace them with renewable energy sources.

How is this campaign going so far? According to article in Politico this year: “Beyond Coal is the most extensive, expensive and effective campaign in the Club’s 123-year history, and maybe the history of the environmental movement.”

Since this campaign began several years ago, Beyond Coal has helped successfully retire 222 coal plants and 85,500 Megawatts of dirty coal electricity retired. This helps avoid 313 million metric tons  of carbon pollution each year.

Brian Ettling speaking at a Beyond Coal Rally, April 25, 2013.

Why move beyond coal?

As I mentioned earlier, the Clean Air Task Force notes that retiring one coal plant prevents annually 29 premature deaths, 47 heart attacks, 491 asthma attacks, and 22 asthma emergency room visits.

Just a couple of miles from where I live is the Meramec Coal Plant. According to the Environmental Integrity Project, the plant causes about 1,000 asthma attacks and 57 to 100 premature deaths each year.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration*, coal accounts close to 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the electric sector. Thus, targeting a reduction in coal emissions and replacing those emissions with renewable energy could produce a huge reduction in carbon pollution.

Even more, according to the Environmental Projection Agency, the Meramec Coal Plant accounts for over 95% of the fixed source greenhouse gas emissions for St. Louis County. Thus, retiring the 62 year old Meramec Coal Plant would go along ways toward cleaning up our local air and reducing local greenhouse gas emissions. Learning all of this in 2013 inspired me to write this oped about Meramec, What keeps me up late at night, that was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 10, 2013.

After my involvement with Beyond Coal on this issue, it was great news to read exactly one year later in the St. Louis Business Journal that Ameren to close Meramec power plant. Ameren now plans to convert two units at Meramec to natural gas in 2016, and retiring Meramec completely by the end of 2022.

While this is very positive news for south St. Louis County, Ameren still has 3 other coal plants on the Missouri side of the St. Louis area and 3 others in Illinois side of the St. Louis metro area. Closing Meramec is a good step forward. However, we still have lots to do locally to clean up our air and reduce our carbon pollution from area coal plants. Thus, it is still good to get involved with Beyond Coal.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

c. Go Fossil Free Campaign
November 1, 2012, I went to see environmental activist and founder of, Bill McKibben, give a public lecture at Washington University in St. Louis. During his lecture, I heard him say, “Climate change is the single biggest thing humans have ever done to this planet. One thing must get bigger:
our movement to stop it.”

Bill McKibben speaking at Washington University in St. Louis, November 1, 2012

During the audience question and answer time with McKibben, I directly asked, “Bill, what is our marching orders once we leave here tonight?”

Bill McKibben responded, “I need all of you to ask your college or university as a student, professor, alumni to divest its financial endowment fund from fossil fuel companies.”

I immediately took this up as a challenge. As an alumni, I wrote a letter to Dr. David Sallee, President of William Jewell College, where I am a 1992 graduate. I mailed this letter on February 8, 2013. I never heard back from my alma mater. Thus, I called several times that summer to speak to Dr. Sallee’s administrative assistant. Dr. Sallee called me directly in August, 2013. I did not persuade him, but I looked at it as an ongoing conversation to plant this idea.

Dr. David Sallee, President of William Jewell College
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Than exactly one year later, February 8, 2014, the Hilltop Monitor, published an opinion editorial I wrote in their “Sound Off” section to try to persuade the college to divest its endowment from fossil fuels. The college still has not made this commitment yet, but it still felt empowering for me to speak up.

As Dr. David W. Orr, Professor of Environmental Studies, Oberlin College, Ohio, likes to say, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

To sum up this section, I repeat that in a nutshell:

These are the topics to engage the different segment groups of the 6 Americas,:

a. Teach Alarmed Alice & Concerned Claudia what actions they can take right now.

b. Tell Cautious Carol & Disengaged Diane stories that bring home the threat of global warming and engage them with characters who are addressing the problem.

c. Teach Doubtful David & Dismissive Dan how they can save money through energy conservation.

I then open it up to questions before I focus on how to engage with Doubtful David and Dismissive Dan.

G. How do you engage someone who strongly disagrees with you about climate change?

When I have given talks about climate change over the years, one of my most common questions is: “Yes, I get all of your information, but how can I respond to my uncle, brother-in-law or friend who refuses to accept climate change.”

I start off with the best news of today:


I pause and let this information sink in because many of these folks come to my talks looking for a tool to hit back against their dismissive friends or family members.

I then share this advice from Mahatma Gandhi: “Whenever you are confronted by an opponent, conquer him with love.”

For years, my friend and fellow park ranger, Larry Perez, focused on communicating about climate change at Everglades National Park, Florida. In my e-mail exchanges with Larry and access to his powerpoint presentation, Larry gives this advice in his climate change talks:

Know when to disengage when people strongly disagree with you about climate change.
Learn to recognize when emotions and opinion hijack conversation.
During these rare occasions, it is sometimes best to walk away.

Ranger Larry Perez speaking to park visitors at Everglades National Park.

Sometimes you can’t just walk away though if you are in a family situation or giving a presentation to a group of people. You might be forced to respond on the spot for the disengaged and cautious folks in the room looking to still be persuaded about climate change.

Therefore, how do you talk to someone who strongly disagrees with you about climate change?

Dan Miller
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Quite frankly, it is easy to encounter people who think it is a load of crap. Even worse, it can be a difficult subject to talk about even among friends who agree with you or who are confused about it.

In his TEDx talk, A simple and smart way to fix climate change, Dan Miller, clean technology venture capitalist and frequent climate speaker, confessed chatting about climate change can even be awkward for him. Miller remarked, ‘Society conspires to suppress the discussion of climate change. Someone once said that talking about climate change is like flatulence at a cocktail party.’

To overcome this obstacle for us, George Marshall, co-founder of Climate Outreach, offers these
6 Tips How to Talk to a Climate Change Denier

George Marshall
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1. Establish Common Ground

2. Treat them with Respect

3. Own and Hold your own views.

4. Describe Your Own Personal Journey

5. Be aware their worldview.

6. Offer Rewards.

I then go through to the class how I use each of these techniques:

1. Establish Common Ground:
Most people I know love nature and our national parks. If they live in St. Louis like me, we have the common civic pride of our own community. They probably have kids or grandkids and I have nieces and nephews are very significant to me. Besides talking about all these to establish common ground, quoting humorist Mark Twain has been effective for me to lessen the tension. For Mark Twain once said, “Climate is what you expect. Weather is what you get.”

Mark Twain.
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2. Treat them with Respect
George Marshall strongly advises against using the term “denier.” It tends to make people who are dismissive of human caused climate change hostile and defensive. They tend to be even more closed minded then to an idea you would want to share with them about climate change to persuade them.

Marshall advices “consider using the term ‘dissenters’ rather than ‘deniers’ or ‘skeptics.’ I personally like call them “contrarians” or “dismissive,” since the 6 Americas Reports uses the later term.

From personal experience, never call them “crazy.” I had one presentation where a young woman confronted me afterwards. She kept quoting dismissive climate scientist John Christy and kept questioning all of my facts. When she asked me questions, she was not interested in learning from my answers. She only wanted to refute everything I said. When I tried to correct her misstatements, she did not want to hear it. After 15 minutes of this, I was tired and wanted to go home. It was late and my body just wanted to crawl back to my bed for a good night sleep. In my tired and grumpy state, I accidentally said, “You are crazy.”

The young woman then stormed off with her brother and father, and snapped, “He is never going to listen to us.” While my body was very relieved she left, my mind was very nervous. She could complain to the organization that hosted me and I could then not be invited back. Well, the next day I did run into her. Surprisingly, she apologized to me for being too spirited. I apologized to her for calling her crazy. We then laughed in agreement that it would be a boring world if everyone agreed on everything all of the time. I learned a lesson right there never to call anyone crazy.

Brian Ettling chatting with a confrontation park visitor
in Everglades National Park, in 2004.

3. Own and Hold your own views.
From this class and an overwhelming amount of scientific peer-reviewed literature, it is very obvious that current climate change is
•  Real.
•  Us.
•  Scientists agree
•  It is bad.
•  We can limit it, if we choose to act now.

Therefore, we do not have any need to apologize or back down from our views. We can stand tall because the full weight of the science stands behind us.

4. Describe Your Own Personal Journey
None of us, especially me, are born saying,
“There is way too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  We have got to solve climate change!”

Brian Ettling as a baby, 1968

For all of us, it is a lifelong process of coming to the realization of climate change.

For me, the awareness happened seeing climate change in my 23 years as a park ranger at Everglades and Crater Lake National Park.

5. Be aware their worldview.

For people who are dismissive of climate change. They tend to see individual actions to reduce their carbon footprint, such as buying local & organic foods, weatherizing their home, and buying a much more fuel efficient car, as way too expensive. They see government actions, such as mandating auto makers to increase the fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards and the EPA Clean Power Plan, as squashing their personal liberty and freedom. They worry about actions on climate change raising their taxes.

Conservative Republican former member of Congress, Rep. Bob Inglis has a great response to those concerns. He starts off by saying, “I share your values.” In an interview with This American Life from May 17, 2013, Inglis “says conservatives feel like their version of the American dream is under attack, that somehow, parents driving their kids through the suburbs in SUVs to soccer practice are being blamed as the cause of global warming, when in fact, everyone uses a lot of electricity and gasoline. Everybody flies on planes.”

Brian Ettling meeting former Rep. Bob Inglis

Physicist and energy expert, Amory Lovins, offers these two great responses to objections from conservatives:

Amory Lovins.

“Once people understand climate protection puts MONEY back into your pocket because you do not have to buy all that fuel, the political resistance will melt faster than the glaciers.”

“You don’t have to believe in climate change to solve it. Everything we do to raise energy efficiency will make money, improve security & health, and stabilize climate.”

As the 6 Americas informs us, folks who are dismissive about climate change tend to believe that
• climate change is natural.
• action on climate change as a threat to their personal freedom.
• unlikely to change their beliefs about climate change.
However, the good news is that

Thus, the most important tip of all of these is

6. Offer Rewards.

November 30, 2011, I gave a speech, recorded on YouTube, to my South County Toastmasters Club called It’s Easy to be Green. In this speech, I talked in depth about the tips from the title article of the October 2010 issue of Consumer Reports, 7 Ways to Slash Your Energy Bills.

I chatted how Kermit the Frog is wrong. It is easy to be green. Making changes to reduce your home costs is $green$. I added up all the tips in the article to show that following Consumer Reports’ advice could save someone close to a $1,000 a year.

Even more, I shared the story of Nicole Heller that she wrote in on May 12, 2011. To Save Energy, Utilities Tap into Our Competitive Instincts.

The article reported that City of Palo Alto, Calif. recently began including Home Energy Reports in residential utility bills to empower their customers save energy and be greener. Each report compares a household’s energy use with their 100 closest neighbors in homes of similar sizes, and also provides targeted energy conservation tips.  The bill reported that the author, Nicole’s energy bill was “ranked as the 23rd-most-efficient household in the neighborhood, based on the previous month’s electricity and natural gas use.”  They were listed in the good, but not the great category.

Nicole and her husband wanted to be listed in the Great category, so they immediately dusted off the caulking gun that had been sitting for over two years.  This couple then spent the next two hours caulking the windows and weatherizing their home.  They then waited patiently for their next utility bill.  To their excitement, they were now classified as “Great,” having moved up in the standings to become the ninth-most-efficient house among their neighboring peers, and saving about $50 per month relative to the average household, or about $600 a year.

My fellow Toastmasters reacted very positive to this speech, especially the ones who are very dismissive of climate change. One member, Roy, even told me after my speech, “You know I don’t accept global warming. However, I really liked your speech because you gave me ideas to save money. As everyone knows, I am cheap and like to save money.” Roy and the other Toastmasters even voted for me as the Best Speaker that night among four speeches that were presented.

Brian Ettling after he was voted “Best Speaker” by his fellow Toastmasters November 30, 2011.

I then conclude this section by repeating the 6 Tips How to Talk to a Climate Change Dissenter:

1. Establish Common Ground
2. Treat them with Respect
3. Own and Hold your own views.
4. Describe Your Own Personal Journey
5. Be aware their worldview.
6. Offer Rewards.

With the most important of all these steps Offering Rewards, if one engages a climate change dissenter.

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe
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Depending upon the classes I taught, I have sometimes opened this part of for a discussion to practice how to respond to a dissenter with each of these steps. Some classes I taught were not interested in this exercise. That did not bother me at all. At the very least, I open it up to questions that the participants may have at this point.

As conclude this section, I lately have shared this quote from evangelical Christian climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. “Climate change is an opportunity to express our faith through love.”

Dr. Hayhoe’s quote reminds me of what I think is George Marshall’s goal for his 6 Tips: reducing the conflict with those who disagree with us about climate through through love and understanding.

I give E. How do Americans really feel about climate change? about 30 minutes and G. How do you engage someone who strongly disagrees with you about climate change? about 15 minutes.

By this time we are up the the 2 hour and 15 minutes in my 3 hour class. At this point, I ask the class for questions. I stress that we have 45 minutes left and I want them to leave with their money’s worth.

Depending upon their interests, I offer other topics to help them feel more informed about climate change:

1. “Unusual Suspects” who accept climate change
2.  Climate Zombies! The Mythical Arguments That Never Die!

H. “Unusual Suspects” who accept climate change. 

In this powerpoint, I show my collection of organizations and individuals outside of the scientific community who accept climate change. I share direct quotes from them on the need to take action on climate change. These groups or individuals include:

1. U.S. Department of Defense

October 2014, Department of Defense released this report, Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.

This report warns that as temperatures rise and severe weather increases, food and electricity shortages could create instability in many countries, spreading disease, causing mass migration, and opening the door for extremists to take advantage of fractures in already unstable countries.

Upon the release of this report, Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense at that time, stated “Climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges
we already confront today – from infectious disease to armed insurgencies.”


2. The Catholic Church led by Pope Francis

Pope Francis
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“On climate change, there is a clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act.” – Pope Francis.

“Climate change is a problem we can no longer be left to a future generation.” – Pope Francis.

“At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures. It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family. It is about protecting both ‘the human environment’ and the natural environment.” – US Catholic Bishops.

3. Wal-Mart

“Our goal to be supplied 100% by renewable energy is the right goal and marrying up renewables with energy efficiency is especially powerful.” — Wal Mart President & CEO Mike Duke.

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4. Sportsman
 Todd Tanner

‘If Climate Change Isn’t Real, I’ll Give You My Beretta’ – Todd Tanner, an accomplished angler and serious deer hunter
, Field & Stream, February 15, 2012.

5. Insurance Industry

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“The study being released today by Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance firm, sees climate change driving the increase in weather disasters.” –  USA Today, October 10, 2012.

6. ExxonMobil

In ExxonMobil‘s Engaging on Climate Change statement:

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“We believe that the risks of climate change warrant action…That is why it will be essential to find ways to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use.”

“ExxonMobil believes a revenue-neutral carbon tax would be a more effective policy option than cap-and-trade schemes, regulations, mandates, or standards. A properly designed carbon tax can be predictable, transparent, and comparatively simple to understand and implement.”

7. Dow Chemical

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“The climate change threat warrants bold action – and the world must respond with comprehensive, far-reaching solutions. A global climate change strategy is necessary to outline clear steps toward slowing, stopping and reversing the growth of greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.”
Dow Chemical, Energy and Climate Change Statement.

8. Big Business

As of December 1, 2015, 154 companies signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge. This demonstrated their support for action on climate change and urged that the recent Paris climate change agreement take a strong step forward toward a low-carbon, sustainable future.

Notable companies included Apple, Amazon, AT&T, BestBuy, Coca Cola, Dell, Disney, GE, Hershey’s, HP, IBM, Microsoft, JetBlue, McDonald’s, MGM Resorts, Nike, News Corp, Pepsi, Staples, Target, UPS, Verizon Communications, and many others.

Over 700 businesses have signed the Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP)’s  Climate Declaration asking federal and state policymakers to take action to seize the economic opportunity of addressing climate change.

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9. American Medical Association

In American Medical Association‘s statement on Global Climate Change and Human Health:

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“(We) support the findings of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which states that the Earth is undergoing adverse global climate change and that these changes will negatively affect public health…

The potential exists for devastating events with serious health implications, including extreme heat and cold events, flooding and droughts, increases in vectors carrying infectious diseases, and increases in air pollution. The health effects from these events should be of concern to the medical community and require action.”



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“Global climate change has a disproportionate impact on communities of color in the United States and around the world. The NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program was created to educate and mobilize communities to address this human and civil rights issue.”

In November 2012, NAACP released this report, Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People. It focused on how coal U.S. coal pollution disproportionally impacts the health, economy and environmental  on those who can least afford it – low income communities and communities of color.

11. United Steelworkers Union

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“The USW has long believed that the goals of stopping the threat of climate change and creating thousands of clean energy jobs can and should be two sides of the same coin.”
— Leo W. Gerard, USW International President.

12. American Meteorological Society (AMS)

Climate Change: An Information Statement of the American Meteorological Society:


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“There is unequivocal evidence that Earth’s lower atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; sea level is rising; and snow cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic sea ice are shrinking. The dominant cause of the warming since the 1950s is human activities…

Prudence dictates extreme care in accounting for our relationship with the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life.”

13. The Weather Channel

Global Warming: The Weather Channel Position Statement:


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“More than a century’s worth of detailed climate observations shows a sharp increase in both carbon dioxide and temperature. These observations, together with computer model simulations and historical climate reconstructions from ice cores, ocean sediments and tree rings all provide strong evidence that the majority of the warming over the past century is a result of human activities. This is also the conclusion drawn, nearly unanimously, by climate scientists.”

14. National Geographic

For many years, National Geographic has extensively covered climate change, including the November 2015 magazine devoted entirely to it. Their numerous articles had a deep influence on me.

15. China

Yes, China has been the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter since 2006. The air pollution was so unhealthy recently that Beijing issued its most severe air pollution ‘red alert’ warning for only the second time in its history.

However, according a June 15 2015, Fortune Magazine article, “China has emerged as the world’s largest market for solar panels and in 2015 is expected to be home to a quarter of the planet’s new energy capacity from solar panels.”

This article went on to say, “China has long been the world’s largest manufacturer or solar panels…
But now China is buying a lot of its own panels, helping give the country dominance in the global solar economy.”

In September 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced Friday that China will develop World’s Largest Cap and Trade Program to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. August 2014, China stated it will Ban All Coal Use in Beijing by 2020.

According to a 2014 Greenpeace report, “12 of China’s 34 provinces, accounting for 44% of China’s coal consumption, have pledged to implement coal control measures.”

“Green and sustainable development represents the trend of our times.” – China’s President Xi Jinping in April, 2010.

According to January 9, 2015 BloombergBusiness, “China was the biggest single contributor among the major markets for renewable energy.” China invested $89.5 billion, compared with $66 billion for Europe and close to $52 billion for the United States in renewable energy investments.

Clearly, China wants to sell renewable energy to itself and the United States, rather than the U.S. selling renewable energy to China.

17. National Park Service

Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis stated, “I believe climate change is fundamentally the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced…

We have helped the public understand the essential role of predators in the environment by bringing back the wolf and we have shown them that fire is essential to ecosys- tem health. We are unafraid to discuss the role of slavery in the Civil War or the imprisonment of American citizens of Japanese ethnicity during WWII. We should not be afraid to talk about cli- mate change.”

18. St. Louis Zoo


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Climate Change Position of the Saint Louis Zoo: “Scientific consensus holds that climate change is interrupting natural cycles, causing habitat loss and prompting more extreme weather patterns. All of this affects animals.”

19. Conservatives

This last part is a list of notable conservative scientists or politicians who have publicly stated that climate change is real and currently caused by humans. Included on this list is Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, who has never publicly stated her political beliefs. Thus, she cannot be exactly classified as a conservative. However, she always has been very open about her evangelical Christian faith. She has given numerous climate change talks and interviews to conservative evangelical Christians while sharing her common bond of faith with them.

a. Dr. Richard Alley, Penn State climate scientist, has publicly stated he is a conservative Republican.
b. Dr. Kerry Emanuel, MIT climate scientist, is a Republican leaning voter. However, he received lots of attacks against him rejecting climate science by conservative Republicans. All of those attacks pushed him to more recently thinking of himself as “an independent.”
c.  Dr. Barry Bickmore, Brigham Young University geochemist, has publicly stated he is a conservative Republican.
d. Paul Douglas, meteorologist in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a conservative Republican and an evangelical Christian.
e. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist at Texas Tech University, has never publicly stated her political beliefs. However, she always has been very open about her evangelical Christian faith.
f. George Shultz, former Secretary of State for President Ronald Reagan and conservative Republican, wrote this March 13, 2015 editorial in the Washington Post, A Reagan approach to climate change.
g. Bob Inglis. He was a member of Congress representing South Carolina’s 4th District from 1993-1999 and 2005-2011. The Republican voters in his district voted him out of office in June 2010. One of the top reasons primary voters turned against Inglis for his actions supporting climate change science and legislation.

After I share the story about Rep. Bob Inglis, most classes I showed this YouTube video of Rep. Inglis giving one of his last speeches in Congress. He attacks his fellow GOP colleagues on their stubborn refusal to accept the science of climate change. This video has been very effective in reaching conservative members of the class. It shows someone who agrees with them politically defending the science of climate change.

After this section of “Unusual Suspects” who accept climate change, I typically have 20 to 30 minutes left in the class. This is another opportunity to open it up wide for class questions. I stress again that I don’t want them leaving without getting their money’s worth.

As time is getting shorter, I mention I have another powerpoint that is a collection of the most common climate change myths. Time may not be long enough to go through all of the myths. Thus, I ask them if there is any particular myths they wanted answered.


In this final section, I have collected the most common misconceptions about climate change that I have heard over the years and put them in this section. I have a title for each myth and background information explaining why each myth is wrong.

I got the idea for calling this section Climate Zombies from University of Georgia climate scientist Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd. In 2013, he did at TEDx talk in Atlanta called Slaying the “zombies” of climate science. This talk was so inspiring for me that I gave my own Toastmasters speech and blog using Dr. Shepherd’s zombie theme.

On that TEDx talk, Dr. Shepherd defines zombie theories as “One of those theories that scientists have refuted or disproven time and time again, but they live on like zombies on in blogs, radio stations, and tweets.”

Here are all of the myths I am ready to address if anyone in the class needs an answer to take home:

“Recently the name was changed from global warming to climate change!”
“We’ve been warmer in the past.”
“Scientists have over exaggerated the threat”
“It has not warmed since 1998.”
“Climate Change is natural.”
“It’s very cold outside, so global warming is not real!”
“There is no way humans can cause change climate.”
“There is nothing we can be do to stop climate change.”
“Taking action on climate change will bankrupt the economy.”
“Climate change is just a theory.”
“In the 1970s all climate scientists believed there was an ice age coming!”
“The Antarctic is Gaining Ice.”
“Wind Turbines kill a lot of birds.”
“We’ll Adapt to climate change.”

After answering some of these questions, I then have a few minutes before the class officially ends. I always offer in any speaking engagement I do to stay around as long as it takes to answer any questions. However, my goal is always to end my class on a positive note.

J. Have Fun!

Climate change can be a very heavy and depressing subject. Thus, I like ending with humor. I do want them leaving with a smile on their face and laughing.

Thus, I have two comedy videos I like to show:

1. Comedian David Crowe doing a comedy routine called “GASOHOLICS” from Comedy Central Standup.

2. Comedian Robin Williams talking about climate change from the TBS comedy special from June 30, 2005 called Earth to America.


This videos received lots of laughter from the participants and they set a positive mood for everyone as we wrapped up the class.

Final Thoughts

I realize this blog and Part I of this topic are extremely long. Because of the incredibly long length, they are not meant for everyone. These blogs are my Christmas gifts to those who possibly have a dream of teaching a climate change class, but they don’t know where to start gathering up resources. This is also for folks who want to learn more about climate change. To all of these folks, I just wanted to share all of the knowledge that had been given to me over the years. They are treasured gifts. I hope it will be a special gift for you!

Happy Holidays!

Brian Ettling

*Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, monthly energy review reports, table 12.6, Carbon Dioxide Emissions From Energy Consumption: Electric Power Sector. This was information I received from the Sierra Club. Yes, I looked at the table and computed the math myself to confirm this statistic. I looked at the most recent Monthly Energy Review report pdf file for December 2015.

How to teach a climate change continuing adult education class at your community college, Part I


Since October 2012, I have taught around 7 continuing adult education classes for St. Louis Community College. These classes were about 3 hours in length. In addition, I have also co-taught or taught 3 climate change classes for the OASIS Center of St. Louis, which is a non-profit educational organization promoting lifelong learning for adults over 50 years old.

I promoted these classes on social media to inspire others passionate about climate change across the U.S. to approach their community college for teach their local citizens about climate change. The response I received from some of climate change communicators was: “Great idea! Can I see a copy of your syllabus?”

I did mail the class agenda to anyone who was interested. I will keep doing this for others asking me the same request. In this blog, I will expand more upon what I cover in my class agenda. Hopefully, this will help others borrow or steal ideas to create their own climate change classes.

Because of this length and details, I had to break this blog up into two parts. I freely admit this blog post will not be for everyone. However, it is my Christmas gift to my Facebook friend, Andrise Bass, and others looking for materials to teach a similar class.

Agenda for my 3 hour Climate Change 101 Continuing Adult Education Class: 

A. Introduce self: Why am I teaching this class?                                                           (10 minutes)

I design the first part so that folks arriving 10 minutes late will not miss anything vital on climate change. On the other hand, I do want to establish my credibility why I am a qualified to teach this class.

1. I start out with a story of Admiral James Stockdale.  He ran for Vice President as the running mate for Ross Perot when he ran for President as an independent candidate in 1992.

Stockdale seemed out of place and a little bewildered during the Vice Presidential Debate on stage with Democratic Senator Al Gore and Republican Vice President Dan Quayle. He started his introduction at the beginning of the debate saying, “Who am I? and why am I here?”

Then I pivot and talk about who I am and why am I teaching the climate change 101 class.

2. I share my personal background story

With pictures, I share I was born and raised in St. Louis, MO. I want to establish that I am from their same community. I then share pictures of the local parks, including one of me going to Bee Tree Park taken when I was 18 years old. My story starts with my love of spending time in local nature as a child which lead me to working in the national parks. My goal here is to establish the common bond of nature, especially of the local area parks and the common love people share for our national parks. I want to break down any barriers to show that I am just like them.

Brian Ettling, age 18 at Bee Tree County Park, Missouri

Then I segment into the story of how I witnessed climate change while working in the national parks.

As British climate change commentator, George Marshall noted, “Science is not what persuades people. It’s the stories they hear from the people they trust.” – George Marshall, co-founder of  Climate Outreach.

3. Humor is such an important tool to reach audiences.

There is an old joke among professional speakers.
One day a new speaker asked: “Do I need to be funny when I give speeches?”

The veteran public speaker responded: “Only if you want to get paid.”

Brian Ettling at Everglades Nat. Park

Thus, I share the story how I knew nothing about climate change, but park visitors were starting to ask me about it global warming thing as I was narrating boat tours in Everglades National Park.

I then ask rhetorically, “People expect park rangers to know everything don’t they?”

The audience always responds with a chuckle, “YES!”

Then I share how I had to run to a book store to read my first book on climate change.

4. Showing knowledge is another ingredient to establish credibility with an audience.

Then I explained how I read in 1999 my first book on climate change, Laboratory Earth: The Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose by the late Dr. Stephen Schneider of Stanford University.

Then I show images of the stacks of books I read on climate change since that first book. Reading extensively about climate change evolved into a longing to take action.

5. Passion is the next way I show credibility on this subject by the actions I took.

I quit doing my Everglades winter seasonal job to spend my winters in my hometown to engage St. Louis area residents on this subject. I spoke at my nephew’s and niece’s school.


Brian Ettling speaking at the school of his nephew Sam, February 2010
I joined my local Toastmasters group. I co-founded the Climate Reality-St. Louis Meet Up with local area resident and businessman Larry Lazar. I got a short term job at the St. Louis Science Center interacting with folks at temporary Climate Change exhibit.

I attended 3 Climate Reality Project Training conferences. The first one was in San Francisco August 2012. At these conference, former Vice President Al Gore leads the training how to give one of his climate change talks. At the May 2015 Climate Reality Training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I had an opportunity to directly ask Al Gore a question.

As a park ranger, NASA and the National Park Service invited me to attend an Earth to Sky Training in September 2011 to learning from NASA climate scientists how to give climate change talks in national parks.

Yet, despite all this experience, I had to overcome an obstacle. For years, I did not give climate change as a ranger. I was scared a visitor would want to get into a argument with me.

6. I then chat how I had to overcome fear to give talks on climate change as a park ranger.

I decided to “Just Do It” like the old Nike. I started giving ranger talks on climate change in August 2011. To my surprise, national park visitors were very supportive and responded very positively to my ranger evening campfire program on climate change, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Photo of Ranger Brian Ettling giving his climate change
evening campfire program at Crater Lake National Park

With personal stories, demonstrating my knowledge, showing my passion, and overcoming my fear, I hopefully have established myself as a credible speaker to my class.

This only takes about 10 minutes. However, if someone is 10 minutes late, they will not have not missed out on vital information.

B. Get to know the participants.                                                                                     (10 minutes)

I then ask the students: What brought you here?

This is so valuable for me to hear their stories. They open up on what hope to learn from my class. This gives me a mental note for the subjects I want to cover in the class and what I should emphasize.

Comedian Brian Malow


This is vital for me because it gets them involved. Hopefully, it makes them feel welcome and appreciated. I found this sets a very positive rapport with the class for me. Even more, it helps them feel like it is going to be an interactive learning environment.

As my friend, science comedian Brian Malow, likes to say, “An audience is not an amorphous blob. It is a group of individuals. Never forget that.”

This is still a “get to know you” time. Thus, if someone is still 20 minutes late to my class, they have not missed much.

C. What is climate change? Why is it a problem?                                                    (55 minutes)

This is where I dive into the science of climate change. My template is the 5 Essential Messages about Climate Change–identified thru audience research–you want to convey by Dr. Ed Maibach of George Masson University. I saw Ed Maibach give this presentation at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, CA in December 2011.

Maibach’s Key Messages:

•  Climate change is real.
•  People are causing it this time.
•  There is widespread agreement among climate scientists; more than 95% of scientists are convinced that human-caused climate change is happening.
•  It is harmful to people.
•  People can limit it, if we choose.

Therefore, following Maibach’s messaging, I breakout the science of climate change into 5 Parts:

1. Climate Change is Real:

I start off with my own humorous spin of the old GEICO caveman commercials by saying that “the science of climate change is so simple that ‘even a caveman could understand it.'”

I talk about how when we burn fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas for our energy, it releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into our air supply. This is heating up our planet. The Earth has a natural amount of CO2 which traps some of the Earth’s heat and makes the natural temperature of the planet around 58 degrees Fahrenheit. This is known as The Greenhouse Effect. It was first discovered by British scientist John Tyndall around 1859. Thus, it is not a new idea.

However, since the industrial revolution around 1880, scientists have noted that we have increased the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by 43%. The result is that the average temperature of the Earth has increased by a 1 degree Celsius or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880.

A 1.8 degree Fahrenheit rise may sound laughable since 1880, since many people from St. Louis and other areas have seen the temperatures rise or fall by 20 to more degrees in one day. I then ask the audience: “What is your body temperature?”

Their response: “98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.”

I then ask: “What happens if you 1.8 degrees to that?”

“You have a fever,” I answer with them, and then add, “You are then thinking about calling in sick from work, school, or not coming to this class. It is the same thing with the Earth. We are giving the Earth a fever by pumping all the CO2 into our air supply.”

I then play a NASA image video which shows the rise in global earth temperatures across the globe from 1884 to 2013. Then I show how 2014 was the hottest year on record since 1884 and now 2015 is on track to blow past the 2014 record. Then I have a graph showing the decades from 1880 until now. It clearly documents a clear rise in temperature each decade from the 1960s until now.


Dr. Charles David Keeling, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, was the first scientist to the rise in CO2. He noticed it from taking air samples from the Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii, starting in 1959. In 2001, President George W. Bush presented Dr. Keeling with the National Medal of Science, the highest US award for scientific research lifetime achievement primarily for his work establishing what is now known as the “Keeling Curve.” This curve shows a steady rise in CO2 since 1959.

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It then shows an image of the rise in temperature rising in correlation with the rise of CO2.

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I mention that there is a dance between CO2 and global temperatures. It’s not a perfect dance, kind of like this viral image of these dance partners, President Barak Obama and former Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin.

That image is now 7 years old, but it still gets a good laugh from the audience. Then I have an image of the Volsok ice core from Antartica showing the correlation between CO2 and temperature going back over 420,000 years. In my next image, I note that CO2 levels are now over 400 parts per million (ppm) today, which is higher than any time in the last several million years.

If we don’t do anything to limit global carbon pollution, some scientists show we could reach over 600 ppm by the year 2100. This would put over all 10 billion of us living on this planet by then in a precarious position. I demonstrate the danger of that level by showing images from the internet of working from very unsafe ladders.

Then I show images documenting how climate change is impacting our national parks. I then share my story how I witnessed seeing climate change in my 23 years working as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. I then end this section with an image from showing Indicators of a Warming World.

2. How do we know we are adding carbon dioxide?

In this section, I demonstrate by using a banana vs. coal how we know that carbon dioxide is from us. I got this idea from a talk I heard a talk from NASA climate scientist Dr. Peter Griffith. He was a speaker at a National Park Service and NASA: Earth to Sky Training in Shepherdstown, West Virginia I attended in September, 2011. Dr. Griffith talked about old slow carbon (coal) vs, the fast carbon (a banana). Scientists have seen a vast increase old slow carbon. Even more, scientists now notice the old slow carbon now dwarfs the the young fast carbon what is in our atmosphere.

Brian Ettling with NASA scientist Dr. Peter Griffith

This may be too technical for most audiences. However, I note that the old slow carbon is Carbon isotope 12 and the young fast carbon isotope 14. I found a graph from the book Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming by Penn State climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann indicating the percentage of the Carbon 14 isotope decreasing.

Image Source: Micheal Mann & Lee R. Kump.
Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming.

I then remark, “If this was a TV crime show like CSI, it is Carbon 12 which is warming up the planet.  This would be the DNA fingerprints which would make us humans guilty.”

This explanation is complicated for most audiences. However, I found a wonderful video by Penn State climate scientist Dr. Richard Alley to make my point. It gives a great easy to understand explanation of the carbon isotopes and how the Carbon 12 “flavor” points to us humans.

I then show a Skeptical Science image “Human fingerprints are all over our climate.”

Since this part gets technical for most people, I end this section a viral humorous image of how the Positive Proof of Global Warming: The change in underwear fashions over the years.

This always gets a big chuckle from the audience.

3. There is widespread AGREEMENT among climate scientists. 
 Over 95% are convinced climate change is real and caused by people.

In this section, I cite three separate studies by Peter T. Doran, William Anderegg, and John Cook. They all show around 97% of climate scientists are convinced it is real and currently caused by humans.

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I throw humor in this part by establishing that the scientific agreement on climate change is as solid as these scientific agreements: Earth is round, Earth revolves around the sun, dinosaurs once existed, smoking causes cancer (I have a comical image of a 4 year old child trying to smoke a cigarette), Neil Armstrong once walked on the moon, and the Cubs never winning the World Series (I admit then that image is a mistake. It is only a consensus among St. Louis scientists).

Then I pivot to the key “gateway belief” from the research of Dr. Ed Maibach and Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz: People are more likely to support climate action when they know there is scientific agreement among climate scientists.

Unfortunately, polls show only 55% of Americans think there is scientific agreement climate scientists. Emory University climate scientist Dr. Marshall Shepherd is mystified by this public confusion. As he joked in his Slaying the Zombies of Climate Change TEDx talk:

‘This gap is like saying that 97% of heart surgeons agree how to do heart transplant, 
but the public disagrees.’

I then show the Credibility Spectrum that was created by Kaitlin Alexander, PhD student in climate science at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. I gave a detailed explanation of the Credibility Spectrum on my previous blog.

I then document how 99.98% of climate peer reviewed papers and 100% of the world’s scientific institutions affirm that climate change is real and currently caused by humans.

I then end this section with a quote from Dr. Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences from his lecture at the St. Louis Science Center from January 2011:


Dr. Ralph Cicerone

“I continue to think is there anything wrong with this picture (of climate change science) because scientists become rich and famous not by agreeing with everyone else.  They become recognized by doing something different by showing that everyone else is wrong and doing something new, so I think about this all the time.

For 35 years, I have not been able to crack this thing (find ways to prove it as wrong).  A lot of people who are smarter than me are always looking for new explanations.  However, the consensus has come down stronger than ever that what we are seeing is due to the human enhanced greenhouse effect.”

4. Climate Change is harmful for us

I start this section with one of my all time favorite climate quotes. Columbia University climate scientist Dr. Wallace Broecker has stated,

“The Earth’s climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks.”

I then try to use humor with the question: “Would anyone like some fine English wine?”

I share a story from this 2008 National Geographic special on climate change: 6 Degrees that Could Change the World. It talks about how wine is getting harder to grow in the south France and more vineyards have been popping up in England. Therefore, at a future fancy dinner party, you may hear your dinner host oddly offering you some fine English wine instead a a fine French wine.

I then share this sobering quote by climate scientist Kevin Trenberth from the National Center for Atmospheric Research,

“Global warming is contributing to an increased incidence of  extreme weather because the environment in which all storms form has changed from human activities.”

Meteorologist Jeff Masters explains, “The Climate Has Shifted to a New State Capable of Delivering Rare & Unprecedented 
Weather Events.”

What is this “new state” that the climate has shifted?

1. Warmer Air  =  More Moisture
2. Arctic Amplification = “Stuck” Jet Stream
3. Warmer Oceans = More Heat Energy

All three factors combine to create Wetter Rains, Drier Droughts and Stormier Storms.

I present a graph from NOAA of change in average global temperature from 1880 to today and then show the graph of the U.S. increase in heavy precipitation days from 1950 to today.


I then play a video from Texas Tech University climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe which she says: “One of the changes we have seen is that the average humidity of our planet has increased by 4%. Warmer air holds more water vapor. So, on average, our atmosphere is 4% more humidity than it used to be 30 to 40 years ago…So, when storms come through, there is more water for them to now pick up and dump.”

An example I give is Typhoon Haiyan. As it was getting ready to make landfall in the Philippines on November 7, 2013, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center estimated the system’s one-minute sustained winds to 315 km/h (196 mph; 170 kn), making Haiyan the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded at that time. Although scientists think the contribution of global warming to Haiyan’s extreme intensity is likely to have been small, Haiyan did have deeper, warmer pools of water in the Pacific before it hit the Philippines to provide sufficient energy to fuel storm intensification.

Hayhoe explains that ‘Climate Change does not 
“cause” Bigger Storms like Sandy and Haiyan….But it can make them worse.’ Climate change can exacerbate these storms with its impacts of higher sea levels, higher sea surface 
temperatures, more moisture in the air, and melting polar ice changing the weather patterns.

According, of the 13 strongest tropical cyclones at landfall, 
6 have happened since 1998. However, that fact is now outdated because meteorologists now say that Hurricane Patricia is the strongest hurricane ever recorded before it hit the southwestern Mexico coastline.

Unfortunately, climate change does not only exacerbate hurricanes and rain storms, it also makes droughts worse. Scientists think California is in its worst drought in about 500 years. The Atlantic Monthly reported in September “Drought and climate change have combined to produce the largest area burned in more than a decade” in California.

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This current drought is not just in California, but it also includes nearby states like Oregon.

As a summer seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, I witnessed the impacts of this western drought. When I arrived in the park in mid May 2015, I only saw a couple of fee of snow on the ground. The park can typically have 7 to 8 feet of snow on the ground that time of year. Normally, the park receives over 524 inches of total snow each year. For the winter of 2014-15, the park received only 196 inches of snow, the lowest snowpack on record.

As a result of the mild, short and dry winter, Crater Lake received its largest historical wildfire at over 15,000 acres. The fire was so intense that the park had to shut down its North Entrance station for about 10 days to fight the fire. The intense smoke made it uncomfortable to breathe and obscured the view of the lake at times. Below is a video taken of that wildfire.

It not just Crater Lake National Park. With increasing drought and higher temperatures in the western U.S. climate scientists worry about increasing fire frequency by drying and warming landscapes.

Even worse than increasing western wildfires, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on November 8, 2015 that World Bank issued a report that “Climate change could push more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030 by disrupting agriculture and fueling the spread of malaria and other diseases.”

The Washington Post released a map in February 3, 2015 of countries most vulnerable to climate change. Basically, poor third world and politically unstable countries, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, North Korea and central African nations are the most vulnerable to climate change.


What about local impacts? How does climate change impact my hometown, St. Louis Missouri?

I start off this part by showing a video I filmed of fireworks going off in St. Louis on October 27, 2012. It was a display I stumbled across driving into the city to house sit for a friend. These fireworks were supposed to be set off for the 4th of July. However, that summer had a drought and heat wave that was so severe that it was too dangerous to light fire works. It troubled me to see national news story on November 29, 2012: Drought threatens to close Mississippi River to barges between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill.

I have never liked the summer heat and humidity in St. Louis. This is one of the reasons why I spend my summers in the cool mountains of Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

In 2009, this report Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Midwest by the Union of Concerned Scientists stated:

“Under the higher-emissions scenario, St. Louis could experience an entire summer of days above 90°F toward the end of the century. Under the lower- emissions scenario, the number of such days would be reduced by one- third. Dangerously hot days over 100°F (shown in the inset box) are also projected to increase dramatically, with a month and a half of such days expected under the higher-emissions scenario.”

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The thought that climate change could make the muggy and hot summers in St. Louis even worse really disturbed me. Climate change could make things worse, not just for my hometown, but for all o the Midwest. According to the 2008 National Geographic special on climate change called Six Degrees Could Change the World,

“If the world warms by just 1 degree Celsius, the result could be severe droughts in the U.S. Great Plains. The prolonged droughts could turn some of America’s most productive farmland and ranch lands into deserts, causing shortages in the global grain and meat markets.”

In November 2015, it was announced that the world is on track to end the year 1°C above pre-industrial levels. This is troubling news because the world is already seeing more intense droughts, heat waves, floods, and storms at .8 degrees celsius.

According to Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University, “If we’re seeing what we’re seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.”

Staying below 2°C warming is the guardrail that nations are negotiating to stay under as they try to reach an during the current climate talks in Paris. As Dr. Alice Bows-Larkin, Professor of Climate Science and Energy Policy at The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, stated, “2 Degrees represents the threshold between dangerous and extremely dangerous climate change.”

Dr. James Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observed,  believes, “Two Degrees of warming is a prescription for long term disaster.”

Munich Re, one of the world’s leading reinsurers, has graphed out a dramatic rise in weather related global catastrophes since 1980. In a related statement, Munich Re said, “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change.”

The truly frightening part are images of what scientists 
predict as potential DROUGHT INTENSIFICATION in vast, highly populated areas 
of the world—if we do not act 
soon to sharply reduce 
global warming pollution, says a 2010 study by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

According to J. Eric Smith, CEO of Swiss Re, the other largest reinsurance company in the world, “What keeps us up at night is climate change. We see the long-term effect of climate change on society, and it really frightens us.”

On top of all this, I got married on November 1, 2015. This was the headline I woke up seeing the day after my very blissful wedding, Climate Change Kills the Mood: Economists Warn of Less Sex on a Warmer Planet.

All of this makes me want to scream!

So then I ask my audience: “Are you ready for some good news?”

After all of that bleak news, they always seem to shout back, “YES!”

5. We can limit climate change, if we choose.

When sharing the science of climate change, the solutions are the most important topic to cover. In 2010, Matthew Feinberg, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto and Stanford University sociologist Robb Willer published this report in 2010, Apocalypse Soon? Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World Beliefs.

Their findings showed that fear-based appeals on climate change, when not coupled with a clear solution, can backfire to cause people to be even less motivated to take action on climate change. Thus, talking about solutions is a vital component of my class. Even more, this research strong shows solutions must be included in talks to the public about climate change.

 Dr. Robert F. Cahalan

This section is shorter because I do expand more on solutions in the next part of the class. However, I do want to touch upon climate change solutions that gives me the most hope for the future.

First, I love the quote by NASA climate scientist Dr. Robert Cahalan “The fact that humans are causing climate change is good news. That means we can do something about it.”

Indeed, there are so many solutions available to reduce the threat of climate change, such as solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal power.

It is uncertain how much the role of renewal energy played in this. However, The International Energy Agency reported in March, 2015, “global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not tied to an economic downturn.”

Furthermore, In 2014, the global economy expanded by 3%. It is just one year. It will take many more years to show if this is a trend. However, it may be a sign of “decoupling” economic growth from rising carbon emissions. It may be the first signal that the world economy can grow without out using more fossil fuels and using increasing renewal energy.

In April 2015, The Chemical and Engineering News reported, “China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is claiming it significantly slowed both carbon dioxide releases and coal consumption in 2014.” According to the Chinese Government statistics, “China’s CO2 emissions remained roughly flat between 2013 and 2014.”

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Unfortunately, New York Times reported on November 3, 2015 that China “has been burning up to 17 percent more coal a year than the government previously disclosed, according to newly released data.” This was very bad news because “The increase alone is greater than the whole German economy emits annually from fossil fuels.” However, China is under increasing scrutiny externally and internally to confront the pain of kicking its coal addiction, according to the October 28, 2015 Washington Post.

I cover more about China in part Part II of this blog in the section of the class “Unusual suspects who accept climate change.” The bottom line is that this could be the beginning of starting to bend the curve globally, domestically in the U.S. and in China, in terms of carbon pollution.

The good news though is that 2010 was the first year that global renewable investments in energy projects exceeded fossil fuel energy investments for the first time, according to Bloomberg Business News.

Even better, Bloomberg Business News reported in 2015 that Fossil Fuels just Lost the Race Against Renewables. This article noted, “The shift occurred in 2013, when the world added 143 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity, compared with 141 gigawatts in new plants that burn fossil fuels,.. The shift will continue to accelerate, and by 2030 more than four times as much renewable capacity will be added.”

It then went on to add, “The question is no longer if the world will transition to cleaner energy, but how long it will take.”

In March 2014, Citigroup, the third largest bank holding company in the US by assets, announced  ‘The Age Of Renewables Is Beginning.’

July 29, 2013, Forbes Magazine, advised “Fossil Fuels Investments Are Increasingly Risky.”A few days earlier, Goldman Sachs warned, ‘The window to invest profitably in new coal mining capacity is closing.’

Months later, in December 2013, The New York Times reported, Large Companies Prepared to Pay Price on Carbon. The article noted:

“More than two dozen of the nation’s biggest corporations, including the five major oil companies, are planning their future growth on the expectation that the government will force them to pay a price for carbon pollution as a way to control global warming.”

The Times listed the five big oil companies as Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP and Shell The other companies incorporating a carbon price into their business planning include Walmart, American Electric Power, Microsoft, General Electric, Walt Disney, ConAgra Foods, Wells Fargo, DuPont, Duke Energy, Google and Delta Air Lines.

Not only is investing in renewable energy and reducing your carbon footprint a good investment for businesses and investors, green jobs are becoming a wiser career move.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in March 19, 2013, Green jobs grow four times faster than other work, including healthcare. The jobs are in renewable because renewable installations are exploding in growth.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association: U.S. Installs 6.2 GW of Solar PV in 2014, Up 30% Over 2013

In 2014, The Solar Energy Industries Association further noted, “Rapidly falling prices have made solar more affordable than ever. The average price of a completed PV system has dropped by 33 percent since the beginning of 2011”


In March 2014, American multinational financial services corporation, Morgan Stanley, observed, ‘There may be a ‘tipping point’ that causes customers to seek an off-grid approach [to solar].”

There are now 3 U.S. cities that have blown past the tipping point. They are now using 100% renewable energy: Greensburg, Kansas; Burlington, Vermont; and Aspen, Colorado.

Soon to be joining them in 2017, will be Georgetown, Texas. As the mayor, city manager and many of the residents would tell you, Georgetown is switching to renewables to strictly to save money, NOT to combat global warming or save the environment.

“I’m probably the furthest thing from an Al Gore clone you could find. We didn’t do this to save the world — We did this to get a competitive rate and reduce the risk for our consumers.” – Georgetown, Texas interim City Manager Jim Briggs.

As a side note, The Climate Reality Project, led by former Vice-President Al Gore, gave an in depth scientific training for 350 participants, including me, on how to give climate change presentations on May 5-7, 2015 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

During this training, Al Gore talked about Georgetown, Texas going 100% renewable. Gore then cited the quote from the City Manager, ‘I’m the furthest thing from Al Gore you could find. We’re only doing to keep electric rates low.’

Al Gore hilarious response: “Hey man, that works for me!”

In 2008, the small town of Rockport, Missouri, over 1,300 residents, announced that it was the first 100% wind powered community in the United States. Missouri, as a whole, has a long way to go, compared to its neighbors. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Missouri only gets 1% of its electric grid energy from the wind. On the other hand, Iowa gets over 28% of its electricity from the wind, South Dakota 25%, Kansas 21%, Oklahoma 16%, etc.

Mark Z. Jacobson
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“It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil — we think it’s a myth,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.  “You could power America with renewables from a technical and economic standpoint. The biggest obstacles are social and political — what you need is the will to do it.”

In 2013, the journal Energy Policy published a study by Jacobson and a group of other Stanford engineers. It showed how New York State — not windy like the Great Plains, nor sunny like Arizona — could easily produce the power it needs from wind, solar and water power by 2030. In fact there was so much potential power, the researchers found, that renewable power could also fuel our cars.

I then conclude this section by repeating The 5 Essential Messages about Climate Change:
1. Climate Change is Real
2. People are causing it.
3. There is widespread agreement among climate scientists.
Over 95% are convinced that it is real and caused by humans.
4. It is harmful to people.
5. People can limit it, if we choose.

The 5 Essential Messages about Climate Change can even be simplified into:
1. It’s Real
2. It’s Us
3. Scientists Agree
4. It’s bad
5. But we can fix it.

After that summary, I open it up to questions. Often, I am answering questions during this presentation. Thus, I may not have questions after my summary. If no questions,

D. We take a 15 minute break. Around this time, I am halfway through the class. This give the class and me a chance to relax, get to know others, catch up on personal business, digest the information we just learned, etc.

In the second half of the class I then cover, which will be the focus on part II of this blog post:

How do Americans really feel about climate change? (The 6 Americas Report)

How do you effectively chat with your neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers on climate change?

How do you engage someone who strongly disagrees with you about climate change?

Looking at “unusual suspects” who accept climate change.

Answering climate myth questions.

Ending by showing humorous climate change videos.

If you are thinking about teaching a class to your community college about climate change, I hope this blog give you some ideas.

If you still want more information after reading all of this, check out my second blog post on this subject: (to be release in a couple of days)

How to teach a climate change continuing adult education class at your community college, Part II.

Asking Al Gore directly how to respond to his critics

Former Vice President Al Gore and Brian Ettling

On May 7, 2015, former Vice President Al Gore gave me one of the best gifts I have received as a climate change communicator: how to answer his critics.

For years, as I gave climate change talks, especially to my South County Toastmasters group, a conservative climate change contrarian would confront me with statements like, “It is hard for me to accept global warming when Al Gore lives in a big mansion and flies on private jets. His attitude seems to be, ‘do as I say, not as I do.'”

I would ignore these comments. I even asked other Climate Reality Project Leaders and friends of Al Gore how they would respond. The consensus seemed to be to just ignore those folks. Research shows it is very unlikely we can change their minds about climate change. However, what bothered me though was that I would see the politically moderate folks in my Toastmaster group chuckle in agreement with the climate contrarians.

Those dismissive comments sounded laughable to folks who read Skeptical Science and know the scientific understanding about climate change. The contrarians were trying to discredit the science of climate change because of Al Gore. As former Vice President, the Democratic candidate who won the popular vote for President in 2000, winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, and the subject of the Academy Award winning 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore is probably the most recognizable global spokesperson on climate change.

It is easily observed that politically conservative voters strongly despise him. They noticed Al Gore strongly talked about the need to reduce the threat of global warming. Therefore, if he was for it, they had to be against it. This baffled me because Al Gore awoke me to the issue of climate change.

My Deep Admiration for former Vice President Al Gore 

I grew up in the 1980s as a conservative Republican admirer of President Ronald Reagan. I voted for the Bush/Quayle ticket in the 1988 election. In my sophomore year of college in 1989, I was the President of the College Republicans club at my school, William Jewell College in Kansas City, MO.


Upon graduation from college in 1992, I started my career of working in the national parks. In January 1993, I read Al Gore’s book he had written a few years earlier, Earth in the Balance. The book really connected with my love of nature and our planet. I remember thinking at the time, ‘I may be a Republican, but I am really glad Al Gore is our Vice President.’

By 1996, I was such a strong admiration that I voted for the Clinton/Gore ticket primarily because of Al Gore. I eagerly awaited for him to run for President in 2000. As a Florida voter, it was a very bitter defeat for me when he fell short in the 2000 election by 537 votes in Florida. It was another disappointment for me when he decided not to run for President in 2004.

In 2006, I saw the documentary An Inconvenient Truth during the opening weekend. The movie had such a deep impact I knew then that I wanted to spend the rest of my life working on climate change advocacy. I bought Al Gore’s companion book to the film, An Inconvenient Truth, immediately when it arrived in the bookstores. When the movie became available as a DVD, I rushed to Walmart to buy it. Let me clarify that I am not a Walmart shopper, but I wanted to vote with my dollars that Walmart should sell that movie. I watched the video and the extras countless times at home to memorize it and absorb all the information.

I jumped for joy when An Inconvenient Truth won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2007. It felt like my team had won the Superbowl when Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2007. After all his accomplishments that year, it was mystifying to me when Time Magazine chose Vladimir Putin over Al Gore as The Person of the Year for 2007.

For many years, the top famous person I wanted to meet most was Al Gore. Paul McCartney was my close second with my deep love of the Beatles and his solo music. Thus, I never understood the deep conservatives hostility for Al Gore since I relate to him for his love of the Earth and concern over climate change.

Al Gore and all climate communicators including me rank low on The Credibility Spectrum  

Largely because of Al Gore’s influence, I everything I could about climate change starting in the late 1990s. In 1999, I read my first book global warming, Laboratory Earth: The Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose, by climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider of Stanford University. Years later, I read mainstream popular books on climate change, such as Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert in 2006, The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery in 2007, and Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman in 2008. By the time I read Storms of my Grandchildren by NASA climate scientist Dr James Hansen and Science as a Contact Sport by Stephen Schneider in 2009, I was well aware that there was lots of other voices of journalists, writers, activists, and scientists calling for action on climate change besides Al Gore.

As I researched to develop my own presentations on climate change years later, I stumbled across The Credibility Spectrum, on the blog This idea was put together by Kaitlin Alexander, now a PhD student in climate science at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. She created flow chart image and post in April 25, 2010 when she was just a 18 year old college student at the University of Manitoba, Canada, studying climate modeling and starting her academic goal to be a climatologist.

Image Source:

This Credibility Spectrum answers this question: Who should one believe when hearing conflicting media stories on climate change?

To summarize Kaitlin’s blog post, this credibility spectrum pyramid is split into two: the scientific community, and the non-scientific community. The scientific community starts with scientists, with the emphasis on climate scientists having the best expertise. As climate scientists find new discoveries through their research,  they write peer-reviewed papers, published in journals like Nature and Science.

Scientific journals are the next step up the credibility spectrum. When scientific papers are submitted for publication in journals, their methods and conclusions are evaluated by independent climate scientists for robustness and accuracy. If other scientists in the same field reject the robustness and accuracy, they will reject the paper and the journal will not publish it.

However, as thousands of papers are published every month, some papers will be proven wrong later.
Thus, the top of the spectrum sits the scientific organizations, like NASA or the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). They compile peer-reviewed knowledge which has stood the test of time into consensus statements. The top level of this spectrum isn’t infallible, but it has a low error rate compared to other sources.

Everyone who isn’t a scientist falls into the lower half of the credibility spectrum. The communicators category includes the mainstream media,, high school teachers, politicians such as Al Gore. and concerned citizens like me.

Whether its Al Gore or me, we are not part of the scientific community. Therefore, you should always check our sources. Even more, since we attempt to use credible scientific sources to communicate about climate change, we should be held more accountable for what we say than just any random person on the street.  The public, which can easily be swayed by popular media, rumors, advertising, corporate publicity, celebrity statements, etc, makes up the lowest rung of our credibility spectrum.

The conservative argument to reject climate change because of Al Gore carries no weight 

It has been well documented that over 97% of climate scientists, over 99% of peer reviewed papers, and 100% of the world’s scientific organizations affirm that climate change is happening, currently caused by humans, and it is a dangerous threat. Multiple lines of evidence show that climate change is real and currently human caused.

Furthermore, scientists, such as Eric Steig, an isotope geochemist at the University of Washington, has scrutinized Al Gore’s climate statements. When An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006, Steig critiqued it on, a website maintained by top climate scientists. His assessment: “For the most part, I think Gore gets the science right…The small errors don’t detract from Gore’s main point (on climate change).”

Image Source: Brian Ettling
Climate Reality Project Training
August 22, 2012

Therefore, I find the dismissive argument of “global warming phony because Al Gore lives in a big mansion and flies on private jets” has zero credibility. Even more, it is a total waste of time to try to convince those folks because they cannot rise above their hatred of Al Gore. However, what bothered me though was that I would see the politically moderate folks be persuaded by the climate contrarians.

I was determined to find an answer to debunk this argument.

At The Climate Reality Project Training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in May 2015, Al Gore gave a great tip how to handle difficult climate contrarians in the audience during our talks. He advised climate communicators to ‘respond with respect and kindness because that resonates better with the audience. Keep in mind that everyone else in the audience has been put uncomfortably into the jury box.’ Gore counseled that being respectful and kind, but also firm and confident can help win the audience over to our side in those difficult situations.

Having one tough time trying to get that answer to respond to Gore’s conservative critics.

In August 2012, The Climate Reality Project selected 900 individuals including me for their Training in San Francisco, CA. Founded by Al Gore in 2006, this is educational, worldwide grassroots organization has trained over 8,000 volunteers worldwide to give public climate change talks, similar to Gore’s presentation in An Inconvenient Truth. After many years of following Al Gore’s climate change advocacy, I finally had my chance to see him in person and learn how to give his climate change talk.

Brian Ettling at Climate Reality Project Training,
Cedar Rapids, IA, May 5-7 2015

During the second day of the conference, Al Gore spend 8 hours with the participants going over his climate change slides. At during the afternoon session, the tables of 8 to 10 individuals were encouraged to develop a question to be answered by Al Gore. With around 100 tables seating all the attendees, The Climate Reality Project staff could only select a few questions to be answered. Thus, each of us at my table wanted to rise to the challenge of having our question selected.

During our table discussion, I mentioned my experience encountering climate change contrarians wanting to argue about Al Gore during my climate change talks. I tried to persuade my table that we should ask the very difficult, elephant in the room question. We should leave this conference with a tool how to address Al Gore’s critics so we are ready when they engage us. Thus, I proposed this question to the group: “How can we best respond to contrarians who reject global warming because they point to Al Gore living in a big mansion and flying on private jets?”

Immediately, there was a gasp at the table from the others that I would propose that question. They did not see the Climate Reality staff selecting such a sensitive question. One woman expressed openly hostility towards my question.  She thought my question was a waste of time because it would never fully persuade Gore’s contrarian critics. With such a strong negative reaction, I quickly withdrew my question.

It was still a peak life experience for me to attend this San Francisco conference to see Al Gore in person and learn how to give his climate change talk, even if I was not able to get my question answered.

In August 2013, The Climate Reality Project selected 1400 individuals for their training in Chicago, Illinois. The organization chose me to be one of 50 mentors to assist the trainees attending this conference. I was assigned 20 people spread out over 2 tables. It was exhilarating and exhausting to make myself available to each person at both tables. My focus this time addressing the needs and questions of my group. During the breakout sessions to brainstorm questions for Al Gore, I strictly let my group pose the questions they wanted answered. It did not feel acceptable for me to impose any of my lingering questions on them.

Brian Ettling mentoring 20 Climate Reality Project Leaders
The Climate Reality Project Training, Chicago, IL, July 30-August 2, 2013

Thus, I left Chicago feeling another peak experience of seeing Al Gore, enhancing my knowledge of how to give better climate change talks, and mentoring 20 Climate Reality Leaders. No chance to get my nagging question answered at that conference.

My breakthrough opportunity to ask Al Gore my question at The Cedar Rapids, Iowa Training. 

In May 2015, The Climate Reality Project selected 400 individuals for their training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The organization chose me to be one of 30 mentors to a group of 7 trainees. This was the third Climate Reality Project training I had attended over the past 3 years. Thus, it was wonderful spend time with many friends attending this conference, especially among my fellow group of mentors.

Brian Ettling mentoring 7 Climate Reality Project Leaders
The Climate Reality Project Training, Cedar Rapids, IA, May 5-7, 2015

At the mentor meetings, Climate Reality Project staff, Jacqueline Kaiser and Jessica Hamilton, did an excellent job guiding the mentors including me. In our meetings they shared best practices to engage our trainees. They assigned us specific actions to make this training a success. During one of our our mentor meetings, Jacqueline and Jessica, announced that Al Gore would be attending our meeting on the final morning of the conference. They shared that Mr. Gore, as they call him, wanted to hear directly from us about our successes and challenges as Climate Reality Project Leaders.

My heart started beating fast as I heard this news: YES! Would I finally be able to ask Al Gore directly the question that had troubled me for years? I was going to find out on Thursday morning.

Thursday morning, May 7, 2015, arrived and all of the Climate Reality Mentors arrived early for the opportunity to engage Al Gore. Soon after Jacqueline and Jessica gave the announcements and latest

details for the last day of the training, Al Gore walked into the room along with the senior staff of Climate Reality Project. There were two entrances to the small conference room, and I gambled he would come through the entrance right by where I was seated. He did. He walked just a couple of feet away from me.

Al Gore speaking at Climate Reality Project Training,
Cedar Rapids, IA, May 6, 2015.
Image Source: Brian Ettling

He sat in a chair in the front and eagerly fielded questions from the mentors about what was on their minds. I found him to be very engaged, friendly, and relaxed as he answered our questions. Gore displayed a great sense of humor as he shared personal stories with us. However, my mind was a blur of what he said to our group because I was so eager to get my question answered.

I did raise my hand each time he fielded a new question, but it was harder for him to see me because I was seated towards the back of the room by the door. Time was becoming short. Gore’s staff was becoming fidgety and signaling to him that it was time to wrap things up with us. All of us, including the Climate Reality Project staff, Al Gore, the mentors, and me, needed to start breaking up the meeting so we could start the full agenda for the last day of the training.

Thus, Al Gore then stated, “I have time for one more question.”

My hand shot up in the air before the others.

Al Gore pointed right at me and asked: “What is your question?

Gulp. My heart was racing. After many years of wanting this moment, it finally had arrived.

My Question to Al Gore of how to respond to his critics. 

I was incredibly nervous. After a second which seemed like an eternity, I blurted out this question:

“Mr. Gore, thank you so much for this opportunity to speak to you. All of us really do appreciate it today. For years I have been giving climate change talks, especially to my Toastmasters group in St. Louis, MO. Some of them ask me questions that are very critical of you. I know we will never convince the Uncle Joe in our family or audience or accept climate change. It is a waste of time. Unfortunately, the moderate folks in our audience are being influenced by conservative Uncle Joe who listens to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. The moderates seem to be easily swayed when Uncle Joe says, ‘we cannot trust Al Gore on global warming because he flies on private jets and lives in a huge mansion.’ How should we respond to that? ”

Al Gore responding to my question

It was such a relief to finally ask this question since my mind was still in a blur. However, I remember the whole room now sitting up and paying attention to how he would respond.

Al Gore’s body language showed that he was eager to answer it. It seemed like time stopped as Al Gore wanted to give this question the full attention that it deserved.

His response:

‘Thank you for asking me that question. I am under no delusion that people who ask it are just using one of the oldest tricks in history to just ‘shoot the messenger.’

As a boy growing up in the South, I heard people around say, “I would be all favor Civil Rights if it was not led by Martin Luther Coon.”

(From reading my body language, Gore could see that I was stunned by that quote from his childhood.  I am a huge fan of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He responded to my body language and gasp saying…)

Oh, yes, that is what I heard growing up.

I do have 33 solar panels and 10 geothermal wells on my house.

Almost all the time, I fly commercial. I even flew in a small commercial plane to and from this conference from American Airlines. However, I occasionally have no choice and must to charter a plane to get to certain commitments. It is quite an expense and I avoid it as much as I can.

I know certain people would love to make climate change about me. Therefore, sometimes I do deliberately lower my profile so the issue does not become about me.

However, those critics would love for me ultimately to just go away.
I am never giving them that satisfaction.

As long as I can, I will be speaking up about the climate issue.”

The whole room burst into applause with his response. His answer seemed to elevate the positive energy of the room to a whole new level. It felt like a sublime out of body experience that I was having trouble processing in the moment.

Shaking hands with Al Gore

Al Gore, May 7, 2015
Image Source: Brian Ettling

That that note, Al Gore stood up, as well as the rest of the senior staff from Climate Reality Project, and they walked by me to the door.  As he walked by me, I could not contain myself.

I humbly blurted out, “Mr. Gore. Thank you so much for answering my question.”

Al Gore stopped his walk. He turned to me, reached out, and shook my hand. He looked me directly in the eye saying,
“Thank you for all you are doing.”

It was hard to believe that all of this was real.
He then left with senior staff of The Climate Reality Project.

Immediately afterwards, other Climate Reality mentors gathered around me. They complimented me on my question and they were amazed by Al Gore’s response. The energy level for me and everyone in the room seemed sky high. It seemed like I had given all of them a tool they needed to respond to Al Gore’s contrarian critics.

Running into Al Gore at the Cedar Rapids Airport and on my flight 

The peak experience of that morning of interacting with Al Gore was soon to be overshadowed later on that day. From my morning conversation with Al Gore, I could not wait to tell the seven people I was mentoring at the conference and anyone else who I could corner. The final talks at the conference were all excellent and very informative. However, my mind and body still felt overwhelmed from interacting directly with Al Gore. Part me was eager to race back home and share this story with friends and family back in St. Louis.

Cathy Cown Becker and Brian Ettling

When the conference ended at 4:00 pm, my goodbyes had to be brief to my good friends and the 7 folks I mentored at the conference. I had a plane to catch just a couple of hours later.

Around 4:40 pm at the passenger drop off area of the Cedar Rapids Airport, I ran into a Facebook friend who was also at the same conference, Cathy Cowan Becker. We intended to meet up at some point during the conference to say ‘hello.’ After three busy days, it was a thrill to finally meet her and get my picture with her.

After we went through airport security, it happened that we had to hang out at the same

concourse gate area to wait for our flight. While we were waiting, Al Gore came walking up to us. It turned out that he was on the same flight with us. I asked him if I could get my picture with him and he was very happy about taking pictures with me. Then I made sure Cathy had her picture taken with him.

Cathy Cowan Becker and Al Gore
Image Source: Brian Ettling

After three days of spending many hours sharing his knowledge about climate change, Al Gore must have been very tired. I would have totally understood if he needed his privacy with us. Just the opposite. He was very friendly with Cathy and me. While we chatted with Al Gore, I met a new friend on the spot, Videns Veritatis. She was also at the Climate Reality Project Conference. I helped snap of picture of her with Al Gore on her smart phone.

Thinking of the climate change contrarians, I made this joke while while Cathy, Videns, and I were all waiting for our plane: “Looks like we are all going to be flying on the same private jet as Al Gore.”

I am not sure though if Al heard that joke because I did not see him then. However, as I was boarding the airplane, seated in the front row looked totally exhausted was Al Gore. As a jokester, I could not keep quiet. As I walked past him, I shook my head and remarked, “I don’t know, Al. Looks like I am going to have to tell Fox News I saw you on a private jet.”

Rehia Quais, Al Gore and Javaria Quais Joiya
Photo used by permission of Javaria Quais Joiya.

Al did not seem to be in the mood for my joke. He looked way too tired to laugh. However, his security detail seated across from him did bust out laughing.

I hope Al does not hold that joke against me if we do meet again.

Even then, he stood up to get his picture taken with Javaria Qais Joiya and her 9 year old daughter Rehia Qais. Javaria and Rehia are from Pakistan. They attend the Climate Reality Project Training. Rehia read a very beautiful poem to all 400 of us in attendance during the Training. Al looked very happy to get his picture taken with them.

Soon the plane took off for Chicago and we then went our separate ways.

Final Thoughts

This very positive interaction with Al Gore happened 7 months ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Brian Ettling and Tanya Couture on their wedding day,
November 1, 2015.

Just one day after my flight landed in St. Louis, I started driving across country to my summer job at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. My job at Crater Lake keeps me very busy running from one ranger talk to the next. My fiancée Tanya came out at the end of June. She worked and lived with me at Crater Lake until late September.

I left Crater Lake in the second week of October to return to St. Louis to get ready for our wedding. Tanya and I got married on November 1st. I then taught a climate change class on November 14th. I went to Washington DC to lobby Congress on climate change November 15 to 19th.

After all of this, I finally have a chance to write this blog of gratitude how Climate Reality Project and Al Gore gave me the gift of how to respond directly to his critics.

Thank you Al Gore!

P.S. I hope my fellow mentors from The 2015 Climate Reality Project Training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa or The Climate Reality Project know they are more than welcome to contact me if I have misquoted Al Gore’s comments. I will be more than happy to correct them.