Monthly Archives: January 2016

My friend David who walked a 1,000 miles to talk about climate change

I am sure you have heard the expression, ‘It’s not enough to talk the talk, you must walk the walk.’ Basically, speaking out about an issue of deep concern is not enough, we must take action.

My friend David Henry did just that. He walked over a thousand miles to talk to people about climate change. From June to August 2013, David walked by foot from Boston, Massachusetts to South Charleston, Ohio. It’s a distance of 1,042 miles over 60 days. He kept his belongings inside a large covered cart, which people he encountered thought it looked like a giant mailbox. Hence, the title of the book he wrote, David and the Giant Mailbox.

In 2012, David Henry started feeling restless in his home in St. Louis Missouri that he must do something about climate change. He had read enough news reports about extreme weather and learned enough about the science of climate change from sources like skepticalscience.com. Through his interest in this subject, David learned that climate change is real, caused by human activity currently, it impacting people right now, and we must act fast to reduce the nastiest consequences.

It worried David that people did not seem to care. He then discovered how Americans perceive climate change. He read the September 2012 Yale Project for Climate Change Communication published report, Global Warming’s Six Americas. This report based on several public opinion surveys notes that Americans fall into six categories of attitudes on climate change: Alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, and dismissive. According to that report, only about 16% of the population was alarmed like David. As far as the other 84% the population, David felt angry they were not as alarmed as him. He wrote,

“I envisioned all of humanity sleepwalking down a narrow path to the edge of a cliff. That made me pissed. I couldn’t just sit back and let it happen. I decided it was time to do something.”

My Struggle to ‘Walk the Walk’ 

I can totally relate how David felt in 2012. The same awareness about climate change happened to me working during the winter of 2007-08 in Everglades National Park in south Florida. As I share in my current climate change talks and speeches, I became a naturalist park ranger narrating boat tours in Everglades National Park in 1998. At that time, I knew nothing about climate change. However, park visitors were starting to ask me about this global warming thing and they expect park rangers to know everything.

Thus, I went to a Miami bookstore 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. I then got hooked reading books and articles about global warming in my spare time. I saw Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 and it deepened my interest even more. By the winter of 2007-08, I could not sleep at night working in the Everglades. I felt I had to do something about climate change.

To this day, I still work my summer job at Crater Lake National Park. However, I gave up my winter job in the Everglades to return home to St. Louis for the winter. 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.

Over 8 years later, I am still trying to figure how to take bold action on climate change. The question that still bothers me is: How can I take enough action to create awareness among Americans to inspire them to take effective action on climate change? How was I going to not just talk the talk but walk the walk so all of us would be inspired to reduce the threat of climate change.

Doris “Granny D” Haddock
Image Source: pendemocracy.me

Part of me thought about walking across country like my friend David. I love to travel and see different parts of the United States. For over 20 years, I have driven across country from Oregon to Florida while working in the national parks. The thought has occurred to me to travel across by foot to see the country more up close. It seemed like such dream adventure too. Forrest Gump walked across country in one of my favorite movies. Doris Haddock, known as “Granny D,” achieved national fame when she walked over 3,200 miles across the United States to advocate for campaign finance reform. She walked from southern California to Washington D.C. from January 1, 1999 to February 29, 2000. Even more, she did it when she was between the ages of 88 and 90!

This is still a dream of mine to walk across the United States. It would be great to see the changing scenery. At night, I would then speak at college campuses, town halls and public meetings about climate change.

In August 2013, I was a mentor at the Climate Reality Project Training in Chicago, Illinois. While mingling with the other attendees during the conference, I met Zac Heffernen. He was one of the organizers for the 2014 Great March for Climate Action. It was a 3,000 mile march that started March 1, 2014 in Los Angeles, California, and ended on November 1, 2014 when marchers arrived in Washington, D.C.

Image Source: climatemarch.org

In my conversation with Zac, this march sounded like a wonderful idea to raise awareness on climate change while having the safety in numbers and supporting logistics to successfully walk across the U.S. It was very tempting for me to join. Zac was very eager for me to join the march with my experience as a park ranger and climate activist. Despite Zac’s besting persuasion, I turned down the march due because I did not want to give up my summer ranger job at Crater Lake Nat. Park. Even more, I was not thrilled with the idea to be away from then girlfriend/now wife Tanya for many months.

Still, I have thought often about ‘walking a walk’ across the U.S. to raise awareness about climate change and I still may do so one of these days.

Climate Walker David Henry is a lot more courageous than me

Like David’s restlessness, I have struggled for years with the question of what bold action should I take on climate change. What brave act should I do to inspire people to take action on climate change? If climate scientists have been warning us that climate change is a very serious threat to our civilization, then what daring act do I need to take as a climate change communicator and activist to make a difference?

Ironically,  I did not think David Henry was so courageous when I first met him a couple of years ago. My impression was that he was friendly, kind, and humble when we met. He introduced himself to me as “the Climate Walker.” Sadly, my first impression was ‘So what!’

Many of us who are climate activists have given ourselves titles and tag lines. Since grabbing the website domain in December 2009, I have called myself the Climatechangecomedian. I do that to promote myself as a public speaker on climate change that is educational, inspiring and entertaining.

My friend Harriet Shugarman calls herself the Climate Mama, since she is mother concerned about her kids’ future living on Earth. Her website climatemama.com focused on informing “Climate Mamas and Papas of all ages from all around the world about the realities of the climate crisis” and inspiring and empowering “Climate Mamas and Papas to work together.”

My Canadian friend Rolly Montpellier calls himself the Boomer Warrior. He gave himself this title because “I’m a Baby Boomer and now a Warrior outraged by the kind of world we’ve created.” His climate change website boomerwarrior.org aims at “Raising Awareness to the vast challenges we face” and then “Creating a Sense of Urgency to galvanize people into positive activism.”

A Facebook friend of mine calls herself CelloMom. Her climate blog CelloMom on Cars is about “The quest for the fuel-efficient car that fits the planet and the budget – and the cello.”

Thus, since I knew climate activists besides David who had given themselves titles, I was not that intrigued that with his climate walker title. However, I got to know David over the last two years as were both volunteers with the local St. Louis group for Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL).

As I got to know him, I was more impressed by his kindness and dedication to take action on global warming. In March 2014, he happily agreed to my request to meet with the energy aide of our U.S. Representative, Congresswoman Ann Wagner of Missouri, about climate change when he traveled to Washington, D.C. on business. Even more, David met with me before the trip so he would have a positive meeting with Rep. Wagner’s staff about to lobby them to support CCL’s carbon fee and dividend proposal.

David Henry and Brian Ettling at the People’s Climate March, November 29, 2015

When David’s book was published in December 2015, he asked me to read it and give it a review. With my very positive impression on him, I was very happy to oblige.

I quickly discovered reading David and the Giant Mailbox that David Henry IS a lot more courageous than me.

I may pride myself on giving around 100 climate change talks over the past 5 years. In May 2013, Grand Canyon National Park invited me to give my Crater Lake ranger climate talk to an audience of over 200 visitors at their Shrine of the Ages Auditorium. After that talk and many others, I had a few audience members want to fierce argue with me about the science of climate change. I have also given around 15 speeches to my St. Louis South County Toastmasters Club on Climate Change. After the speech, The Debate is Over, I had a question and answer session with a few of the audience members that you can observed on YouTube who are very hostile to the science of climate change. Local businessman Larry Lazar and atmospheric scientist Dr. Jack Fishman of St. Louis University and I gave a live interview on the St. Louis local NPR station on April 15, 2014.

Guest speaker Brian Ettling at Grand Canyon Nat. Park
May 7, 2013.  

In December 2014, National Journal interviewed me about giving climate change talks in national parks. I did not think it was so bold at the time. However, a conservative blogger wrote a very critical response, A dose of ideology with your National Park vacation? For a couple of weeks, I worried conservative radio and TV shows would find his blog and they would then start harassing me. Fortunately, no other conservatives noticed the National Journal article or the conservative blogger.

Yes, I have take some bold actions to speak out on climate change awareness and promoting action. However, none of my actions are as brave as David Henry walking over a 1,000 miles to talk about climate change.

Reading David and the Giant Mailbox


The book was a fascinating page turner about David’s 1,042 mile journey on foot. It may been been over 300 pages long, but it was a very quick read. The chapters, averaging about 5 to 6 pages long, were basically an account of what happened each day. As an aspiring cross country hiker, I quickly learned that a cross county hike is not easy.

David had to confront many busy streets with no sidewalks, intense thunderstorms, sore feet, fatigue near the end, sunburn, trying to find a place to camp each night, flat tires on his cart, etc. With all of the frustrations, he add ask himself multiple times if it was worth it to continue.

Friends warned him to be leery of people. However, David found numerous people willing to help him out on a pinch. In his everyday life, David is more of a quiet and reserved guy. Conversations are not always easy for him. In my past interactions with him, David is warm, generous and friendly, Yet, it felt like he was a private individual, not willing to share more than he absolutely had to share.

Photo from the back cover of the book David and the Giant Mailbox.

Therefore, part of the wonder of the book is seeing David break out of his comfort zone and engage people. The cart shaped like a mailbox was an amazing conversation starter or ice breaker for people he encountered. In walking long distances, David got to experience firsthand the Anne Franck quote:

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

David’s quote though was not just to walk to meet people. His big goal was to have a conversation with as many people he could find about climate change. His specific plan was to have at least 100 global warming conversations while he walked across the country. As David shares his stories of the conversations, he provides a great example how to converse with people about climate change.

After folks would approach him about what he was doing, David would gently explain he was walking across to create more awareness about climate change. Some folks took a genuine interest, others just changed the subject, some were disinterested and just a few wanted to argue with David in a hostile manner.

In the few cases where folks wanted to strongly disagree with David, he would completely listen to them in a heartfelt way. He would then quietly to try correct their misconceptions about the science by quoting such sources as the Consensus Project, which affirmed that 97% of climate scientists agree climate change is hapening and it is mostly human caused.

Image Source: mediamatters.org

Through the book’s recollection of his conversations, David gives a great lesson to not get angry, lecture, or insult the people when he occasionally met people who wanted to engage him in a hostile way. Although he imagined before and during the walk of wanting to grab someone by the scruff of the neck if they dismissed climate change, he never does that. He always tried to find common ground in every interaction while holding on to his conviction that we must act on the climate crisis.

From his courage of taking this long journey by foot and his open heart when encountering people, it felt like even the most hard core climate contrarians seemed like they still found a way to like, help, and even admire David. He found other ways to relate to folks when the conversation of climate change was a non-starter. His audacious walk and friendly interactions gave climate doubters a positive perspective that they do not experience when global warming is mentioned on TV or the radio. Thus, he does become a good ambassador for caring for our planet during his trek.

Image Source: amazon.com

From his many interactions, David learned a new faith and optimism for humanity. He witnessed enough good, caring, concerned and open minded people like him that we just may avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

David’s experience reminded me of a quote from Julia Butterfly Hill. She is best known for having living in a 180-foot (55 m)-tall, roughly 1500-year-old California Redwood tree, affectionately known as “Luna,”  for two years between December 1997 and December 1999. Hill lived high up in the tree the entire time to prevent Pacific Lumber Company loggers from cutting it down. Julia documented that experience in another book I recommend reading, The Legacy of Luna. The second book wrote by Julia, One Makes a Difference, she proclaimed:

“Eternal optimism joined with loving action is the most powerful tool I own.”

Even if I not able to personally walk across country, David’s bold action gave me optimism that one person (I) can make a difference. Even more, his journey showed that people do have enough good and generosity inside of them that we can reduce the threat of climate change.

David, thank you so much for writing this book.

‘It’s time we heard the the voices of indigenous people around the world.’

My friend, Melissa, who is Native American (Apache), with Brian Ettling
I met her while traveling across country in May 2013.

‘It is time that we heard the voice of all the indigenous communities around the world and protected this planet for future generations.’ – movie actor Leonardo DiCaprio accepting his Best Actor award at the 2016 Golden Globes on January 10, 2016.

Leo’s comment struck a chord with me. For years, I have though it is so important to listen to the voices of native peoples as we think about climate change and how to live on planet Earth.

Conversations with the Earth Exhibit

This realization first happened to me when I visited Washington DC in October 2011. I had just attended an Earth-to-Sky climate change Conference in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. That meeting had been sponsored by NASA and the National Park Service. It focused on NASA scientists providing the best science available for communicating about climate change with national park visitors. For year, my interest was learning and seeing how Climate Change is impacting our National Parks. The thought had not occurred to me how it could be impacting indigenous peoples around the world.

This was my first time visiting Washington DC in 31 years. It was very exciting for me to see the tourist sites: The White House, The Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam Memorial, The Korean War Memorial, The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, etc. While I visited DC, someone recommended I visit the National Museum of the American Indian, which is only about two blocks from the Capitol.

When I walked inside, I was amazed to see they had a special exhibit Conservations with the Earth. It was about indigenous voices on climate change from around the world. It showcased pictures of native people from USA, Canada, Central & South America, Africa, Australia, Asia, ocean islands, etc. and how climate change impacted each of them.

One of the first images to greet me was Sarah James. She is part of the Gwich’in People, who are a Athabaskan-speaking First Nations of Canada and an Alaska Native people. They live in the northwestern part of North America, mostly above the Arctic Circle. Speaking about climate change, was this quote from Sarah:

“There is a solution. It’s not the end of the world yet. One thing we have to do is gain back respect for the animals, for all nature. We pray and give thanks to everything that we use. But if it is going to work, it has to be both Western and traditional. We have be meet halfway—and we need to find balance.”

The exhibit then had a sign about “The Price of Carbon.” It stated how “Corporations bought the rights to a forest’s carbon to offset their emissions, but the locals are paying the cost.”

The people caught in the middle are the Guarani, an indigenous people from South America’s interior  of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia. The sign stated,

“On the southeast coast of Brazil, American companies with significant carbon footprints are working to preserve 50,000 acres of the Atlantic Forest. The idea is simple: by protecting these trees, which soak up carbon dioxide, the companies hope to obtain carbon ‘credits’ that will allow them to pollute elsewhere. But, this practice, called avoided deforestation, is controversial, especially in nearby indigenous communities.”

The next sign talked about Quara Quara Island, Brazil. It read,

“After centuries of development, just 7% of the original Atlantic Forest remains. While it seems a good idea to preserve the remaining trees by designating them as carbon offsets, avoided deforestation creates many complicated situations.

Between 2000 and 2002, American companies donated millions of dollars to establish a carbon-offset reserve near Quara Quara, the island home of several Guarani families. The companies do not own the land or the trees, but they receive carbon offsets for the emissions the trees absorb, which they can use to offset their own pollution elsewhere or sell to other companies seeking profits.”

One specific story from Quara Quara was Antonio Alves. It stated,

“In 2008, Antonio Alves, a fisherman and carpenter, cut down a tree at the edge of the carbon-offset reserve to repair his mother-in-law’s home. The Green Police, or Força Verde, arreste Alves and put him in jail for 11 days. He was defended by the town’s mayor, a lawyer who has represented scores of residents arrested for similar acts.”

This left a quandary for me. Yes, we do have to protect the last remaining natural areas of the world to reduce the threat of climate change. However, we must do it in a way that respects the local native people and their traditions. They must feel like they are valued stake holders, not intruders, in protecting wilderness areas.

On a sadder note, an exhibit focusing on the Mansus people living in the Manus Island of Papua New Guinea. In the past, the Mansus read the skies to decide when they could fish or travel safely. However, over the last decade, the seas have been rising and scientists and islanders alike report that climate change is becoming evident in the form of chaotic and unseasonal winds, unpredictable rains, and more intense storms. According to resident John Semio of the Mansus people,

“We can’t reach our fishing grounds safely. We find it more more difficult to live now.”

Nothing in their history prepared the islanders for the unprecedented fury of the 2008 storm they call ‘King Tide.’ The sign noted that “quick thinking saved most house from the waves – for now.”

Unfortunately, I just have a few pictures left from the exhibit that I was able to share above in this blog. If you do go on Conversations with the Earth website, you can find more examples in pictures and videos how climate change is impacting Native peoples across the world.

While touring the exhibit, I spotted a special announcement of an evening reception at the museum with members of the indigenous communities from across the world showcased in the exhibit. I came back to the exhibit that evening. It was amazing to see the native people from Africa, South America, Alaska, etc. in person and in their native costumes. I got to mingle among them in the reception and attend some lectures how climate change impacted them.

It’s a mystery to me now why I did not take any pictures of that event. I felt very fortunate to be there.  I felt very lucky since I did not know about exhibit or reception prior to my trip to Washington DC or checking out this museum on a whim. Seeing from the exhibit how climate change impacted some of these native people and meeting them in person, I promised myself I would not forget their stories. I meant to blog about it when I returned to St. Louis, but my mind and writings ended up focusing on other aspects of climate change. Thank goodness for the Leonardo DiCaprio quote to remind me not to forget.

The Pachamama Alliance

The Leonardo DiCaprio quote to hear the the voices of indigenous people also reminded me of the Pachamama Alliance. Around the year 2010, a friend encouraged me to attend a Pachamama workshop, called Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, which are actually held all throughout the United States and world.

Image Source: pachamama.org

The Pachamama Alliance focus is about weaving indigenous wisdom and modern knowledge for a thriving, just, and sustainable world. Its purpose empowered by its partnership with indigenous people, is dedicated to bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet.

At the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, participants learn:

* Human beings are not separate from each other or Nature. We are totally interrelated and our actions have consequences to all. What we do to others we do to ourselves. What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves.

* Indigenous people are the source of a worldview and cosmology that can provide powerful guidance and teachings for achieving our vision—a thriving, just and sustainable world.

Image Source: achamama.org/event/awakening-the-dreamer-changing-the-dream

As far as climate change, Pachamama believes:

* If present trends continue, the probable future for life on Earth will be defined by periods of substantial social, environmental, and economic disruption, if not complete collapse.

* Humanity already possesses sufficient resources, technology, and know-how to reverse these trends. What is missing is the sense of urgency and the popular and political will to act.

* Without concentrated human intervention, certain tipping points will be reached that will make our present trajectory irreversible.

The origin story shared during the Symposium is fascinating.

Deep in the pristine Amazon rainforest, spanning the borders of modern-day Ecuador and Peru, the Achuar people have lived and thrived for centuries. With their deep devotion to their land, the Achaur kept had their sophisticated culture and worldview remarkably intact as late as the mid-20th century.

Since the early 20th century, individuals and corporations from the so-called “modern” world have sought to exploit Achuar land for its oil, disregarding its irreplaceable ecological and cultural wealth. From contact with neighboring tribes, the Achuar knew that oil companies were poisoning the rainforest and everything alive in it, steadily moving closer and closer to their home. Thus, the Achuar made the courageous decision to reach out to form partners in the modern world that was threatening their very existence.

Since 1995, the Pachamama Alliance, named for the Kichwa word for “Mother Earth,” has collaborated with the Achaur and all of of their indigenous neighbors to preserve their cultures and protect this very biodiverse region of the Amazon basin. The Alliance has empowered these indigenous groups with legal, financial, and technical assistance, including mapping and land titling to secure ownership of their lands. It has also provided trainings and workshops to guide them in asserting their rights and economic development sustainable local products and ecotourism.

For two decades, this partnership has enabled the indigenous people to preserve millions of acres of pristine tropical rainforest. The Alliance’s work to include legal rights for nature in Equador’s constitution provides a powerful precedent that is now being replicated globally.

Lynne Twist,
co-founder of the Pachamama Alliance
Image Source: lynnetwist.com

According to the co-founder of the Pachamama Alliance, Lynne Twist,

“From the very beginning, the indigenous partners told us that it was really great that we were working in the Amazon with them shoulder to shoulder but that is only half the battle. They told us that if we really wanted to protect their lands permanently, we would need to go to work in our part of the world.

As they put it, we would need to change the dream of the north, the dream of the modern world. A dream rooted in consumption and acquisition, without any regard to the natural world or even to our own future.”

Since 2005 hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have attended the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium. Now this interactive program is offered in an online course as well.

The live symposium or online course offers a challenging and inspiring curriculum that exams the root causes of humanity’s most pressing issues. It then encourages people to participate in key grassroots movements are can actually making a difference, such as Move to Amend and Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

After years of curiosity to attend a Pachamama training, I finally had an opportunity in the summer of 2013. Earlier in 2013, I founded a Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) group in Ashland, Oregon. A friend attending the CCL meetings, Lorraine Cook, was also involved with the Pachamama Alliance. She invited to speak at the end of an Awakening the Dreamer Symposium held at the University of Southern Oregon on July 9, 2013. I immediately jumped at this invitation to attend.

The two and a half hour Awakening the Dreamer Symposium was a very positive experience for me. I highly recommend attending if you have a chance. Pachamama’s message really connected to me. The symposium focused on hope for the future, emphasis on sustainability, and a belief that humans can take the necessary actions to reduce the threat of climate change. Even more, the goal of this training is to inspire participants to get active with local grassroots organizations like Move to Amend, SOCAN (Southern Oregon Climate Action Now), and Citizens’s Climate Lobby.

As a climate activist, I admire how it presented the issue of climate change from an indigenous perspective of caring for our Mother Earth, creation, and healing our natural world that sustains our lives. There was much audience participation so we felt like we were vital participants. It did not feel a dry and gloomy lecture. The symposium offered opportunities to chat with a partner sitting next to us and group discussions to go over concepts we just learned from Pachamama.

At the end of the training, we are awarded a handwoven friendship bracelet. My understanding is that members of one of the South American native groups, especially the Achaur, hand make these bracelets. Another person attending the training ties it around your wrist towards the end of the symposium. We are encouraged to wear the bracelet daily to remind ourselves daily of the symposium. Even more, we wear the bracelet as a reminder of our importance to take action to protect our planet.

Because the training did have a deep impact on me, I have worn it everyday since attending that July 2013 symposium. I even wore it to my wedding. It has been a constant reminder for me to follow my mantra to “Think Globally Act Daily” to climate change. Thank goodness for the Pachmama Alliance Awakening the Dreamer Symposium to reinforce my passion.

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

 

Indigenous People are impacted the most by climate change


Even though I received much inspiration and a broader perspective from Conversations with the Earth and the Pachamama Alliance, it still really troubles me how climate change negatively impacts indigenous people.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s quote at the Golden Globes was a reminder for me how native peoples across the world are on the front lines of climate change.

Keep in mind that DiCaprio’s speech was criticized for mentioning indigenous people. Slate writer Aisha Harris referred to DiCaprio’s speech as “awkward and cynical” and even doubted its sincerity. She wrote,

The Revenant is only the latest in a long history of major Hollywood studio films featuring indigenous characters that is told from the white male perspective.”

Leonardo DiCaprio
Image Source: imdb.com

Even more Harris is critical of the portrayal of the Pawnee tribesman (played by Arthur RedCloud) who later assists DiCaprio’s character in his journey home? According to Harris, the Pawnee character is typical of the Hollywood stock Native American character. She wrote, “He’s much more a mysterious, kind person of color than any real, flesh-and-bone character.”

Fair enough. However, DiCaprio’s full remarks at the end of his Golden Globes speech really spoke to me:

“And lastly, I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world. It is time that we recognize your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”

DiCaprio’s statement recalled a statement I heard from this YouTube video, Dr. Hayhoe’s Keynote Address at the June 2015 Citizens’s Climate Lobby Conference. Towards the end of that video, Texas Tech University climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe refers to a map released by the Washington Post on 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.

Image Source: washingtonpost.com

Living in the most vulnerable and even not so vulnerable countries are indigenous people who are the least responsible for creating this problem. Even for those of us do not not have the same culture, religion, values, and traditions as indigenous people, it is still vital that we reduce the threat of climate change for the most vulnerable native peoples as well as our children.

As Katharine Hayhoe argues in that same YouTube talk:

“Why do we care (about climate change) if we’re Christians? We care because the number one commandment is to love God and number two is to love your neighbor. We are told to love others as Christ loved us. And, how did Christ love? Sacrificially. Not saying we’re equal, but saying ‘I am putting you above my own life and I am willing to give my life for your life…When we look at who is impacted, it is in the places where it is not fair. It is not the people who created this problem.”

What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves


As we live in modern civilization with all of its luxuries, we forget that all of us are descendants of ancient indigenous people. We live today because of accumulated wisdom over many generations. We discard their wisdom at our peril.

I want to close this blog with the thoughts and wisdom attributed to Chief Seattle. Historians do not think the text below is historically accurate or even something that Chief Seattle said. Even if he did not, these words speak of a wisdom for the ages. They speak of caring for the Earth. Even more, what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.

CHIEF SEATTLE’S LETTER
The only known photograph
of Chief Seattle, taken in 1864
Image Source: wikipedia.org



“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?


Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.


We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.


The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.


The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.


If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.


Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.


This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.


One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.


Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.


When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?


We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.


As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.


One thing we know – there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.”


May we do all we can to reduce the threat of climate change to respect our ancestors, our fellow humans that we share the planet especially indigenous people, and our children.

 

 

Experiencing a taste of climate change is no ‘walk in the park.’

It started with the heavy rains on Christmas evening, December 25, 2015 in the St. Louis area. It was raining so hard that it was hard to see when my wife and I were driving home from my parents’ house to stay with my in-laws’ that night. I remember driving slow and griping the steering wheel hard. It gritted my teeth hoping with the poor visibility.  My concern was not sliding off the very wet pavement or an accident with another car. It was not easy navigating the pounding rain on the while driving on interstates I-270 and Highway 40/west I-64.

I remember feeling very relieved when my wife (Tanya) and I made it safely to our in-laws’ house. I remarked, “Tanya, I hope I don’t have to drive through weather like that again anytime soon.”

December 26th, was more pounding rain. Early that week, I expressed my internal frustration to Tanya that I felt like I was not doing enough to organize and write on climate change. To boost my morale, my wife then booked an appointment with the nearby Tesla store to test drive the 100% electric Tesla Model S. As I noted in my previous blog, Tanya and I had a blast test driving this car. Tanya’s action did lift my spirits to see this could be the future for automobiles: 100% electric with no carbon tailpipe emissions.

Brian Ettling and his wife, Tanya Couture, test driving a Tesla Model S

While that Tesla test drive was a fun bonding experience for Tanya and me, the weather was blah. It continued to rain all morning from the previous night. The rain did not pound during our test drive, thankfully. However, the pounding came back that Saturday afternoon, all day Sunday, and into Monday. It rained so hard it felt like someone had fully opened a water spigot on full blast for hours.

The rain just beat on the roof and the outside pavement like fire hydrant fully opened. All the noise made it hard to sleep. With no end in sight, I was starting to feel like the various characters in the Star Wars movies who say, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

As a native life-long St. Louis resident, I started commenting to my wife and in-laws that we are going to see some bad flooding from this. I had no idea just how bad the flooding was going to be.

I remember that I kept checking the weather report to see when it would stop raining because it was starting to feel like the relentless pounding of bombings in a war zone. The endless rain felt very wearisome. It was hard to sleep through it and no joy to go walking in it.

Finally, the rain did end on Tuesday, December 29, 2015. It was such a relief to see overcast skies without rain. However, the rain gauge reports looked grim. The St. Louis region received anywhere from 8 to 12 inches of rain. This would be far more than the major area rivers, Mississippi, Missouri and Meramec, could hold in their flood banks, warned local meteorologists.

Image Source: weather.com

On Monday, December 28, 2015, St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline was Emergency declared as rain keeps falling; concern turning to rising rivers. As the area flooding approached the Great Flood of 1993, this is what I wrote Facebook and Twitter:

“For those of us living in St. Louis, MO, this is what climate change looks like: above normal winter temps, record rains, and very stressful flooding.”

The images became more personal for me when my local friend, Karl Frank posted news images of the flooding of Union, MO on Facebook. As the images showed flooded McDonalds, gas station, motels and businesses, Karl commented,  “Climate change is expensive. Cheaper to mitigate than to pay for the consequences.”

Image Source: facebook.com/FOX2Now/photos

Responding to what Karl wrote, I posted the same images on my Facebook wall with my remarks,

Photo from left to right: Larry Lazar,
Dr. Johann Bruhn, Corinne McAfee
and Brian Ettling

“A year and a half ago, Larry Lazar, Corinne McAfee, Johann Bruhn, and I gave a climate change presentation in Union, MO. It is a shame there was a few folks in the audience who refused to accept that climate change is real and thought acting to reduce the threat is too expensive. Well, this flood looks mighty expensive to me. My prayers tonight go out to the folks in Union MO and all of the folks dealing with this current flood.”

Let’s be clear. Climate change did not cause the heavy rains and floods in Missouri. Climate scientists and meteorologists will tell you that climate change makes extreme weather worst and more common.

As I talk about in my climate change classes, climate scientist Kevin Trenberth from the National Center for Atmospheric Research stated,

“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.

As the rivers rose high above flood stage in St. Louis, I kept thinking about the storm surge after Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey and New York City. No, climate scientists do not think climate change caused Superstorm Sandy. My friend, Scott Mandia, professor of Physical Sciences at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, New York, stated on his blog soon after the storm hit:

“One way that global warming made Sandy worse is because global warming is causing sea levels to rise. Sea levels have risen more than a foot in the New York City region since the Industrial Revolution. So what difference did this extra foot make for the citizens of New York City? Quite a lot. 6,000 more people impacted for each inch of rise!”

Scott then estimated that close to 71,000 New Yorkers and 30,551 more homes flooded during Superstorm Sandy because of sea level rise caused by climate change.

Superstorm Sandy. Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

During this recent flood, Meramec River at Arnold, Mo, not far from where I live, crested at more than 47 feet. This was a new record, breaking the old record high by 2 feet. Nearby Valley Park, MO crushed the previous record its Meramec River flood level from December 6, 1982 by about 4.4 feet. Eureka, Missouri crushed the previous Meramec record flood level from December 6, 1982 by just over 3 feet. As I heard these stats and recalled Superstorm Sandy, I thought: how many more houses and residents were impacted by this flood because of more intense rain due to climate change?

On December 30, 2015 my good friend, Larry Lazar from Eureka, Missouri posted an image from NBC News of downtown Eureka businesses and homes getting swallowed up by this flood. Larry posted this statement on Facebook, “Waters should crest later tonight. We are fine but all the devastation is heart wrenching.”

December 30th just happened to be a big day for my family. Weeks earlier, my Mom & Dad invited my in-laws (my wife Tanya’s mother, father, and brother) and Tanya and I over for a holiday dinner. Just three days before, Tanya and I had finally received our official photos from our November 1st wedding. We were eager to show them to my parents. All of us looked forward to recalling over dinner how much fun all of us had planning and celebrating the wedding in 2015.

My mother wanted me to come home from my in-laws early in the afternoon to help her clean and prepare for the dinner. I left my in-laws around 2 pm. It is normally a 30 minute drive from my in-laws to my parents house. Because I-44 was closed west of St. Louis as well as other state highway and local highway bridges due to the flood, drivers scrambled to find alternative routes to travel thru and leave the city. Traffic was a crawl on I-270. It took me over an hour and fifteen minutes to get home.

Once I reached home, I called my mother-in-law, Nancy to suggest an alternative route of surface streets, not I-270, to get to my parents’ house that evening to avoid that traffic. She took my advice. My in-laws and wife all met up to carpool together in West County around 5:30 pm. The plan was for them to arrive around 6 pm. My in-laws and Tanya did not arrive until after 7 pm. A normal 30 minute drive from my in-laws to my parents house took nearly one hour and a half. The gridlock from traffic due to the flooding made it very difficult for traffic to move through and around St. Louis.

Tanya called me several times to tell me how the traffic was moving at a snail’s pace. The very long delay in their arrival for dinner had me feeling concerned. I knew my in-laws and wife would make it to my parents house fine. However, the long traffic tie ups had me very worried about climate change.

Interstate 44 & Hwy 141, west of St. Louis. Image Source: news.yahoo.com

The flood waters had not peaked yet. During the Holiday week, a section of I-70 was shut down west of St. Louis in St. Charles CO for a couple of days. Floodwaters from the Meramec River forced the shutdown of I-44 for a 24-mile stretch for several days. Even more, flooding from the Meramec forced closure of a 3-mile stretch of I-55 south of St. Louis, tying up traffic for commuters and travelers on the eve of the new year.

Around 180 roads in Missouri were closed during the peak of the flooding. That day, my college friend, Brent Isaacs, was traveling through St. Louis from his home in Tulsa, OK to visit friends and family in Indianapolis, IN. I called Brent that day to warn him to have alternative routes ready, since a long stretch of I-44 was closed.

All of these traffic closures had me concerned. When was it going to end? Probably within a couple of days. What if it doesn’t? We would be screwed in St. Louis. We rely upon these interstate highways to delivery food to our grocery stores and gasoline to our gas stations. Furthermore, our railroad tracks, which parallels the flooded rivers, delivers the coal on trains for our power plants. St. Louis currently gets up to 84% of its electricity from coal.

To me, that seemed just a tiny taste of what climate disruption could bring to our very delicate and complicated egg shell that we live on top off called “civilization.” It reminded me of scientists say if we don’t act now to reduce the threat of climate change. According to Adam Frank, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester, “The danger (of drastic climate change) is not to the planet, but to our civilization on the planet.”

Dr. Richard Somerville, now retired Climate Scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, once stated, “The very elaborate infrastructure that has been put together: the damns, pumps, reservoirs, and canals, won’t work (with the increased chances of more extreme heat waves, droughts and floods) because they were designed for the climate we have had, not the one we are going to have.”

At the same time I was worried about the theoretical. My good friend and best man from my wedding, Larry Lazar from Eureka, MO, was dealing with the reality of the flooding. This is what he  wrote as a guest post on Greg Laden’s science blog:

“If you have had the news on the last day or two you may have seen stories and images about the Missouri floods. Many of those images are from Eureka (where we live)…

We are dry, mostly, and doing okay. The basement was flooded during the initial 3 day rain event due to a failed sump pump and a couple of downspouts that came unattached from the drain pipes during the heavy downfall. We fixed the drain spouts and had a new sump pump installed on Sunday and that stopped any more water from coming in. We are fortunate that we returned home on Saturday instead of Sunday or the water would have been much higher.

Unfortunately it doesn’t take much water to ruin carpet pads and drywall. We were able to get the carpets up and the pads out the back of the house without too much trouble. There are now 14 high powered and very noisy blowers and a super-sized dehumidifier running non-stop in the basement at a cost of $30 per day per machine (disaster capitalism is quite profitable). We are really hoping everything will be dried out by tomorrow as the noise from the basement can make television watching and conversation difficult.

We have learned a painful and expensive lesson about not having a sump pump rider on our home insurance. The rider would have covered damages from the failed pump. We also would have been covered if our dishwasher had overflowed but not from ground water. Fortunately we didn’t have any content damage so the only costs will be drying the place out and installing new pads under the salvaged carpets. Kellie thinks she is getting some new furniture out of the deal. I have no idea how less fortunate folks that have far more damage are going to get through this financially.

Downtown Eureka is a true disaster. The sand bagging effort was futile against the record water levels as most of the businesses downtown have water over their front doors. Our favorite Irish pub will be out of commission for a long time so now we have to go across the freeway to have a beer from the tap.

We have now had two 500 year floods in the last 20 years. The increasing frequency of these “500 year” (or more) type events really brings home what James Hansen wrote about in “Storms of my Grandchildren”. I’m pretty sure these frequency estimates will be a meaningless descriptor in the future. It will be interesting to see what the spring brings as the climate change fueled El Nino really kicks in.

All the roads out of Eureka are closed except for one and that one is a parking lot most of the time. Many subdivisions have been isolated for a couple days now. The river crested this evening around 6 so we should see water levels, and media coverage, receding starting tomorrow. We are looking forward to returning to some type of normalcy, and increased action on climate change, for the new year.

If you want to help please demand action on climate change by supporting a price on carbon that is being proposed by the non-partisan Citizen Climate Lobby. It is, by far, the most important thing you can do to reduce the risks of these types of events in the future.”

In another Facebook post, Larry summed up his flooding experience this way, “We are dry but many others are not. Climate Change sucks.”

My in-laws, my wife, and I may have been inconvenienced by the snarled traffic from the floods. However, our situation was so minor compared to what Larry and so many others in St. Louis. I still cannot imagine losing my home, business or loved one to that flood. The news reported that 24 people lost their lives in this 2015 Missouri flood.

On New Year’s Eve, December 31st, my wife, Tanya had the day off from work. Whenever we have spare time, Tanya and I love to go on long walks in nearby St. Louis area parks. Unfortunately, the most scenic and walkable St. Louis county parks are along bluffs and river plains. Almost all of our favorite parks, such as Castlewood State Park, where I proposed to Tanya just one year earlier, were buried under flood waters.

Castlewood State Park. Image Source: castlewoodmo.com

One park that was high enough to avoid the floods was Bee Tree Park in south St. Louis County. It will always have a special place in my heart since I had been going there since I was a child. I have vivid memories going there as a child on family outings, church picnics, high school band picnics, one of my first high school dates, etc. The good news was that it was open. The bad news was that traffic was a slow crawl to go there since it was the alternative route across the Meramec River since I-55 was closed.

Tanya and I drove around Oakville, the area where I grew up and went to high school to see the flooding. I remember lots of other floods in Oakville, but none of the previous ones were that high.

On New Year’s Day, Tanya and I wanted to spend the morning walking the path around Creve Coeur Lake County Park. As we drove towards it, Mother Nature basically told us, “No! You ain’t hiking there!” The lake lies in the Missouri River flood plain. The roads were closed and underwater for miles around it. Tanya and I did find a way to drive to the bluffs overlooking the lake.

It was stunning to see the path, parking lot and access road by it buried underwater and the lake swelled way above its normal shoreline. Tanya and I did enjoy our hike above the bluffs. However, it took much creativity and flexibility to fulfill our exercise walk.

For as we saw firsthand, experiencing a taste of climate change is no ‘walk in the park.’

This tiny taste of what climate change could like with the MO flooding with just traffic disruption certainly motivated me to step up my actions on climate change for 2016 and beyond. Thank goodness the rivers slowly returned to their banks during the month of January. Except for the flood victims, life is returning to normal in the St. Louis area.

Three weeks have now pasted since those menacing floods. One thought continues to annoy me. On Facebook,  I regularly see people accept climate science, yet they are so  pessimistic about climate change. It annoys me when they feel like there is nothing we can do to limit the worst aspects of global warming. Even more, they don’t trust the government, Republicans, elected officials or humanity to take action in time to reduce the threat.

To me, I think that is nothing more than a cope out and excuse to not take action. Future generations will judge us harshly if we hide behind excuses such as, ‘It was too hard so I gave up!’ ‘I did not think the government, politics, or people were going to change.’ ‘I did not know what to do.’ ‘I did not like the solutions that were proposed.’ ‘The fossil fuel industry was too strong.’ etc.

My friend, Claire Cohen Cortright just posted on her Facebook wall, “Cynicism is morally indefensible when the world depends upon our willingness to believe that our actions can make all the difference.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
Image Source: biography.com

I am writing this on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Recently, this quote from Dr. King has been speaking to me:

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Now is the time to take action. Getting a taste of climate change with the recent floods and gridlocked traffic did really scare me. There are millions of actions you can take to reduce the threat. You can join groups like Citizens’ Climate Lobby, 350.org, Beyond Coal, Avaaz.org, Climatemobilization.org, and others who are making a difference. You can do what you can to be energy efficient. As I have said for years in my speeches, It is Easy to be Green.

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.”

My mantra is “Think Globally, Act Daily.”

We simply cannot afford to see floods worse than I just experienced living in the St. Louis area during the 2015 Holiday Season.