A personal blog by Brian Ettling. This online journal shows my life's evolution as a climate change communicator and speaker. Along with millions of others with the same dream, I want to inspire Americans to fully act NOW to resolve climate change.
Below is the text from a speech I gave at St. Louis South County Toastmasters on Wednesday, January 4, 2017. The members of this Toastmasters Club for me as “The Best Speaker” for this speech.
Are you frustrated with the world and don’t what to do about it?
I highly recommend joining your local Toastmasters group. Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. But let’s face it: public speaking scares many people to death.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld famously joked, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Image Source: wikipedia.org
Mr. Toastmaster, my fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, let me tell you my story. Unlike most people, I am a bit of a ham.
For the past 19 years, I have been a seasonal park ranger in Everglades National Park, Florida and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. I loved every minute of standing in front of an audience, in these iconic places sharing about nature.
Ranger Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park
I even created my jokes as a park ranger, such as:
“What did one continental plate say to the other after the Earthquake?”
“It’s not my fault!”
I thought that was hilarious. Some of my fellow rangers even stole that joke from me.
As a ranger, I saw something that was not funny at all. Any guesses?
Ironically, one of I the things I quickly learned when I started giving ranger talks is that people expect park rangers to know everything, don’t you?
Around 18 years ago, I was giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park, Florida. Visitors started asking me about this global warming thing. Visitors hate when park rangers tell you, “I don’t know. ” As soon as I could, I rushed to the nearest Miami bookstore and library to read all I the scientific books I could find on climate change.
The mangrove coastline in Everglades National Park
I discovered sea level rise along our mangrove coastline in Everglades National Park. Sea level rose 8 inches in the 20th century, four times more than it had risen in previous centuries for the past three thousand years. Because of climate change, sea level is now expected to rise at least three feet in Everglades National Park by the end of the 21st century. The sea would swallow up most of the park and nearby Miami since the highest point of the park road less than three feet above sea level.
It really shocked me that crocodiles, alligators, and beautiful Flamingos I enjoyed seeing in the Everglades could all lose this ideal coastal habitat because of sea level rinse enhanced by climate change.
Wild Flamingos photographed in Florida Bay inside Everglades National Park. Image Source: Brian Ettling
Even worse, I learned that sea level rise could be a disaster for the millions of people living in south Florida. In the last couple of years, the evidence is mounting for what is now called ‘sunny day flooding.’ This is flooding from ocean water showing up on Miami streets during the highest tides or what’s called ‘king tides’ of the year.
National Geographic now projects up to a 6 sea level rise by the end of this century that could displace up to 13 million Americans who live in these coastal counties.
Image Source, “Americans in Danger From Rising Seas Could Triple,” nationalgeographic.com, March 14, 2016
I became so worried about climate change that I quit my winter job in Everglades National Park in 2008. Since then I spent my winters in hometown St. Louis to educate folks here about climate change.
This led me to join South County Toastmasters 6 years ago this month.
I joined Toastmasters not because I had a fear of public speaking. I had a deep fear about talking publicly about climate change. I was scared of people wanting to argue and angrily confront if they disagreed with me.
Let’s face it: many people consider climate change discussions as a downer.
Climate speaker Dan Miller observed in his TED talk: “Society conspires to suppress the discussion of climate change. As someone who talks about climate change a lot, I can vouch for this. For me, talking about climate change (can feel) like farting at a cocktail party.”
Nobody appreciates that!
Image Source: womenshealth.answers.com
My friends, if you scared to death to talk publicly about climate change, I advice you to join Toastmasters. You will joining a supportive community group that can help you learn how to engage and talk with people that strongly disagree with you.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Image Source: biography.com
In the past 6 years, I am really thankful for my fellow Toastmasters who strongly disagree with me about climate change. They have really helped become a more effective communicator. I know this because some of my fellow toastmasters have shifted in their thinking on climate change because of me.
Take our incoming club President Adam Kutell. If you go on YouTube, watch a speech I gave five years ago called, “The Debate is Over.” In the speech, I talked about how 97% of climate scientists agree current climate change is real and human caused. After the speech, I had a 5-minute question and answer period. Adam forcefully argued that he disagreed with me on the scientific agreement. Neither Adam nor I have backed down from our positions.
South County Toastmaster member Adam Kutell
Many climate advocates would never want to talk again with a person who disagreed with them so strongly. However, Adam came up to me afterwards and complemented me on my speech.
Three years later, I was preparing for a climate change Toastmasters speech. I contacted Adam for his advice. Adam generously met for coffee with me to practice the speech. That speech also called for a question and answer period from the audience.
I groaned to Adam: “Someone is probably going to say to me: ‘How you say that climate change is real when it was cold in St. Louis recently?’”
Adam responded: “You don’t have to worry about this because you already explained to us (in a previous speech) ‘weather is a snapshot, climate is a movie.’”
St. Louis Gateway Arch in winter
Weather is what is happening RIGHT NOW, OUTSIDE THE WINDOW. HERE IN ST. LOUIS AT 8:00 PM. Climate is LONG TERM, GLOBAL. HAPPENING OVER MANY DECADES AND CENTURIES.
Wow! Adam’s statement felt like a huge victory for me. Here was Adam who is still very dismissive of human caused climate change. He now gets this vital concept.
I am so appreciative of Adam and his partner Erin for their advice and friendship over the years in Toastmasters that I invited them to my wedding over a year ago.
Adam Kutell and Brian Ettling. Image Source: southcountytoastmasters.wordpress.com
For my friends looking to make a difference on climate change, joining Toastmasters is still the best tool I know. You will learn presentation skills, confidence, and build up your expertise. Even those who disagree with you will be very supportive and helpful. You will make professional speakers like Dan Miller proud you can speak about climate change effectively. You will not stink up the room like a fart struggling to explain it, and embarrass our club founder, Howard Brandt.
South County Toastmasters Club Founder Howard Brandt. Image Source: Brian Ettling
Best of all, You may overcome a fear of public speaking, which according to Jerry Seinfeld and many others can be a fate worse than death.
For inquiries into Toastmasters International, check out their website at toastmasters.org
Concerned about climate change but unsure how to speak out and engage folks in your community? Then I highly recommend joining a local Toastmasters International group in your community.
What is Toastmasters?
Toastmasters started over 100 years ago by Ralph Smedley, director of education at the YMCA in Bloomington, Illinois. Smedley wanted to help men in his community to learn how to speak, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees. He then organized a club where they could learn these skills in a social environment. He named the group the Toastmasters Club. The term “toastmaster” referred to a person who gave toasts at banquets and other occasions.
The first unofficial Toastmasters meeting was held on March 24, 1905. Smedley began working at the newly organized YMCA in Santa Ana, California, in 1922, and the first official Toastmasters meeting was held at that YMCA building on October 22, 1924. Since then,
Toastmasters now boasts having 332,000 memberships in 15,400 clubs in 135 countries to help their members improve their speaking and leadership skills.
If you attend a Toastmasters meeting, many people join saying, ‘My boss highly recommended that I join Toastmasters to improve my public speaking skills’ or ‘I have some big presentations coming up with my company so I really do want to learn how to become a better speaker.’
That was not the case with me. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love being in front of an audience as a park ranger and public speaker. I have led ranger talks in the national parks for almost 20 years, starting in Everglades National Park, Florida in January 1998 and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon in June 2006.
As I blogged previously, I became worried about climate change working as a ranger in Everglades National Park from 1998-2008. By the winter of 2007-08, I became so concerned about climate change that I gave up my winter seasonal job in the Everglades. I still worked my summer ranger job at Crater Lake Nat. Park, but I decided to spend my winters in St. Louis. I was determined speak out and educate folks in my hometown about climate change. However, when I return home for the winters, I was unsure how I was going to speak out on this issue. Thus, I decided to attend meetings and join my local South County Toastmasters Club in January 2011.
My experience joining Toastmasters
When I joined the local Toastmasters Club in January 2011, I stated that I wanted to become a professional climate change public speaker when I filled out my application. When you apply to become a member, you are briefly escorted out of the room by the Sargent in Arms Officer (just his or her club officer title. They are not actually armed). I could hear from the other room some members of the club laughing and snickering when the Club Secretary read my application. They seemed to think it was funny that I wanted to join to gain skills as a climate change public speaker.
I soon learned that many members of that Club are very politically conservative and doubtful of the science of climate change. In some ways, those club members are very reflective of the local community. South St. Louis County is a very white suburban middle class area with community residents that tend to be very conservative.
Brian Ettling speaking
at South County Toastmasters in 2011.
Thus, to chat with this group about climate change was going to be a steep uphill climb with this group. I did not care though because I love a good challenge. I was not going to make a difference on climate change if I only spoke with people that agreed with me, “preaching to the choir.” I needed to go to a place where I could actually possibly persuade and help move people in their beliefs on this issue. Thus, Toastmasters was going to be a great place for me to push myself out of my comfort zone.
On the other hand, Toastmasters International and my local club prided themselves on being a supportive and positive safe place for members to improve their public speaking and leadership skills.
The members were all very friendly when I first showed up as a guest to consider joining their club. Therefore, I also knew that my Toastmasters Club would be a supportive space for me to grow as a climate change public speaker.
My Toastmasters Icebreaker Speech
In February 2011, I gave my introductory speech to the club to share who I am. In Toastmasters jargon, they call this speech, “The Icebreaker.” The title of my speech was I’d rather be here than paradise, a small part of the speech is recorded on YouTube. In that speech, I talked about my years as a park ranger in Everglades National Park, Florida. I stated how I had the perfect job and loved it. I got to chat with visitors all day about nature while showing them amazing wildlife such as alligators, crocodiles, dolphins, manatees and various birds. I then gave up that ideal job in warm balmy sunny Florida to be cold and snowy St. Louis because of two words: climate change.
I then told the audience: “In November 2007, while I was still working in the Everglades, I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to the issue of climate change. Now I want to use my skills I gained as a public speaker as a park ranger to humorously educate and inspire people, like you, to take action to resolve climate change.”
I then closed the speech with “Fellow Missourian, Mark Twain once said, “You should live your life so fully, so that when you die even the undertaker will be sad.” For years, I had the dream to be a national park ranger. Now I am taking the courage to follow my dream to humorously educate people about climate change, starting in St. Louis. I appreciate you, fellow toastmasters and honored guests, allowing me to share my dream with you in my icebreaker here tonight.”
After the speech, I decided to hang out with my fellow Toastmasters at a nearby sports pub. I was exhausted from giving the speech, but I was stunned by their reaction. Some of them flat out told me they did not believe in global warming and they seemed offended that I would even mention that in my speech. One fellow Toastmaster, Dee, even confronted me with saying, “How do you really know that climate change is real?”
I was totally caught off guard by their negative reaction, but I was not going to let that stop me. Dee actually gave me the idea for my second toastmasters speech. I was going to give a responding speech of how I exactly know how climate change is real. Looks like some of the members of the group really wanted to challenge me on the science of climate change.
Dee asked me a great question: ‘How do I know for sure?’ I felt up for the challenge. Dee gave me all the motivation I needed to start working on my second speech.
My beginning failure and success giving climate change speeches to my Toastmasters group.
For my second speech in April 2011, I went straight at Dee’s question with my speech called, I am going to drop a Stinkbomb on you. I was quite nervous giving that speech. Even more, I had trouble with the slides advancing with using the club’s remote control. I also turned my back to the audience several times to look to see what was on the screen.
I did get helpful advice from my speech evaluator, Tom Terrific, to buy my own remote. He also suggested that I place my laptop in a way that I could use it as a teleprompter so I did not look have to turn to look at the screen so much. That was great advice on public speaking that I use to this day. I soon bought my own remote control that I love using and I do like using my laptop as a teleprompter for some of my climate talks.
Because of my struggles delivering this speech the club members did not vote for me for best speaker for this speech. However, they did vote for me as the Most Improved speaker as encouragement.
Since the stinkbomb speech as so serious and technical about climate change, I decided to go lighter for my next speech in May 2011. It was called “Time to Say Goodbye.”This speech was about saying goodbye to my temporary job at the St. Louis Science Center working at their temporary climate change exhibit, saying goodbye to my fellow Toastmasters as I was leaving St. Louis to return my summer seasonal ranger job at Crater Lake National Park, and my dream of saying goodbye to my ranger job so I could work full time on climate change communications and organizing.
This speech was very successful with the club members. They voted for me as “Best Speaker” and “Most Improved Speaker” at this toastmaster’s meeting. This felt like a big victory for me. It proved that I could giving a winning speech to a conservative group while mentioning my conviction that climate change is real and I must take action.
Successfully convincing my fellow Toastmasters that it is ‘Easy to be Green.’
After my second speech, a Toastmasters friend, Nilsa, informed me that my next speech had to be “more uplifting with solutions to climate change. You scared the hell out of us that WE ARE STINKING UP THE PLANET with your last speech.”
Thus, my next Toastmasters speech that I gave in November 2011 was my sequel or flip side to the Stinkbomb speech. It is much more upbeat and light. It was called It is Easy and Fun to Be Green. I am aiming for the undecided and deniers of climate change in my audience. I spoke to them in a language they understand: CASH! and not even mentioning the sensitive word of climate change.
With the help of Kermit the Frog from the Muppets, I talked about how ‘Green is Green: it saves you money to go (environmentally) green. I showed about how weatherizing your home can save lots of money. I spoke to my audience in a way they could relate resolving climate change. I sold them on how reducing your carbon footprint (without using that term) can save you cash (not to mention saving the planet).
As you can see from the YouTube video of the speech, the speech went fabulous. I had fun delivering the speech and the audience enjoyed listening to it. The other Toastmaster members voted me as the “Best Speaker” for the evening.
The oldest member of the club, Howard, who is a hardcore conservative and climate change contrarian, stopped me with a big smile afterwards. He is known in the for being very tight with money. Howard said, “Brian, I still don’t believe in global warming, but I loved your message about saving money tonight. As everyone knows, I am all in favor of that!”
That felt like like a big success to me that I had found a successful message on climate change that reached contrarians that did not offend them. On the contrary, they really seemed to like that message.
I learned a big lesson that night: if we could help persuade people to reduce their carbon footprint even if they still outright rejected the science of climate change, that is good enough for me. The planet wins and they win by saving money, even if they still hated the concept of global warming.
Brian Ettling winning his 4th Toastmasters speech,
with the help of Kermit the Frog
I was now on a roll winning two speeches in a roll. I thought was was getting this Toastmasters thing down pat. However my next two speeches proved harder to dazzle the audience.
Debunking this contrarian myth: Scientists are still in disagreement about climate change
My fifth speech in January 2012 was EXPAND YOUR PATRIOTISM. From my experience of working in nature and my passion about climate change, I wanted to inspire my fellow Toastmasters to think different about the world that surrounds them. So many of my fellow Toastmasters are so deeply patriotic for America. I hoped to broaden their thinking to be more patriotic for the planet. This speech did not move them very much and I was not voted as the Best Speaker.
My sixth speech in March 2012 was The Silence that Speaks to Us. I still am very proud of this speech. I am happy that I was able to record it for YouTube. My focus was inspire my fellow Toastmasters to reconnect with nature and the outdoors. With my passion for climate change, my deeper hope that maybe they would want to protect nature, the environment, and eventually our planet if they did spend enough time in nature.
The audience did not seem persuaded by this speech, so I did not win for this speech. I had now struck out twice in a row. I wondered where my magic touch was and I wanted to win another to get it back.
For my seventh speech in May 2012, The Debate is Over, I was determined to win for more than one reason. I was tired of my losing streak. More importantly though, I was tired of hearing this myth from my fellow Toastmasters: ‘Scientists still disagree that humans are causing climate change.’
I was determined to blow that myth out of the water with that speech. I put together the best powerpoint images I could find. I practiced this speech over and over with family. I practiced this speech with my mentor, Rob. He was very cautious about accepting human caused climate change. At the same time though, he was very supportive of my purpose with the Toastmasters group to improve as a climate change public speaker. He challenged me to do a 5 minute question and answer period with the audience. He felt like many folks in the group would want to respond with questions to challenge my assertion and I should give them an opportunity to do that.
As you can see from the above YouTube video, the sparks really did fly during the question and answer period. My fellow Toastmaster and friend, Adam, did not like my fact that 97% climate scientists accept human cause climate change. He countered that there are meteorologists and paleontologists who still disagree with human caused climate change. I then responded with a theoretical example within the Toastmasters culture to relate of how scientists have this strong scientific agreement on climate change.
That YouTube video shows that the question and answer did become quite contentious between Adam and me. After all that tension, Adam and the other Toastmasters did vote for me as the Best Speaker that night. This was even a bigger victory for me than the first two wins. It showed I could respond to dismissive questions on the spot and still win. It was even more wonderful to take away one of their favorite arguments that they were using against me at the meetings that scientists still in disagreement about climate change.
Debunking this contrarian myth: Scientists in the 1970s were predicting global cooling
My eighth speech was in January 2013, You Can See Clearly Now. For this speech, I wanted to debunk this myth I had heard from some of my fellow Toastmasters: ‘It is snowing or cold today, therefore global warming cannot be real.’ In the speech, I explained the difference between weather and climate. I then showed how climate change is loading the dice for warmer and more extreme weather, while showing there would still be some cold and snowy days.
I did not win Best Speaker for this speech. However, it still felt like a victory. I took away another weapon or myth the contrarians were using against me that cold and snowy weather disproves climate change.
For my ninth speech in April 2013, What Keeps Me Up Late at Night, I wanted to address the addiction to coal energy in the St. Louis area causing climate change. St. Louis currently gets up to 84% of its electric energy from coal. That is over twice the national average of utility energy produced by coal. As a result of this dirty energy, St. Louis has twice the national average of asthma for children, the poor, minorities, and seniors. Because of the dirty air, I was concerned about the health impacts on my family, especially my dad.
I did not win Best Speaker for this speech. It pleased me though that some of the members of the audience wanted to fill out the green cards I mentioned during the speech. Those cards were drafted by the Missouri Sierra Club. They were addressed to the St. Louis County Council. They asked the St. Louis County Council to request the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to require Ameren, the local electric utility which operates the nearly Meramec Coal Plant, to lower its sulfur dioxide emissions to levels that are safe for our families according to the Clean Air Act.
In this speech, I wanted to debunk this myth I had heard from years from some of my fellow Toastmasters: ‘In the 1970S climate scientists believed an ice age was coming!’ I wore a disco outfit to reminisce about the fun aspects of the 1970s. At the same time, I showed evidence that there was no scientific agreement in 1970s about a looming evidence. It was actually a minority of scientific papers.
As you can see from the above YouTube video the audience had a lot of fun hearing this speech and I had so much fun giving this speech. I was voted Best Speaker for this speech. Even more, it was fabulous to away another of their favorite argument myths that they were using against me at the meetings that scientists in the 1970s were proclaiming global cooling, not global warming.
This speech was an even bigger victory for me because I had completed my 10th speech in the Toastmasters Competent Communicator Manual. This now meant I qualified to be a Toastmasters Competent Communicator. A big achievement for a Toastmaster. (see picture at beginning of blog)
Debunking this contrarian myth: Earth has not warmed since 1998.
While I was relishing the victory of winning my 10th speech and becoming a Toastmasters Competent Communicator, I was cornered at the next meeting by Steve. He is one of the more hardcore contrarians in that Toastmasters Club.
At first he seemed a little shaken that I had debunked one of his favorite cherished myths. He looked like a kid that their parents had just taken away their security blanket. He said, “Brian, Wow! I had not heard before that there were so many scientists that accepted global warming in the 1970s.”
However, since I had blown apart one of his favorite myths, Steve instinctively felt like he had to hit me with another jab: “You know Brian that the Earth has not warmed up since 1998.”
I responded: “Steve, 2013, 2010, 2009 and 2005 were all hotter years than 1998. This decade so far and the 2000s where all hotter decades than the 1990s. Even more, most of the heat each year from burning fossils fuels ends up in the oceans. Therefore, you cannot say ‘The Earth has not warmed up since 1998.'”
Steve was stunned that I answered him back so fast. He was used to stumping people when he mentioned this. His face seemed in disbelief that I had such a quick response. He then sheepishly uttered, “Well, you have your sources. I have mine.’
It was then that the light bulb went off and Steve had just given me the idea for my next speech. It was time to slay the often heard myth that ‘Earth has not warmed since 1998.’
I had the perfect source to do this. Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, a top U.S. climate scientist, had this talk on TEDx called, Slaying the “zombies” of climate science. Dr. Shepherd is a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Georgia and director of the University’s Atmospheric Sciences Program. As the 2013 president of the American Meteorological Society, Shepherd is a leading international expert in weather, climate and atmospheric sciences.
In this video, Dr. Shepherd knocks down the “zombie theories” that hinder our discussions about climate change. He defines zombie theories as: “One of those theories that scientists have refuted or disproven time and time again, but they live on like zombies in the blogs and on the radio stations.”
I was able to track down Dr. Shepherd through a mutual friend and he generously gave me his slide deck from that presentation. Armed with his images and my own information that I had gathered, I put together my own speech for my Toastmasters group in November 2014, Slaying a Zombie Theory: ‘Earth has not warmed since 1998.‘
For this speech, I practiced it often for friends, including my fellow Toastmaster Adam, who is very critical of climate science. He advised me to play up even more the zombie theme. My zombie theme may have been too strong because some of my fellow Toastmasters felt like they were being accused of being zombies. That was not my intention. It was the discredited myths that too many people still believe were the zombies, not them. However, they did not see it that way. I was not voted as the best speaker for this speech.
From this YouTube video, you will see that I had a five minute question and answer period. I was caught off guard by a question from fellow Toastmaster Ginny. She asked about Mars also warming about the same rate as the Earth. I answered it the best I could on the spot. That is the thrill and frightening thing about a question and answer period. You never know what an audience is going to ask you, especially if they decide to play ‘let’s stump the speaker.’
The gift that I do love about question and answer periods is that it sparks me to do my own internet research. It gives me a great opportunity to have an answer ready next time that question is asked. I went to three credible sources afterwards, SkepticalScience, NASA and National Geographic to answer Ginny’s question in an e-mail. The conclusion of these articles indicated to me that evidence of Mars warming seems to be weak and not very well established.
In an e-mail to Ginny afterwards, I wrote that after reading my three sources, I concluded that “any warming on Mars is from an internal influence. It looks like the change in albedo (reflectivity of light primarily from ice, snow or clouds) was probably caused by a shift in the wobble of Mars’ rotation (this same shift triggers glacial and interglacial ages on Earth). It is not the sun or any external influence because solar irradiance (the output of light energy from the entire disk of the Sun, measured at the Earth) has decreased on Earth during the past 35 years. Therefore, any warming on Mars, would purely be coincidental and not related to current warming on Earth or other planets in our solar system.”
The second question I got from Ginny was “Why was last winter so freaking cold?” I was prepared in answering that question. I acknowledge that St. Louis had some record cold temperatures in the winter of 2012-13. However, much of the world had temperatures that winter that were well above their average, such as Siberia, China, Europe, Africa and Australia. I tried to explain to the audience that you have to look at climate change as global and long term, not just short term and in your neighborhood.
I ended my question and answer period with this analogy, “To look out your window and say ‘Man its snowing. Therefore climate change is not real’ is kind of like looking out at the horizon and saying ‘I can see the horizon. Therefore the earth is flat.'”
Oddly, my speech evaluator and other Toastmasters still thought I cheery picked and did not adequately answered the question. Thus, I did not seem to win over the audience with this speech. However, I still felt like I took away another one of their cherished myths that ‘the Earth has not warmed since 1998.’ Another argument they have not hit me with since then.
On a lighter note: Trying to sell Everglades Python Jerky to my fellow Toastmasters
Since my zombie speech seemed to trigger some strong negative reactions from some of the other Toastmasters, I decided to create a much lighter and more humorous speech for my 12th speech in January 2015. This speech project in the Toastmasters manual was called, The Effective Salesperson.
The objective of this speech was to learn a technique for selling an inexpensive product in a retail store and try to persuade the customer to buy that product.
In November 2014, a good friend and co-worker from Crater Lake, Dave Grimes, gave me Everglades python jerky as a gag gift. I had worked 16 years in the Florida Everglades. While working there, it was sad to witness introduced Burmese pythons out competing the native alligators. Even more, the pythons were eating endangered birds and wiping out other native animals, such as raccoons, rabbits, bobcats, and deer.
For fun, in this speech, I would try to persuade my fellow Toastmaster, Susan, try a sample and buy Everglades python jerky. I did not win Best Speaker for this speech. It probably because I was not able to successfully convince Susan to try or buy the python jerky. I did not bother me that I did not win. As you will see from this YouTube video, I had so much fun giving this speech and the audience really witnessing it.
It was fun to present a lighter and more humorous side of me to my fellow Toastmasters after my heavy hitting previous speech on climate change. Some of my fellow Toastmasters and I still laugh about that speech to this day, so it still seemed like a big success to me.
Successfully selling to my fellow conservative Toastmasters a revenue neutral carbon tax
After the python jerky speech, I next tried to sell my conservative Toastmaster friends on a carbon tax. After the Zombies Toastmasters climate change speech, a fellow Toasmaster, Jerry, told me that he felt helpless and unsure about climate change. He wanted to know “What can I do?”
He requested that I give a future speech with solutions that could relate to him. Thus, the speech I gave for Jerry and other concerned Toastmasters in the room was an upbeat speech called The Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax
This speech did connect with the conservative Toastmasters audience because they did vote for me as the Best Speaker for this speech.
Successfully reaching my doubtful Toastmaster friend Adam on one aspect of climate change.
After the carbon tax speech, I wanted to address a question that my friend Adam, who is very doubtful of human caused climate change, posed to me. He wanted me to answer this question in a Toastmasters speech: “How can climate scientists possibly know what is going to happen in the future?”
I thought that was a very fair and good question that I should address during the speech. Like all great questions, it forced me to answer that question for myself: How can anyone, especially climate scientists, possibly know what is going to happen in the future? All of us can think of times in the past when humans were wrong.
Since Adam and I had heated disagreements about climate change in the past, I was determined to get him on my side for this speech. Thus, I met with him at coffee shop to show him the powerpoint and the draft of this speech. Adam had a lot of great suggestions for me for this speech to help reach him and other conservative Toastmasters.
This speech also called for a question and answer period. When I was practicing my speech with Adam, I remarked: “Someone is probably going to say to me: ‘How you say that climate change is real when it was cold in St. Louis recently?'”
Adam responded: “You don’t have to worry about this because you already explained to us (in a previous speech) that weather is a snapshot, climate is a movie.”
Wow! I was stunned by Adam’s statement because it looked I had helped move him a little in my climate change speeches. This felt like a huge accomplishment for me. Here was Adam who is still very dismissive of human caused climate change on many levels showing me that I had reached him in one of my speeches.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”
On most political issues, Adam and I still don’t agree. However, I have come to see him as a friend and ally in the Toastmasters group. When others members have verbally attacked me for my passion on climate change, Adam has come to my defense.
That is the great thing about Toastmasters that I recommend other climate change advocates join. It is a community support group to help people improve their public speaking and leadership skills. Thus, some members may get personally offended if someone joins looking to improve their skills and confidence as a climate change advocate or a progressive organizer. However, the group as a whole will be very supportive. Even more, you will even get conservatives who will rush to your defense to support your goals in Toastmasters, even if they are completely opposed to your politics.
This is how we make progress on issues of climate change and other social justice or political issues. We engage our community members. Some will despise our message, other unlikely allies will rise to our defense. This is heavy lifting. It is not easy. It is not for everyone, but this is how we progress on issues that we can are about, such as equality, reducing violence, reducing pollution, etc. We won’t solve these problems by just staying home or Facebooking those who just agree with us. We engage our opposition.
After seeking Adam’s advice and input, I gave this speech to my Toastmasters Club in March 2015. The speech was called, Addressing the Opposition: “How can climate scientists predict the future?” Adam was in the audience and I let Adam ask the first question. Unlike previous question and answer sessions after one my speeches, Adam was not hostile this time. He helped me craft it. How could he be hostile to something he helped create?
Even more, I asked Adam to keep his questions short and he totally kept his word on this. He had a short question, instead of a long laundry list why I am wrong and he is correct.
Adam asked the question: “My concern is that all of us know the difference between a chiropractor and a medical doctor in that lot of us don’t trust chiropractors and we think of them as quacks. They are less than a mature practice like medical doctors. And I would say the same thing about climatologists versus meteorologists. Why would we trust climatologists when a more mature science like meteorology when there is a lot less of a belief that climate change is human caused in the meteorology world?”
I thought this was an excellent question by Adam because much of the general public is confused about the difference of climatology versus meteorology. Thus, I answered Adam’s question by trying to walk through the history of climate science starting with Joseph Fourier in 1824 discovering the greenhouse effect, John Tyndall in 1859 discovering H2O and CO2 absorb infrared which confirmed Fourier’s greenhouse effect and Svante Arrhenius proposing in 1896 that human CO2 emissions would prevent earth from entering next ice age. My argument was the the science of climatology was just as old as the science of climatology.
Adam actually seemed happy with my answer and he had no other questions for me. One other Toastmaster, Jason, had a question about volcanoes contributing to climate change. I thought it was an easy question to answer. This was by far the easiest question and answer period I had faced with my Toastmasters. They really seemed to like this speech. They voted for me as Best Speaker for this speech.
This speech felt like a big victory to get my friend and climate doubter, on my side for this speech.
Responding to other climate change contrarian myths from some of my fellow Toastmasters
Since that Addressing the Opposition speech in March 2015, I have given three more Toastmaster speeches trying to respond to arguments from dismissive and doubtful Toastmasters in my club why they cannot accept climate change.
1. For over a year, my Toastmaster friend Jim was asking me: ‘What can I do to get you to ‘see the light’ to change your mind about climate change?’
Even if I did not win Best Speaker on that night, I was still very proud of this speech. I laid out the case how I had seen climate change as a park ranger working in Everglades National Park. I showed the evidence of sea level rise, increased carbon dioxide in the air supply and more extreme weather events impacting our St. Louis area. I then challenged the audience to meet with climate scientists to try to convince them they are wrong about climate change.
When they start changing scientific minds, then I will change my mind. It was great to deflate another contrarian argument about the high standard they will have to cross to change my mind about climate change.
2. In April 2016, I gave a press conference speech, where the audience could ask me questions. For this speech, I wanted to address this argument: ‘I don’t see this dysfunctional and partisan Congress ever taking bipartisan action to address climate change.’
I pretended to be a spokesperson for Citizens’ Climate Lobby holding a press conference after the bad news that the Supreme Court put a stay on President Obama’s EPA Clean Power Plan. I highlighted that Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend is the best path forward for Congress. Even more, there is movement among Republicans in Congress, specifically the Gibson Resolution and the House Climate Solutions Caucus, to start addressing solutions to climate change. I then took questions from the audience for 5 minutes.
My Toastmaster friend Erin asked me this question during the question answer session: “How do you forsee the dividend program continuing when the projection is that fossil fuel usage will decrease? As a result one could see that there would be less money to return to households and eventually it would not be able to sustain the increased costs of fuels.”
Fellow Toastmaster Jim then asked me: “I understand you clearly said that this is a market driven solution and not government regulations. My interpretation is that it is not market based. It is not the free enterprise. Corporations are not going to freely volunteer do this. It will only happen with major rigid government controls. Can you please explain that?”
These were both excellent and challenging questions that I really had to think on my feet to answer. I gave detailed answers of my actual answer and the response I would have liked to have given in this previous blog.
I did not win for this speech. Most likely, it was because I struggled answering Erin’s question. However, I love and fear the high wire act of answering questions about climate change on the spot.
3. My most recent speech was in April 2016. In this speech, I really wanted debunk this argument I had heard over the years from some of my fellow Toastmasters: “We should not take any action on climate change until China cleans up its pollution.”
During this speech, I showed that China is investing a lot more money in renewal energy. I did acknowledge the elephant in the room that China has a serious problem with pollution. However, the evidence coming out of China is that they are starting to take steps to address it, such a early signs that they are starting to reduce their coal use.
I then warned my audience that with all of the Chinese investments in renewable energy, the U.S. runs the risk of really falling behind China in the race for renewable energy. I then ended the speech by repeating the title: Hey U.S.A! Let’s win the Clean Energy Race!
I am still really proud of this speech. I was able to deflate another climate argument. Best of all, this speech did seem to really connect with the audience. My fellow Toastmasters voted for me as the Best Speaker for this speech.
The climate change questions my Toastmasters Club has helped me learn to answer
As a climate change communicator and public speaker, my involvement in South County Toastmasters has been a huge benefit for me. The conservative members with their very tough, challenging, and pointed questions has enable me to discover answers to these questions:
The final question I have not yet addressed in a Toastmasters speech. However, I heard that statement frequently enough that I got to ask that question to Al Gore directly when I met in in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in May 2013. In e-mails and on social media, I did share Al Gore’s response to my Toastmaster friends.
Since becoming a Toastmaster in January 2011, I have given 19 speeches. I am now one speech away from achieving the Toastmaster level of Advanced Communicator Bronze. I have have the thrill of winning Best Speaker 7 times and winning Most Improved twice. On the lighter side, I have also entertained my fellow Toastmasters by being The Jokemaster on more than one occasion.
It has been an amazing adventure so being a Toastmaster so far, but I don’t plan on giving it up anytime soon.
Along this journey, I want to thank my fellow Toastmasters who have been so kind and helpful to me, even with their very challenging questions at times:
My mentor Rob Van Winkle, Tom Terrific, Adam Kutell, Erin Gissell, Susan McConnell, Nilsa Scott, Dee McAliney, Steve Winheim, Jerry Paul, my mentee Rich Puskarich, Kathy Denton, Steve Flick, Dave Domian, Brent Stewart, Ginny Foster, Adam Jackson, Dean Boone, Jack Bettag, Judy Sowers, Howard Brandt, Carl Hendrickson, Jason Murphey, Alan Kirby, and many others.
I first attended at Climate Reality Training in August 21-23, 2012 in San Francisco, California to be trained as a Climate Reality Leader to give climate change talks. I then attended Climate Reality Trainings as a mentor in Chicago July 29-August 1, 2013 and in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in May 5-7, 2015. For me, these trainings feel like “rocket fuel,” propelling me to new heights to take more action on climate change. Thus, I highly recommend attending if you can.
Getting inspiration from Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth
July 4, 2006, (ten years ago!) a friend and I drove down to the Varsity Theatre in Ashland, Oregon to see An Inconvenient Truth. I had a deep admiration for former Vice President Al Gore for many years. I was intrigued by his 1988 Presidential campaign, which he ran in part to bring attend to environmental issues, especially climate change. I was impressed when Presidential candidate Bill Clinton picked Al Gore to be his running mate for the 1992 Presidential campaign. At the time, I still considered myself to be a conservative Republican leaning voter. I was not sure about Bill Clinton at that time, so I voted for Ross Perot in that election.
Even when I was a Republican in the late 1980s and early 90s, I still cared deeply about environmental issues. After I started working in the national parks in 1992, I was inspired to read all I could about ecology and environmental issues. While working in Everglades National Park in January 1993, I decided to read Al Gore’s book that he had written a few years before as a U.S. Senator, Earth in the Balance. The information in the book how humans are deeply impacting the planet had a profound influence on me. I remember thinking at the time: “I may be a Republican, but thank goodness Al Gore is our Vice President.”
In 1996, I voted for the re-election for President Bill Clinton largely because of Al Gore’s strong commitment to environmental issues. For years afterwards, I could not wait for Al Gore to run for President in 2000. At the time, I was working in the Florida Everglades. Needless to say, I was very crushed and depressed when Gore’s campaign fell short by just 537 votes in Florida.
Since 2000, I did keep tabs of Al Gore in the media, hoping he would run for President again in 2004. I was disappointed that was not meant to be either. However, in the spring of 2006, I was reading good buzz from the print media about this new documentary about Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth. My friend and I were blown away when we saw the documentary in Ashland, Oregon. It sparked a deeper interest in me to learn even more about climate change. I also bought the companion book from the film and rushed to get the DVD when it came out that winter.
Staring at me while I was watching the credits of the film, was the announcement to get involved www.climatecrisis.net.
I don’t recall ever clicking on that website since I did not own a computer and I had limited access to the internet at that time. Other viewers of the film did and they learned about trainings that Al Gore gave starting in 2007 to teach people how to give his slide show.
A couple of years later, my friend Amelia encouraged me to apply to be a Climate Reality Leader to be trained by Al Gore. For whatever reason unbeknown to me now, I did not think I would be qualified or worthy to apply for those trainings led by Al Gore. Looking back now, I sure wish I had applied for his training years ago. I hate to think that I could now be how much further along I would be on my path as a climate change communicator.
Gaining the courage to apply to be a Climate Reality Leader
By 2011, I finally got frustrated with myself with my timidness for being too shy to act or speak out on climate change. While working that summer as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, I created a new campfire ranger evening program on climate change called, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Ranger Brian Ettling giving his climate change
evening campfire program at Crater Lake National Park
For years, I was too afraid to speak up about climate change. I was scared of people wanting to argue and debate with me about the science. I was worried about getting shouted down or booed during my ranger talks, if I brought up the subject. It turns out that I could not have been more wrong. The national park audiences were very receptive and supportive of my talk. This gave me the courage to be even more brave, to step out even more on a limb and speak up about climate change.
During 2011, I finally decided to live by one of my favorite quotes:
“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” – Maggie Kuhn
During the summer of 2011, I googled the Climate Reality Project. I noticed Carolyn Treadway, a Climate Reality Leader in the Bloomington-Normal, Illinois area, was featured on their website. I then googled her and got an e-mail address and phone number for her business. I called her phone and sent an e-mail trying to reach out to her. Carolyn and I did chat by phone and I expressed my eagerness to be a Climate Reality Leader. Carolyn then generously contacted the Climate Reality Project to put in a good word for me to be trained as a Climate Reality Leader. At the time, there was no upcoming trainings in 2011, but Carolyn helped put me on the radar for the organization.
Brian Ettling with Climate Reality Leader Carolyn Treadway
December 4-9 2011, I was in San Francisco attending the Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference, one of the largest annual scientific conferences in the world. I was there to learn all I could about climate change by attending lectures by the world top climate scientists. On that Sunday evening December 4th, I was invited to attend a Holiday party hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists. At that party, I struck up a conversation with Dr. Peter Joseph, a retired physician who had a deep interest in climate change like me.
I quickly learned that Dr. Joseph was a Climate Reality Project Leader. We exchanged business cards and I asked Dr. Joseph to put in a good word for me if he got word of an upcoming Climate Reality Training. That February, Peter did give me let me know about about an upcoming Climate Reality training that August in San Francisco. He did encourage me to apply. Even more, like Carolyn, Peter put in a good word for me with the organization so I would be selected.
Climate Reality Leader Dr. Peter Joseph with Brian Ettling
In late June, thanks to Carolyn and Peter’s lobbying on my behalf, I was selected to attend the Climate Reality Training in San Francisco. This was nearly one year after I had boldly decided it was time for me to get involved with Climate Reality and learn how to give Al Gore’s climate change talks.
The valuable tools and inspiration I gained by attending the Climate Reality Trainings
As I mentioned above, I gained so much knowledge, helpful communication tools and inspiration from attending these trainings.
1. I personally met many Facebook friends who are passionate about acting on climate change like me, like Dr. Peter Joseph, Carolyn Treadway and so many others. At the San Francisco conference, close to 1,000 people attended. It was a huge boost to see that I was not alone in my concern about climate change and my longing to take action. Many other people felt the same way I do.
2. The training provided great tips to share your story about climate change. One of the most notable speakers I remember was Andy Goodman, a nationally recognized author, speaker and consultant on storytelling, presenting, and strategic communications. He advised us to get comfortable sharing your story about climate in order to persuade people to take action. His advice:
“Even if you have reams of evidence on your side, remember: numbers numb, jargon jars, and nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. If you want to connect with your audience, tell them a story.”
3. The trainings are an outstanding experience to be in the same room with former Vice President Al Gore. He shares his latest climate change talk. Even more, he spends a whole day at the training breaking down his slide show to share how to explain the science and solutions of climate change to an audience. During that day long session, Al Gore shares the stage with Dr. Henry Pollack, emeritus professor of geophysics at the University of Michigan, to make sure the science of climate change is explained accurately.
In my experience of seeing Al Gore in person for the three trainings I attended, I observed Al Gore to be an excellent communicator on climate change. Even more, I found him to be a very engaging, educational, and entertaining speaker. He seemed to really understand the science, problem and solutions of climate change and, most importantly, how to relate the issue to an audience.
To see for yourself, watch this TED talk Al Gore gave earlier in 2016:
The knowledge I gained about climate change was very helpful for putting together my own climate change presentations. Since attending the 2012 San Francisco training, I estimate have given around 100 climate change talks as a park ranger, Toastmaster, and public speaker. Al Gore’s information has been very especially beneficial the continuing adult ed classes I taught on climate change at St. Louis Community College since August 2012. I even blogged about this in December 2015:
4. The training is a way you can help others become more effective taking action to reduce the threat of climate change. At the 2012 training in San Francisco, I met Dr. Lucas Sabalka. His name tag stated he was from St. Louis. At the time, he was a Assistant Professor of mathematics at Saint Louis University. When I saw Lucas was from St. Louis, I encouraged him to get involved with the St. Louis group of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). When Lucas returned to St. Louis, he immediately attended attended the local St. Louis CCL group meeting. In June 2013, Lucas attended the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference and Lobby Day in Washington D.C. At that conference, he personally lobbied the offices of his members of Congress to take action on climate change by supporting Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend. Even more, Lucas has continued to be an active volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby to this day.
Climate Reality Leaders Lucas Sabalka and Brian Ettling
In the summer of 2013, Lucas and his wife moved back to their home state of Nebraska. He is now active with the CCL group in Lincoln, Nebraska. On June 30, 2916, Lucas wrote this opinion editorial for the Lincoln Journal Star: Local View: An issue to unite us.
During the winter of 2012-13, Lucas and I worked closely together giving multiple climate change presentations, along with fellow Climate Reality Leader, Larry Lazar, who also trained with us in San Francisco. Larry actually organized and booked the climate change speaking events. The three of us had fun practicing these talks days before we gave them to live audiences of up to 70 people around the St Louis area.
Climate Reality Leaders Larry Lazar, Lucas Sabalka and Brian Ettling
Even more, Lucas also pushed and challenged me to step out of my comfort zone to write an opinion editorial (op-ed) for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Saturday, April 6, 2013 at the monthly CCL meeting. I immediately took up his challenge, wrote out the op-ed and submitted it to the Post-Dispatch that night. The Post-Dispatch published this op-ed on April 19, 2013, close to Earth Day: For Earth Day, a GOP free-market solution to climate change.
Since then, I have written 17 op-eds published: 5 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and 12 in Oregon newspapers.
Meeting Lucas at the 2012 San Francisco Training was a very fortunate for me to become a better climate change public speaker and writer. Thank goodness I attended that training for just meeting Lucas.
5. At the May 2015 Cedar Rapids Training, I got to personally meet Al Gore. At one of the mentor meetings during the conference, Al Gore met with our group. I asked him the tough question that people have been throwing at me for years:
“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?”
Even more, I got to get my picture with former Vice President Gore as we were getting ready to board the same plane at the airport at the conclusion of the conference. The man was clearly exhausted spending three full days leading the training. However, he could not have been more gracious and generous when I asked him if I could get my picture with him.
With my huge admiration for Al Gore with reading his book Earth in the Balance in 1993, supporting his Presidential candidacy as a Florida Voter in 2000, getting blown away by An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, remembering my excitement watching TV when An Inconvenient Truth won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 2006 and Al Gore stood as part of the team on stage to accept it, hearing on the radio that Al Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and seeing Al Gore in person from the previous Climate Reality Project Trainings, it was a dream beyond belief to meet Al Gore, shake his hand, chat with him and get my picture taken with him.
As you can see, becoming a Climate Reality Leader did have a huge impact on my life. I know it can do the same for you. Do consider and do everything you can to apply to attend the Climate Reality Training in Houston, Texas on August 16-18, 2016.
Hope to see you there!
P.S. If your cannot make it Houston for the August Training, keep an eye out for another domestic United States Climate Reality that maybe happening later on in 2016.
Below is the text of my speech for South County Toastmasters delivered on April 5, 2016.
Question: Guess which country invested the most money in renewable energy, primarily solar and wind, in 2015?
According to a Bloomberg News article from January 2016, in 2015 ‘China was the biggest market for renewables, increasing investment 17 percent to $110.5 billion. That’s almost double the $56 billion invested in the U.S. By the way, all of Europe invested $58.5 billion.
One area where the competition between the U.S. and China is fierce is wind power. The non-partisan scientific news website, ClimateCentral.org, had this headline from March 2016, China, U.S. Lead Global Boom in Wind Power.
This article reported, “China built more wind turbines than any other country in 2015, adding 30,500 megawatts of wind power capacity last year, a roughly 22 percent increase over 2014. China surpassed the European Union last year in wind power production capacity after having built enough wind farms by the end of 2014 to potentially power 110 million Chinese homes.”
As of right now, the United States is ahead of China total amount of electricity currently produced by wind. In 2015, U.S. generated 190 million megawatt-hours of wind power, powering about 17.5 million homes. China clocked in at 185.1 megawatt hours. However, with all of its new installations, China could blow past the U.S. this year with total electricity produced by wind. No pun intended!
Image from Brian Ettling taken just outside Great Basin National Park in May 2012.
The article states “China has emerged as the world’s largest market for solar panels.”
It then notes, “China has long been the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels…But now China is buying a lot of its own panels, helping give the country dominance in the global solar economy.”
Image from Brian Ettling of solar panels behind the Cold Strings Station Motel,
RV Park and General Store, Cold Springs, Nevada. May 2012
In March 2014, Investment banking giant Citigroup, released a report titled, “The Age of Renewables is Beginning.” This is because of the explosive growth that has been happening for years with solar and wind energy.
We are now in the Age of Renewables and China has every intention of winning this race.
Yet, within the United States, you will often hear this argument:
We should not take any action on climate change until China cleans up its pollution.
That argument reminds me of this joke. One morning, a mother is cooking breakfast for her two sons. The kids are very hungry and impatient. One boy yells out, “I want the first pancakes!”
The other responds, “No, I do!”
This argument continues on until the mother has had enough of this fighting. She calmly says, “Boys, if Jesus was here, he would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancakes.”
The older brother then glares at his brother and shouts, “You be Jesus!”
Image from Brian Ettling of his nephews Andrew and Sam.
China Daily, the widest print English-language circulation newspaper in China, had this editorial in February 2014, “[The government’s] inaction in the face of the heaviest air pollution in a month flies in face of their own promises and their own credibility.”
“Green and sustainable development represents the trend of our times.”
With all of their investments in renewable energy that I mentioned in the beginning of my talk, China intends to beat us. As Americans, we should be very concerned. How concerned should we be?
Brian Ettling with former South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis. January 2014
In November, 2010, my friend, conservative Republican South Carolina Representative Bob Inglis had these blunt words for his fellow conservative Republicans in Congress in one his last speeches in Congress:
“I would also suggest to my Free Enterprise colleagues — especially conservatives here — whether you think (climate change) all a bunch of hooey…the Chinese don’t. And they plan on eating our lunch in this next century.
They plan on innovating around these problems, and selling to us, and the rest of the world, the technology that’ll lead the 21st century. So we may just press the pause button here for several years, but China is pressing the fast-forward button.
As a result, we may wake up in several years and say, ‘Geez, this didn’t work out very well for us.’”
Sufflolk County Community College Professor Scott Mandia with Brian Ettling, August 2012.
As Americans who love our country and want to be #1 in the world, let’s not let that happen. As my friend, Scott Mandia, professor of meteorology at Suffolk County Community College in New York, explains, in his climate change talks:
“America is great because when we are faced with a challenge and especially with a threat, we collectively take action and we usually do quite well. The energy revolution is akin to the Internet revolution. I want America to take the lead. If we do, we create jobs, we sell products to China instead of buying them, we have cleaner air and water, greater national security, and energy savings put money directly into our pockets.
Imagine it is the Olympics and the event is the Clean Energy Race. The US track team has always won the big events before and appears to be in the best shape to win again.
However, after the starting gun has fired, the American runner is just jogging while China, India, and others are sprinting. Don’t you want the American to win? There is still time for her to step it up but the window of opportunity is getting shorter every year because she is falling farther and farther behind.”
As Scott likes to ask his audience: Which you rather have, China selling renewable energy technology to the United States, or the U.S. selling clean energy technology to China?”
Brian Ettling in front of the U.S. Capitol getting ready to lobby
Congressional Offices on November 17, 2015.
Below is my speech text that I gave at St. Louis South County Toastmasters on March 30, 2016. My speech text is a short summary of the February 16, 2016 Citizens’ Climate Lobby media packet: Supreme Court stay on the Clean Power Plan.
This speech had a total time limit of 11 minutes. I had a 6 minute prepared speech, which is the first half of this blog. I then had a 5 minute question and answer period. I will then cover the questions and how I answered in the second part of the blog.
The title: Our plan for a healthy planet IS gaining traction with Congress
Good evening, volunteers of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and all of you here.
Today, I want to report on 3 things:
The recent bad news, our next step forward, and then good news.
First, Let me share the background information:
December 2015 in Paris, 195 nations agreed to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. This goal was based on the broad understanding that exceeding 3.6 F would result in nasty consequences such as sea level rise, food shortages, worsening storms, and extreme heat waves likely to outpace our civilization’s ability to adapt.
President Obama went to Paris promising that the United States would reduce carbon emissions up to 28 percent by the year 2025. He confidently made that pledge because of a new Environmental Protection Agency regulation, known as the Clean Power Plan. It aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at new and existing electric power plants. A strong commitment from the U.S. was essential to getting other nations to make pledges of their own.
Image from Brian Ettling from November 2010. Navajo Generating Station, coal electric plant.
located near Page, Arizona. It’s considered to be the 3rd largest emitter of CO2 in the U.S..
Now, the Bad News.
February 9, 2016, U.S. Supreme Court voted, in a 5 to 4 ruling, to delay the implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan until legal challenges are resolved.
Just how disastrous is the Supreme Court’s recent ruling?
Worse than you realize.
Court decision raises uncertainty
The U.S. Paris climate commitment was based on President Obama’s executive action. Unfortunately, it is now facing aggressive challenges in U.S. courts. This Supreme Court stay raises international doubts if the U.S. can now meet its obligations. People worldwide may worry if this regulation will eventually be upheld.
Image from Brian Ettling of the U.S. Supreme Court Building. November 2015.
With this disappointing Supreme Court action, this leads to my second point…
2. Our legislative solution is the best step forward.
What is the meaning of that ruling for us today?
• The court “stayed,” did not overrule, the Clean Power Plan.
• It is a temporary stay or hold.
• It highlights the weakness of addressing climate change through executive action.
• The Supreme Court could knock this executive action down.
• Even if the Court upholds the plan, a future U.S. President could cancel it.
• The best and most permanent solution is Congressional action, which will last across presidencies.
• This underscores the importance of our work for Congress to pass our proposal. It is market-based approach favored by economists on both the left and the right.
Image from Brian Ettling of U.S. Capitol Building, October 2010.
– This fee starts at $15 per ton of fossil CO2 emitted.
– It is placed at the source, coal mines ,oil wells, and U.S. border.
– It increases each year by $10.
– Clean energy is cheaper than fossil fuels within a decade.
– All of the money collected is returned to equally American households on an equal basis.
– Under this plan, 66 percent of all households would break even or receive more in their dividend check than they would pay for the increased cost of energy. This protects the poor and middle class.
– A predictably increasing carbon price will send a clear market signal, for entrepreneurs and investors to fully invest in the new clean-energy economy.
This is a market-based solution.
Image from Brian Ettling of solar panels behind the Cold Strings Station Motel,
RV Park and General Store, Cold Springs, Nevada. May 2012
A 2014 study from Regional Economic Models, Inc., (REMI) found our policy would achieve within 20 years a 52 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and add 2.8 million jobs. In 20 years, the dividend checks would also increase household incomes for a family of four up to close to $400 a month or $4800 a year, which would more than cover the increasing fuel costs.
Sounds great, you may be thinking, but what are the chances that this dysfunctional and partisan Congress will take bipartisan action to address climate change?
Actually, there is more hope than you might think.
3. The Good News: the progress happening with Congress
1. In September 2015, GOP Rep. Chris Gibson from New York introduced House Resolution 424. This resolution states that climate change could have a negative impact on our nation and that Congress should start working on solutions.
It is now cosponsored by 12 other Republicans.
With this bad news and good news, here is our take home message for you today:
The Supreme Court’s decision to delay the Clean Power Plan exposes the folly of relying solely on executive action to solve the most critical problem facing our civilization. As more Republicans express a willingness to come to the table, Congress must pass our Carbon Fee & Dividend proposal.
Our solution can bridge the huge partisan divide.
At this point, I will take questions from the audience for the next 5 minutes.
Image of Brian Ettling with his t-shirt promoting Citizens’ Climate Lobby, May 2015.
(As soon as I can upload the images from my speech into the video, I will then post my video on YouTube with a link here)
I will share below the questions I received from the audience and my attempts to answer the questions.
1. How do I forsee the dividend program continuing when the projection is that fossil fuel usage will decrease? As a result one could see that there would be less money to return to households and eventually it would not be able to sustain the increased costs of fuels.
The was a question asked by my fellow Toastmaster, Erin. While I did spend hours trying to anticipate questions that would be asked of me, I will now admit that I was stumped by this question.
Here is how I tried to answer the question on the spot:
“According to the 2014 REMI study, the dividend keeps going up.”
Since I was stumped, I tried to ask Erin if she meant if the costs of fossil fuels would be higher than the dividend at the end of 20 years.
Erin responded, “If our goal is to move away from fossil fuels and as we use less and less fossil fuels, there would be less money for the dividend.”
“That is a great question. My understanding from the REMI report is showing is that the revenue for the dividend would keep increasing. As the costs of fossil fuels would keep increasing, it would more than cover the costs. I can always get back to you on that.”
Erin still wanted to press me on the point that we would be using less and less fossil fuels. I responded ‘That is the goal to keep using less and less fossil fuels and emitting less and less carbon dioxide. At that point we will have won and the economy will have switched over to nearly 100% clean energy.’ I then reiterated my point that the dividend would more than cover the costs and I promised to get back to her on that.
Erin still wanted to keep pressing me on this. She was still convinced that the increased carbon taxes and the diminishing use of fossil fuels would cause the dividend checks to get smaller. Therefore, it would not cover the increasing costs.
I tried to respond by saying that “We would be using less and less fossil fuels and it would be covered under the fee, if that makes sense.”
Erin then argued that ‘The fee will eventually go away because we will no longer be able to pay out the dividend.’
I then tried to explain that ‘by that time we will have switched to the clean energy economy and we will no longer have to pay out the dividend.’
Fellow Toastmaster Adam then jumped into the conversation saying, ‘By then, the dividend will be diminished and there will not be enough money to cover the fee.’
At that point, a guest visiting the club then spoke out to defend the carbon fee and dividend. It was hard for me to hear his opinion because he turned his back to me to address Erin and Adam.
To regain control of the question and answer period, I then pivoted to the next Toastmaster who had a question for me.
Image of Brian Ettling during his March 30, 2016 Toastmasters Speech
The response I would like to have given:
This was an excellent question from Erin. Since I am not an economist and I do not run economic models for a living, I felt out of my league trying to answer that question. Thus, I did e-mail Scott Nystrom, Senior Economic Associate at REMI, who was the lead author of the study, for a response. If I do not hear back from Scott, I will make sure to ask staff with Citizens’ Climate Lobby more familiar with the details of the 2014 REMI study how they would have responded.
Since I have been a member of South County Toastmasters for the past five years, I have become friends with Erin and Adam. I even invited Erin and Adam to my wedding last November. Adam and I have very different on politics and climate change. I look at the world through a very strong progressive view with a strong acceptance of climate change. Adam considers himself to be a strong libertarian and he is very doubtful of human caused climate change. We have struck up a friendship through Toastmasters. I have even sought out Adam’s advice for my climate change speeches to be able to better reach his segment of my audience. Adam and Erin are dating. In conversations with Erin, she seems to agree with many of his world views. Thus, I was fully expecting to get skeptical questions from Adam and Erin.
In the past, I have met with Adam to practice my climate change speeches and draw out his questions so I would be better prepared. I debated to do this for this speech. Professional speakers do know how to better control a question and answer session where anything can happen. Some use techniques of having friends in the audience ask a question that they will know in advance how to answer. I did not want to do that trick for this Toastmasters speech because I did want to be able to fully think on my feet. I have given around 100 climate change talks over the past five years. I fielded lots of questions from the audience during these talks. Sometimes I felt I succeeded with my answers with the audience. Other times, I failed because I did not know enough information or my response ended up triggering a contentious argument with the audience member.
Adam Kutell and Brian Ettling receiving a reward from Toastmasters, May 2012.
Adam or Erin and I are probably never going to agree on climate change, the policy solutions and other political issues. However, they are still friends and want me to succeed as a Toastmaster and a public speaker. Thus, I wish could have answered Erin’s question more like this:
“Erin, that is an excellent question. Believe it or not, in my previous years of talking about climate change, Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the the REMI Report, nobody has asked me that question before today. I spent many hours trying to prepare for this question and answer period. However, you asked me one question where I will admit my knowledge is limited.
Here is my quick response to attempt to answer your question: My understanding from the REMI report is showing is that the revenue for the dividend would keep increasing over 20 years. As the costs of fossil fuels would keep increasing, it would more than cover the costs.
However, I don’t have any details beyond that so I will do more homework and get back to you. I am fully confident that economists involved with this study are aware of your concern and I have no doubt they have already addressed it.
When Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) commissioned REMI to do this study, CCL deliberately sought out REMI because they ‘are committed to quality data free of ideological taint that you might get from some think tanks.’ REMI is truly nonpartisan advising organizations from the the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) to the National Education Association (NEA) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. They have a stellar reputation in Washington D.C. and nationally for providing impartial and totally independent economic analysis.
CCL did not attempt to influence the outcome of the report in any way. Their first priority is a livable world, and we can’t get there without an honest and clear-eyed view of the facts.
Having said that, I can still understand how you are skeptical. I would just ask that you let me dig deeper. Let me see if I can contact the author of the study, Scott Nystrom, and get back to you.
You may find this ironic or funny. I have heard from friends in Citizens’ Climate Lobby that Scott Nystrom is a staunch libertarian, like Adam. He is not a tree hugger like me. He would probably agree a lot more with you on politics than me. However, his day job and passion is running economic models. That’s it. However, since Scott has a similar perspective on economics and politics as you, I have no doubt he has already thought of your question. Let me get with Scott or others who are more knowledgable about the 2014 REMI study and get back with you.”
2. I understand you clearly said that this is a market driven solution and not government regulations. My interpretation is that it is not market based. It is not the free enterprise. Corporations are not going to freely volunteer do this. It will only happen with major rigid government controls. Can you please explain that?
This second question was from my friend and fellow Toastmaster Jim Bubash. He freely calls himself a “climate denier,” so I was not surprised that he would ask a question that was critical of my speech.
From the readings I did on the Citizens’ Climate Lobby website, I felt much better prepared for Jim’s question and more confident in my answer.
My response: “That is a great question because already ExxonMobil, Walmart, BP, etc. are already doing their own internal carbon tax. They anticipate that we are going to eventually get a carbon tax. Keep in mind that nearly 50% of global emissions of countries worldwide, they are now doing either a carbon tax or cap and trade. So, this is happening more and more on a global scale. More and more business are saying that ‘we should have a carbon tax’ and countries throughout Europe are doing it. China now has seven provinces with cap and trade. This year they are suppose to implement a nationwide (cap and trade) program. There is actually a global movement towards it. There are actually a lot companies saying that we should have a carbon tax.”
Jim was not happy with my answer, so he then reiterated:
“As far as you explained, worldwide and in the United States, wouldn’t this need major government regulations?”
I replied, “It does not (need major government regulations). It is the simplest plan you can come up with. Are you familiar with former Secretary of State George Shultz?”
“Yes,” Jim responded.
I answered, “George Shultz is on is actually in favor of our plan. He is on the Advisory Board for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. He has said (the carbon fee and dividend plan) is the simplest, most transparent, and the easiest to administer because basically you collect the fee at the source, the coal mine, oil mine or the U.S. border and you return that revenue. It is strictly passing through the government. You do not have to increase any regulations with this.
Former Secretary of State George Shultz. Image Source: newsmax.com
It is a much more efficient plan than President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan. President Obama’s plan only reduces emissions 30% over 20 years, whereas (Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend) reduces carbon emissions over 50% (over 20 years). Thus, it is much more efficient and it uses the market to do that.”
For the final minute of my question and answer period, Cathy Bell, a guest who found out about the Toastmasters meeting from an announcement I put on the Climate Reality-St. Louis Meetup.com page, gave this comment to the audience:
“This is not a question but to really address what some people are saying. If you owned a restaurant and you dumped your garbage into the street, you would not be allowed to do that. (Garbage collection) is supposed to be factored into your cost of business that you pay someone to collect your garbage. Yet, we are letting these companies dump what this is, which is garbage, which is going to poison our planet and going to destroy this civilization and the human race. We are letting them dump their garbage into our atmosphere and poison all of us.
They should not be allowed to do that no more than you or I should be allowed to open a restaurant and dump our garbage into the street. As far as the costs going up for households, look at what is happening in California with the costs of solar. The sun is free. The costs of solar is going to come down and it is already coming down. (Unfortunately, the U.S. Government) is subsidizing fossil fuels to the tune of billions of dollars of our tax dollars.”
At this point, my 11 minutes were up, I had to cut off Cathy, end my time, and thank the audience for their time.
Friends who attended my Toastmasters speech from March 30, 2016
From left to right: Ron Trimmer, Don Diekmann, Brian Ettling, Robert Vest, and Cathy Bell.
In that final minute of my question and answer period, I did think that Cathy did a eloquent job of expressing a key point of climate scientists, economists, and climate activists. We must stop using our air supply as an unregulated and unpriced sewer to dump our carbon emissions. Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend is just a tool to correct a market failure. This market weakness could led to very nasty consequence if we don’t act fast to reduce the threat of climate change.
Just like what I talked about in my speech, Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend is a solution that can help create a more livable and sustainable planet.
Who here thinks they can perform heart transplant on a family member or fellow Toastmaster better than a heart surgeon?
My fellow Toastmasters I am here today to tell you that I would not recommend myself if you need urgent heart surgery. You may be surprised by this, but I do not have the skills, knowledge and experience to operate on your heart safely. Instead, I have been working as a seasonal park ranger for the past 20 years.
Ironically, one of I the things I quickly learned when I started giving ranger talks is that people expect park rangers to know everything, don’t you?
Around 18 years ago, I was giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park, Florida. Visitors started asking me about this global warming thing. Visitors hate when park rangers tell you, “I don’t know. ” As soon as I could, I rushed to the nearest Miami bookstore and bought the first book I could find. It was Laboratory Earth: the Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose, by the now late climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider of Stanford University. At that time, Dr. Schneider was considered to be one of the top and most respected experts on climate change in the world. I soon became hooked reading all I the scientific books I could find on climate change.
I discovered sea level rise along our mangrove coastline in Everglades National Park. The sea level rose 8 inches in the 20th century, four times more than it had risen in previous centuries for the past three thousand years. Because of climate change, sea level is now expected to rise at least three feet in Everglades National Park by the end of the 21st century. The sea would swallow up most of the park and nearby Miami since the highest point of the park road less than three feet above sea level.
It really shocked me that crocodiles, alligators, and beautiful Flamingos I enjoyed seeing in the Everglades could all lose this ideal coastal habitat because of sea level rinse enhanced by climate change.
Image from Brian Ettling of wild Greater Flamingoes in Florida Bay
in Everglades National Park in 1999.
What is causing current sea rise in Florida and globally? Currently the melting of the land-based ice in Greenland and Antarctica primarily causes it. Why is Greenland and Antarctica melting?
NASA scientists meticulously documented that the average global temperature of Earth rose 1 degree Celsius or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit from 1884 to today. They think that the current rise of temperature is due mostly due to humans burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas. As you burn fossil fuels, carbon dioxide is released. They noticed a 43% increase of carbon dioxide in our air supply over the past 130 years.
More carbon dioxide in our air causes more extreme weather. In other words, we are putting our weather on steroids. It is contributing to drier droughts, such as the extreme 2012 Midwest drought and heat wave, which centered here in St. Louis. Who remembers that event?
Climate change also causes wetter rains and stormier storms, such as the 2016 New Year’s Day flooding we just experienced in the St. Louis area. Who was impacted by that event?
Photo from Brian Ettling of flooding by Creve Coeur Park near St. Louis, MO.
Taken on January 1, 2016.
Besides that, I brought the ultimately proof of climate change with me today. Are you guys ready? The change is underwear fashion from what our grandparents were wearing to what the kids have been wearing today.
The agreement among climate scientists about human caused climate change is incredibly high. Researchers at University of Illinois interviewed 79 of world’s top climate scientists. Stanford University researchers interviewed over 908 climate scientists, and University of Queensland in Australia surveyed over 10,306 climate scientists. All of them determined that over 97% of climate scientists agree that human caused climate change is happening.
Yet, even with the 97% agreement, polls from the Pew Research Center show that 55% of Americans still think scientists are still in disagreement or don’t know about the strong scientific agreement. This public misunderstanding is frustrating for climate scientists. Dr. Marshall Shepard, Climate Scientist at University of Georgia Athens had this comment:
‘This gap is like saying that 97% of heart surgeons agree how to do heart transplant, but the public disagrees.’
Despite all I have learned about climate change as a park ranger and private citizen, my Toastmaster friend James Bubash likes to ask me: ‘What can I do to get you to ‘see the light’ to change your mind about climate change?’
For Jim or others are looking to change my mind about climate change: here is my winning proposal for you. I am challenging you today to meet with a climate scientist, just like I have done. In December 2011, I briefly got to meet NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen.
Brian Ettling with NASA Climate Scientist James Hansen
Photo taken at American Geophysical Union meeting, December 6, 2011.
When you meet a climate scientist, I wan you to give them your best Toastmasters speech. Lay out your best case for them why they are wrong and you are correct. There are a couple climate scientists here in St. Louis I could introduce you to give your talk.
There is a catch though. After they hear your talk how they are wrong and you are correct, they get to evaluate the evidence and content of your speech. They get to critique your argument. Just like a tough Toastmasters evaluation from Carl Hendrickson, you must be able to politely accept their evaluation of the weaknesses of your argument.
St. Louis South County Toastmasters member Carl Henrickson
If you are not willing to agree to that, then there is no deal. Climate scientists don’t have time to just argue with people. Neither do I. You have to be able to show us that the weight of your evidence is stronger than their evidence in order to disprove science.
If you meet with a climate scientist and then convince them that they are wrong, that human caused climate change is not real, then I will gladly change my mind. You will have won.
It’s just like if one of us here needed heart surgery. You are convinced that that all heart surgeons are wrong and we should not listen to them. We would want you to meet with one of the top heart surgeons to convince them and us that the field of cardiology is completely false.
I caution you though this will be a very difficult task if you accept this proposal.
lecture at the St. Louis Science Center, January 31, 2011 about disproving climate change:
“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.”
Again, Jim and my fellow Toastmasters, my winning proposal to you is to meet with one of the top climate scientists and prove to them and me they are wrong. Just like performing heart surgery on a family member or fellow toastmaster, let’s see if you are up to this very difficult challenge.
“Politicians don’t create political will. They respond to it.” – Mark Reynolds, Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
Are you alarmed about climate change but you are unsure what to do? At some point, you must decide to become part of the solution. You must rise up and take action. The famous quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi famously says, ‘You must be the change you seek in the world.’
Wow! That is a very broad statement. But, how are we to be the change? What must we do?
For me, the road map for action with a very complex problem like climate change comes from this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:
“Through education we seek to change attitudes; through legislation and court orders we seek to regulate behavior. Through education we seek to change internal feelings; through legislation and court orders we seek to control the external effects of those feelings. Through education we seek to break down the spiritual barriers to integration; through legislation and court orders we seek to break down the physical barriers to integration. One method is not a substitute for the other, but a meaningful and necessary supplement. Anyone who starts out with the conviction that the road to racial justice is only one lane wide will inevitably create a traffic jam and make the journey longer.”
The clear message in this quote is that change on any complex societal issue happens with both education and legislation.
For many years now, I have devoted my energy to educating others to take action on climate change as a park ranger, teacher, public speaker, Toastmaster, co-founder of the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up, and Climate Reality Project Leader. On my Climate Reality Project Leader page, I have documented presenting nearly 80 climate change talks and spoke to over 3,000 people since I was trained in San Francisco in 2012. Since 2011, I have been writing this blog and contributing over 200 posts to the website Climatebites.org. You can easily say that I love speaking and writing about climate change.However, I know this is not enough. As my friend, Larry Lazar, fellow Climate Reality Project Leader and co-founder with me of Climate Reality-St. Louis Meet Up group, once advised me, “We can facebook and blog all we want, but we stand no chance to solve (climate change) unless we accept the fact that we have to change.”
Yes, individual actions to reduce your carbon footprint are great. Since November 2011, I have been giving this talk about energy efficiency around the St. Louis area called “It’s Easy to Be Green.” In this talk, I definitely encourage people to change their light bulbs and give tips our to cut their energy bills. However, this not enough to save us from the worst impacts of climate change.
“As important as it is to change the light bulbs, it is more important to change the laws.”
Here are two of my biggest heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and former Vice President Al Gore telling me that I am going to have to find a way to change the laws. Gulp. It is so much easier for me to just write and give public talks.
Fortunately, as mythologist Joseph Campbell said about the hero’s journey that you don’t have to do it alone. You can bring friends, partners, and others along to complete the journey. Success on this journey is a creating the political will to change the laws for a stable climate.
Around the time of writing that second blog in November 2013, Carol Braford asked me to be the co-leader of the St. Louis group of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. With my love of public speaking about climate change, Carol then recruited me to speak at the April 2014 Webster University Sustainability Conference.
The title of my talk was Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s central mission: Creating the Political Will for a Livable World. CCL creates this political will by empowering individuals, like you and me, to experience breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.
My presentation at Webster began by asking the vital question: Do you know who your Congressperson is?
This was a sophisticated, informed audience attending a sustainability conference at a university, so they did not seem to have trouble answering this question. However, this is a crucial question to ask because CCL is “betting the ranch on relationships,” as Executive Director Mark Reynolds likes to say.
CCL primary focus is to lobby in support of their Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal by friendly relationships with our federally elected representatives. CCL volunteers and staff achieves this positive rapport with members of Congress and their staff by showing respect, appreciation and gratitude for their service.
Obviously, before you can develop a great working relationship with a member of Congess, you have to know who exactly is your member of Congress.
The Success of RESULTS and Sam Daley-Harris
The methodology of Citizens’ Climate Lobby can be traced back to an organization working to eliminate global poverty called Results and its founder, Sam Daley-Harris. To prepare for my Webster talk on CCL, I read Sam Daly Harris’ book, Reclaiming our Democracy. This is book is an excellent resource for those looking for proven models for how to successfully lobby members of Congress to get legislation passed.
This book is a must read because it is about gaining hope and inspiration to become a fully engaged citizen. The subtitle nails how we overcome the pessimism and despair we feel with our current democracy, “Healing the Break Between People and Government.” Sam states early in his own introduction that “Reclaiming Our Democracy’ is a book that challenges this civic despair and offers a new model of citizen empowerment and leadership.”
It is so easy to become cynical about politics when you turn on the TV news, open up the newspaper, and chat with friends. Sam shares his story how he founded and spent years developing the organization, RESULTS. This organization, founded by Daley-Harris around 1980, created a new model for citizen activism with its dedication to create the political will to end world hunger. The achievements of RESULTS highly motivated citizen volunteers regularly engaged their elected members of Congress is beyond impressive.
According to the RESULTS.org website, over the past 35 years, RESULTS has accomplished:
* Child deaths are down by nearly two-thirds.
• The number of children in primary school has doubled.
• TB deaths have fallen by almost half.
• More than 1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty.
• Safety net programs cut the U.S. poverty rate nearly in half every year.
• Micro nance programs have reached 114 million families living in extreme poverty.
These results may not have occurred without the founding vision of Sam Daley-Harris guiding this organization from the beginning. We tend to think that great people are somehow different than us. Before he decided to become a citizen organizer, in the late 1970s, Sam was a high school music teacher and a percussionist with the Miami Philharmonic Symphony. Early in the book, Sam shares a quote by futurist and inventor Buckminster Fuller:
“The things to do are the things that need doing, that you see need to be done and that no one else seems to see needs to be done.”
While working as a teacher, Sam stumbled across a world hunger presentation from his yoga teacher. He decided to get involved by speaking to hundreds of high school students for the political will to end world hunger. He soon discovered that almost all high school students and adults did not even know their members of Congress. The following chapters then recounts how Sam traveled across the United States and world to recruit people to get involved with RESULTS and form their own local chapters. Sam then writes how he and the RESULTS volunteers continuously lobbied Congress to finally get them to pass funding bills to successfully reduce world hunger.
Carol & Tom Braford
Dedicated former RESULTS volunteers included friends I now know from Citizens’ Climate Lobby: retired San Diego real estate broker Marshall Saunders and St. Louis residents Tom & Carol Braford. RESULTS showed such a successful model for citizen engagement to get Congress to pass legislation. Marshall Saunders then used the RESULTS’ model with the blessing and mentoring of Sam Daley-Harris to create Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL).
As a climate activist, this was the group I was the group I was seeking my whole life. From the template of RESULTS, Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s mission is to “create the political will for climate solutions by enabling individual breakthroughs in personal and political power.” CCL borrowed from RESULTS the political will to regularly engage members of Congress with letters, meetings and letters to the editor in their newspapers. When they met with elected officials they would show them respect, gratitude and admiration so the members of Congress would be more willing to listen to the ideas to end global poverty or climate change.
According to Sam, meeting and fully engaging our elected officials is the best way to be an effective citizen advocate. Early in his book, Sam cites “Soul of a Citizen” author Paul Rogat Loeb for this observation:
“those e-mail petitions are counted in Congressional Offices, but they are also discounted. Yes mouse-click advocacy can and does make a difference, but if you are truly passionate about an issue, once the mouse has been clicked, the Facebook friends alerted, and the action tweeted, there is often a feeling of some emptiness, a yearning for something deeper. The real question is ‘What can be done to provide that ‘something deeper’?”
Whether it is RESULTS, Citizens’ Climate Lobby or other advocacy groups, Sam stresses the importance to get connected with a group. He writes, ““People need to find an organization that gives them a deeper level of support, so they can get to 1st grade, 7th grade, 9th grade and college as an activist, rather than hanging around kindergarten all the time.”
Even more, we need to effectively target our actions as citizen advocates with our letters to the editor and our meetings with elected officials. Thus, he introduced me to the Buckminster Fuller concept of ‘Trimtabbing.’ A trimtab is the small rudder fround on the back of a larger rudder on an ocean liner or commercial jet airplane. The trimtab is easier to turn. Buckminister Fuller coined this term when he said that if you wanted to turn the ship of state, you shouldn’t try to push the ship around the front or even try turning the rudder. Instead, find the trimtab and turn that. Then the rudder and ship will turn more easily.
In Sam’s book and his public appearance, effective engagement to influence our democracy starts with healing ourselves. I once Sam say on a YouTube interview, “If the government is broken, we are part of that brokenness and we must engage in healing ourselves too.”
Next time you or someone you know feels hopeless that Congress does not respond to citizens, remember Sam Daley-Harris. Since he founded RESULTS in 1980 to end global hunger and poverty, the federal funding for childhood immunizations, reducing poverty, tuberculosis, malaria, and starvation increased from $42 million a year in 1984 to nearly $600 million dollars annually.
If you ask members of Congress, how is that possible? They will tell you it is because of the work of current and past RESULTS volunteers, such as Marshall Saunders.
Like his mentor Sam Daley-Harris, Marshall Saunders shows us that one person can make a difference in the world and generate political will. He is 77 year old retired real estate broker in San Diego, Califonria.
Early in his career, he join the Rotary Club. It offers their members an opportunity to learn about the root problems facing the world and the best solutions out there. As a Rotary member, Marshall learned about the problem of global poverty. He also learned about an effective solution of microcredit loans.
Microcredit loans lends people who are so poor in third world countries on one would ever lend them loans of $10, $20, or $50. One woman was lent $50 to buy and fix a broken sewing machine. She then starts a business to lift her family out of poverty. 98% of these loans are repaid. When these loans are repaid, it goes to the next set of loans for the village. Once this gets started, it has a remarkable impact wherever it is generated.
Marshall then became aware of Mohammed Yunis, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Yunis started the modern micro credit loan in Bangladesh when he founded the Grameen Bank. Marshall went to Bangladesh to visit Mohammed Yunis to see firsthand the success of microcredit loans.
When Marshall returned to the US from Bangladesh, he started getting Rotary Club grants to support micro credit loans all over the world. Because of his efforts, Marshall received the Rotary Distinguished Service Award for 1998-1999. He also started microcredit loan program in Mexico.
In 2006, Marshall was retired and he could have just rested on his laurels that he made a difference in the world. However, Marshall went to see the Inconvenient Truth documentary about Al Gore. It really shook him up when he saw it.
Marshall had this revelation that there are millions of families living in poverty in Bangladesh who lifted themselves out with microcredit loans. Bangladesh is one of the low elevation countries in the world. Any sea level rise jeopardizes their ability to grow crops there. Marshall says to himself: ‘Wow! I generated a million microcredit loans and it could all possibly be wiped out because of climate change.’
That was the moment Marshall decided to spend the rest of his life working on climate change. In 2007, he asked Al Gore to train him as a Climate Reality Project Leader. Since 2007, The Climate Reality presentation led by Vice President Gore has now trained over 9,200 volunteers worldwide, including Marshall. In 2012, I became a Climate Reality Leader. After the volunteers are trained, folks like Marshall and me give public talks about the science and solutions to climate change.
Marshall gave 43 presentations in 10 months.
About three presentations in, he started to have serious doubts about what he was doing. He was inspiring people to change their light bulbs, carpool more, be more energy efficient etc. However, one morning he opened up the front page of his newspaper on the kitchen table to see that Congress had just given the oil companies an $18 billion tax break.
Marshall thought, ‘Hmm, I got 23 people to change their light bulbs last night and then oil companies get billions of dollars from the government. How do I match that?’
He then realized that the people he really needed to change were in Congress. That was the bad news. The good news is that the whole time he had been working on microcredit in a long time volunteer with RESULTS. This is what RESULTs proves: if you are organized, structured, disciplined, and have volunteer groups set up in Congressional districts, you can get Congress to make a positive and effective actions.
Marshall then said, ‘Piece of cake. All I have to do is find an environmental group using this same methodology and we can get climate legislation passed.’
He then talked to the big environmental groups to see if they were using the RESULTS model. He found a lot of great people doing great things, like the Sierra Club. What he could not find was anyone with a specific and effective plan to get legislation passed.
Thus, in 2007, he started Citizens’ Climate Lobby with one group in San Diego. By the end of the year, there were 6 groups in southern California. Citizens’ Climate Lobby philosophy: ‘We are going to take a system, an approach, a methodology that has been proven to be successful with Congress. We are then going to apply it to the climate issue.’
The purpose of Citizens’ Climate Lobby
Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) prides itself on having a dual 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.
This mission of Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a living example of Mahatma Gandhi’s quote:
“When the people lead, the leaders will follow.”
Brian Ettling with Dr. James Hansen
One of the best advocates for CCL is retired NASA climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, one of the most respected climate scientists in the world. He stated,
“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.”
Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s Goal: Get Congress to pass revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend.
• A tax is placed on carbon-based fuels at the source (oil well, coal mine, or U.S. border).
• This tax starts at $15 per ton of fossil CO2 emitted. It increases steadily each year by $10 so that clean energy is cheaper than fossil fuels within a decade.
• All of the money collected is returned to American households on an equal basis.
• Under this plan 66% percent of all households would break even or receive more in their dividend check than they would pay for the increased cost of energy, which protects the poor and middle class.
• A predictably increasing carbon price will send a clear market signal which will unleash entrepreneurs and investors in the new clean-energy economy.
CCL considered this to be the best market based solution to appeal to conservatives in Congress. Carbon fee and dividend does not grow the federal government, taxes, or federal debt.
1. How is CCL creating the political will for a sustainable climate?
As citizens, the only way you get members of Congress to respond your cause is strength in numbers.
When citizen activists met with President Franklin Roosevelt, there are unconfirmed stories that he told one or more of them, ‘I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.’
One way that Citizens’ Climate Lobby gets Congress to notice them is the total number of groups nationwide. Over the past six years, the growth of CCL is very impressive.
In 2010, they had a total of 13 groups nationwide. 2011, 42 groups. When I first got involved in 2012, there was 74 groups. In April 2014 when I gave my talk Creating the Political Will for a Livable World for the Webster University Sustainability Conference, there was 170 groups. As of February 2016, there are now 312 active groups, with four more groups starting soon.
Members of Congress and their staff read the opinion section of the newspapers in their district to understand the views of their constituents. Thus, another benchmark to be noticed by elected officials is published media, as such letters to the editor or opinion editorials written by CCL volunteers in newspapers. Published media also includes official editorial endorsements of CCL written by the newspaper editorial staff. In 2010, CCL had 65 published media. In 2012, CCL had 646 published media. In 2015, CCL had 3,876 published media.
Several years ago, the e-politics project looked at its first in-depth study of how Canadian MPs use online communication & respond to grassroots campaigns. Even though it is Canadian, I still think lessons can be learned for reaching American politicians.
In 2009, former and current members of the Canadian Parliament were asked in a survey, ‘what motivates you to take action on the based on interactions with your constituents?
As far as personal interactions with constituents, the members of Parliament listed direct meetings with constituents as the best way to influence them. Next was direct phone calls, followed by personally written letters, meetings with organizations, and letters to the editor.
Thus, a top benchmark for Citizens’ Climate Lobby is counting the meetings that CCL volunteers have with Congressional Offices, which includes staffs and/or directly with a member of Congress. For many years now, CCL has also had groups in Canada, so they also include Canadian actions in their statistics. In 2010, CCL had 106 meetings with Congressional or Parliament offices. When I first got involved in 2012, CCL had 534 meetings with Congressional or Parliament offices. In 2015, CCL had 1,273 meetings with Congressional or Parliament offices.
Included in these yearly statistics, I organized a meeting with the district staff and local CCL volunteers of my Congresswoman, Rep. Ann Wagner on February 12, 2014. The year before I helped establish a CCL group in southern Oregon. Thus, it was a big thrill for me to be part of three meetings in one day that local CCL group had with the district staff of Oregon U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, Senator Jeff Merkley, and Senator Ron Wyden on August 27, 2013.
Before I joined Citizens’ Climate Lobby, I had no idea that I would be meeting with the staff of Congressional offices. As I blogged about last November, I traveled to Washington, D.C. and I lobbied five different Congressional over two days, November 17 & 18, 2015. It was a very empowering experience for me to speak directly about climate change to the staffs of 5 Congressional offices, including the staff my congresswoman, Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri.
Brian Ettling (on left) meeting with the staff of Rep. Ann Wagner in front of her
Washington, D.C. office. Erik Rust, Environmental & Energy Aide for Rep. Wagner,
wearing a red tie, with his intern Sarah. Larry Kremer, another CCL volunteer, pictured on right side.
It is not just me that Citizens’ Climate Lobby empowered me. Another area of growth that makes an impact with Congress are the number of volunteers that come to Washington D.C. directly, many at their own expense, to lobby Congress during the annual June CCL Lobby Day. In June 2010, CCL had 27 volunteers lobby 52 Congressional offices. In June 2015, around 900 Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers from all across the United States lobbied 487 Congressional offices.
2. Empowering me to have breakthroughs in exercising my personal & political power.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Sam Daley-Harris encourage climate activists to step outside of their comfort zone because that is where the magic happens.
CCL encourages its volunteers to build positive relations with newspaper editors and the media to build political will. On December 12, 2012, Steve Valk, Communications Director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, came to St. Louis for a day to meet with our local CCL group. During his visit, volunteers from St. Louis group and I met with the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. We met with Kevin Horrigan, Deputy Editorial Page Editor of the Post-Dispatch. During our meeting, we successfully persuaded Kevin to write an official editorial to endorse CCL’s carbon fee and dividend.
Brian Ettling, Carol Braford, Tom Braford, Steve Valk and Lucas Sabalka
after meeting with the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 12, 2012.
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. Since I had the Post-Dispatch since I was a child, it seemed surreal to me to be meeting with editorial staff inside the Post-Dispatch building. During the meeting, Steve Valk asked Kevin Horrigan if we could submit opinion editorials periodically to be published. Kevin responded very positively that they would fully consider running opinion editorials from us.
I can personally attest that Citizens’ Climate Lobby empowered me to step outside of my comfort zone to experience where the magic happens. In my wildest imagination, I hoped I could write a climate change 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.
Before I knew it, I was on a roll writing opeds for the next year. On July 10, 2013, I wrote an oped for the Post-Dispatch about coal pollution in the St. Louis area, What keeps me up late at night. Even more, I ended up writing 8 opeds for Oregon newspapers, including the Portland Oregonian, in the autumn of 2013. These opeds were written while I was working that summer as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.
Before I got involved with Citizens’ Climate Lobby in 2012, it is inconceivable to me that I would have written 12 opeds for newspapers across the U.S and numerous letters to the editor.
You can create the political will for effective climate action
A favorite source for quotes for Sam Daley-Harris and me, Buckminister Fuller, once said,
“If the future of all civilization depended upon me, what would I do? How would I be?”
Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the model for citizens’ engagement Sam Daley-Harris created with RESULTS has really helped me become a much more effective climate change advocate. If you are concerned about climate change as I am, following the example of CCL and Sam can help you create the political will for effective climate action.To increase your effectiveness, remember what Sam emphasizes: you will need to ‘find an organization that gives you a deeper level of support, so you can get to 1st grade, 7th grade, 9th grade and college as an activist, rather than hanging around kindergarten all the time.’
My friend Larry Schweiger, former President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, once wrote, “It’s not enough to care; we must link our concern to each other and act collectively.”
It is very rewarding to get involved with a group like Citizens’ Climate Lobby because you gain friends and a sense of hope.
Singer and songwriter Joan Baez once said, “Action is the antidote for despair.”
Dr. David W. Orr, Professor of Environmental Studies, Oberlin College, Ohio, proclaimed, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”
Former Vice President Al Gore likes to quote this old African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
If you are as concerned about climate change as I am, I challenge you today to commit yourself to take action. Even more, consider joining a group making an impact like Citizens’ Climate Lobby which is creating the political will for effective climate change action.
As I like to say, “Think Globally, Act Daily.”
Thank you Carol Braford for getting me involved with Citizens’ Climate Lobby in 2012.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”