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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: weather.com

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

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

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

Image Source: facebook.com/FOX2Now/photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superstorm Sandy. Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castlewood State Park. Image Source: castlewoodmo.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My mantra is “Think Globally, Act Daily.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Ettling working as a ranger at Everglades National. Park

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

The Reward of Following my Climate Change Bliss

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

Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Joseph Campbell
Image Source: biography.com

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

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

Joseph Campbell replied: “You come to bliss.”

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

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

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

Climate Change work leading to romance 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Climate Change Wedding 

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

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

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


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

Brian Ettling with his Best Man, Larry Lazar

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Support for my climate change work from my wife

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

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

St. Louis People’s Climate March, November 29, 2015
Image Source: avaaz.org


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: youtube.com

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

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

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

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

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

As Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, stated,
“Very few people on Earth ever get to say: I’m doing, right now, the most important thing I could possibly be doing.’ If you join this fight, that’s what you will be saying.”

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

Nancy Couture, Brian Ettling, Tanya Couture and Rex Couture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. Get to know the Partipciants

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

D. We take a 15 minute break.

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at “unusual suspects” who accept climate change.

Answering climate myth questions.

Ending by showing humorous climate change videos.

E. How do Americans really feel about climate change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: climatechangecommunication.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judy & Jim Stroup
photo by Ursula Ruhl, Image source: microgrid-solar.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: citizensclimatelobby.org

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

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

Brian Ettling with  NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hanson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign

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

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

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

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

Why move beyond coal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

c. 350.org Go Fossil Free Campaign
November 1, 2012, I went to see environmental activist and founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, give a public lecture at Washington University in St. Louis. During his lecture, I heard him say, “Climate change is the single biggest thing humans have ever done to this planet. One thing must get bigger:
our movement to stop it.”

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

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

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

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

Dr. David Sallee, President of William Jewell College
Image Source: jewellalumni.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I start off with the best news of today:


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

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

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

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

Ranger Larry Perez speaking to park visitors at Everglades National Park.
Image Source:www.miamitodaynews.com

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

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

Dan Miller
Image Source: ithaca.edu

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

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

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

George Marshall
Image Source: climateconviction.org

1. Establish Common Ground

2. Treat them with Respect

3. Own and Hold your own views.

4. Describe Your Own Personal Journey

5. Be aware their worldview.

6. Offer Rewards.

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

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

Mark Twain.
Image Source: biography.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Ettling as a baby, 1968

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

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

5. Be aware their worldview.

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

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

Brian Ettling meeting former Rep. Bob Inglis

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

Amory Lovins.
Image Source:iee.ucsb.edu

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

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

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

Thus, the most important tip of all of these is

6. Offer Rewards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe
Image Source: depts.ttu.edu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H. “Unusual Suspects” who accept climate change. 

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

1. U.S. Department of Defense

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

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

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


2. The Catholic Church led by Pope Francis

Pope Francis
Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

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

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

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

3. Wal-Mart

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

Image Source: conservationhawks.org

4. Sportsman
 Todd Tanner

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

5. Insurance Industry

Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

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

6. ExxonMobil

In ExxonMobil‘s Engaging on Climate Change statement:

Image Source: bizjournals.com

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

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

7. Dow Chemical

Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

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

8. Big Business

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

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

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

Image Source: sustainablebrands.com

9. American Medical Association

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

Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

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

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



Image Source: naacp.org

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

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

11. United Steelworkers Union

Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

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

12. American Meteorological Society (AMS)

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


Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

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

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

13. The Weather Channel

Global Warming: The Weather Channel Position Statement:


Image Source: weather.com

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

14. National Geographic

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

15. China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17. National Park Service

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

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

18. St. Louis Zoo


Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

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

19. Conservatives

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

J. Have Fun!

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

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

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

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


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

Final Thoughts

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

Happy Holidays!

Brian Ettling

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. I share my personal background story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Ettling at Everglades Nat. Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I then ask the students: What brought you here?

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

Comedian Brian Malow


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

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

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

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

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

Maibach’s Key Messages:

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

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

1. Climate Change is Real:

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

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

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

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

Their response: “98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.”

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

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

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


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

Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org

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

Image Source: images.iop.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Ettling with NASA scientist Dr. Peter Griffith

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

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

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

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

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

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

This always gets a big chuckle from the audience.

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

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

Image Source: www.skepticalscience.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dr. Ralph Cicerone

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

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

4. Climate Change is harmful for us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: droughtmonitor.unl.edu

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: ucsusa.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of this makes me want to scream!

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

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

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

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

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

 Dr. Robert F. Cahalan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: cen.acs.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: www.seia.org/policy/solar-technology/photovoltaic-solar-electric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Z. Jacobson
Image Source: web.stanford.edu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at “unusual suspects” who accept climate change.

Answering climate myth questions.

Ending by showing humorous climate change videos.

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

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

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

Asking Al Gore directly how to respond to his critics

Former Vice President Al Gore and Brian Ettling

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

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

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

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

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

My Deep Admiration for former Vice President Al Gore 

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

Image: Amazon.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: climatesight.org

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

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

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

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

Everyone who isn’t a scientist falls into the lower half of the credibility spectrum. The communicators category includes the mainstream media, 350.org, high school teachers, politicians such as Al Gore. and concerned citizens like me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My hand shot up in the air before the others.

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

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

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

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

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

Al Gore responding to my question

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

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

His response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaking hands with Al Gore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cathy Cown Becker and Brian Ettling

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

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

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

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

Cathy Cowan Becker and Al Gore
Image Source: Brian Ettling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Al Gore!

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

8 Lessons I learned lobbying Congress on climate change November 17 & 18, 2015

Two weeks ago, I had an experience of a lifetime lobbying six Congressional Offices in Washington DC as part of Citizens’ Climate Lobby‘s November Lobby Day.

If you are not familiar with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), it was started in 2007 by retired San Diego real estate broker Marshall Saunders. CCL is a a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change. With over 307 active chapters in the US and worldwide, CCL lobbies Congress in support of its Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal. Its thousands of volunteers do this by building friendly relationships with our federally elected representatives and senators. Their one rule is that they do so with respect, appreciation and gratitude for their service when they meet with members of Congress or their staff.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby has an annual Lobby Day Conference in Washington DC around the third week of June every year. At their June 2015 Lobby Day, close to 900 volunteers attended and they met with over 500 Congressional Offices. As I have blogged previously, my involvement with CCL started in April 2012. Unfortunately, I have not attended the June CCL Lobby Day in DC because of my commitment to my summer ranger job at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Thus, it was a dream come true for me to be able to travel to Washington DC and lobby Congressional offices on climate change on November 17 & 18, 2015.

Here are 8 Lessons I learned from Lobbying DC Congressional Offices: 

1. We need to create a lot more political will so Congress will act on Climate Change. 


Larry Schweizer,
Image source: The Climate Reality Project
Presenter Profile for Larry Schweiger

As 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 & act collectively.”

Unfortunately, the staffs of both Democratic and Republican offices say they are not hearing their constituents voicing a loud concern about climate change.

The Congressional staff stated that their constituents seemed to be most worried about jobs, the economy and energy prices. Since then, you can probably add national security/the threat of terrorism after the recent Paris attacks to this list.

Thus, Congressional Offices did not seem highly motivated to act on climate change.

Therefore, if you are alarmed about climate change like me, then we must step up, organize, and let our members of Congress know that action on climate change is a top priority for us.

It is vital to write your members of Congress. Check out this amazing TED Talk, Political change with pen and paper by Omar Ahmad, the former mayor of San Carlos, California. It is about writing effective letters to your local politician to get them pay attention to an issue you care about deeply.

It should be noted that writing one letter is not enough. You should make it a regular habit to write letters, even a postcard, to your members of Congress. Regular stream of letters will enable climate change to rise to the top as a priority for Congressional offices.

Even more, consider writing letters to the editor and opinion editorials in your local newspaper about climate change. It has felt very fulfilling and empowering to get letters and editorials I wrote published in local newspapers. Make sure you include your elected Senators and Representatives names in these published writings so it will catch their attention.

US Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), Brian Ettling, and Mark Gould,
Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer from South Carolina.

Furthermore, send an e-mail to the staff of the Congressional Office to notify them of this newspaper editorial or letter to the editor. This reinforces the message that climate change is a high priority for you. For your US Senators and Representatives, mail letters to their local district offices, not their Washington DC offices. Because of the anthrax scare in 2011, letters going to Congress in Washington DC get screened for harmful substances. Thus, it could take up to 6 weeks for a staff or member of Congress to see your letter.

Bottomline: Write letters to your members of Congress regularly and frequently.

To paraphrase Irish orator John Philpot Curran from 1790: ‘The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.’

2. It is more effective to meet with staff or members of Congress than to protest in front of their offices. 

While I was rushing to meet with Congressional offices, it was easy to see various protests in front of the Capitol Building about protecting our local police, closely screening Syrian refugees, and climate change. However, when I asked the Congressional staff, they knew nothing about these protest gatherings. Even more, they told me that protests in Washington DC are so common are the Capitol that they don’t even pay attention anymore.

This made me feel more empowered in the 15 to 30 minute meetings I had with staff.

Brian Ettling protesting against
the Meramec Coal Plant,
April 25, 2013

I was able to look them in the eye as I shared with them my story how I witnessed climate change while working as a ranger in the national parks. In addition, I shared my story of living close to Meramec Coal Power Plant may have been a contributing factor to my Dad’s cancer.

One Republican staff member seemed a little shook up by my story. To my surprise, she did not defend coal, she replied, “There’s no excuse for these (coal) plants to be inefficient.”

Yes, I have protested the Meramec coal plant and have been attended climate marches in St. Louis. However, it felt so much more empowering for me to share my story directly with Congressional Staff and feel them being emotionally impacted by my story. No way had I ever felt this level of satisfaction before from protesting in a march or even writing a letter to Congress.

3. It is a valuable learning experience to learn how they really feel about action on climate change. 

It was a helpful gift to hear where Congressional Offices stood on climate and CCL’s carbon fee and dividend proposal.

First, none of the Republican offices that I met denied the science of climate change.

The offices seemed to confirm the quote from David Yarnold, President and CEO of the National Audubon Society: “Most Republicans say the same thing behind closed doors: ‘Of course, I get that the climate is changing, of course I get that we need to do something.”

At worst, some of the staff members would become awkwardly silent or started squirming in their chair when CCL volunteers or I would engage them on the negative impact of climate change on their constituents’ businesses.

At best, the staff of one Republican Congressional Office told me that climate change is real and their boss would like to take action to address it.

Clearly, I got the sense from the staff that they wanted to do something and this issue was not going away. All of the offices I spoke seemed unwilling to take the leap of action.

Their main objections:

a. No significant movement in Congress right now to pass legislation on climate.

b. Climate change was a low priority for their voters, compared to the economy, jobs, and energy prices.

c. Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend proposal did not meet WTO & GATT compliance for world trade agreements.

d. President Obama’s EPA Clean Power Plan created “a poisonous political climate.”

By genuinely listening and learning their objections, naturally led to my next lesson learned.

4. It is empowering to answer Congressional objections to climate change solutions. 

It was an uplifting experience to be a resource for Congressional staffs how CCL’s carbon fee and dividend solution is beneficial.

Our responses to their objections:

a. In the House, Republican Rep. Chris Gibson recently introduced Resolution on Conservative Environmental Stewardship (H.Res 424), now co-sponsored by 11 other House Republicans calling for action on climate change.

In the Senate, Four Republican senators — Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — recently formed a Senate Energy and Environment Working Group that, according to Ayotte’s office, will “focus on ways we can protect our environment and climate while also bolstering clean energy innovation that helps drive job creation.”

Yes,  movement is happening in both houses of Congress among Republicans for climate change.

b. We demonstrated that action on climate change is a high priority for voters. For this November Lobby Day, Citizens’ Climate Lobby showed it is creating the political will for action with around 140 volunteers traveling from as far away as California and Miami meeting with over 170 Washington DC Congressional offices. This was the follow up to the June 2015 Lobby Day with 900 volunteers meeting with over 500 Congressional Offices. Furthermore, CCL is getting the attention of Congress with with our actions so far in 2015 with over 1,155 meetings with Congressional Offices, 2,897 published media and over 12,832 handwritten letters to Congress.

c. Citizens’ Climate Lobby completed extensive homework to show that its plan meets total WTO & GATT compliance for world trade agreements.

5. The rewarding satisfaction of giving a successful “off the cuff” sales pitch to a Congressional Staff. 

As noted above, Republican Congressional made it clear that offices President Obama’s EPA Clean Power Plan created “a poisonous political climate.” For me, it was thrilling to provide a counter argument that CCL’s Carbon Fee and Dividend allows members of Congress to go “on offense” instead of defense trying to stop President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

One Republican staff person told me that his boss spent most of his political capital “playing defense right now” with President Obama’s EPA Clean Power Plan.

My response was that we are telling Democratic Representatives and staffs that carbon fee and dividend was a much better alternative than the EPA Clean Power Plan. The EPA rules are designed to reduce emissions from power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. Regional Economic Models Inc. (REMI), which conducted a 2014 study of CCL’s Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D) proposal, found that CF&D would achieve a 90% reduction below 2005 levels in the power sector by 2030. Thus, CCL’s carbon fee and dividend results in greater emissions reductions sooner, cuts emissions deeper, while growing the economy and creating jobs.

This aide seemed to be very happy when he heard me say that CCL prefers carbon fee & dividend over the EPA Clean Power Plan because this EPA plan has basically no Republican support. CCL would much rather support a bipartisan solution in Congress. That plan is much more likely to be passed with broad approval.

On the spot, I then asked the aide point blank, “Does our Carbon Fee and Dividend Plan help you and your boss start playing offense instead of defense?”

That Congressional aide was speechless. It felt like hitting a home run making this sales pitch to him. He was definitely considering my invitation to look at our proposal.

It felt like I had carefully listened to the aide’s defensive position. I then invited him a positive step forward that could lead for a victory for his boss, the Republican Party, and our planet.

6. The technique of showing admiration, appreciation and respect for members of Congress & their staff works. 

Citizens’ Climate Lobby likes to say that their one rule is that their volunteers show members of Congress or their staff respect, appreciation and gratitude for their public service when they meet with them.

Gulp. That one rule can be extremely hard. Often, CCL volunteers like me are meeting with the the members of Congress or staff where we have totally opposite points of view. In those instances, my first reaction would naturally be to yell at them and berate them for their deep ties to the fossil fuel industry.

 Brian Ettling, Sarah, Erik Rust & Larry Kremer
Sarah is an intern for Erik Rust.
Erik Rust is Energy & Environmental Aide for Rep. Wagner.
Larry is a CCL volunteer from Texas.

Thus, I have had to learn to be very friendly, patient, and kind when setting up these meetings with Congressional staff. I made it a habit to treat them like lifelong friends. It took in some cases up to 10 e-mails and phone calls with the office receptionists to set up the meetings with staff. In every step, I made sure I was polite and friendly when setting up these appointments.

When the Congressional staffs meetings took place November 17 & 18th, the tone felt very friendly and relaxed. It felt very easy for an exchange of ideas to flow.

I looked at their objections and questions not as barriers, but my homework to provide future information for them. The other volunteers in the meeting and I consciously strived to listen carefully to their questions and concerns. Our goal in Citizens’ Climate Lobby is to be interested not interesting. We are interested in what they have to say and pay close attention, rather than longing to be interesting in who we are.

As a result, it felt like the Congressional staff was interested in engaging us in conversation and then listening closely to our ideas.

Years ago, I applied for a job for another environmental organization. During the interview, the hiring official wanted to know my experience of political organizing. I explained my experience using Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s technique of showing respect, admiration, and gratitude for Republican members of Congress and their staff.

This interviewer bristled at my response, and retorted, “We don’t talk to these people. We defeat them.”

I totally respected this environmental organizer’s point of view. Yes, there are elected officials that I will be voting against on election day that must be defeated. I totally get political campaigns against politicians with awful to 0% voting records for protecting the environment. They should be defeated.

On the other hand, these same elected leaders may still be holding office for years. I would much rather use Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s strategy of finding common ground with elected officials and working for solutions together with them. On the other hand, I see it as a very limited and polarizing strategy of just defeating them.

7. Meeting with the staffs of Congressional Offices was fun, rewarding, and inspirational. 

Citizens’ Climate lobby’s mission is to create the political will for a livable world by empowering individuals to experience breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.

Hilary Pinegar, Legislative Correspondent for Sen. Roy Blunt
meeting with Brian Ettling. Blunt’s office used to be the
office of Senator & Vice President Harry S. Truman,
before he became President.

It was a lot of fun to plan this trip,  do my homework to learn about the member of Congress and their staffs, spend time exploring Capitol Hill and Washington DC, walk around Capitol Hill to locate their offices, and see the mementos in their office that represents their district and state.

For instance, it amazed me to learn from the staff of Senator Roy Blunt that his office used to be the office of Senator and Vice President Harry Truman. I also had a meeting with the staff of Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky. His district it encompasses almost all of Louisville metro area, including the famous Louisville Slugger factory & Museum and the Kentucky Derby. Thus, it was fun to be greeted by a giant Louisville Slugger bat when entering his office and pictures of the Kentucky Derby.

I wish I would have had time to step inside all 535 Congressional offices to see the valuable decorations from their home district or state.

It did feel very empowering for me to personally engage the Congressional staff on climate change solutions. It felt like I was taking effective action on the issue that I care the most deeply. It stretched my comfort zone to chat with Congressional Staff who are making policy decisions and advising member of Congress. For years I had dreamed of going to Washington DC to lobby on climate change, it felt surreal and a peak life experience to actually do it.

I hope to lobby in Washington DC again soon, especially for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Through the adventure of lobbying, I have experienced firsthand the Joan Baez quote that “Action is the antidote for despair.”

8. I got to lobby Congressional Offices with old and new friends. 

Don Kraus, Brian Ettling, Elli Sparks, and Tim Fitzgerald
getting ready for a meeting with staff of Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)
on November 17, 2015.

None of these meetings, I was alone. I had at least 2 to 4 other Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers in all of these meetings. It truly felt like teamwork.

In all of these meetings, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Volunteers divided up roles: such as note taking, showing admiration for a particular action of that member of Congress, asking a specific request, seeing if the staff had questions, timekeeping to be respectful of the staffs’ busy schedule, and a leader to facilitate the meeting.

This was always a relief because it never felt like the burden of the Congressional meeting was squarely on my shoulders. I still have a lot to learn about Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend proposal.  Thus, I was grateful to have friends in the meetings who knew more about their proposal than me. All of the other volunteers in the meetings were excellent at answering the questions I would have been more shaky at answering.

For me, making friends has been the deepest reward with taking action on climate change. These friends have given me hope and inspiration. It is empowering to know there are thousands of involved citizens volunteering on the climate issue, meeting with Congressional offices, creating deeper awareness in their communities on the climate issues, and offering solutions that allows society a forward. These are the people I want to “hang with.”

As Reid Hoffman, Chairman and Cofounder, LinkedIn, stated, “The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with the people who are already who you want to be.”

Unfortunately, I did not get pictures of the Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers who were with me in each of the six meetings. The exception was the picture that was taken of the CCL volunteers who were with me before the meeting in Rep. Greg Walden’s office, shown above.

However, Citizens’ Climate Lobby did get a group photo of all 140 volunteers, including me, who did get to lobby Congress in DC on November 17th and 18th.

Image Source: Citizens’ Climate Lobby Blog

With all of the climate activists who could not make it to this conference because of work, school finances, or other commitments, this gives me tremendous hope that Congress will eventually pass significant legislation to reduce the impact of climate change.


Science comedian Brian Malow’s advice & jokes for communicating about climate change

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…'” – Isaac Asimov


Brian Malow

Looking to be entertained by someone with a mutual geeky love of science? Look no further than Brian Malow, Earth’s Premier Science Comedian (self-proclaimed). He has performed for NSF, AAAS, JPL, NIST, ACS, AGU – and many other acronyms, as well as comedy clubs nationwide.

Brian currently works in science communication for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, and blogs for Scientific American.

Brian has made science videos for Time Magazine’s website and is a contributor to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s radio show. He gives workshops and presentations to train scientists to become better speakers and that is where I first encountered Brian Malow.

He was a guest speaker for the December 2011 Communicating Your Science Workshop at the AGU (American Geophysical Union) Fall Meeting in San Francisco. His workshop for scientists and science communicators like me was called, Delivering Your Message: Lessons from Stand-up Comedy. 

To this day, this was one of the most beneficial workshops I have attended for tips to successfully engage an audience on science, especially climate change.

This is a presentation with tips I needed to learn. As I blogged about previously, I saw evidence of climate change while working as a ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon and Everglades National Park. While working in the Everglades in November 2007, I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to be a climate change communicator.


Unsure how to pursue this passion, one day I was brainstorming with my friend, Naomi, in Ashland, Oregon. She was giving me lots of advice. Finally, I said out of honest desperation, “If I could do anything, I would like to be the Climate Change Comedian!”

Naomi just about fell out of her chair laughing. She said, “You go home and grab that website domain.” I immediately did that and a friend helped me build the website, climatechangecomedian.com in March 2010. I have not done much with the website since then, even though I love to blog, create videos, and contribute posts to the website Climatebites.org.

In Spring 2010, I also created my first powerpoint attempt to find that sweet spot of sharing the science and solutions to climate change while incorporating humor. It was called Let’s Have Fun Getting Serious about Resolving Climate Change. 

I gave this talk a few times for friends to get comfortable Towards the beginning of my talk, I shared some of my favorite quotes trying to find the sweet spot between humor and serious learning:

– ‘Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and Three-fourths Theater.’ ~ novelist Gail Godwin

– “Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy, and literature than any number of dull arguments.” – science fiction writer Isaac Asimov

– “When humor goes, there goes civilization.” – humorist Erma Bombeck

– “You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it.” – comedian Bill Cosby.

(Ok, knowing what we know now about Bill Cosby, I would not use this quote in 2015. However, I really liked this quote in 2010)
– “If I had no sense if humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.” – Mohandas Gandhi.
Nobody ever laughed at that last quote, even though I thought it was very funny. I am a big fan of Gandhi and all he was able to accomplish. This quote shows me that he did not take himself or life too seriously. Nobody in the audience seemed to get that logic though.
Fran Ettling, Tanya Couture, and Brian Ettling

Ok, you can tell I need a lot of help with my humor. To this day and in my short videos, my mom and fiancée Tanya tell me that I am not that funny

Therefore, yes, I was in great need of Brian Malow’s workshop at AGU in December 2011, Delivering Your Message: Lessons from Stand-up Comedy.

To relate his love of science to the audience, Brian Malow starts with the joke, “I used to be an astronomer, but I got stuck working the day shift.”
I still love this joke no matter how many times I have heard Brian tell it (twice in person, his NPR Science Friday appearances, his YouTube videos, etc)
Soon after that opening joke, Brian gave some advice that really jumped out at me. He said,
“An audience is not an amorphous blob. It is a group of individuals. Keep this in mind.”
I never forgot that advice. Whenever I give a talk, whether as a park ranger, teacher, or guest speaker, I always try to get to the event extra early to get to know individuals in the audience. I try to find out where is their hometown, what brought them to the event, and what they hope to get out of my talk.

That information is so valuable to weave into my talk, establish more rapport with the audience and get them on my side for the topic I am presenting.Brian went further to say to know that your audience is human. Therefore, connect with them with human ideas. He encouraged us to put ourselves in our programs. I took this to heart nine months later when I developed my own ranger evening campfire presentation at Crater Lake National Park on YouTube, called the The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. I put goofy images of myself in my program so my audience could relate more to me and the information I was sharing with them. Such as me below catching my first gigantic kokanee salmon at Crater Lake in 2012.


Brian Malow pointed out that every story has a conflict. We need to engage an audience on our topic in a way that answers their question: Why should I care?
He challenged us to use analogies and metaphors to connect with our audience. This was music to my ears because I contribute to a website, Climatebites.org where we collect sound bite metaphors and quotes on climate change.


One of my favorites: confused about weather vs. climate, then check your underwear drawer.

“Climate is percentage of long underwear vs. shorts in your closest. Weather is deciding to wear long underwear or shorts today.” – Inspired John Morris, retired Interpretive Specialist, National Park Service, Alaska Regional Office.


Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.
His profile Twitter Image

Or, Climate change A political issue? That’s like choosing sides over E = mc2

“Climate change has taken on political dimensions…That’s odd because I don’t see people choosing sides over E = mc2 or other fundamental facts of science.”
— Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, Host of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

Brian then advised us that power point “should be supporting special effects, not total reliance.” He challenged us not to use powerpoint at some point. He guaranteed it will fail at some point.

Gulp. I still overly rely on powerpoint. I struggle with memorization and I love some of the images I use for laughs. Such as Positive Proof of Global Warming slide with the change of underwear fashions over the years from the long bloomers our great grandparents wore to the dental floss thongs some teenagers and young adults wear today.

Brian then taught us that our visuals should be visual. They should tell a story and even enhance your story. They should not include a lot of words, if any at all.
Image from the YouTube talk from
Brian Malow, How Wine Saved the World

He then showed his funny and educational powerpoint about Louis Pasteur which is on YouTube called How Wine Saved the WorldTo illustrate how Louis Pasteur was a “super-chemist,” the slide shows a Photoshopped image of Pasteur’s head on Superman’s body.

Even more, Brian’s powerpoint shared a great scientific story how Louis Pasteur proved that life can only come from life. Pasteur crushed the previous accepted doctrine of spontaneous generation. He performed experiments that showed that without contamination, microorganisms could not develop.

He ended that story with this amazing Louis Pasteur quote: “Never underestimate the infinitely great power of the infinitely small.”
Brian encouraged us to engage our audience to ask questions. One question he posed to us:
“Does anyone here have a fear of public speaking? Can you please come up here and tell us about it?”
With two very sticky quotes, he stated we should try to be very clear and precise with our words. Such as:
“The difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is the difference between a notion of water and an ocean of water.” – Isaac Asimov
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  – Mark Twain
With Brian’s marvelous use of humor and analogies, I asked him during the talk if he had an helpful metaphors or humorous analogies for climate change.

Brian had a treasure load of these that he very generously shared and I turn then incorporated into some of my writings:- We are treating the small livable part of spaceship earth, our air supply, as an unregulated SEWER to dump our vehicle and industrial wastes. Currently, carbon dioxide emissions are roughly 36.7 billion, with a B, metric tons a year. Throwing this much carbon dioxide into our atmosphere is really no different than me lighting up a cigarette in this room. Even more, imagine that you were swimming in a beautiful Olympic size swimming pool. Then you saw someone peeing into the pool. Then you saw another person peeing into the pool. Then another. And another. At way point would you yell at the top of your lungs, “STOP PEEING IN MY POOL!”


– Climate change is as if the check engine light light has turned on inside our car and we have decided to put our thumb over it on the dashboard.

– Brian thinks it is odd that people trust experts for everything, except for evolution and climate change. People think they know more than these experts.

We have currently disabled the plumber link in the next paragraph because the site it linked to appears to have been hacked and is currently listed by google as unsafe. We have alerted the maintainer of the website of the issue. Sorry for the inconvenience.

There’s something fascinating about why people don’t trust scientists. I mean we defer to so many experts in our lives. You know, if you have a problem with your plumbing, you call the plumber. If you have a problem with your car, you call the mechanic.

But for some reason when it comes to evolution or climate change, you’re going to trust some politician and not the experts? It’s so absurd. What if we greeted plumbers with the same skepticism? “Oh, yeah, right, right. You’re just gonna snake that little thing down there and it’s gonna clear up the problem? Sure. And I’m supposed to believe that?”

– Brian found it odd that in nature all the other creatures are adapting to climate change “except for us brainiacs.”
– Brian pleaded with us to use plain words like “air supply,” not atmosphere, when we are talking with the general public.

What really shines through Brian’s comedy routines, radio interviews, videos, and scientific workshops is his love of science. He told us that science is a process. Science is the pursuit to satisfy our curiosity.

He then ended with his inspiring quote:
“Scientists have maintained their child-like wonder of the world. The only other profession I am aware of like this is clowns, and I think they are a lot less scary than clowns.”
If Brian Malow scheduled to perform in your city, I highly suggest you drop everything you are doing and go see him. Or at the very least, do check out his YouTube videos.

Thank you Brian Malow for your humor and inspiring me to more effectively use humor when I am giving talks on climate change. I blogged about my own success over a year ago: Using Humor Effectively to Communicate Climate Change.You have been a big influence on me.

Brian Malow with Brian Ettling.
Image taken on February 25, 2015 after Brian Malow performed
at St. Louis Community College, Meramec Campus



Addressing the Opposition: “How can climate scientists predict the future?”

Below is the text for my South County Toastmasters Speech delivered on March 18, 2015:
I am here tonight to address
the opposition.  My opposition is not this crazy visitor I once encountered as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park.
Adam Kutell
My opposition is my friend and fellow Toastmaster, Adam Kutell. For the
past four years, I presented over a dozen climate change speeches to this club.
After hearing all these speeches, Adam wants me to address this question:
“How can climate scientists possibly know what is
going to happen in the future?”
Adam, I think that is an excellent
question. How can anyone possibly know what is going to happen in the future?
All of us can think of times in the past when humans were wrong.
Here is a picture of me as a kid growing up in the 1970s. Wasn’t I cute?
To this day, I remember adults and other kids in school saying, “Smoking cigarettes
is not that unhealthy. I have a grandpa or great uncle who is 80 years old. He has smoked
all his life and he is ok.”
As a kid, that argument sounded ridiculous to me.
In 2015, most of us would agree now
that smoking cigarettes regularly could lead to various health hazards, some of
them life threatening.
Image Source: watchdog.org
Image Source: hartford.edu
However, you may not know
this information from the AAAS, also known as American Association for the
Advancement of Science. It is the world’s largest and most prestigious general
scientific society, with around 127,000 individual and institutional members.
It was established in 1848. In this March 2014 they released this statement,
“Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health
experts, and others all agree smoking causes cancer…a similar consensus now
exists among climate scientists (over 97% and over 60% of meteorologists) a consensus that maintains that climate change
is happening and that human activity is the cause.”
After studying the Earth’s
ancient climates, climate scientists, are very worried about the dirty
pollution we are putting into our air supply by burning oil, coal and natural
gas for our energy needs.
Who here enjoys watching
National Geographic and Discovery Channel shows?
In 2008, National Geographic
released this video, 6 Degrees Could Change the World that really
impacted me. Based upon what scientists know about the Earth’s climate, this
program laid out what they expect will happen with each degree of rise in the
Earth’s average temperature if we do not reduce our pollution.
Image Source: marketwatch.com
If the Earth warms by just one
 celsius (or close to two degrees fahrenheit) by the year 2100, the result could be severe droughts in the U.S.
Great Plains. The prolonged droughts could turn some of America’s most
productive farmland and ranch lands into deserts, causing shortages in the
global grain and meat markets. This drought worries me on the effect it would
have on our Mid West economy.
Image Source: soundwaves.usgs.gov
If the Earth warms by two degrees,
coral reefs across the planet may collapse from warmer ocean water temperatures
and ocean acidification. Over the past 150 years, the oceans have absorbed
nearly half of all the carbon dioxide we have put into our air supply. All this
carbon in the oceans is making the seawater more acidic. This change in water
chemistry is already damaging the shells of beautiful marine life, such as sea
butterfly snails. Even worse, extra carbon in our oceans could endanger seafood
we love to eat such as clams or Maryland crabs.
This frightens me because I
have great memories over to all you can eat seafood festivals when I worked over
10 years ago in the Florida Everglades. Didn’t I have great hair 10 years ago?
Image Source: dgrnewsservice.org
If the Earth warms by three
, the extreme heat could cause intense wildfires that could burn
down the Amazon rainforests in Brazil. These rainforest are known as
the lungs of the Earth for how much oxygen they produce for you and me.
West Antarctic Ice Sheet, located inside of the red oval
Image Source: unofficialnetworks.com
If the Earth warms by four
the West Antarctic Ice sheet is in danger of collapse, which would
raise sea level 16 feet worldwide.  Of
special concern is Florida, where Adam grew up. Most of the state lies close to
present sea level. As it is, scientists now project global sea level to rise at
least three feet in the 21st century.
Image Source: teachingboxes.org
If west Antarctic ice sheet
collapsed, Florida’s coastline would go from looking like this today, to this.
It would raise Florida sea level by 16 feet.
Image Source: teachingboxes.org
Keep in mind that the Earth warms
4 degrees or more, some scientists worry all the ice in Greenland and
Antarctica could melt. This could then raise global sea level by 216 feet!
The September 2013 National
Geographic shows what the Statue of Liberty would look like with a 216 feet
rise in sea level.
Image Source: ngm.nationalgeographic.com
On the inside of the magazine, this map shows what the US
would look like without any polar ice. Basically, you would have no Florida,
Louisiana, , New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, San
Francisco, etc. All those millions of refugees would have to relocate somewhere.
Imagine the stress to our St. Louis area absorbing millions of climate refugees.
If the Earth warms by five
or six degrees
, scientists don’t even want to think about it.  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.”
Brian Ettling with Dr. Richard Somerville, climate scientist and Professor Emeritus at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, San Diego, CA
My friend, 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.”
So, Adam to answer your
“How can climate scientists possibly know what is
going to happen in the future?”
Hopefully, tonight I have
shown you what really worries scientists and me about climate change.
For my nieces and nephews, I cannot leave behind such a chaotic world to them, their children, or my future grandchildren.
Adam, I have seen your kids at our Toastmasters meetings. They are beautiful children. I cannot leave such a world behind for them also.For you children, I challenge you to be part of the solution to climate change. For everyone in this room, let’s find common ground to work together to reduce our pollution.


Climate Change impacting our National Parks: It’s no Joke

Last November, the leader of my local Toastmasters Club, Steve,
started out the meeting with this joke: New York Times just reported that weapons of mass destruction were found in
Iraq. The next thing they will probably tell us is that global warming is not

Conservative members in the audience chuckled, but I sat there
perplexed as Steve looked directly at me when he recited his joke. Not finding
the joke funny, I sat there looking bewildered. Then someone in audience shouted
out, “Wasn’t that funny, Brian?’
It is still beyond me how this joke was funny. First, the
weapons of mass destruction that were found during the Iraq War were
manufactured before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. As the article states, “The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the (Bush Administration’s) invasion rationale.”
Even more, I could not bring myself to laugh at this joke
because of the climate change part. I spent the previous two decades seeing and
educating myself on the impact of climate change in our beloved national parks.
After spending 22 years working in Everglades National Park and Crater Lake
National Park, I personally saw how climate change had a negative impact on our national
parks. Thus, Steve’s comment did not seem like a joke, but more like a kick in
the stomach.
Climate Change and
Humor can go Together

Sure, I love a good joke. I attempt to use lots of humor in my
ranger evening talk on impact of climate change at Crater Lake National Park, on
YouTube, called The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. I have blogged about using
humor to convey a message about climate change. On a dare over five years ago,
I even grabbed the web domain, Climate Change Comedian and set up a website by
the same title.

When I use humor to educate folks about climate change, I am always
making fun of myself, NEVER the
science of climate change. Even more, over the past year, I filmed four short
humorous climate change videos with my fiancée Tanya, my mom, and my dad to
raise awareness about climate change. The tag line in those videos is all of
them telling me, “YOU’RE NOT THAT FUNNY!”
As a ranger, teacher, Toastmaster, Climate Reality Project Leader, and professional speaker on climate change, my goal is always to
educate, entertain, and inspire an audience to take action to reduce the impact
of climate change. Since giving talks on climate change since 2010, my
philosophy is that people were more likely to listen my message on the science
and my call to action, if they liked me. How were they going to like me? I know
they will like me more if I find a way to use humor appropriately to connect
with them in the universal language of laughter.
There is an old joke where one speaker asks another:
“Do I have to be funny to be a good speaker?”
The other speaker: “Only if you want to be paid to speak.”
Brian Malow and Brian Ettling

Science comedian Brian Malow (pictured on left) is an excellent example of marrying
a deep love of science with very funny comedy in his stand up routines he performs across
the United States. I will write more about him on a future blog.

Yes, there is a time and place for appropriate humor climate
change talks. However, Toastmaster Steve did something I try to never do in a
talk: insult members of the audience, especially those who disagree with me. He
wanted to needle me with his humor. Yes, I love to be teased. Just ask Tanya or
my good friends. However, seeing first hand my beloved national parks ravaged
by climate change, I just could not find the fun in Steve’s joke.
Personally Witnessing
climate change in our national parks

Recently, I blogged Seeing Climate Change in my 22 years as a Park Ranger. I wrote about how I personally discovered sea level rise 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. 
Rock Reef Pass. Highest elevation point on Main Park Road
in Everglades National Park

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 since it lies less than
three feet above sea level.

Learning that fact alarmed me because I had a fantastic time canoeing along the coastal areas in the Everglades. It was a thrill to go explore to see the endangered American crocodiles and Florida manatees. The dolphins would swim under and around the canoe, Bald Eagles soaring overhead, beautiful shorebirds and herons working along the shoreline for all you can eat seafood dinners. Peregrine Falcons would then come out of nowhere to attack the shorebirds.

Best of all, it was fabulous to canoe around the four foot tall
magnificent wild Flamingos which were feeding and standing around the tidal

It shocked me most of the Everglades could be lost due to sea
level rise from climate change. Even worse, the crocodiles, shorebirds,
Peregrine Falcons, and beautiful Flamingos could all lose this ideal coastal habitat
that is actually very rare in the overly developed Florida.During my time working at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, I learned that the snowpack is diminishing each decade. Pikas and white bark pines are struggling to survive with the warmer temperatures and milder winters.

I could even see changes in the park with my own eyes over the two
decades I worked there. I could see that it was raining more and snowing less
in the months of May, June, September, and October. It was stunning how little
snowpack I had seen when I arrived for the summers of 2013 and 2014. The winter of 2014-15 projects to have even less snowpack when I arrive in May or June.

Meeting a eyewitness
seeing climate change in other national parks

Aware of this knowledge of the impact of climate change on
Crater Lake, I have presented my The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly evening
program at the Crater Lake campground amphitheater since August 2011. This
presentation turned out to be very beneficial for me.


NASA invited me to give a version of this talk at the National Association of Interpreters
Convention in Hampton, Virginia in November 2012. Grand Canyon National Park
invited me to give this talk at their Shrine of the Ages Auditorium in May 2013. Oregon Wild conservation group invited me to speak on climate change
impacting Crater Lake at their annual conference in in Portland, Oregon in May

It was at the Oregon Wild Conference where I met a fellow
presenter, Michael Lanza. He gave a very inspiring keynote address. He spoke
about the joy and adventure of taking his wife and his kids backpacking in
America’s most rugged national parks. Unfortunately, he has also seen firsthand
the changes brought by a warming climate. His presentation moved me to buy and
read his book, Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to ExploreAmerica’s Most Endangered National Parks.
Besides Crater Lake and Everglades, Michael’s book made it clear
that all of the national parks are facing serious threats from climate change.
Toastmaster Steve will probably never understand this, but climate change
impacting our national parks is no joke.
The deep connection of
Michael Lanza, his family and the great outdoors.
In early April 2007, on assignment for Backpacker Magazine,
Michael backcountry skied into the Northern Rockies of Montana’s Glacier
National Park. Exploring Glacier along side him was scientist Dan Fagre, who
runs a U.S. Geological Survey field station in West Glacier, MT.
Fagre’s computer models predict the 7,000-year-old glaciers at
Glacier National Park will be gone by around the year 2020. Towards the beginning of my Crater Lake evening program, I mention that fact and show the retreat of the Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park from 1913 to today.  The before and after images of the glaciers
disappearing gets gasps from the audience.

Most of us tend to think of the impacts of climate change coming
in the distant future. However, it struck Michael that the glaciers of Glacier
National Park may disappear while his kids are still teenagers.

As he did more research, Michael wrote to me in a recent e-mail
that he “discovered that many parks—places we’ve diligently set aside to
preserve in their pristine condition—are reeling under ecological calamities
triggered by global warming.”
Michael, along with his wife, Penny, have been taking their son,
Nate, and daughter, Alex, on backpacking adventures since they were babies. During
his Oregon Wild talk, it was amazing to hear the stories how Michael’s kids
love these outdoor trips. The book is a joy to read how the kids had fun
connecting to nature. When the family would find their camping area for the
night, the kids had an incredible natural playground to and run around and toss
rocks and sticks into a rushing creek or a mountain lake. They had pine forests
to endlessly explore, but it never bored them.
It was even more fascinating to hear how the family bonded in
the great outdoors, in contrast to today’s busy high tech, fast paced entertainment
world. This family would actually spend hours every day just talking and
interacting with each other. Imagine that! I could not. It made me sad and
longing for a similar family experience. I came from a family where the TV was
constantly blaring and full-blown sibling fights growing up over which TV shows
to watch. My parents were frequently zoned out in front of the TV from working
so hard at their jobs. Michael’s family backpacking stories seemed like a
different planet.
According to Michael, during those trips, the kids “get our full
attention. There’s nothing in our regular lives that compares to this
uninterrupted time together.”

During his talk, Michael gained the total respect from audience
members like me. Instead of just raising kids as a squeezed in priority, like
most people, Michael compiled over years a growing to-do list of adventures he wanted
to enjoy with his kids before they were independent adults.

Unfortunately, it seemed that carbon dioxide was messing with
his plans. Michael then decided to write a book about spending a year
taking his family on wilderness adventures in national parks that each has a
unique climate-change story.
Between March 2010 and February 2011, the Lanza Family took 11 national
park trips. I highly recommend reading his book. Each chapter and page was a
page-turner to see how they were connecting with nature, each other, and seeing
the impact of climate change was an every present shadow on their trips.

Michael Lanza witnessing
climate change in iconic national parks

Grand Canyon National ParkIn Michael’s own words in his e-mail to me:

“We backpacked a 29-mile, four-day route in the Grand Canyon, from Grandview Point to the South Kaibab Trailhead on the South Rim. The canyon’s famously rugged anyway, but the difficulty is compounded because there’s so little water—meaning you have to carry a lot of it. In 4 days, we would pass just 3 sources of water.


Average 21st-century temps in Southwest expected to increase by about
6° F, threatening the few reliable water sources—bad news for flora and fauna
as well as families backpacking: I left our last flowing creek carrying 27 lbs.
of water for my family for 24 hours, on top of all the gear, food, clothing. If
there were only one or two reliable sources on that 29-mile hike, the trip
would become all but impossible for families and most backpackers.”
On May 7, 2013, I gave my Crater Lake climate change talk at the
Shrine of the Ages Auditorium at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
The agreement between Pete Peterson, South Rim Village District Interpreter Supervisory
Park Ranger, and myself was that I should include information how climate
change impacts on Grand Canyon National Park.Gulp. I only had one day to learn and cram this information into my talk. My best source that day was Stephanie Sutton, District Interpreter. She briefed me on the science of phenology, which is the study how seasonal life cycle events for plants and animals are impacted by variations in climate. Of special concern at Grand Canyon are the gambel oaks.

Gambel Oak


According to Stephanie, with the warming climate temperatures, gambel oaks
are now putting out their leaves earlier in the spring. The winter moth caterpillars
then emerge earlier to take advantage of the earlier leaves. Unfortunately the
Pied Flycatcher still arrives around the same time during the spring migration
only to find all the caterpillars gone into their cocoon stage. As a result of
no food, scientists noted up to a 90% population decline of the Pied

Yosemite National Park

The Lanza family day hiked to Yosemite Valley’s waterfalls:
first to Upper Yosemite Falls, which drops a sheer 1,430 feet, and then on the
Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls.

I first hiked from the valley floor to the top of Upper Yosemite
Falls in October 2006. Yosemite hiking guide said it would take 3 to 4
hours one way. I happened to be in great shape at the time from hiking the 700-foot
elevation gain from the Cleetwood Cove Trail at Crater Lake National Park twice
a week for that summer ranger job. Thus, I shot up to the top of Yosemite Falls
in a little over two hours. The view of the valley and surrounding park was
beyond words.In mid May 2013, I hiked the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls for a day trip. Mist on the trail lived up to its name. I will never forget the loud roar and the power of those waterfalls as I hiked around them.

According to Michael:
“Those waterfalls and rivers depend on some of the heaviest
winter snows in the world. But peak runoff will occur earlier in spring as
temps warm—meaning streams and waterfalls declining or drying up earlier, not
good for animals and plants or hikers who come in summertime.
Models predict 30% to 50% less snow in the Sierra by 2050, and a
tipping point by around 2030 with ‘major changes in the snowpack.’”
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

During my The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly evening program, I
show before and after pictures of the retreat of glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska. Just like my before and after images of the Grinnell Glacier in
Glacier National Park, the audience gasps when they see these before and after
images taken in Alaska.


According to Michael:

The Lanza family “sea kayaked for five days in Alaska’s Glacier Bay, seeing sea lions, seals, brown bears, sea otters, bald eagles and other birds—and listening to tidewater glaciers, rivers of ice that flow from the mountains into the sea, explosively calve bus-size chunks of ice into the bay.

Glacier Bay has seen the fastest glacial retreat on Earth. 40
years ago, there were 12 tidewater glaciers.

Brian Ettling and Larry Lazar

Today there are five. 99% of Alaska glaciers are retreating.”

Glacier Bay is where my fellow co-founder of the Climate Reality
St. Louis Meet-up group, Larry Lazar saw climate change with his own eyes.
Before his trip to Alaska in 2006, Larry was openly doubtful and skeptical of
climate change. This trip changed Larry’s life. It eventually led to us meeting
up and starting the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet-Up group in October 2011.
Glacier National Park
According to Michael: the Lanza family “backpacked to Gunsight
Pass in Glacier National Park, camping on Gunsight Lake, seeing deer in camp
and a young mountain goat blocking our trail.
Glacier had 150 glaciers in 1850; today there are 27, and the
last of them will melt within a decade. The ice disappearing is a foregone
conclusion. Researchers are focused on what that will mean for the flora and
fauna that rely on streams, which will get warmer and have less water in
I have yet to see Glacier National Park. It has a similar season
for the availability of trails and roads as Crater Lake National Park. Thus, I
am working at Crater Lake during the best time to visit Glacier. My hope is to
visit there before the glaciers are all gone.
Joshua Tree National Park

Michael described Joshua Tree as  “a big granite jungle gym for my kids. We did some scrambling, hiking and rock climbing in this mecca for climbers.


The Joshua tree has an interesting evolutionary story. One mega
fauna, the Shasta ground sloth, ate its fruit and dropped the seeds all over
the Southwest. Unfortunately for the Joshua tree, the Shasta ground sloth went
extinct 13,000 years ago. Today, rodents cannot disperse the seeds far enough
to keep up with climate zones shifting 600 meters north per year.
A March 2011 report predicted the Joshua tree will no longer
survive in 90% of current range within 60-90 years—and will not survive in
Joshua Tree N.P.”
I camped and went for short hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
in March 2009. With its Biblical name and distinct desert trees, it felt like a
very spiritual place to me. It would be a huge loss for me to no longer see
those iconic desert trees around.
Yellowstone National Park 

Michael shared, “I’ve been to Yellowstone many times; my
favorite season is winter. We cross-country skied the Upper Geyser Basin,
Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Fall, and the spectacular rim of the Grand Canyon of
the Yellowstone River.

In Jan. 2011, an NRDC/USFS report predicted that whitebark pine,
which produces a nut critical to grizzly bears and more than 100 species, will
be ‘functionally extinct’ in Yellowstone in 5 to 7 years.”

And a July 2011 report predicted that by 2050, wildfires like
the Yellowstone fires of 1988 will occur almost annually.”

I visited Yellowstone about four times over the past 10 years. Just like all these other national parks, Yellowstone has a special place in my heart. It hurts to know that their whitebark pines could be “functionally extinct” extinct within 5 to 7 years.

I really love the white bark pines at Crater Lake.
They are hanging on to the tops of the mountains at Crater Lake by the edges of
their fragile roots as a warming climate brings ever-bigger invasions of
mountain pine beetles attacking them.

Everglades National ParkIronically, Michael had a similar memories of I do of the Everglades: canoeing among the mangroves and being spellbound by the birds, dolphins and alligators. At the same time, he was troubled by the Everglades fate of sea level rise.

Image Source: wikipedia.org


Michael wrote, “Paddling the Everglades was one of our favorite
trips. We kayaked the mangrove tunnels of the East River and canoed 3 days in
the Ten Thousand Islands. We saw great egrets, white ibises, black anhingas,
brown pelicans, great blue herons, a dolphin, and 12-foot-long alligators.
Everglades is arguably America’s most endangered national park.
IPCC 2007 report said oceans may rise by two feet by 2100, but many researchers
now project the ocean rising three to six feet.
Two-thirds of Everglades N.P. is less than three feet above sea
Service 2008 report: if higher estimates of sea-level rise bear out, there’s
potential for ‘catastrophic inundation of South Florida.’
Now the Good News!

There is still hope! While learning and cramming to give my Grand Canyon Evening program, I learned that Grand Canyon National Park is doing what it can to be a Climate Friendly Park. The South Rim Visitor Center has multiple solar panels to provide most of its electricity.
One of many solar panel to power the South Rim Grand Canyon Visitor Center,
pointed out by Park Ranger Pete Peterson

Next to the visitor center, there is a large
cistern tank to reclaim rainwater for landscaping and restroom toilets. The South Rim Village has a very convenient shuttle bus service and bike rentals so visitors can drive less and not idle in traffic jams.

constructed maintenance and natural resource offices are LEED certified (Leadership
in Energy and Environmental Design) by the US Green Council. According to Grand
Canyon park signage, “All new buildings in the park meet strong standards for
sustainable materials and energy efficiency. Building features include:

·      Passive heating and
·      Low-flow plumbing fixtures.
·      Efficient lighting
·      Recycled materials.”My friend and Everglades National Park Ranger, Larry Perez, speaks of positive green actions happening in the Everglades during his climate change ranger talk.

Everglades Park Ranger Larry Perez
Image Source: miamitodaynews.com

In his powerpoint, he mentions
park buildings using more energy efficient light bulbs. Park visitor centers,
office buildings, and maintenance facilities using more solar and wind
power.  Other steps include: providing a
recycling service for employees and visitors, using shuttle buses to transport
visitors within park boundaries, and converting park staff work vehicles to
electric or hybrid vehicles.

I always emphasize in my evening program that Crater Lake National Park is doing what it can to reduce its carbon footprint. It has purchased hybrid vehicles for employee work transportation. It offers trolley tours on compressed natural gas, which emits 90% less carbon dioxide than a large recreational vehicle traveling through the park, according to the trolley company. For over two decades, the north entrance station received 100% on solar power. Starting two years ago, Mazama camper store has portable solar panels to reduce its electric demands.

Mobile solar panels next to Mazama Camper Store,
Crater Lake National Park

acknowledge those actions is not nearly enough for Crater Lake to seriously
reduce our carbon emissions. Thus, I empower my audience to get involved. At my
conclusion, I ask my audience to stop by our visitor centers and fill out
comment forms. I request that they demand Crater Lake National Park do more to
reduce the impact of climate change.

Final Thoughts
Steve and I stopped speaking after his climate change joke. I sent a private
e-mail to him to seek an apology and explain why the joke hurt. I tried to
share the pain I feel for the slow destructive onslaught happening in our
national parks from climate change. Steve did not want to listen.
Realistically, Steve will never understand. I am at peace with this.
if you made it the end of reading this very long blog, you can understand. Many scientists and experts say it is still not too late to avoid the worst and nastiest
consequences of climate change. Unfortunately, scientists think window of opportunity is closing fast.
Pope Francis remarked about climate change,
we destroy creation, creation will destroy us.”

Hopefully, you will contact
your member of Congress, reduce your carbon footprint at home and with your
car, and join effective groups like Citizens’ Climate Lobby, 350.org, BeyondCoal, The Climate Reality Project, etc. Your actions can make a difference
because climate change impacting our national parks is no joke.


Seeing Climate Change in my 22 years as a Park Ranger

For almost 23 years, I have been a summer seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. The biggest change I saw in the park during this time was climate change.

Park visitors will gasp when I mention how long I have worked there. They try to joke, “But, you look so young, did you start working here when you were 8 years old?” Hearing that joke so often, I now respond, “No, I started working here when I was 72 years old. How do I look?”
Seriously, I do think the visitors are correct: maybe spending my summers working at Crater Lake National Park has kept me looking young. The park rangers there like to brag that Crater Lake has some of the cleanest air in the United States. No major industries or cities are nearby the park. The water is pure enough that I have drank directly from the lake while narrating the boat tours.
The hiking in the park is incredible, over 100 miles of trails. I love hiking the peak trails up Watchman, Garfield, Mt. Scott, Crater, or Union Peak. When you stand top of the peaks, you just see the lake or evergreen forests for many miles in any direction. You see very little sign of civilization, except for a occasional road, the Crater Lake Lodge or distant scattering of development in the Klamath Basin.
I absolutely love my job giving ranger talks. The variety of my job is amazing: narrating the boat tours, trolley tours, junior ranger talks for kids, historical lodge talks, afternoon and sunset guided hikes, step on bus tours, special request talks, evening campfire programs, and chatting with visitors at the visitor center. I love educating and entertaining people so this job has been a wonderful fit.
Oh, did I mention all the friends I made working there over the years?
Yes, I will admit it: maybe working there has kept me looking young.
Stumbling Across Climate Change While Working in the Everglades
Unfortunately, Crater Lake has only been a summer seasonal job for me.
From 1992 to 2008, I worked as a winter seasonal park ranger in Everglades National Park in south Florida. My favorite memory from my time there was canoeing in an area of Florida Bay called, Snake Bight. Isn’t that a funny name? Bight spelled b-i-g-h-t is actually a nautical term for a bay within a bay. This coastal bay is located south of Miami and north of the Florida Keys.
The best time to canoe there was the winter, when the average temperature in south Florida is 77 degrees. It is a little humid, but not as oppressive as summer. The cool winter breezes would be an amazing relief as you work up sweat canoeing and get the sticky salt water spray on you. Because you totally leave civilization to canoe to Snake Bight, it is so silent The only sounds you hear are the canoe paddle hitting the water and the sea water sloshing on the outside hull of the canoe.
An American Crocodile lurking in the water

I never saw any snakes when I canoed to Snake Bight. However, the variety of wildlife I did see there was incredible. The bay is very shallow only about 2 to 4 feet deep during high tide! Thus, if you fall out of your canoe, you just stand up. Because it is so shallow, it becomes an all you can eat seafood buffet for the birds: shrimps, crabs, oysters, small fish, etc. I will never forget seeing thousands of tiny shorebirds that would take off in flight when they would be suddenly pursued by a Peregrine Falcon. They swoop in like a jet pilot to go after these clouds of birds that would suddenly turn like they were one organism.

While canoeing around that area I got to see the endangered American Crocodile while would lurk in the water like a WWII U Boat submarine with its iron grey color. They can get up to 8 to 12 feet long. However, they were always leery of the canoes and kayaks which they considered to be larger and more dominating animals.

My highlight though was seeing flocks of up to 40 Flamingos. They stand up to 4 feet tall and have a muted pink color. They would let me circle around them in the canoe as they would stand and feed on the bay shrimp. However, if I got too close, they would suddenly run to gain speed to go into flight. In flight, they have a 6 foot wing span. These birds have a jet black colors on the back half of their wingspans that is only revealed when they take off in flight. These birds are so skinny and gangly looking that you wonder how on earth can they stand or fly so gracefully.It was one of highlights of my life to see the Flamingos, crocodiles, Peregrine Falcons, and all the other amazing wildlife I got to see there.

While working as park ranger in the Everglades, I quickly learned that visitors expect rangers to know everything, don’t they?


Visitors started asking me about this global warming thing that I personally had no knowledge. Soon after I started giving ranger talks in the Everglades in 1998, I started read all I could about climate change so I could be well informed. In the summer of 1999, I went to a Florida City bookstore on my days off and bought the book, Laboratory Earth: The Planetary Gamble We Cannot Afford to Lose by  climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider (1945-2010) of Stanford University.

I then became hooked ever since to to all the books I could find about the science of climate change.
Unfortunately, I soon learned human could easily cause climate change sea level in the Everglades to rise 3 feet in 21st Century.
Park Ranger Steve Robinson
That really shocked me most of the Everglades could be lost due to climate change, but especially the magnificent Snake Bight. The crocodiles, shorebirds, Peregrine Falcons, and beautiful Flamingos could all lose this ideal habitat that is actually very rare in the overly developed Florida.My mentor, veteran park ranger Steve Robinson (1950-2007), who was a fourth generation Floridian and a worked in the Everglades for 25 years. He loved to canoe sail along the mangrove coastline. Steve shared with me his observations how salt water intrusion was changing the mangrove habitat of the Everglades. The science I had read back then was that sea level rose in the Everglades 8 inches in the 20th century. That was four times more than the sea level rose in last several centuries. The mangroves live in a brackish tidal mixture of two to four feet of water, where the fresh water of the Everglades meets the salt water of the Gulf of Mexico. In some cases, the higher sea water, plus human coastal development along the coastal Everglades had help erode the natural mangrove barriers in some areas.

Climate change scared me as a distant threat caused by humans. Unfortunately, I also learned as a ranger that Everglades National Park is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Coastal human development spreading from Miami and Ft. Lauderdale shrunk the historical natural Everglades ecosystem in half. Most of the natural Everglades water in the went to the urban areas and farms. As a result, the ecosystem had lost about 90% of its fish, birds, and alligators since early 20th century. On some days, a visitor could still see some alligators and birds. However, all the historical reports talked about the natural Everglades once teeming with fish, birds and other wildlife.
As I spent more time in the Everglades, it did look like the ecosystem severely beaten up by humans.
I thought it was a breath of fresh air to return to Crater Lake each summer. I had the impression that Crater Lake was relatively free of the climate change and human caused environmental damage impacting the Everglades. I soon learned I was wrong.


Stumbling Across Climate Change While Working in Crater Lake National Park
Currently and as far back as 2008, my good friend and lead interpretation ranger, Dave Grimes, wrote all the articles for the summer visitor guide or newspaper Reflections. Interviewing the park scientists and complying historical data enabled Grimes to write various articles that put together a picture of the climate change impact on Crater Lake.
From Grimes articles, I composed a handout on the Impact of Climate Change on Crater Lake, first published in 2013. While composing this document, I submitted my document to the park scientists to make sure the science in the article was accurate.
This is what I learned how climate change is impacting Crater Lake:
1. Less snow is falling in the park.
Total annual accumulation of snowfall at Crater Lake is around 533 inches every year or 44 feet. It is enough snow that it almost buries the four story Crater Lake lodge in the winter.Since the 1940s, totals have been trending downward by decade and climate researchers expect the trend to continue. Scientists predict the Pacific Northwest will experience even less snow and warmer temperatures in the decades to come.

Most snow that falls in the park eventually leaves the park to nourish the rivers of southern Oregon and northern California. Less snow falling in the park means less water is leaving the park to support cities, ranches, farms, and wildlife downstream.


2. The waters of Crater Lake are getting warmer.

Scientific lake monitoring began in 1965. Since then, scientists have documented the waters of Crater Lake getting warmer. Surface temperatures in the summer have risen at an average rate of 1 degree Fahrenheit (.6 Celsius) per decade, from 54 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius) in a typical year in the 1960s to 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) today. Similar increases have been seen in other North American lakes, including Lake Tahoe and Lake Superior.

It remains to be seen what impacts (if any) this increase will have on the lake’s ecology. I personally hear a researcher speculate that warming lake temperatures could spur the growth of algae, reducing the water’s clarity.

That would be very unfortunate because Crater Lake is still considered to be one of the clearest and purest bodies of water in the world. In fact, its water is cleaner than the tap water in your home. This is because roughly 83% of it comes from rain and snow falling directly on the lake’s surface, while the rest is runoff from precipitation on the caldera’s inner slopes. No rivers or creeks carry silt, sediment, or pollution into the lake.

3. Climate change puts pikas in peril.

Photo by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom,
California Director at National Wildlife Federation

The American pika (Ochotona princeps) is a small mammal that inhabits rocky slopes from Canada to New Mexico. At Crater Lake, pikas are often seen harvesting wildflowers along the Garfield Peak Trail, which starts by the historic Crater Lake Lodge in Rim Village.

Rising temperatures appear to be driving some pika populations extinct. Pikas are not able to tolerate warm weather; their dense fur is not efficient at releasing heat. A few hours in the sun at temperatures as low as 78 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) can be fatal. Climate change also may be altering vegetation patterns and shrinking the food supply of some populations.

Many pika populations live high up on isolated peaks. While other mammals might be able to migrate in response to climate change, most pikas cannot. At least three Oregon pika communities southeast of Crater Lake have vanished in recent decades.

4. Climate change threatens whitebark pines 

Whitebark pines (Pinus albicaulis) grow on the rocky rim of Crater Lake and atop the park’s tallest peaks. They are considered a “keystone” species, since so many other species depend on them for food, shelter, and survival. Unfortunately, half the park’s whitebark pines are currently dead or dying.

Tiny mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae), rarely seen, is responsible for much of the damage. Scientists think, however, that the real culprit may be climate change. For millennia, mountain pine beetles have thrived in the forests of western North America. In the past, however, their intolerance of cold weather generally safeguarded high-elevation trees. Lower elevation trees, such as lodgepole pines and ponderosa pines, were the beetles’ main targets.

Recently, however, the beetles have turned their attention to whitebark pines. Our warming climate is helping these insects survive the winter at higher latitudes and elevations.
My Personal Observation of Climate Change

My first time seeing Crater Lake with my own eyes was May 20, 1992, just 3 days after my college graduation ceremony from William Jewell College, in Liberty, MO. I was amazed how much snow there was on the ground, about 5 to 6 feet, when I arrived to work there for the first time. I love cold weather and seeing snow falling. Because of the high elevation, it was amazing for me to see that snow could fall anytime of year at Crater Lake. This was a welcome relief for me since I grew up hating the very hot and humid summers in my hometown of St. Louis, MO.

At Crater Lake, I always loved seeing snow falling throughout May, the first three weeks of June, and in the autumn months of September and October. However, I am now noticing that it is raining more and snowing less in May, June, September, and October.

The summer of 2013, the total winter snow pack was only 354 inches, only 67% of average accumulation. Because of the low snow fall, the park held emergency staff meetings in May and June to inform us of water conservation and restriction measures.
The summer of 2014 was even worse: the total winter snow pack was 257 inches, less than 50% of average. By 2014, I have been able to document the changes with my own eyes.

One of the advantages for me of working in the same park so many years was that I was able to arrive early in the summer season, typically around the beginning or mid May. Even more, I was assigned to the same park housing unit for the past three years in a row.

On June 9, 2012 and May 5, 2014, I took two pictures from the exact same location from my living room window. The winter of 2011-12 was consider to be closer to an average winter, with close to 400 total inches of accumulated snow. Most of the snow came late in the winter season, so the depth on the ground looked typical for June 9th with 3.5 feet on the ground.

However, when I arrived at Crater Lake on May 5, 2014, there was only about 3.5 feet of snow on the  ground. I was shocked at how little snow I saw. It was half of the normal snow depth 7 to 8 feet of snow that I had seen in past years around this time. It felt like I had arrived at Crater Lake in June, not May!

No, three years do not make a trend. It may not seem like much a difference to many people, but I see with my own eyes a downward trend of the snow at Crater Lake.
The Winter of 2014-2015 continues to show this downward trend of snow for Crater Lake
The winter of 2014-15 seems to continue to show this downward trend of snow. The current depth of snow on the ground at Crater Lake National Park headquarters is 32 inches as of February 22, 2015. The average snow depth for February 22rd is 109 inches, only 29% of average.
The total accumulation so far this winter since October 1, 2014 is 135 inches. The average total accumulation by this date 344 inches, about 39% of average.
Brian Kahn
Image Source: Climatecentral.org

For the second winter in a row, Crater Lake is not alone in the western United States for extremely low snow accumulation. According to Brian Kahn, science writer for Climatecentral.org, California Ski resorts such as Mt. Shasta Ski Park, Badger Pass and Mt. High are closed until the next storm dumps enough snow for skiing. Kahn then writes that “the snow drought extends north into Oregon and Washington. In the Olympic Peninsula located west of Seattle, only 3 percent of its average snow-water equivalent has fallen this winter — an important snow metric for water managers.”

In the meantime the winter of 2014-15 has hammered New England with twice their average snowfall to date. Ironically, Brian Kahn, a native of Boston, MA, a friend, and a former ranger colleague at Crater Lake from 2006 to 2010, then writes “Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon, normally one of the snowiest places in the nation, with less snow on the ground than Boston according to Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service.”


Using Hope and Humor to Educate Park Visitors about Climate Change
Since August 2011, my evening campfire program at Crater Lake National Park is about the impact of climate change at Crater Lake National Park. It is vital when communicating about climate change, whether as park ranger or a private citizen, that we provide people with a sense of hope.
In 2010, a published paper, Apocalypse soon? Dire messages reduce belief in global warming by contradicting just-world beliefs by Rob Willer and Matthew Feiberg of the Psychology Department and Sociology Department of the University of California, Berkeley, discovered “Fear-based appeals, especially when not coupled with a clear solution, can backfire and undermine the intended effects of messages.”
Thus, I built my climate change evening program around a message of comedy about myself, serious education how climate change is impacting Crater Lake, hope how Crater Lake National Park is striving to reduce its carbon emissions, and a concrete action for how my audience can get involved.

I show my audience that Crater Lake is doing what it can to reduce its carbon emissions with trolley tours, hybrid and electric staff vehicles, and solar panels installed by our Mazama Camper store and our North Entrance station. I acknowledge that is not nearly enough for Crater Lake to seriously reduce our carbon emissions. Thus, I challenge my audience to get involved.

The title of this talk is The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, just like the old Clint Eastwood spaghetti western of the same title. At my conclusion, I ask my audience to stop by our visitor centers and fill out comment forms. I request that they demand that Crater Lake National Park should do more to reduce the impact of climate change. Hold our feet to the fire. Be as tough on us as Clint Eastwood would be in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. 
Seeing the negative impacts of climate change at Crater Lake and Everglades National Parks over the past 22 years is not fun.
Brian Ettling
Presenting at Grand Canyon National Park
May, 2013

On the other hand, seeing the hundreds of park visitors positively respond to my climate change evening program has wonderful experience for me. Since presenting this talk numerous times since 2011, I had a paper published about my talk in Yale Climate Connections in April, 2012. I was invited to give this talk as a guest speaker at Grand Canyon National Park in May, 2013. National Journal writer Claire Foran wrote an article about my efforts communicating with park visitors about climate change in the December 2014, Next Time You Visit a National Park, You Might Get a Lecture on Climate Change.

Of all the audiences I am most proud reaching though is my own father, LeRoy Ettling. My Dad loves listening to Rush Limbaugh and occasionally watching Fox News.  When I first became concerned about climate change about 10 years ago, my Dad did not accept climate change. He totally dismissed it saying that ‘the earth goes through natural cycles.
However about three years ago, my dad changed his mind about climate change and accepted the science. I recently asked him (in a soon to be released video) What caused you to change your mind?His response: “You did! You showed me graphs that indicate the snow pack had diminished and rainfall had increased at Crater Lake National Park over the past 70 years.”

I then asked him: “So it was my visual evidence and personal story of that convinced you?”
My Dad: “It sure was.”