For Earth Day, my disorganization makes me a less effective climate advocate

Around Earth Day 25 years ago, a co-worker at Crater Lake National park joked, “People talk about ‘Saving the Earth.’ Yeah, Yeah. ‘Save the Earth’? First, I need to clean up my very messy room and that is not happening anytime soon.”

As a climate organizer and advocate, I grimaced. I did not find it funny because I do I struggle with clutter. I find it hard to throw away any papers or articles, especially as it relates to climate change, conservation, stewardship, caring for nature, etc. 27 years ago when it was first published, I bought a copy of 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. However, I found the book to be very dry and uninspiring, so I tucked it away on the book shelf.

Years later, this was followed by books such as One Makes the Difference by Julia Butterfly Hill, Living a Life that Matters by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, Do What You Are by Paul D. Tieger & Barbara Barron, What Should I Do With My Life by Po Bronson, Attitude: Your Most Priceless Possession by Elwood N. Chapman, If Life is a Game, These are the Rules by Dr. Chérie Carter-Scott, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Dr. Richard Calson, You Are What You Think by Doug Hooper, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, etc.etc. Some of these books had a huge impact on me. Others, I never cracked the cover.

On top of this, I have saved magazine and newspaper articles about climate change, conservation, saving the earth, living a fulfilling life, and even how to get rid of clutter. I also have a backpack full of inspirational quotes for self improvement and saving nature. Thank goodness I had to move twice a year as a seasonal park ranger. It forced me to pitch, I mean recycle because I am very serious about that! Otherwise, I would have so much more books, magazines, notebooks, and papers.

All of this stuff, can be a drag to look at and a time consumer when I periodically have to throw things away. Plus, I easily get distracted by the slips of paper and books around me. Look shiny objects! Who knows what ailment I have. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Maybe. I have been too distracted to find out. Ha!

I do know I would have been a much more effective climate change organizer and advocate without it. Don’t get me wrong. I have accomplished much. I have given over 150 climate change talks to various groups over the past 6 years as a park ranger, Toastmaster, Climate Reality Leader, teaching continuing adult education climate change classes at St. Louis Community College, and a volunteer lobbyist for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Newspapers in Oregon and St. Louis, Missouri have published almost 20 opinion editorials I wrote over the past four years. Plus, I created short goofy YouTube videos with my family that landed me a spot on Comedy Central’s Tosh.o August 2, 2016 playing the Climate Change Comedian.

Brian Ettling appearing with TV host & comedian Daniel Tosh, on his TV show Tosh.o on August 2, 2016. Image source:

Who knows though how much more I could have accomplished if I was organized. Who knows how much further along I would be in a paid career as a climate change organizer without my disorganization. The disorganization speaks to a larger issue though: a lack of confidence in myself.

In the end, I have to face up to the fact that I have been my biggest enemy as I organize to reduce the threat of climate change. I cannot blame anyone but myself for my circumstances. My life is what I have made of it. It has been very good to me, but I could be doing better.

Country singer Garth Brooks observed“The greatest conflicts are not between two people but between one person and himself.” 

Thus, I have to take my life to the next level. As I wrote and tacked on my my closet wall when I was a teenager: I am the master of my destiny.

I write this blog to challenge myself to take my life to the next level. I intend to be a full time, year round climate change organizer and lobbyist. I must take the steps to make this happen. I must do all I can, within my abilities, to reduce the threat of climate change. I have to change.

I hope others reading this will challenge themselves to take their life up to the next level to be more effective on reducing the threat of climate change. I hope I can inspire them on this journey with my internal struggle.

It troubles me all of the blame game that people do who are alarmed about climate change. They want to blame the Koch Brothers, fossil fuel industry, the election of Donald Trump as President, China, U.S.A, climate deniers, over population, greed, politics, politicians, Republicans, moderates, compromising liberals and moderates, capitalism, scientists as poor communicators, the media, society, meat eaters, etc. for why climate change is a serious threat now.  Yes, believe me, each of these groups is culpable for the situation we face with climate change. Yes, I admit have felt frustrated with each of these groups.

However, they are not 100% to blame. Each and everyone of us has played a role in the unprecedented 43% rise of carbon dioxide and the Earth’s temperature increasing 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Unless you are an indigenous who spent his or her whole life living sustainably off the land, all of us play a responsibility for climate change.

As Patrick Gonzalez, climate scientist for the National Park Service, advises,
“A million small things got us into this climate crisis, and millions of actions will get us out of it.”

NASA scientist Robert Cahalan likes to say, “The fact that humans are causing climate change is good news. That means we can do something about it.”

The key is taking action, which is scary for many of us. I struggle with whether my actions have been and are significant. I struggle with the thought if people will really listen to me and be inspired to change. I struggle with the fear of push back from climate contrarians who reject the science or climate pessimists who want to shout out how it is too late. I know if I struggle with these thoughts, others must doubt their abilities.

My backpack full of pieces of paper containing quotes still keeps me going. Hopefully, can inspire you.

1. We are more powerful, vital and influential to the world than we think we are.

As author Marianne Williamson wrote in her book A Return to Love, in a quote that was widely mis-attributed to Nelson Mandela, she affirmed:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Martin Luther King, Jr believed:

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know about Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” 

You matter. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

When I felt down years ago, a friend gave me this inspiring quote:

“You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; You have a right to be here.” – the poem Desiderata by American writer Max Ehrmann.

2. Find opportunities from the disorganization, clutter and setbacks.

Albert Einstein said:

“One: Out of clutter, find simplicity.
Two, from discord, find harmony.
Three, in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

If you can, find ways act and rise above setbacks.

In this quote from Albert Camus:

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

3. Do take control of your thoughts and don’t let your thoughts, small stuff and distractions distract you.

Author Steve Chandler wrote in his book Reinventing Yourself: How to Become the Person You’ve Always Wanted to Be:

“Preoccupation is the enemy of all achievement.”

Another friend gave me this unknown quote years ago:

“If you control your mind, it is your best friend. If your mind controls you, it’s your worst enemy.” 

4. To be effective on issues like climate change, it will involve transforming yourself.

Jackie Kendall, Executive Director of the Midwest Academy stated:

“Whenever changes occur for the better (with society), it is fundamentally because people have taken charge of their own lives, transforming society as well as themselves.”

American psychologist Abraham Maslow reflected:

“You will either step forward into growth or step backward into safety. To live to our fullest potential, we must be willing to risk making choices based on who we might become, rather than staying safe in who we are.”

5. To reduce the threat of climate change it will ultimately be up to you. 

We can talk all we want about how society and humanity must change to reduce the worst threats of climate change, but it really does start with you and me.

I once heard Florida nature photographer, Clyde Butcher say,

“So many of us don’t realize that we are the government. I like to call it ‘the God of they,’ as in, ‘Oh, they’ll fix it.’ No, it’s up to us.”

Dr. Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, wrote:

“In reality, you vote with your actions, not your words.”

One of the most inspiration songs I ever heard that really spoke to me was the 1987 Michael Jackson song Man In the Mirror. In the chorus, he sang:

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”

As a young adult, I really enjoyed listening to the recordings of motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. At the close of one his talks, he recited:

“God said to build a better world.
And I said, ‘How?
The world is such a dark and lonely place 
And I am so young and useless
There is nothing I can do.’
And God said in all of his wisdom,
‘Just build a better you.” 

So you then ask, what can one do to reduce the threat of climate change?

There are so many actions. First, do a home energy audit if you can.
Use public transportation when it is possible. Plant trees. Eat local and organic.
Buy less meat and lower on the food chain. Invest in a more fuel efficient car and home appliances.

Ask your local college or university, pension funds and your investment broker to divest from fossil fuels. Join Bill McKibben’s, which is leading the campaign for fossil fuel divestment. Get involved with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign to force local utilities to retire old polluting coal plants and replace it with clean energy. Pay extra on your utility bill to use clean energy.

Be an informed climate voter and vote in elections. Regularly contact your member of Congress by calling their D.C. office, writing letters to their District Office and e-mailing to tell them that you care deeply about climate change and urge them to act. Get involved with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) and ask your member of Congress to support CCL’s carbon fee & dividend proposal.

Write letters to the editor and opinion editorials in your local newspaper to inform that you that you care about climate change and now is the time to act.

Become trained to become a Climate Reality Leader and give climate change presentations in your community. The next training will be held June 27-29, 2017 in Bellevue, Washington, just outside of Seattle. Apply now. The application deadline is May 23rd.

Again, reducing the threat of climate change starts by taking action.

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.”

Even more, “Think Globally, Act Daily.”

It is time for me to clean up my own clutter and get personally organized as I reflect on Earth Day.

Happy Earth Day to you!

8 Lessons learned from lobbying Washington D.C. & Ottawa, Canada 2016-17

In November 2016, I had the thrill of lobbying Congressional Offices in Washington D.C. and parliament offices in Ottawa Canada for climate action. This was a follow up trip for me from lobbying Congressional Offices for climate action in November 2015. I enjoyed the 2015 trip so much I blogged about it soon afterwards, 8 Lessons I learned lobbying Congress on climate change November 17 & 18, 2015.

This year it took me much longer to write this blog because I did feel very depressed after the November 8, 2016 Presidential Election. I felt like that election was a gigantic step backwards for taking U.S. and global action to reduce the threat of climate change. Months later, I still struggle to motivate myself to write my blog and act on climate change.

However, my friend Carole Holomuzki asked me to write this blog post last November. I am still determined to keep my promise to my good friend Carole. Thus, I am going to share with Carole and you:

8 Lessons I Learned Lobbying in Washington D.C. and Ottawa Canada 2016-17:

1. “Action is the Antidote for Despair.” – Joan Baez.

The first two nights after the November 8th Presidential Election, I could not sleep. I could not understand how the U.S. could elect Donald Trump as President. So many statements he stated during the campaign I found to be sexist, racist, ignorant, and offensive. I could not comprehend how people could vote for him when he seemed so ill-prepared and uninformed to be President. On climate change, it felt like 6 years of my work of organizing, writing and giving public talks got flushed down the drain since Trump intended to reverse all of President Obama’s climate policies.

The Sunday after the election, I arrived in Washington, D.C. to attend Citizens’ Climate Lobby‘s November Education Day. It was the best comfort I could have received after feeling crushed by the election. It did re-energize me to be around hundreds of other climate advocates, volunteers, and the staff of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. All of them felt crushed by the election, but we were determined to carry forward. However, we were excited to be around old and new friends. We were excited by the growth of our organization, all of our efforts, and the progress we were making with members of Congress.

Winston Churchill once said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

I am not sure where I would have been last November if I had not taken these inspiring trips to lobby in Washington D.C. and Ottawa Canada. It was the perfect medicine for me and so many others. Joan Baez did say it best,  “Action is the Antidote for Despair.”

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

Donald Trump will attempt to roll back and reverse as many climate policies as he can.

However, the most important thing is not to give up in despair, but act. You will feel much taking action.

2. The Democrats were completed dejected but the Republicans were bewildered

Before our lobby day, we expected the Democratic offices we met to be defiant and determined. However, we found them to be completely dejected that voters in swing states had rejected them so thoroughly.

I attended a meet-and greet-coffee with Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri.

Brian Ettling meeting with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri.

She had this observation for an audience of Georgetown law students and constituents attending the gathering: “I hate to be less than lady like and say this but, here it goes. To me, it felt like voters in Missouri and middle America gave the Democratic Party the middle finger.”

We were quite surprised by the dark cloud we saw hanging over the Democratic offices. They did not seem to be in much of a mood to talk about climate policy or anything else. Yet, climate change is just physics and chemistry. It does not care who was elected President. It just responds to whatever forcing it receives. Therefore, it was still important to engage the Democrats even if the political climate did not seem good at the time.

On the other hand, we expected the Republican Congressional Offices to be all puffed up and gloating after the election. However, they seemed to be much more bewildered, confused and subdued after the election. Trump had run against traditional Republican positions such as free trade, the war in Iraq, etc. They were not sure at all what he was going to do on health care, the economy, climate change, etc.

Surprisingly, the GOP offices seemed to be much more open minded about Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s proposal of carbon fee and dividend. They were not ready promising to support it. However, the offices seemed more open minded to hear about it and engage us, where they would have been more resistant and hesitant in the past. Trump really seemed to shake things up for Republicans also. Thus, they seemed to be more open to chat with us about climate change.

4. The methodology of showing respect, gratitude, and appreciation for members of Congress works. 

This was my second year in a row of lobbying Congressional Offices in Washington D.C. I had met with the staff of District Office of my member of Congress, Rep. Ann Wagner (MO-02) since 2014. Even though Rep. Ann Wagner is a very loyal conservative Republican who rejects taking action to reduce the threat of climate change, all of my meetings with Rep. Ann Wagner’s staff have been very positive.

Her highest priority issue in Congress is working on bipartisan solutions to stop sex trafficking. Thus, in my meetings with her staff, I always thank Rep. Wagner for her efforts on this issue. The deeply appreciates this sincere show of gratitude. It helps relax the staff that we are not there to just lecture them and shame them to act on climate change. They seem much more open to listen to my concerns to address climate change. Citizens’ Climate Lobby has one rule: we only meet with members of Congress and their staff showing appreciation, gratitude, and respect.

Joel Olson, Darrell Hart, Brian Ettling, Kris Cook: Energy Aide to Rep. Ann Wagner (MO-02), and Miranda Phillips in front of Rep. Ann Wagner’s Washington D.C. Office from Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

I fully attest that this methodology works. Staff of Rep. Ann Wagner are always happy to see me in our lobby meetings. Even more, I had a breakthrough at this meeting. The energy aide of Rep. Wagner wanted my assessment of why did the Washington state ballot initiative 732 failed during the recent November election. I was a little caught off guard because I had prepared hard to just talk about CCL’s carbon fee and dividend proposal.

One week before, I e-mailed this aide links to Wall Street Journal commentary supporting a carbon tax from October 2016 and another WSJ article, A Growth-Friendly Climate Change Proposal. Amazingly, he read the articles and he prepared questions for me. This aide was using me as a resource and he jotted down notes as I shared my observation why the Washington I-732 failed. At Citizens’ Climate Lobby, we aim to be unbiased resources for members of Congress and their staff. We want to build trust with them so they will more openly consider our proposal. Personally, this felt like a victory for me to be a reliable resource for the office of a conservative Republican.

Overall, it does feel like this approach is working. Over the past year, 36 members of the House of Representatives, 18 GOP & 18 Democrats, joined the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus to exchange ideas on climate change solutions. This year, 17 House Republicans co-sponsered House Resolution 195, calling conservative Republican action in the House of Representatives on climate change. These measures were largely pushed by the thousands of CCL volunteers directly asking their member of Congress to take these steps.

One of the greatest politicians of all time, Abraham Lincoln observed:

“It is an old and true maxim that ‘a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’ So with men, if you would win a man to your cause, first convince him you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart; which say what you will, is the great high road to his reason.”  

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

I wrote about this my November 2015 blog and it was still very true last November. This Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference and Lobby Day happened just one week after the 2016 Presidential election. Emotions were still very raw. Apparently, there was big protests of young people front of the Capitol angry that Trump won, in what they perceived as a stolen election.

The word among CCL volunteers inside the buildings was not to cross the street in between the House Office Buildings and the Capitol Building. Otherwise, you could be delayed by the protests. However, I never saw the protests. There are tunnels between the House Office Buildings and the Senate Office Buildings. One can avoid walking out into the street to avoid the weather or protests, if they chose. Plus, the buildings have thick marble walls. Thus, I never heard any of the protests either. As a citizen who felt crushed by the election results, I was glad to know they were there. It was interesting to see that the Congressional staffs that I engaged seemed completely unaware of the protests. Business was still happening as usual.

This was another reason why I felt great about lobbying that day. It was wonderful to take the voices of the protestors into the Congressional Offices with a calm, measured approach to build consensus — that’s what will bring enduring change.

6. Canadian members of Parliament really wanted to hear the American Perspective

In September 2016, my friend Cathy Orlando of Sudbury, Ontario, who is the Canadian National Manager for Canada Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCCL), personally invited me to attend the CCCL Conference and Lobby Day on November 26-29th. I really do admire Cathy as a climate organizer. Plus, my friend Doug Grandt went a couple of times to the Canadian CCL Lobby Day. He always seemed to have a great time attending. Even more, my wife Tanya to decided to join me at the last minute. I was thrilled to have her with me, so it made it a trip of a lifetime.

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling in front of the Centre Block Canadian Parliament Building, November 28, 2016.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives represent district with an average of 700,000 Americans. On the other hand, members of the House of Commons in the Canadian Parliament have ridings representing an average of 100,000 Canadians. U.S. Representatives represent a much larger group of people than their Canadian counterparts.  Thus, if you travel to Washington D.C, you are much more likely to meet with the staff of a member of Congress if you are a constituent. Whereas, in Canada, you have a much greater chance of meeting face to face with the member of Parliament. Ironically, the Canadians that I lobbied with were shocked that you meet most of the time with the Congressional staff, not the members of Congress, if one chooses to go to D.C. to lobby. They flat out told me that Canadians like them would not tolerate traveling to Ottawa and just meeting with the staff.

In Ottawa, my wife and I ended up participating in about 5 meetings with average size groups of 5 Canadians with the meetings with the members of Parliament. If wonder how useful Americans could be in these lobby meetings, you would be surprised. The American Presidential election just happened a few weeks before these meetings. The members of Parliament did want to hear our perspective on this as they were deciding what to do next with their climate policy. I assured them that my meetings with Congress staff in Washington D.C. just two week lobbying with Citizens’ Climate Lobby before went great. The Republican members of Congress were very surprised by the outcome of the election. They were unsure what Trump was going to do and they seemed much more open minded and interested in hearing CCL’s policy of carbon fee and dividend. It felt like being their sharing the American perspective gave the Canadians hope that they should continue their movement towards a national carbon tax.

7. Canada is moving forward with national carbon pricing, regardless of what Donald Trump does.

This conference came on the heels of the big news that on Monday, October 3, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will establish a floor price on carbon pollution of $10 a tonne in 2018, rising to $50 a tonne by 2022. That  While the U.S. was taking a gigantic step backwards with federal climate policy with the election of Donald Trump as President, Trudeau’s announcement showed Canada had taken a big step forward on climate action.

Thus, the lobbying felt totally different in Canada. Instead of trying to lobby U.S. members of Congress to do something or anything on climate policy, Canadian CCL volunteers were applauding the Trudeau government for taking a step forward. The lobbying in Canada was focused on making sure that this carbon tax will be implemented. Even more, these citizen volunteers were lobbying for this carbon tax to be ratcheted up to be more more effective to meet the Canadian commitment to the December 2015 Paris Accords and reduce the global threat of climate change.

Members of Canada Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Brian Ettling meeting with Member of Parliament, Peter Julian, of the New Democrat Party.

Before the start of this conference Canada Citizens’ Climate Lobby released this statement:

“The reality is Canada’s current GHG targets are woefully inadequate and the current carbon pricing plan needs improvements and more details. While CCL was on Parliament Hill, the government of Canada approved two pipelines, adding to the concern that climate change is not being taken seriously by the government.

Volunteers at the conference acknowledged that Canada’s climate targets are currently inadequate and that there is a grave risk of losing the political resolve on the gains Canada has made to secure a healthy climate in the lead-up to next federal election in 2019.”

It was very inspiring to see Canada taking a step forward getting ready to implement a national carbon tax. On the other hand, it was sobering to learn from my Canadian climate friends that their Government was taking a very timid and inadequate steps to address the reality of climate change. It was a lesson to see that even when we eventually get the U.S. Congress to the point where they will pass a pass a national carbon tax, it will probably be woefully short of seriously addressing the problem. Therefore, as American climate advocates, we still have a very long fight ahead.

Volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada, including Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling, on the far right side, lobbying on Parliament Hill, Ottawa Canada, November 28, 2016.

8. I love lobbying Congressional Offices for Climate Action

I have been lobbying Congressional Offices for 3 years now. I really love it. I feel like I have a knack for it. I will be blogging on future posts how my lobbying went in March in Missouri District Congressional Offices. I love establishing and maintaining positive and friendly relationships with the Congressional staff. I love looking for the sweet spots of common ground where we might be able to work together on climate related issues. I love showing them the tenacity and determination that I am not going away, even if they are nowhere close joining me to act on climate change in Congress. I love the planning and homework that goes into making these meetings a success. I love that I have now been doing this long enough that some of these Congressional Offices are starting to see me as a valuable resource for them. I love all of the friends I have made in Citizens’ Climate Lobby as I have lobbied with them.

I full realize this is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is not everyone’s approach to sit down with political parties and individuals they detest to make a difference on climate change. But, it is my love and passion. I hope to continue lobbying as much as I can.

Even more, my wife and I just grabbed the domain name for We hope to eventually transition to that website. We want to set up a 501c4 so I can fund raise and find supporters and sponsors so I can lobby full time for climate action. That’s my calling now!

Stay tuned…

Julie & Julia & Me: My Goal to be a full time Climate Organizer

Oprah Winfrey once said, “The only courage you need in life is the courage you to follow your dreams.”

Julie & Julia

The 2009 movie Julie & Julia, starting Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, just sparked me to pursue my own path as a climate change organizer, public speaker, writer, and lobbyist.

The film is based on two true life stories of Julie Powell and Julia Child.

In 2002, Julie Powell was living in Queens, New York with her husband, Eric, over a busy pizzeria. She worked at a job she found unappealing: the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s call center,  where she answered telephone calls from victims of the September 11 attacks.

As Julie recalls in an interview for the Julie & Julia DVD Special Features:

“I was about to turn 30 and I thought it was the end of the world. I was working a series of disastrous temp jobs. All of the sudden, I literally woke up in the middle of the night and said, ‘You know what I am going to do: I am going to cook my way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I am going to do it in a year and it is going to change my life.

I was talking to my husband and he said, ‘That is a really good idea. What you should do is start a blog.”

The challenge: all 524 recipes in 365 days.

Image Source:

Mixed in with Julie’s story is the true story of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) moving to Paris France with her husband Paul Child, who was a diplomat on assignment from the U.S. State Department. Paul loved his job and Julia deeply loved him and living in France. However, she was unsure how to pass the time there.

Chatting with Paul one day, Julia Child asks: “What am I going to do (in France)?”

Paul: “What do you really like to do?”

Julia: “Eat!”

She enrolls Le Cordon Bleu to learn French cooking. It not always easy for her. Her teacher and fellow students were not thrilled having a boisterous American woman among them who struggles to chop onions, but Julia has the time of her life. Google reviews described Julia’s trek as conquering “French cuisine with passion, fearlessness, and plenty of butter.”

As she soon tells an American friend, “I am in heaven here. I have been looking for a career all of my life and I found it.”

She decides to write a French cookbook in english for Americans who do not have cooks.

From this point on, there was no turning back for Julia Child. She had found her passion and her calling. It was not an easy journey to learn how to cook French and eventually get her book published.

Finding The Inspiration to Transform Your Life 

The theme of this film is becoming what you want to be. As the Producer Eric Steel informs in the Special Features, “This film is about transformation. Putting your life on a set of rails on a destination that you want to go.”

When Julie Powell bemoans early in the movie that she cannot cook like Julia Child or Mario Bataii. Her husband responds, “Julia Child wasn’t always Julia Child.”

Brilliant statement. All of us have to make that conscious decision if we want to have that fulfilling life.

The real Julie Powell on her journey: “I would have said in the beginning (when she started her personal challenge) that is was about learning how to cook. What it was about in the end was challenging myself how to live bravely and actively.” (my emphasis)

I first saw this film on a whim one night in the spring of 2015 with my wife Tanya. It was a Friday night curl up on the couch date night movie, grabbing a convenient DVD off the shelf. Now it’s a fun film that refuses to let me go two years later. Now I am seeking my own path. I want to follow my own destiny, live up to my own potential. I cannot let go of their stories from mind.

Producer Eric Steel observed, “These stories (of Julie and Julia) work so well together. Julie Powell’s dedication to food really came together because of Julia Child’s dedication to food. Julia Child’s dedication to came from a transformation from herself. She remade herself through food.”

Ironically, the film aims to inspire women, yet it is sparking me to take my life to a new level.

Producer Amy Robinson remarks:

“I hope that this story can be a fun movie and a delicious one that can make one want to go out and eat, but also something that may inspire, particularly women, to say, ‘You know what: What do I really love and what can I do with that and make something of my life and try to pursue it.”

My Goal: To Be a Climate Solution Lobbyist

Inspired by the true stories of Julie Powell and Julia Child, what does Brian Ettling want to do?

I want to be a full time climate change organizer, public speaker, writer and lobbyist.

I want to start my own 501c4 organization as a Climate Solution Lobbyist. Just like Julie and Eric Powell in the movie making the big jump from Brooklyn to Queens, my wife Tanya Couture and I made a big move from our hometown of St. Louis MO to Portland Oregon two months ago. We moved because Tanya found a steady job here. Just like Julia Child, figuring out what she we going to do while living in France while knowing that she loved to cook, I am trying to figure out how I am going to make it in Portland with my passion and calling for climate action.

As a Climate Solution Lobbyist, these are my goals:

  1. Help shift my Missouri member of Congress GOP Rep. Ann Wagner (MO-02) in her position on climate change.
  2. Help Vancouver, Washington get a Citizens’ Climate Lobby group established and running.
  3. Lead a successful Oregon statewide Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) tour in October to create more awareness, energy and inspire potential groups for CCL.
  4. Help Missouri establish more Citizens’ Climate Lobby groups.
  5. Be regularly speaking about climate change in the Portland & Vancouver WA area and nationally.
  6. Present a TED Talk on humor and climate change.
  7. Write books/get published as an author.
    a. From Park Ranger to Climate Lobbyist:
    My story of seeing climate change in the national parks led me to be a climate advocate

    b. 10 Solutions You Can Do Today to Reduce Climate Change:
         Action for Our Planet.
  8. Help shift GOP Rep. Greg Walden (OR-02) in his position on climate change.
  9. Get businesses to endorse climate action.
  10. Regular blog and writings to inspire others for climate action.

This is very scary for me to venture out of my comfort zone and follow this path. For the past 25 years, I have been a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. It is so easy for me to stay into the same routine and do the same ranger talks. However, that job no longer has my life’s passion. I want to work full time on climate change organizing, writing, and lobbying.

Ranger Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park

I am excited to return to Crater Lake to work for one month from May 1 to June 8th to help out for the beginning of the season. However, like Julie Powell with her job at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s call center, I do feel like it is time for me to fully follow my passion.

Almost 20 years ago, I saw a video with American mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell advise people of all ages to “Follow Your Bliss.”

In 1987 The Power of the Myth, journalist Bill Moyers asked Joseph Campbell this question:

“What happens if you don’t follow your bliss?”

Campbell: “Then you will have a psychological breakup.”

Like Julie Powell and Julia Powell, it it time for me to fully follow my bliss.

Similar to Julie, I now plan on blogging nearly everyday to clearly put this intention out into the world like never before.

An Important Ingredient for Success: A very supportive spouse! 

Just like Julie Powell and Julia Child, I have in common another amazing gift as they did: a very loving and supportive spouse. My wife Tanya is so enthusiastic about my climate change work.

The Director of Julie & Julia, Nora Ephron, described their marriages this way:

“Both of these men that these two women were married love this thing that their wives were passionate about. They were not threatened by it. There were completely supportive. Those guys loved that they got to eat all of this great food.”

Actress Amy Adams commented, “It is so rare to find men who support women so graciously.”

In my case, I am so incredibly fortunate to have Tanya. She set up this website and she regularly updates it, putting much of her own time on it. She is totally encouraging me to follow my passion with climate change. She has regularly told me that she is proud of my climate work and accomplishments. She is always so positive with everything I do. Like Julie and Julia, this definitely gets me a huge boost in following my bliss. I hope Tanya knows how much I appreciate her!

It is through the love and support of our spouses that we can follow our dreams.

This is how Nora Ephron summarized Julie & Julia:

“It’s about love. It’s romantic. It’s about marriage. It’s about changing your life by writing. It’s about doing things you love. Doing things you care about and finding happiness through that.”

Julie Powell reached her goal and so will I! 

Towards the end of the film, Julie Powell reaches her goal of making all of 524 recipes in Julia Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She writes on her blog that day:

“Julia Child began to learn how to cook because she loved her husband. She loved food and she did not know what else to do with herself and in the process she found joy. I did not understand this for a long time but I do now. Julia taught me that, but here is what Julia really taught me: She taught me to cook so here we are.”

The movie ends with this scrolling text:

The Book Mastering the Art of French Cooking is now in its 49th printing. 

Julie Powell’s book was published in 2005.

She and Eric still live in Queens, but no longer over a pizzeria. 

She is a writer. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said.”Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and a trail.”

Thank you Julie Powell, Julia Child and Tanya Couture for inspiring to follow my own path with climate change advocacy.

More blogs and action yet to come as I set out on my own path.

Stay tuned…

Responding to a friend who saw climate change on his vacation

My friend, Mark Deeter, getting ready to go on a scuba dive in Jamaica.

January 13 2017, my friend, Mark Deeter, saw the damage of climate change firsthand.  He was scuba diving on one of his dives in Jamaica. He had trouble making sense of what he saw.

He posted the video below on Facebook with this comment:
“One of my dives in Jamaica. What’s startling is that the reef is essentially dead. There are a number of small fish but the larger fish are absent. There were not many crabs or crustaceans either. We did see some turtles and an octopus No lobster, eels or other creatures that should be found in a healthy reef. The reason: Global Warming. The warmer oceans have killed the reefs. Only about 1/4 of the existing reefs in the world are healthy. Perhaps my friend Brian Ettling can also comment (we worked National Park Service together and he is a world renown expert on Global Warming).”

Below was my response to Mark:

Mark: I wake up everyday wishing that climate change is not real. I take no joy only sadness with the increased amount of evidence for global warming that we are seeing across the world, especially with what just videoed from you recent dive in Jamacia. Having said that, the only way I know to overcome the dire evidence of climate change that I have seen working in the national parks is to act.

Joan Baez said: “Action is the antidote for dispair.”

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

Mark Deeter and I worked together in Everglades National Park from 1992-93. The Mother of Everglades National Park and one of my biggest heroes, Marjory Stoneman Douglas used to say, “It’s not a matter of being optimist or pessimistic when It comes to saving the Everglades (or the planet). It is something that simply has to be done.”

We will have negative consequences with climate change in the future and now. The question is: How bad do we want it to be?

Our decisions that we make each and everyday day does make a difference. Each and everyone of us has to decide what kind of world that we want to have.

Explorer Robert Swan, said, “The Greatest Threat to Our Planet Is the Belief That Someone Else Will Save It.”

So what gives me hope? The millions of people across the world organizing to reduce the threat of climate change. Canada is getting ready to implement a nationwide carbon tax by 2018. Worldwide carbon emissions have now been nearly flat for three years in a row from years 2014-2016. China plans to invest over $361 billion dollars in renewable energy. In many areas across the world, renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels. In 2015 almost 70% of new electricity installed came from renewable energy. I have not seen the final figures yet for 2016. However, Solar Made Up 64% of New Electric Generating Capacity in the US in the first quarter of 2016. 2010 was the first year where more money was invested in renewable energy than fossil fuels. The future trend shows more money being invested in renewable energy in the future while investment in fossil fuels continues to shrink.

Source: “Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables,” Bloomberg News, April 14, 2015.

I get my best deepest sense of hope for the future by getting involved with other climate advocates. American conservationist Ding Darling said, “It’s not enough to care. We must link our arms together and act collectively.”

I get hope with my involvement in the Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps since 2012. The next Climate Reality Training is in Denver, Colorado on March 2-4. I will be a mentor there. The Climate Reality Project has trained almost 11,000 people across the world over the past 10 years to give climate change talks in their communities.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) gives me tremendous hope for the future. They have over 55,000 volunteers across the U.S and world. They have over 368 groups in the U.S alone regularly engaging their members of Congress and the media to get Congress to pass their carbon fee and dividend. With their efforts in 2016, they enabled 16 GOP members of the House of Representatives to co-sponsor the Chris Gibson Resolution H-424 calling for climate action. With the persistence of their volunteers in 2016, 9 GOP House members and 9 Democrats are now part bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus to discuss climate change solutions.

Brian Ettling lobbying Congressional Offices as a volunteer lobbyist for Citizens Climate Lobby, November 2016.

There is hope in the world. However, we must be open to look for it and, more important, we must be willing to act.

Buckminister Fuller wrote, “If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do… HOW WOULD I BE? WHAT WOULD I DO?”

Mark Deeter and I served together in the the Christian Ministries in the National Parks in Everglades National Park in the winter of 1992-93 and Death Valley National Park in the spring on 1994. For years afterwards, I was not active in any church. However, over the past two years, I have been speaking in different churches on climate change.

As I have been speaking in churches recently, I have been ending with this quote that I heard decades ago:

“You ask what the will of God is and this I know is true. It is the nearest thing that can be done and can be done by you.”

The Best Way I know to Reach Climate Change Doubters

Below is the text from a speech I gave at St. Louis South County Toastmasters on Wednesday, January 4, 2017. The members of this Toastmasters Club for me as “The Best Speaker” for this speech.

Are you frustrated with the world and don’t what to do about it?

I highly recommend joining your local Toastmasters group. Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. But let’s face it: public speaking scares many people to death.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld famously joked, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Image Source:

Mr. Toastmaster, my fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, let me tell you my story. Unlike most people, I am a bit of a ham.

For the past 19 years, I have been a seasonal park ranger in Everglades National Park, Florida and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. I loved every minute of standing in front of an audience, in these iconic places sharing about nature.

Ranger Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park

I even created my jokes as a park ranger, such as:

“What did one continental plate say to the other after the Earthquake?”

Any guesses?

“It’s not my fault!”

I thought that was hilarious. Some of my fellow rangers even stole that joke from me.

As a ranger, I saw something that was not funny at all. Any guesses?

Ironically, one of I the things I quickly learned when I started giving ranger talks is that people expect park rangers to know everything, don’t you?

Around 18 years ago, I was giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park, Florida. Visitors started asking me about this global warming thing. Visitors hate when park rangers tell you, “I don’t know. ” As soon as I could, I rushed to the nearest Miami bookstore and library to read all I the scientific books I could find on climate change.

The mangrove coastline in Everglades National Park

I discovered sea level rise along our mangrove coastline in Everglades National Park. Sea level rose 8 inches in the 20th century, four times more than it had risen in previous centuries for the past three thousand years. Because of climate change, sea level is now expected to rise at least three feet in Everglades National Park by the end of the 21st century. The sea would swallow up most of the park and nearby Miami since the highest point of the park road less than three feet above sea level.

It really shocked me that crocodiles, alligators, and beautiful Flamingos I enjoyed seeing in the Everglades could all lose this ideal coastal habitat because of sea level rinse enhanced by climate change.

Wild Flamingos photographed in Florida Bay inside Everglades National Park. Image Source: Brian Ettling

Even worse, I learned that sea level rise could be a disaster for the millions of people living in south Florida. In the last couple of years, the evidence is mounting for what is now called ‘sunny day flooding.’ This is flooding from ocean water showing up on Miami streets during the highest tides or what’s called ‘king tides’ of the year.

National Geographic now projects up to a 6 sea level rise by the end of this century that could displace up to 13 million Americans who live in these coastal counties.

Image Source, “Americans in Danger From Rising Seas Could Triple,”, March 14, 2016

I became so worried about climate change that I quit my winter job in Everglades National Park in 2008. Since then I spent my winters in hometown St. Louis to educate folks here about climate change.

This led me to join South County Toastmasters 6 years ago this month.
I joined Toastmasters not because I had a fear of public speaking. I had a deep fear about talking publicly about climate change. I was scared of people wanting to argue and angrily confront if they disagreed with me.

Let’s face it: many people consider climate change discussions as a downer.

Climate speaker Dan Miller observed in his TED talk: “Society conspires to suppress the discussion of climate change. As someone who talks about climate change a lot, I can vouch for this. For me, talking about climate change (can feel) like farting at a cocktail party.”

Nobody appreciates that!

Image Source:

My friends, if you scared to death to talk publicly about climate change, I advice you to join Toastmasters. You will joining a supportive community group that can help you learn how to engage and talk with people that strongly disagree with you.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Image Source:

In the past 6 years, I am really thankful for my fellow Toastmasters who strongly disagree with me about climate change. They have really helped become a more effective communicator. I know this because some of my fellow toastmasters have shifted in their thinking on climate change because of me.

Take our incoming club President Adam Kutell. If you go on YouTube, watch a speech I gave five years ago called, “The Debate is Over.” In the speech, I talked about how 97% of climate scientists agree current climate change is real and human caused. After the speech, I had a 5-minute question and answer period. Adam forcefully argued that he disagreed with me on the scientific agreement. Neither Adam nor I have backed down from our positions.

South County Toastmaster member Adam Kutell

Many climate advocates would never want to talk again with a person who disagreed with them so strongly. However, Adam came up to me afterwards and complemented me on my speech.

Three years later, I was preparing for a climate change Toastmasters speech. I contacted Adam for his advice. Adam generously met for coffee with me to practice the speech. That speech also called for a question and answer period from the audience.

I groaned to Adam: “Someone is probably going to say to me: ‘How you say that climate change is real when it was cold in St. Louis recently?’”

Adam responded: “You don’t have to worry about this because you already explained to us (in a previous speech) ‘weather is a snapshot, climate is a movie.’”

St. Louis Gateway Arch in winter


Wow! Adam’s statement felt like a huge victory for me. Here was Adam who is still very dismissive of human caused climate change. He now gets this vital concept.

I am so appreciative of Adam and his partner Erin for their advice and friendship over the years in Toastmasters that I invited them to my wedding over a year ago.

Adam Kutell and Brian Ettling.
Image Source:

For my friends looking to make a difference on climate change, joining Toastmasters is still the best tool I know. You will learn presentation skills, confidence, and build up your expertise. Even those who disagree with you will be very supportive and helpful. You will make professional speakers like Dan Miller proud you can speak about climate change effectively. You will not stink up the room like a fart struggling to explain it, and embarrass our club founder, Howard Brandt.

South County Toastmasters Club Founder Howard Brandt. Image Source: Brian Ettling

Best of all, You may overcome a fear of public speaking, which according to Jerry Seinfeld and many others can be a fate worse than death.

For inquiries into Toastmasters International, check out their website at

If you live in south St. Louis County, Missouri, check out South County Toastmasters

Want to be effective on climate change? Join a Toastmaster group

Concerned about climate change but unsure how to speak out and engage folks in your community? Then I highly recommend joining a local Toastmasters International group in your community.

What is Toastmasters? 

Toastmasters started over 100 years ago by Ralph Smedley, director of education at the YMCA in Bloomington, Illinois. Smedley wanted to help men in his community to learn how to speak, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees. He then organized a club where they could learn these skills in a social environment. He named the group the Toastmasters Club.  The term “toastmaster” referred to a person who gave toasts at banquets and other occasions.

The first unofficial Toastmasters meeting was held on March 24, 1905. Smedley began working at the newly organized YMCA in Santa Ana, California, in 1922, and the first official Toastmasters meeting was held at that YMCA building on October 22, 1924. Since then,

Toastmasters now boasts having 332,000 memberships in 15,400 clubs in 135 countries to help their members improve their speaking and leadership skills.

If you attend a Toastmasters meeting, many people join saying, ‘My boss highly recommended that I join Toastmasters to improve my public speaking skills’ or ‘I have some big presentations coming up with my company so I really do want to learn how to become a better speaker.’

That was not the case with me. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love being in front of an audience as a park ranger and public speaker. I have led ranger talks in the national parks for almost 20 years, starting in Everglades National Park, Florida in January 1998 and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon in June 2006.

As I blogged previously, I became worried about climate change working as a ranger in Everglades National Park from 1998-2008. By the winter of 2007-08, I became so concerned about climate change that I gave up my winter seasonal job in the Everglades. I still worked my summer ranger job at Crater Lake Nat. Park, but I decided to spend my winters in St. Louis. I was determined speak out and educate folks in my hometown about climate change. However, when I return home for the winters, I was unsure how I was going to speak out on this issue. Thus, I decided to attend meetings and join my local South County Toastmasters Club in January 2011.

My experience joining Toastmasters 

When I joined the local Toastmasters Club in January 2011, I stated that I wanted to become a professional climate change public speaker when I filled out my application. When you apply to become a member, you are briefly escorted out of the room by the Sargent in Arms Officer (just his or her club officer title. They are not actually armed). I could hear from the other room some members of the club laughing and snickering when the Club Secretary read my application. They seemed to think it was funny that I wanted to join to gain skills as a climate change public speaker.

I soon learned that many members of that Club are very politically conservative and doubtful of the science of climate change. In some ways, those club members are very reflective of the local community. South St. Louis County is a very white suburban middle class area with community residents that tend to be very conservative.

Brian Ettling speaking
at South County Toastmasters in 2011.

Thus, to chat with this group about climate change was going to be a steep uphill climb with this group. I did not care though because I love a good challenge. I was not going to make a difference on climate change if I only spoke with people that agreed with me, “preaching to the choir.” I needed to go to a place where I could actually possibly persuade and help move people in their beliefs on this issue. Thus, Toastmasters was going to be a great place for me to push myself out of my comfort zone.

On the other hand, Toastmasters International and my local club prided themselves on being a supportive and positive safe place for members to improve their public speaking and leadership skills.

The members were all very friendly when I first showed up as a guest to consider joining their club. Therefore, I also knew that my Toastmasters Club would be a supportive space for me to grow as a climate change public speaker.

My Toastmasters Icebreaker Speech

In February 2011, I gave my introductory speech to the club to share who I am. In Toastmasters jargon, they call this speech, “The Icebreaker.” The title of my speech was I’d rather be here than paradisea small part of the speech is recorded on YouTube. In that speech, I talked about my years as a park ranger in Everglades National Park, Florida. I stated how I had the perfect job and loved it. I got to chat with visitors all day about nature while showing them amazing wildlife such as alligators, crocodiles, dolphins, manatees and various birds. I then gave up that ideal job in warm balmy sunny Florida to be cold and snowy St. Louis because of two words: climate change.

I then told the audience: “In November 2007, while I was still working in the Everglades, I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to the issue of climate change.  Now I want to use my skills I gained as a public speaker as a park ranger to humorously educate and inspire people, like you, to take action to resolve climate change.”

I then closed the speech with “Fellow Missourian, Mark Twain once said, “You should live your life so fully, so that when you die even the undertaker will be sad.” For years, I had the dream to be a national park ranger. Now I am taking the courage to follow my dream to humorously educate people about climate change, starting in St. Louis.  I appreciate you, fellow toastmasters and honored guests, allowing me to share my dream with you in my icebreaker here tonight.”

After the speech, I decided to hang out with my fellow Toastmasters at a nearby sports pub. I was exhausted from giving the speech, but I was stunned by their reaction. Some of them flat out told me they did not believe in global warming and they seemed offended that I would even mention that in my speech. One fellow Toastmaster, Dee, even confronted me with saying, “How do you really know that climate change is real?”

I was totally caught off guard by their negative reaction, but I was not going to let that stop me. Dee actually gave me the idea for my second toastmasters speech. I was going to give a responding speech of how I exactly know how climate change is real. Looks like some of the members of the group really wanted to challenge me on the science of climate change.

Dee asked me a great question: ‘How do I know for sure?’ I felt up for the challenge. Dee gave me all the motivation I needed to start working on my second speech.

My beginning failure and success giving climate change speeches to my Toastmasters group.

For my second speech in April 2011, I went straight at Dee’s question with my speech called, I am going to drop a Stinkbomb on you. I was quite nervous giving that speech. Even more, I had trouble with the slides advancing with using the club’s remote control. I also turned my back to the audience several times to look to see what was on the screen.


I did get helpful advice from my speech evaluator, Tom Terrific, to buy my own remote. He also suggested that I place my laptop in a way that I could use it as a teleprompter so I did not look have to turn to look at the screen so much. That was great advice on public speaking that I use to this day. I soon bought my own remote control that I love using and I do like using my laptop as a teleprompter for some of my climate talks.

Because of my struggles delivering this speech the club members did not vote for me for best speaker for this speech. However, they did vote for me as the Most Improved speaker as encouragement.

Since the stinkbomb speech as so serious and technical about climate change, I decided to go lighter for my next speech in May 2011. It was called “Time to Say Goodbye.” This speech was about saying goodbye to my temporary job at the St. Louis Science Center working at their temporary climate change exhibit, saying goodbye to my fellow Toastmasters as I was leaving St. Louis to return my summer seasonal ranger job at Crater Lake National Park, and my dream of saying goodbye to my ranger job so I could work full time on climate change communications and organizing.

This speech was very successful with the club members. They voted for me as “Best Speaker” and “Most Improved Speaker” at this toastmaster’s meeting. This felt like a big victory for me. It proved that I could giving a winning speech to a conservative group while mentioning my conviction that climate change is real and I must take action.

Successfully convincing my fellow Toastmasters that it is ‘Easy to be Green.’ 

After my second speech, a Toastmasters friend, Nilsa, informed me that my next speech had to be “more uplifting with solutions to climate change.   You scared the hell out of us that WE ARE STINKING UP THE PLANET with your last speech.”

Thus, my next Toastmasters speech that I gave in November 2011 was my sequel or flip side to the Stinkbomb speech.  It is much more upbeat and light.  It was called It is Easy and Fun to Be Green.  I am aiming for the undecided and deniers of climate change in my audience.  I spoke to them in a language they understand: CASH! and not even mentioning the sensitive word of climate change.

With the help of Kermit the Frog from the Muppets, I talked about how ‘Green is Green: it saves you money to go (environmentally) green. I showed about how weatherizing your home can save lots of money.  I spoke to my audience in a way they could relate resolving climate change. I sold them on how reducing your carbon footprint (without using that term) can save you cash (not to mention saving the planet).

As you can see from the YouTube video of the speech, the speech went fabulous. I had fun delivering the speech and the audience enjoyed listening to it. The other Toastmaster members voted me as the “Best Speaker” for the evening.

The oldest member of the club, Howard, who is a hardcore conservative and climate change contrarian, stopped me with a big smile afterwards. He is known in the for being very tight with money. Howard said, “Brian, I still don’t believe in global warming, but I loved your message about saving money tonight. As everyone knows, I am all in favor of that!”

That felt like like a big success to me that I had found a successful message on climate change that reached contrarians that did not offend them. On the contrary, they really seemed to like that message.

I learned a big lesson that night: if we could help persuade people to reduce their carbon footprint even if they still outright rejected the science of climate change, that is good enough for me. The planet wins and they win by saving money, even if they still hated the concept of global warming.

Brian Ettling winning his 4th Toastmasters speech,
with the help of Kermit the Frog

I was now on a roll winning two speeches in a roll. I thought was was getting this Toastmasters thing down pat. However my next two speeches proved harder to dazzle the audience.

Debunking this contrarian myth: Scientists are still in disagreement about climate change

My fifth speech in January 2012 was EXPAND YOUR PATRIOTISM. From my experience of working in nature and my passion about climate change, I wanted to inspire my fellow Toastmasters to think different about the world that surrounds them. So many of my fellow Toastmasters are so deeply patriotic for America. I hoped to broaden their thinking to be more patriotic for the planet. This speech did not move them very much and I was not voted as the Best Speaker.

My sixth speech in March 2012 was The Silence that Speaks to Us. I still am very proud of this speech. I am happy that I was able to record it for YouTube. My focus was inspire my fellow Toastmasters to reconnect with nature and the outdoors. With my passion for climate change, my deeper hope that maybe they would want to protect nature, the environment, and eventually our planet if they did spend enough time in nature.

The audience did not seem persuaded by this speech, so I did not win for this speech. I had now struck out twice in a row. I wondered where my magic touch was and I wanted to win another to get it back.

For my seventh speech in May 2012, The Debate is Over, I was determined to win for more than one reason. I was tired of my losing streak. More importantly though, I was tired of hearing this myth from my fellow Toastmasters: ‘Scientists still disagree that humans are causing climate change.’

I was determined to blow that myth out of the water with that speech. I put together the best powerpoint images I could find. I practiced this speech over and over with family. I practiced this speech with my mentor, Rob. He was very cautious about accepting human caused climate change. At the same time though, he was very supportive of my purpose with the Toastmasters group to improve as a climate change public speaker. He challenged me to do a 5 minute question and answer period with the audience. He felt like many folks in the group would want to respond with questions to challenge my assertion and I should give them an opportunity to do that.

As you can see from the above YouTube video, the sparks really did fly during the question and answer period. My fellow Toastmaster and friend, Adam, did not like my fact that 97% climate scientists accept human cause climate change. He countered that there are meteorologists and paleontologists who still disagree with human caused climate change. I then responded with a theoretical example within the Toastmasters culture to relate of how scientists have this strong scientific agreement on climate change.

That YouTube video shows that the question and answer did become quite contentious between Adam and me. After all that tension, Adam and the other Toastmasters did vote for me as the Best Speaker that night. This was even a bigger victory for me than the first two wins. It showed I could respond to dismissive questions on the spot and still win. It was even more wonderful to take away one of their favorite arguments that they were using against me at the meetings that scientists still in disagreement about climate change.

Debunking this contrarian myth: Scientists in the 1970s were predicting global cooling

My eighth speech was in January 2013, You Can See Clearly Now. For this speech, I wanted to debunk this myth I had heard from some of my fellow Toastmasters: ‘It is snowing or cold today, therefore global warming cannot be real.’ In the speech, I explained the difference between weather and climate. I then showed how climate change is loading the dice for warmer and more extreme weather, while showing there would still be some cold and snowy days.

I did not win Best Speaker for this speech. However, it still felt like a victory. I took away another weapon or myth the contrarians were using against me that cold and snowy weather disproves climate change.

For my ninth speech in April 2013, What Keeps Me Up Late at Night, I wanted to address the addiction to coal energy in the St. Louis area causing climate change. St. Louis currently gets up to 84% of its electric energy from coal. That is over twice the national average of utility energy produced by coal. As a result of this dirty energy, St. Louis has twice the national average of asthma for children, the poor, minorities, and seniors. Because of the dirty air, I was concerned about the health impacts on my family, especially my dad.

I did not win Best Speaker for this speech. It pleased me though that some of the members of the audience wanted to fill out the green cards I mentioned during the speech. Those cards were drafted by the Missouri Sierra Club.  They were addressed to the St. Louis County Council. They asked the St. Louis County Council to request the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to require Ameren, the local electric utility which operates the nearly Meramec Coal Plant, to lower its sulfur dioxide emissions to levels that are safe for our families according to the Clean Air Act.

April 2014, I gave my tenth Toastmasters speech: Growing Up in the 1970s: climate change and me!

In this speech, I wanted to debunk this myth I had heard from years from some of my fellow Toastmasters: ‘In the 1970S climate scientists believed an ice age was coming!’ I wore a disco outfit to reminisce about the fun aspects of the 1970s. At the same time, I showed evidence that there was no scientific agreement in 1970s about a looming evidence. It was actually a minority of scientific papers.

As you can see from the above YouTube video the audience had a lot of fun hearing this speech and I had so much fun giving this speech. I was voted Best Speaker for this speech. Even more, it was fabulous to away another of their favorite argument myths that they were using against me at the meetings that scientists in the 1970s were proclaiming global cooling, not global warming.

This speech was an even bigger victory for me because I had completed my 10th speech in the Toastmasters Competent Communicator Manual. This now meant I qualified to be a Toastmasters Competent Communicator. A big achievement for a Toastmaster. (see picture at beginning of blog)

Debunking this contrarian myth: Earth has not warmed since 1998.

While I was relishing the victory of winning my 10th speech and becoming a Toastmasters Competent Communicator, I was cornered at the next meeting by Steve. He is one of the more hardcore contrarians in that Toastmasters Club.

At first he seemed a little shaken that I had debunked one of his favorite cherished myths. He looked like a kid that their parents had just taken away their security blanket. He said, “Brian, Wow! I had not heard before that there were so many scientists that accepted global warming in the 1970s.”

However, since I had blown apart one of his favorite myths, Steve instinctively felt like he had to hit me with another jab: “You know Brian that the Earth has not warmed up since 1998.”

I responded: “Steve, 2013, 2010, 2009 and 2005 were all hotter years than 1998. This decade so far and the 2000s where all hotter decades than the 1990s. Even more, most of the heat each year from burning fossils fuels ends up in the oceans. Therefore, you cannot say ‘The Earth has not warmed up since 1998.'”

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Steve was stunned that I answered him back so fast. He was used to stumping people when he mentioned this. His face seemed in disbelief that I had such a quick response. He then sheepishly uttered, “Well, you have your sources. I have mine.’

It was then that the light bulb went off and Steve had just given me the idea for my next speech. It was time to slay the often heard myth that ‘Earth has not warmed since 1998.’

I had the perfect source to do this. Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, a top U.S. climate scientist, had this talk on TEDx called, Slaying the “zombies” of climate science. Dr. Shepherd is a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Georgia and director of the University’s Atmospheric Sciences Program. As the 2013 president of the American Meteorological Society, Shepherd is a leading international expert in weather, climate and atmospheric sciences.

In this video, Dr. Shepherd knocks down the “zombie theories” that hinder our discussions about climate change. He defines zombie theories as: “One of those theories that scientists have refuted or disproven time and time again, but they live on like zombies in the blogs and on the radio stations.”

I was able to track down Dr. Shepherd through a mutual friend and he generously gave me his slide deck from that presentation. Armed with his images and my own information that I had gathered, I put together my own speech for my Toastmasters group in November 2014, Slaying a Zombie Theory: ‘Earth has not warmed since 1998.

For this speech, I practiced it often for friends, including my fellow Toastmaster Adam, who is very critical of climate science. He advised me to play up even more the zombie theme. My zombie theme may have been too strong because some of my fellow Toastmasters felt like they were being accused of being zombies. That was not my intention. It was the discredited myths that too many people still believe were the zombies, not them. However, they did not see it that way. I was not voted as the best speaker for this speech.

From this YouTube video, you will see that I had a five minute question and answer period. I was caught off guard by a question from fellow Toastmaster Ginny. She asked about Mars also warming about the same rate as the Earth. I answered it the best I could on the spot. That is the thrill and frightening thing about a question and answer period. You never know what an audience is going to ask you, especially if they decide to play ‘let’s stump the speaker.’

The gift that I do love about question and answer periods is that it sparks me to do my own internet research. It gives me a great opportunity to have an answer ready next time that question is asked. I went to three credible sources afterwards, SkepticalScience, NASA and National Geographic to answer Ginny’s question in an e-mail. The conclusion of these articles indicated to me that evidence of Mars warming seems to be weak and not very well established.

In an e-mail to Ginny afterwards, I wrote that after reading my three sources, I concluded that “any warming on Mars is from an internal influence. It looks like the change in albedo (reflectivity of light primarily from ice, snow or clouds) was probably caused by a shift in the wobble of Mars’ rotation (this same shift triggers glacial and interglacial ages on Earth). It is not the sun or any external influence because solar irradiance (the output of light energy from the entire disk of the Sun, measured at the Earth) has decreased on Earth during the past 35 years. Therefore, any warming on Mars, would purely be coincidental and not related to current warming on Earth or other planets in our solar system.”

The second question I got from Ginny was “Why was last winter so freaking cold?” I was prepared in answering that question. I acknowledge that St. Louis had some record cold temperatures in the winter of 2012-13. However, much of the world had temperatures that winter that were well above their average, such as Siberia, China, Europe, Africa and Australia. I tried to explain to the audience that you have to look at climate change as global and long term, not just short term and in your neighborhood.

I ended my question and answer period with this analogy, “To look out your window and say ‘Man its snowing. Therefore climate change is not real’ is kind of like looking out at the horizon and saying ‘I can see the horizon. Therefore the earth is flat.'”

Oddly, my speech evaluator and other Toastmasters still thought I cheery picked and did not adequately answered the question. Thus, I did not seem to win over the audience with this speech. However, I still felt like I took away another one of their cherished myths that ‘the Earth has not warmed since 1998.’ Another argument they have not hit me with since then.

On a lighter note: Trying to sell Everglades Python Jerky to my fellow Toastmasters  

Since my zombie speech seemed to trigger some strong negative reactions from some of the other Toastmasters, I decided to create a much lighter and more humorous speech for my 12th speech in January 2015. This speech project in the Toastmasters manual was called, The Effective Salesperson.

The objective of this speech was to learn a technique for selling an inexpensive product in a retail store and try to persuade the customer to buy that product.

In November 2014, a good friend and co-worker from Crater Lake, Dave Grimes, gave me Everglades python jerky as a gag gift. I had worked 16 years in the Florida Everglades. While working there, it was sad to witness introduced Burmese pythons out competing the native alligators. Even more, the pythons were eating endangered birds and wiping out other native animals, such as raccoons, rabbits, bobcats, and deer.

For fun, in this speech, I would try to persuade my fellow Toastmaster, Susan, try a sample and buy Everglades python jerky. I did not win Best Speaker for this speech. It probably because I was not able to successfully convince Susan to try or buy the python jerky. I did not bother me that I did not win. As you will see from this YouTube video, I had so much fun giving this speech and the audience really witnessing it.

It was fun to present a lighter and more humorous side of me to my fellow Toastmasters after my heavy hitting previous speech on climate change. Some of my fellow Toastmasters and I still laugh about that speech to this day, so it still seemed like a big success to me.

Successfully selling to my fellow conservative Toastmasters a revenue neutral carbon tax

After the python jerky speech, I next tried to sell my conservative Toastmaster friends on a carbon tax. After the Zombies Toastmasters climate change speech, a fellow Toasmaster, Jerry, told me that he felt helpless and unsure about climate change. He wanted to know “What can I do?”

He requested that I give a future speech with solutions that could relate to him. Thus, the speech I gave for Jerry and other concerned Toastmasters in the room was an upbeat speech called The Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax

In this speech, I made my case that a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend, as proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, is the best conservative, market-based approach to reduce the threat of climate change.

This speech did connect with the conservative Toastmasters audience because they did vote for me as the Best Speaker for this speech.

Successfully reaching my doubtful Toastmaster friend Adam on one aspect of climate change. 

After the carbon tax speech, I wanted to address a question that my friend Adam, who is very doubtful of human caused climate change, posed to me. He wanted me to answer this question in a Toastmasters speech: “How can climate scientists possibly know what is going to happen in the future?”

I thought that was a very fair and good question that I should address during the speech. Like all great questions, it forced me to answer that question for myself: How can anyone, especially climate scientists, possibly know what is going to happen in the future? All of us can think of times in the past when humans were wrong.

Since Adam and I had heated disagreements about climate change in the past, I was determined to get him on my side for this speech. Thus, I met with him at coffee shop to show him the powerpoint and the draft of this speech. Adam had a lot of great suggestions for me for this speech to help reach him and other conservative Toastmasters.

Toastmasters Adam Kutell and Brian Ettling
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This speech also called for a question and answer period. When I was practicing my speech with Adam, I remarked: “Someone is probably going to say to me: ‘How you say that climate change is real when it was cold in St. Louis recently?'”

Adam responded: “You don’t have to worry about this because you already explained to us (in a previous speech) that weather is a snapshot, climate is a movie.”

Wow! I was stunned by Adam’s statement because it looked I had helped move him a little in my climate change speeches. This felt like a huge accomplishment for me. Here was Adam who is still very dismissive of human caused climate change on many levels showing me that I had reached him in one of my speeches.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.” 

On most political issues, Adam and I still don’t agree. However, I have come to see him as a friend and ally in the Toastmasters group. When others members have verbally attacked me for my passion on climate change, Adam has come to my defense.

That is the great thing about Toastmasters that I recommend other climate change advocates join. It is a community support group to help people improve their public speaking and leadership skills. Thus, some members may get personally offended if someone joins looking to improve their skills and confidence as a climate change advocate or a progressive organizer. However, the group as a whole will be very supportive. Even more, you will even get conservatives who will rush to your defense to support your goals in Toastmasters, even if they are completely opposed to your politics.

This is how we make progress on issues of climate change and other social justice or political issues. We engage our community members. Some will despise our message, other unlikely allies will rise to our defense. This is heavy lifting. It is not easy. It is not for everyone, but this is how we progress on issues that we can are about, such as equality, reducing violence, reducing pollution, etc. We won’t solve these problems by just staying home or Facebooking those who just agree with us. We engage our opposition.

After seeking Adam’s advice and input, I gave this speech to my Toastmasters Club in March 2015. The speech was called, Addressing the Opposition: “How can climate scientists predict the future?” Adam was in the audience and I let Adam ask the first question. Unlike previous question and answer sessions after one my speeches, Adam was not hostile this time. He helped me craft it. How could he be hostile to something he helped create?

Even more, I asked Adam to keep his questions short and he totally kept his word on this. He had a short question, instead of a long laundry list why I am wrong and he is correct.

Adam asked the question: “My concern is that all of us know the difference between a chiropractor and a medical doctor in that lot of us don’t trust chiropractors and we think of them as quacks. They are less than a mature practice like medical doctors. And I would say the same thing about climatologists versus meteorologists. Why would we trust climatologists when a more mature science like meteorology when there is a lot less of a belief that climate change is human caused in the meteorology world?”

I thought this was an excellent question by Adam because much of the general public is confused about the difference of climatology versus meteorology. Thus, I answered Adam’s question by trying to walk through the history of climate science starting with Joseph Fourier in 1824 discovering the greenhouse effect, John Tyndall in 1859 discovering H2O and CO2 absorb infrared which confirmed Fourier’s greenhouse effect and Svante Arrhenius proposing in 1896 that human CO2 emissions would prevent earth from entering next ice age. My argument was the the science of climatology was just as old as the science of climatology.

Adam actually seemed happy with my answer and he had no other questions for me. One other Toastmaster, Jason, had a question about volcanoes contributing to climate change. I thought it was an easy question to answer. This was by far the easiest question and answer period I had faced with my Toastmasters. They really seemed to like this speech. They voted for me as Best Speaker for this speech.

This speech felt like a big victory to get my friend and climate doubter, on my side for this speech.

Responding to other climate change contrarian myths from some of my fellow Toastmasters 

Since that Addressing the Opposition speech in March 2015, I have given three more Toastmaster speeches trying to respond to arguments from dismissive and doubtful Toastmasters in my club why they cannot accept climate change.

1. For over a year, my Toastmaster friend Jim was asking me: ‘What can I do to get you to ‘see the light’ to change your mind about climate change?’

In March 2016, I gave this speech, My Winning proposal for you (for climate contrarians looking to change my mind), for Jim and other Toastmasters who kept asking me that question.

Even if I did not win Best Speaker on that night, I was still very proud of this speech. I laid out the case how I had seen climate change as a park ranger working in Everglades National Park. I showed the evidence of sea level rise, increased carbon dioxide in the air supply and more extreme weather events impacting our St. Louis area. I then challenged the audience to meet with climate scientists to try to convince them they are wrong about climate change.

When they start changing scientific minds, then I will change my mind. It was great to deflate another contrarian argument about the high standard they will have to cross to change my mind about climate change.

2. In April 2016, I gave a press conference speech, where the audience could ask me questions. For this speech, I wanted to address this argument: ‘I don’t see this dysfunctional and partisan Congress ever taking bipartisan action to address climate change.’

The title of my speech was Climate change action is slowly building movement in Congress.

I pretended to be a spokesperson for Citizens’ Climate Lobby holding a press conference after the bad news that the Supreme Court put a stay on President Obama’s EPA Clean Power Plan. I highlighted that Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend is the best path forward for Congress. Even more, there is movement among Republicans in Congress, specifically the Gibson Resolution and the House Climate Solutions Caucus, to start addressing solutions to climate change. I then took questions from the audience for 5 minutes.

My Toastmaster friend Erin asked me this question during the question answer session: “How do you forsee the dividend program continuing when the projection is that fossil fuel usage will decrease? As a result one could see that there would be less money to return to households and eventually it would not be able to sustain the increased costs of fuels.”

Fellow Toastmaster Jim then asked me: “I understand you clearly said that this is a market driven solution and not government regulations. My interpretation is that it is not market based. It is not the free enterprise. Corporations are not going to freely volunteer do this. It will only happen with major rigid government controls. Can you please explain that?”

These were both excellent and challenging questions that I really had to think on my feet to answer. I gave detailed answers of my actual answer and the response I would have liked to have given in this previous blog.

I did not win for this speech. Most likely, it was because I struggled answering Erin’s question. However, I love and fear the high wire act of answering questions about climate change on the spot.

3. My most recent speech was in April 2016. In this speech, I really wanted debunk this argument I had heard over the years from some of my fellow Toastmasters: “We should not take any action on climate change until China cleans up its pollution.”

In this speech, I really tried to appeal to the audience’s sense of patriotism, American exceptionalism and competition. I called this speech Hey U.S.A! Let’s win the Clean Energy Race!

During this speech, I showed that China is investing a lot more money in renewal energy. I did acknowledge the elephant in the room that China has a serious problem with pollution. However, the evidence coming out of China is that they are starting to take steps to address it, such a early signs that they are starting to reduce their coal use.

I then warned my audience that with all of the Chinese investments in renewable energy, the U.S. runs the risk of really falling behind China in the race for renewable energy. I then ended the speech by repeating the title: Hey U.S.A! Let’s win the Clean Energy Race!

I am still really proud of this speech. I was able to deflate another climate argument. Best of all, this speech did seem to really connect with the audience. My fellow Toastmasters voted for me as the Best Speaker for this speech.

The climate change questions my Toastmasters Club has helped me learn to answer

As a climate change communicator and public speaker, my involvement in South County Toastmasters has been a huge benefit for me. The conservative members with their very tough, challenging, and pointed questions has enable me to discover answers to these questions:

1. How do we really know that humans are currently causing climate change?

2. What can I personally do to reduce the impact of climate change? 

3. Don’t scientists still disagree that humans are causing climate change?

4. If it is snowing or cold outside, how can global warming cannot be real?

5. Do you realize that the Earth has not warmed up since 1998?

6. Isn’t planet Mars warming at the same rate as the Earth?

7. Is there any hope than Congress and/or me can reduce the threat of climate change? 

8. How can climate scientists possibly know what is going to happen in the future?

9. What can I do to get you to ‘see the light’ to change your mind about climate change?

10. Why should we take any action on climate change when China pollutes so heavily?

11. Don’t volcanoes give off more carbon emissions than humans? 

12. How can a carbon fee and dividend program continue to pay higher dividends to households in the future when the projection is that fossil fuel usage will decrease?

13. How can I believe that global warming is real when I see that Al Gore lives in a big mansion and flies on private jets? 

The final question I have not yet addressed in a Toastmasters speech. However, I heard that statement frequently enough that I got to ask that question to Al Gore directly when I met in in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in May 2013. In e-mails and on social media, I did share Al Gore’s response to my Toastmaster friends.

Final Thoughts

Since becoming a Toastmaster in January 2011, I have given 19 speeches. I am now one speech away from achieving the Toastmaster level of Advanced Communicator Bronze. I have have the thrill of winning Best Speaker 7 times and winning Most Improved twice. On the lighter side, I have also entertained my fellow Toastmasters by being The Jokemaster on more than one occasion.

It has been an amazing adventure so being a Toastmaster so far, but I don’t plan on giving it up anytime soon.

Along this journey, I want to thank my fellow Toastmasters who have been so kind and helpful to me, even with their very challenging questions at times:

My mentor Rob Van Winkle, Tom Terrific, Adam Kutell, Erin Gissell, Susan McConnell, Nilsa Scott, Dee McAliney, Steve Winheim, Jerry Paul, my mentee Rich Puskarich, Kathy Denton, Steve Flick, Dave Domian, Brent Stewart, Ginny Foster, Adam Jackson, Dean Boone, Jack Bettag, Judy Sowers, Howard Brandt, Carl Hendrickson, Jason Murphey, Alan Kirby, and many others.

Want to be effective? Consider becoming a Climate Reality Project Leader

Looking to learn how you can be more effective communicating and acting on climate change? Consider applying to attend the Climate Reality Training in Houston, Texas on August 16-18, 2016.

I first attended at Climate Reality Training in August 21-23, 2012 in San Francisco, California to be trained as a Climate Reality Leader to give climate change talks. I then attended Climate Reality Trainings as a mentor in Chicago July 29-August 1, 2013 and in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in May 5-7, 2015. For me, these trainings feel like “rocket fuel,” propelling me to new heights to take more action on climate change. Thus, I highly recommend attending if you can.

Getting inspiration from Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth

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July 4, 2006, (ten years ago!) a friend and I drove down to the Varsity Theatre in Ashland, Oregon to see An Inconvenient Truth. I had a deep admiration for former Vice President Al Gore for many years. I was intrigued by his 1988 Presidential campaign, which he ran in part to bring attend to environmental issues, especially climate change. I was impressed when Presidential candidate Bill Clinton picked Al Gore to be his running mate for the 1992 Presidential campaign. At the time, I still considered myself to be a conservative Republican leaning voter. I was not sure about Bill Clinton at that time, so I voted for Ross Perot in that election.

Even when I was a Republican in the late 1980s and early 90s, I still cared deeply about environmental issues. After I started working in the national parks in 1992, I was inspired to read all I could about ecology and environmental issues. While working in Everglades National Park in January 1993, I decided to read Al Gore’s book that he had written a few years before as a U.S. Senator, Earth in the Balance. The information in the book how humans are deeply impacting the planet had a profound influence on me. I remember thinking at the time: “I may be a Republican, but thank goodness Al Gore is our Vice President.”

In 1996, I voted for the re-election for President Bill Clinton largely because of Al Gore’s strong commitment to environmental issues. For years afterwards, I could not wait for Al Gore to run for President in 2000. At the time, I was working in the Florida Everglades. Needless to say, I was very crushed and depressed when Gore’s campaign fell short by just 537 votes in Florida.

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Since 2000, I did keep tabs of Al Gore in the media, hoping he would run for President again in 2004. I was disappointed that was not meant to be either. However, in the spring of 2006, I was reading good buzz from the print media about this new documentary about Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth. 

My friend and I were blown away when we saw the documentary in Ashland, Oregon. It sparked a deeper interest in me to learn even more about climate change. I also bought the companion book from the film and rushed to get the DVD when it came out that winter.

Staring at me while I was watching the credits of the film, was the announcement to get involved

I don’t recall ever clicking on that website since I did not own a computer and I had limited access to the internet at that time. Other viewers of the film did and they learned about trainings that Al Gore gave starting in 2007 to teach people how to give his slide show.

A couple of years later, my friend Amelia encouraged me to apply to be a Climate Reality Leader to be trained by Al Gore. For whatever reason unbeknown to me now, I did not think I would be qualified or worthy to apply for those trainings led by Al Gore. Looking back now, I sure wish I had applied for his training years ago. I hate to think that I could now be how much further along I would be on my path as a climate change communicator.

Gaining the courage to apply to be a Climate Reality Leader 

By 2011, I finally got frustrated with myself with my timidness for being too shy to act or speak out on climate change. While working that summer as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, I created a new campfire ranger evening program on climate change called, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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

For years, I was too afraid to speak up about climate change. I was scared of people wanting to argue and debate with me about the science. I was worried about getting shouted down or booed during my ranger talks, if I brought up the subject. It turns out that I could not have been more wrong. The national park audiences were very receptive and supportive of my talk. This gave me the courage to be even more brave, to step out even more on a limb and speak up about climate change.

During 2011, I finally decided to live by one of my favorite quotes:

“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” – Maggie Kuhn

During the summer of 2011, I googled the Climate Reality Project. I noticed Carolyn Treadway, a Climate Reality Leader in the Bloomington-Normal, Illinois area, was featured on their website. I then googled her and got an e-mail address and phone number for her business. I called her phone and sent an e-mail trying to reach out to her. Carolyn and I did chat by phone and I expressed my eagerness to be a Climate Reality Leader.  Carolyn then generously contacted the Climate Reality Project to put in a good word for me to be trained as a Climate Reality Leader. At the time, there was no upcoming trainings in 2011, but Carolyn helped put me on the radar for the organization.

Brian Ettling with Climate Reality Leader Carolyn Treadway

December 4-9 2011, I was in San Francisco attending the Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference, one of the largest annual scientific conferences in the world. I was there to learn all I could about climate change by attending lectures by the world top climate scientists. On that Sunday evening December 4th, I was invited to attend a Holiday party hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists. At that party, I struck up a conversation with Dr. Peter Joseph, a retired physician who had a deep interest in climate change like me.

I quickly learned that Dr. Joseph was a Climate Reality Project Leader. We exchanged business cards and I asked Dr. Joseph to put in a good word for me if he got word of an upcoming Climate Reality Training. That February, Peter did give me let me know about about an upcoming Climate Reality training that August in San Francisco. He did encourage me to apply. Even more, like Carolyn, Peter put in a good word for me with the organization so I would be selected.

Climate Reality Leader Dr. Peter Joseph with Brian Ettling

In late June, thanks to Carolyn and Peter’s lobbying on my behalf, I was selected to attend the Climate Reality Training in San Francisco. This was nearly one year after I had boldly decided it was time for me to get involved with Climate Reality and learn how to give Al Gore’s climate change talks.

The valuable tools and inspiration I gained by attending the Climate Reality Trainings

As I mentioned above, I gained so much knowledge, helpful communication tools and inspiration from attending these trainings.

1. I personally met many Facebook friends who are passionate about acting on climate change like me, like Dr. Peter Joseph, Carolyn Treadway and so many others. At the San Francisco conference, close to 1,000 people attended. It was a huge boost to see that I was not alone in my concern about climate change and my longing to take action. Many other people felt the same way I do.

Andy Goodman
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2. The training provided great tips to share your story about climate change. One of the most notable speakers I remember was Andy Goodman, a nationally recognized author, speaker and consultant on storytelling, presenting, and strategic communications. He advised us to get comfortable sharing your story about climate in order to persuade people to take action. His advice:

“Even if you have reams of evidence on your side, remember: numbers numb, jargon jars, and nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. If you want to connect with your audience, tell them a story.” 

3. The trainings are an outstanding experience to be in the same room with former Vice President Al Gore. He shares his latest climate change talk. Even more, he spends a whole day at the training breaking down his slide show to share how to explain the science and solutions of climate change to an audience. During that day long session, Al Gore shares the stage with Dr. Henry Pollack, emeritus professor of geophysics at the University of Michigan, to make sure the science of climate change is explained accurately.

In my experience of seeing Al Gore in person for the three trainings I attended, I observed Al Gore to be an excellent communicator on climate change. Even more, I found him to be a very engaging, educational, and entertaining speaker. He seemed to really understand the science, problem and solutions of climate change and, most importantly, how to relate the issue to an audience.

To see for yourself, watch this TED talk Al Gore gave earlier in 2016:

The knowledge I gained about climate change was very helpful for putting together my own climate change presentations. Since attending the 2012 San Francisco training, I estimate have given around 100 climate change talks as a park ranger, Toastmaster, and public speaker. Al Gore’s information has been very especially beneficial the continuing adult ed classes I taught on climate change at St. Louis Community College since August 2012. I even blogged about this in December 2015:

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

4. The training is a way you can help others become more effective taking action to reduce the threat of climate change. At the 2012 training in San Francisco, I met Dr. Lucas Sabalka. His name tag stated he was from St. Louis. At the time, he was a Assistant Professor of mathematics at Saint Louis University. When I saw Lucas was from St. Louis, I encouraged him to get involved with the St. Louis group of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). When Lucas returned to St. Louis, he immediately attended attended the local St. Louis CCL group meeting. In June 2013, Lucas attended the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference and Lobby Day in Washington D.C. At that conference, he personally lobbied the offices of his members of Congress to take action on climate change by supporting Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend. Even more, Lucas has continued to be an active volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby to this day.

Climate Reality Leaders Lucas Sabalka and Brian Ettling

In the summer of 2013, Lucas and his wife moved back to their home state of Nebraska. He is now active with the CCL group in Lincoln, Nebraska. On June 30, 2916, Lucas wrote this opinion editorial for the Lincoln Journal Star: Local View: An issue to unite us.

During the winter of 2012-13, Lucas and I worked closely together giving multiple climate change presentations, along with fellow Climate Reality Leader, Larry Lazar, who also trained with us in San Francisco. Larry actually organized and booked the climate change speaking events. The three of us had fun practicing these talks days before we gave them to live audiences of up to 70 people around the St Louis area.

Climate Reality Leaders Larry Lazar, Lucas Sabalka and Brian Ettling

Even more, Lucas also pushed and challenged me to step out of my comfort zone to write an opinion editorial (op-ed) for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Saturday, April 6, 2013 at the monthly CCL meeting. I immediately took up his challenge, wrote out the op-ed and submitted it to the Post-Dispatch that night. The Post-Dispatch published this op-ed on April 19, 2013, close to Earth Day:
For Earth Day, a GOP free-market solution to climate change.

Since then, I have written 17 op-eds published: 5 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and 12 in Oregon newspapers.

Meeting Lucas at the 2012 San Francisco Training was a very fortunate for me to become a better climate change public speaker and writer. Thank goodness I attended that training for just meeting Lucas.

5. At the May 2015 Cedar Rapids Training, I got to personally meet Al Gore. At one of the mentor meetings during the conference, Al Gore met with our group. I asked him the tough question that people have been throwing at me for years:

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

I wrote about his response in this blog post: Asking Al Gore directly how to respond to his critics.

Former Vice President Al Gore and Brian Ettling

Even more, I got to get my picture with former Vice President Gore as we were getting ready to board the same plane at the airport at the conclusion of the conference. The man was clearly exhausted spending three full days leading the training. However, he could not have been more gracious and generous when I asked him if I could get my picture with him.

With my huge admiration for Al Gore with reading his book Earth in the Balance in 1993, supporting his Presidential candidacy as a Florida Voter in 2000, getting blown away by An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, remembering my excitement watching TV when An Inconvenient Truth won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 2006 and Al Gore stood as part of the team on stage to accept it, hearing on the radio that Al Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and seeing Al Gore in person from the previous Climate Reality Project Trainings, it was a dream beyond belief to meet Al Gore, shake his hand, chat with him and get my picture taken with him.

As you can see, becoming a Climate Reality Leader did have a huge impact on my life. I know it can do the same for you. Do consider and do everything you can to apply to attend the Climate Reality Training in Houston, Texas on August 16-18, 2016.

Hope to see you there!

P.S. If your cannot make it Houston for the August Training, keep an eye out for another domestic United States Climate Reality that maybe happening later on in 2016.

Hey U.S.A! Let’s win the Clean Energy Race!


Below is the text of my speech for South County Toastmasters delivered on April 5, 2016.

Question: Guess which country invested the most money in renewable energy, primarily solar and wind, in 2015?

According to a Bloomberg News article from January 2016, in 2015 ‘China was the biggest market for renewables, increasing investment 17 percent to $110.5 billion. That’s almost double the $56 billion invested in the U.S. By the way, all of Europe invested $58.5 billion.

Image Source for China:

One area where the competition between the U.S. and China is fierce is wind power. The non-partisan scientific news website,, had this headline from March 2016, China, U.S. Lead Global Boom in Wind Power.

This article reported, “China built more wind turbines than any other country in 2015, adding 30,500 megawatts of wind power capacity last year, a roughly 22 percent increase over 2014. China surpassed the European Union last year in wind power production capacity after having built enough wind farms by the end of 2014 to potentially power 110 million Chinese homes.”

As of right now, the United States is ahead of China total amount of electricity currently produced by wind. In 2015, U.S. generated 190 million megawatt-hours of wind power, powering about 17.5 million homes. China clocked in at 185.1 megawatt hours. However, with all of its new installations, China could blow past the U.S. this year with total electricity produced by wind. No pun intended!

Image from Brian Ettling taken just outside Great Basin National Park in May 2012.

That’s wind power, what about solar?  Fortune Magazine had this headline from June 2015, China is utterly and totally dominating solar panels.

The article states “China has emerged as the world’s largest market for solar panels.”

It then notes, “China has long been the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels…But now China is buying a lot of its own panels, helping give the country dominance in the global solar economy.”

Image from Brian Ettling of solar panels behind the Cold Strings Station Motel,
RV Park and General Store, Cold Springs, Nevada. May 2012

In March 2014, Investment banking giant Citigroup, released a report titled, “The Age of Renewables is Beginning.” This is because of the explosive growth that has been happening for years with solar and wind energy.

We are now in the Age of Renewables and China has every intention of winning this race.

Yet, within the United States, you will often hear this argument:

We should not take any action on climate change until China cleans up its pollution.

That argument reminds me of this joke. One morning, a mother is cooking breakfast for her two sons. The kids are very hungry and impatient. One boy yells out, “I want the first pancakes!”
The other responds, “No, I do!”
This argument continues on until the mother has had enough of this fighting. She calmly says, “Boys, if Jesus was here, he would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancakes.”
The older brother then glares at his brother and shouts, “You be Jesus!”

Image from Brian Ettling of his nephews Andrew and Sam.

Yes, let’s be honest, if you follow the news, we all know that China has a serious problem with pollution. Air pollution in China is killing up to 4,000 people each day. China’s air pollution has cut life expectancy by an average of 5.5 years in the north of the country.  The Mayor of Beijing said this just one year ago, “At the present time… Beijing is not a livable city.”

China Daily, the widest print English-language circulation newspaper in China, had this editorial in February 2014, “[The government’s] inaction in the face of the heaviest air pollution in a month flies in face of their own promises and their own credibility.”

Image Source: (Ng Han Guan, AP)

Thus, there is a lot of pressure on the Chinese government to reduce their carbon pollution.  You may not know this, but China is taking action on climate change.

The latest news is that for the second straight year, coal use in China has declined. China is looking to the future. China’s President Xi Jinping stated,

“Green and sustainable development represents the trend of our times.”

With all of their investments in renewable energy that I mentioned in the beginning of my talk, China intends to beat us.  As Americans, we should be very concerned. How concerned should we be?

Brian Ettling with former South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis. January 2014


In November, 2010, my friend, conservative Republican South Carolina Representative Bob Inglis had these blunt words for his fellow conservative Republicans in Congress in one his last speeches in Congress:

“I would also suggest to my Free Enterprise colleagues — especially conservatives here — whether you think (climate change) all a bunch of hooey…the Chinese don’t. And they plan on eating our lunch in this next century.

They plan on innovating around these problems, and selling to us, and the rest of the world, the technology that’ll lead the 21st century. So we may just press the pause button here for several years, but China is pressing the fast-forward button.

As a result, we may wake up in several years and say, ‘Geez, this didn’t work out very well for us.’”

Sufflolk County Community College Professor Scott Mandia with Brian Ettling, August 2012.

As Americans who love our country and want to be #1 in the world, let’s not let that happen. As my friend, Scott Mandia, professor of meteorology at Suffolk County Community College in New York, explains, in his climate change talks:

“America is great because when we are faced with a challenge and especially with a threat, we collectively take action and we usually do quite well. The energy revolution is akin to the Internet revolution. I want America to take the lead. If we do, we create jobs, we sell products to China instead of buying them, we have cleaner air and water, greater national security, and energy savings put money directly into our pockets.

Imagine it is the Olympics and the event is the Clean Energy Race. The US track team has always won the big events before and appears to be in the best shape to win again.

However, after the starting gun has fired, the American runner is just jogging while China, India, and others are sprinting. Don’t you want the American to win? There is still time for her to step it up but the window of opportunity is getting shorter every year because she is falling farther and farther behind.”

As Scott likes to ask his audience: Which you rather have, China selling renewable energy technology to the United States, or the U.S. selling clean energy technology to China?”

I think the answer here is very easy:

Hey U.S.A! Let’s win the Clean Energy Race!


Climate change action is slowly building movement in Congress

Brian Ettling in front of the U.S. Capitol getting ready to lobby
Congressional Offices on November 17, 2015.

Below is my speech text that I gave at St. Louis South County Toastmasters on March 30, 2016. My speech text is a short summary of the February 16, 2016 Citizens’ Climate Lobby media packet: Supreme Court stay on the Clean Power Plan.

This speech had a total time limit of 11 minutes. I had a 6 minute prepared speech, which is the first half of this blog. I then had a 5 minute question and answer period. I will then cover the questions and how I answered in the second part of the blog.

Part I

The title: Our plan for a healthy planet IS gaining traction with Congress

Good evening, volunteers of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and all of you here.
Today, I want to report on 3 things:
The recent bad news, our next step forward, and then good news.

First, Let me share the background information: 


December 2015 in Paris, 195 nations agreed to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. This goal was based on the broad understanding that exceeding 3.6 F would result in nasty consequences such as sea level rise, food shortages, worsening storms, and extreme heat waves likely to outpace our civilization’s ability to adapt.

President Obama went to Paris promising that the United States would reduce carbon emissions up to 28 percent by the year 2025. He confidently made that pledge because of a new Environmental Protection Agency regulation, known as the Clean Power Plan. It aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at new and existing electric power plants. A strong commitment from the U.S. was essential to getting other nations to make pledges of their own.

Image from Brian Ettling from November 2010. Navajo Generating Station, coal electric plant.
located near Page, Arizona. It’s considered to be the 3rd largest emitter of CO2 in the U.S..

Now, the Bad News. 

February 9, 2016, U.S. Supreme Court voted, in a 5 to 4 ruling, to delay the implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan until legal challenges are resolved.

Just how disastrous is the Supreme Court’s recent ruling?

Worse than you realize.

Court decision raises uncertainty

The U.S. Paris climate commitment was based on President Obama’s executive action. Unfortunately, it is now facing aggressive challenges in U.S. courts. This Supreme Court stay raises international doubts if the U.S. can now meet its obligations. People worldwide may worry if this regulation will eventually be upheld.

Image from Brian Ettling of the U.S. Supreme Court Building. November 2015.

With this disappointing Supreme Court action, this leads to my second point…

2. Our legislative solution is the best step forward. 

What is the meaning of that ruling for us today?
• The court “stayed,” did not overrule, the Clean Power Plan.
• It is a temporary stay or hold.
• It highlights the weakness of addressing climate change through executive action.
• The Supreme Court could knock this executive action down.
• Even if the Court upholds the plan, a future U.S. President could cancel it.
• The best and most permanent solution is Congressional action, which will last across presidencies.
• This underscores the importance of our work for Congress to pass our proposal. It is market-based approach favored by economists on both the left and the right.

Image from Brian Ettling of U.S. Capitol Building, October 2010.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby recommends a policy known as Carbon Fee and Dividend,

– This fee starts at $15 per ton of fossil CO2 emitted.
– It is placed at the source, coal mines ,oil wells, and U.S. border.
– It increases each year by $10.
– Clean energy is cheaper than fossil fuels within a decade.
– All of the money collected is returned to equally American households on an equal basis.
– Under this plan, 66 percent of all households would break even or receive more in their dividend check than they would pay for the increased cost of energy. This protects the poor and middle class.
– A predictably increasing carbon price will send a clear market signal, for entrepreneurs and investors to fully invest in the new clean-energy economy.
This is a market-based solution.

Image from Brian Ettling of solar panels behind the Cold Strings Station Motel,
RV Park and General Store, Cold Springs, Nevada. May 2012

A 2014 study from Regional Economic Models, Inc., (REMI) found our policy would achieve within 20 years a 52 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and add 2.8 million jobs.  In 20 years, the dividend checks would also increase household incomes for a family of four up to close to $400 a month or $4800 a year, which would more than cover the increasing fuel costs.

Sounds great, you may be thinking, but what are the chances that this dysfunctional and partisan Congress will take bipartisan action to address climate change?

Actually, there is more hope than you might think.

3. The Good News: the progress happening with Congress

1. In September 2015, GOP Rep. Chris Gibson from New York introduced House Resolution 424. This resolution states that climate change could have a negative impact on our nation and that Congress should start working on solutions.
It is now cosponsored by 12 other Republicans.

GOP Rep. Chris Gibson, NY
Image Source:

2. A second breakthrough happened last month: the formation of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, co-chaired by Florida GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch from Florida.

GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo from Florida and Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch from Florida
Image Source:

With this bad news and good news, here is our take home message for you today:

The Supreme Court’s decision to delay the Clean Power Plan exposes the folly of relying solely on executive action to solve the most critical problem facing our civilization. As more Republicans express a willingness to come to the table, Congress must pass our Carbon Fee & Dividend proposal.

Our solution can bridge the huge partisan divide.

At this point, I will take questions from the audience for the next 5 minutes.

Image of Brian Ettling with his t-shirt promoting Citizens’ Climate Lobby, May 2015.

(As soon as I can upload the images from my speech into the video, I will then post my video on YouTube with a link here)

Part II

I will share below the questions I received from the audience and my attempts to answer the questions.

1. How do I forsee the dividend program continuing when the projection is that fossil fuel usage will decrease? As a result one could see that there would be less money to return to households and eventually it would not be able to sustain the increased costs of fuels. 

The was a question asked by my fellow Toastmaster, Erin. While I did spend hours trying to anticipate questions that would be asked of me, I will now admit that I was stumped by this question.

Here is how I tried to answer the question on the spot:

“According to the 2014 REMI study, the dividend keeps going up.”

Since I was stumped, I tried to ask Erin if she meant if the costs of fossil fuels would be higher than the dividend at the end of 20 years.

Erin responded, “If our goal is to move away from fossil fuels and as we use less and less fossil fuels, there would be less money for the dividend.”

Image Source:

Still uncertain how to answer, I gave this reply:

“That is a great question. My understanding from the REMI report is showing is that the revenue for the dividend would keep increasing. As the costs of fossil fuels would keep increasing, it would more than cover the costs. I can always get back to you on that.”

Erin still wanted to press me on the point that we would be using less and less fossil fuels. I responded ‘That is the goal to keep using less and less fossil fuels and emitting less and less carbon dioxide. At that point we will have won and the economy will have switched over to nearly 100% clean energy.’ I then reiterated my point that the dividend would more than cover the costs and I promised to get back to her on that.

Erin still wanted to keep pressing me on this. She was still convinced that the increased carbon taxes and the diminishing use of fossil fuels would cause the dividend checks to get smaller. Therefore, it would not cover the increasing costs.

I tried to respond by saying that “We would be using less and less fossil fuels and it would be covered under the fee, if that makes sense.”

Erin then argued that ‘The fee will eventually go away because we will no longer be able to pay out the dividend.’

I then tried to explain that ‘by that time we will have switched to the clean energy economy and we will no longer have to pay out the dividend.’

Fellow Toastmaster Adam then jumped into the conversation saying, ‘By then, the dividend will be diminished and there will not be enough money to cover the fee.’

At that point, a guest visiting the club then spoke out to defend the carbon fee and dividend. It was hard for me to hear his opinion because he turned his back to me to address Erin and Adam.

To regain control of the question and answer period, I then pivoted to the next Toastmaster who had a question for me.

Image of Brian Ettling during his March 30, 2016 Toastmasters Speech

The response I would like to have given: 

This was an excellent question from Erin. Since I am not an economist and I do not run economic models for a living, I felt out of my league trying to answer that question. Thus, I did e-mail Scott Nystrom, Senior Economic Associate at REMI, who was the lead author of the study, for a response. If I do not hear back from Scott, I will make sure to ask staff with Citizens’ Climate Lobby more familiar with the details of the 2014 REMI study how they would have responded.

Since I have been a member of South County Toastmasters for the past five years, I have become friends with Erin and Adam. I even invited Erin and Adam to my wedding last November. Adam and I have very different on politics and climate change. I look at the world through a very strong progressive view with a strong acceptance of climate change. Adam considers himself to be a strong libertarian and he is very doubtful of human caused climate change. We have struck up a friendship through Toastmasters. I have even sought out Adam’s advice for my climate change speeches to be able to better reach his segment of my audience. Adam and Erin are dating. In conversations with Erin, she seems to agree with many of his world views. Thus, I was fully expecting to get skeptical questions from Adam and Erin.

In the past, I have met with Adam to practice my climate change speeches and draw out his questions so I would be better prepared. I debated to do this for this speech. Professional speakers do know how to better control a question and answer session where anything can happen. Some use techniques of having friends in the audience ask a question that they will know in advance how to answer. I did not want to do that trick for this Toastmasters speech because I did want to be able to fully think on my feet. I have given around 100 climate change talks over the past five years. I fielded lots of questions from the audience during these talks. Sometimes I felt I succeeded with my answers with the audience. Other times, I failed because I did not know enough information or my response ended up triggering a contentious argument with the audience member.

Adam Kutell and Brian Ettling receiving a reward from Toastmasters, May 2012.

Adam or Erin and I are probably never going to agree on climate change, the policy solutions and other political issues. However, they are still friends and want me to succeed as a Toastmaster and a public speaker. Thus, I wish could have answered Erin’s question more like this:

“Erin, that is an excellent question. Believe it or not, in my previous years of talking about climate change, Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the the REMI Report, nobody has asked me that question before  today. I spent many hours trying to prepare for this question and answer period. However, you asked me one question where I will admit my knowledge is limited.

Here is my quick response to attempt to answer your question: My understanding from the REMI report is showing is that the revenue for the dividend would keep increasing over 20 years. As the costs of fossil fuels would keep increasing, it would more than cover the costs.

However, I don’t have any details beyond that so I will do more homework and get back to you. I am fully confident that economists involved with this study are aware of your concern and I have no doubt they have already addressed it.

When Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) commissioned REMI to do this study, CCL deliberately sought out REMI because they ‘are committed to quality data free of ideological taint that you might get from some think tanks.’ REMI is truly nonpartisan advising organizations from the the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) to the National Education Association (NEA) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. They have a stellar reputation in Washington D.C. and nationally for providing impartial and totally independent economic analysis.

CCL did not attempt to influence the outcome of the report in any way.  Their first priority is a livable world, and we can’t get there without an honest and clear-eyed view of the facts.

Scott Nystrom. Image Source:

Having said that, I can still understand how you are skeptical. I would just ask that you let me dig deeper. Let me see if I can contact the author of the study, Scott Nystrom, and get back to you.

You may find this ironic or funny. I have heard from friends in Citizens’ Climate Lobby that Scott Nystrom is a staunch libertarian, like Adam. He is not a tree hugger like me. He would probably agree a lot more with you on politics than me. However, his day job and passion is running economic models. That’s it. However, since Scott has a similar perspective on economics and politics as you, I have no doubt he has already thought of your question. Let me get with Scott or others who are more knowledgable about the 2014 REMI study and get back with you.”

2. I understand you clearly said that this is a market driven solution and not government regulations. My interpretation is that it is not market based. It is not the free enterprise. Corporations are not going to freely volunteer do this. It will only happen with major rigid government controls. Can you please explain that?

This second question was from my friend and fellow Toastmaster Jim Bubash. He freely calls himself a “climate denier,” so I was not surprised that he would ask a question that was critical of my speech.

From the readings I did on the Citizens’ Climate Lobby website, I felt much better prepared for Jim’s question and more confident in my answer.

My response: “That is a great question because already ExxonMobil, Walmart, BP, etc. are already doing their own internal carbon tax. They anticipate that we are going to eventually get a carbon tax. Keep in mind that nearly 50% of global emissions of countries worldwide, they are now doing either a carbon tax or cap and trade. So, this is happening more and more on a global scale. More and more business are saying that ‘we should have a carbon tax’ and countries throughout Europe are doing it. China now has seven provinces with cap and trade. This year they are suppose to implement a nationwide (cap and trade) program. There is actually a global movement towards it. There are actually a lot companies saying that we should have a carbon tax.”

Countries that are or getting ready to price carbon. Image Source: and

Jim was not happy with my answer, so he then reiterated:
“As far as you explained, worldwide and in the United States, wouldn’t this need major government regulations?”

I replied, “It does not (need major government regulations). It is the simplest plan you can come up with. Are you familiar with former Secretary of State George Shultz?”

“Yes,” Jim responded.

I answered, “George Shultz is on is actually in favor of our plan. He is on the Advisory Board for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. He has said (the carbon fee and dividend plan) is the simplest, most transparent, and the easiest to administer because basically you collect the fee at the source, the coal mine, oil mine or the U.S. border and you return that revenue. It is strictly passing through the government. You do not have to increase any regulations with this.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz. Image Source:

It is a much more efficient plan than President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan. President Obama’s plan only reduces emissions 30% over 20 years, whereas (Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend) reduces carbon emissions over 50% (over 20 years). Thus, it is much more efficient and it uses the market to do that.”

Final Thoughts 

For the final minute of my question and answer period, Cathy Bell, a guest who found out about the Toastmasters meeting from an announcement I put on the Climate Reality-St. Louis page, gave this comment to the audience:

“This is not a question but to really address what some people are saying. If you owned a restaurant and you dumped your garbage into the street, you would not be allowed to do that. (Garbage collection) is supposed to be factored into your cost of business that you pay someone to collect your garbage. Yet, we are letting these companies dump what this is, which is garbage, which is going to poison our planet and going to destroy this civilization and the human race. We are letting them dump their garbage into our atmosphere and poison all of us.

They should not be allowed to do that no more than you or I should be allowed to open a restaurant and dump our garbage into the street. As far as the costs going up for households, look at what is happening in California with the costs of solar. The sun is free. The costs of solar is going to come down and it is already coming down. (Unfortunately, the U.S. Government) is subsidizing fossil fuels to the tune of billions of dollars of our tax dollars.”

At this point, my 11 minutes were up, I had to cut off Cathy, end my time, and thank the audience for their time.

Friends who attended my Toastmasters speech from March 30, 2016
From left to right: Ron Trimmer, Don Diekmann, Brian Ettling, Robert Vest, and Cathy Bell.

In that final minute of my question and answer period, I did think that Cathy did a eloquent job of expressing a key point of climate scientists, economists, and climate activists. We must stop using our air supply as an unregulated and unpriced sewer to dump our carbon emissions. Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend is just a tool to correct a market failure. This market weakness could led to very nasty consequence if we don’t act fast to reduce the threat of climate change.

Just like what I talked about in my speech, Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend is a solution that can help create a more livable and sustainable planet.

Thank you for reading my blog.

My Winning proposal for you (for climate contrarians looking to change my mind)

Below is the text from a speech I gave to my South County Toastmaster group on March 23, 2016.

Who here thinks they can perform heart transplant on a family member or fellow Toastmaster better than a heart surgeon?

My fellow Toastmasters I am here today to tell you that I would not recommend myself if you need urgent heart surgery. You may be surprised by this, but I do not have the skills, knowledge and experience to operate on your heart safely. Instead, I have been working as a seasonal park ranger for the past 20 years.

Ironically, one of I the things I quickly learned when I started giving ranger talks is that people expect park rangers to know everything, don’t you?


Around 18 years ago, I was giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park, Florida. Visitors started asking me about this global warming thing. Visitors hate when park rangers tell you, “I don’t know. ” As soon as I could, I rushed to the nearest Miami bookstore and bought the first book I could find. It was Laboratory Earth: the Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose, by the now late climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider of Stanford University. At that time, Dr. Schneider was considered to be one of the top and most respected experts on climate change in the world. I soon became hooked reading all I the scientific books I could find on climate change.

I discovered sea level rise along our mangrove coastline in Everglades National Park. The sea level rose 8 inches in the 20th century, four times more than it had risen in previous centuries for the past three thousand years. Because of climate change, sea level is now expected to rise at least three feet in Everglades National Park by the end of the 21st century. The sea would swallow up most of the park and nearby Miami since the highest point of the park road less than three feet above sea level.

It really shocked me that crocodiles, alligators, and beautiful Flamingos I enjoyed seeing in the Everglades could all lose this ideal coastal habitat because of sea level rinse enhanced by climate change.

Image from Brian Ettling of wild Greater Flamingoes in Florida Bay
in Everglades National Park in 1999.

What is causing current sea rise in Florida and globally? Currently the melting of the land-based ice in Greenland and Antarctica primarily causes it. Why is Greenland and Antarctica melting?

NASA scientists meticulously documented that the average global temperature of Earth rose 1 degree Celsius or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit from 1884 to today. They think that the current rise of temperature is due mostly due to humans burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas. As you burn fossil fuels, carbon dioxide is released. They noticed a 43% increase of carbon dioxide in our air supply over the past 130 years.

More carbon dioxide in our air causes more extreme weather. In other words, we are putting our weather on steroids. It is contributing to drier droughts, such as the extreme 2012 Midwest drought and heat wave, which centered here in St. Louis. Who remembers that event?

Climate change also causes wetter rains and stormier storms, such as the 2016 New Year’s Day flooding we just experienced in the St. Louis area. Who was impacted by that event?

Photo from Brian Ettling of flooding by Creve Coeur Park near St. Louis, MO.
Taken on January 1, 2016.

Besides that, I brought the ultimately proof of climate change with me today. Are you guys ready? The change is underwear fashion from what our grandparents were wearing to what the kids have been wearing today.

The agreement among climate scientists about human caused climate change is incredibly high.  Researchers at University of Illinois interviewed 79 of world’s top climate scientists.  Stanford University researchers interviewed over 908 climate scientists, and University of Queensland in Australia surveyed over 10,306 climate scientists. All of them determined that over 97% of climate scientists agree that human caused climate change is happening.

Image Source:

Yet, even with the 97% agreement, polls from the Pew Research Center show that 55% of Americans still think scientists are still in disagreement or don’t know about the strong scientific agreement. This public misunderstanding is frustrating for climate scientists. Dr. Marshall Shepard, Climate Scientist at University of Georgia Athens had this comment:

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

Despite all I have learned about climate change as a park ranger and private citizen, my Toastmaster friend James Bubash likes to ask me: ‘What can I do to get you to ‘see the light’ to change your mind about climate change?’

For Jim or others are looking to change my mind about climate change: here is my winning proposal for you. I am challenging you today to meet with a climate scientist, just like I have done. In December 2011, I briefly got to meet NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen.

Brian Ettling with NASA Climate Scientist James Hansen
Photo taken at American Geophysical Union meeting, December 6, 2011.

When you meet a climate scientist, I wan you to give them your best Toastmasters speech. Lay out your best case for them why they are wrong and you are correct. There are a couple climate scientists here in St. Louis I could introduce you to give your talk.

There is a catch though. After they hear your talk how they are wrong and you are correct, they get to evaluate the evidence and content of your speech. They get to critique your argument. Just like a tough Toastmasters evaluation from Carl Hendrickson, you must be able to politely accept their evaluation of the weaknesses of your argument.

St. Louis South County Toastmasters member Carl Henrickson

If you are not willing to agree to that, then there is no deal.  Climate scientists don’t have time to just argue with people. Neither do I. You have to be able to show us that the weight of your evidence is stronger than their evidence in order to disprove science.

If you meet with a climate scientist and then convince them that they are wrong, that human caused climate change is not real, then I will gladly change my mind. You will have won.

It’s just like if one of us here needed heart surgery. You are convinced that that all heart surgeons are wrong and we should not listen to them. We would want you to meet with one of the top heart surgeons to convince them and us that the field of cardiology is completely false.

I caution you though this will be a very difficult task if you accept this proposal.

Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences, said this at the end of his

Dr. Ralph Cicerone
Image Source:

lecture at the St. Louis Science Center, January 31, 2011 about disproving climate change:

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

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

Again, Jim and my fellow Toastmasters, my winning proposal to you is to meet with one of the top climate scientists and prove to them and me they are wrong. Just like performing heart surgery on a family member or fellow toastmaster, let’s see if you are up to this very difficult challenge.

Mr. Toastmaster.