Monthly Archives: March 2012

Connecting with animals Can Inspire Us to Save the Planet

WBS Director, Jeff Meshach with Mariah, the Golden Eagle

Recently, I got to look into the eyes of a Golden Eagle named Mariah.  What a beautiful bird!

The Crestwood Sunset Hill Rotary Club invited me to attend their weekly luncheon meeting last Wednesday, March 21, 2012.  I came to scope out the meeting since I am invited to speak at a future club meeting on Wednesday, April 19th.  This Rotary Club invited me to speak on carbon footprints.  I was chosen because of my interest in climate change and my experience as a public speaker on this subject as a park ranger and a St. Louis Toastmaster.

I choose to attend this meeting because I wanted to hear the presentation of Walter Crawford, Jr. He is the Executive Director of World Bird Sanctuary, located just outside of St. Louis in Valley Park, Missouri.   The World Bird Sanctuary (WBS) rehabilitates birds of prey, such as hawks, falcons, eagles, owls, vultures, and other animals.  The Sanctuary also provides education on-site and traveling outreach presentations to the public all around St. Louis and the United States.  Walt was speaking about his 35 year experience rehabilitating birds, caring for them, traveling with them, and showing birds of prey to the general public.

Walt was a very engaging speaker and the Rotary audience hung on every word he said.  He wove amazing stories of being pulled over by the police with the birds of prey perched in passenger seat.  He was able to use his charm and show the birds to talk the police out of giving him tickets.  He talked about keeping eagles in his hotel room and talking a few ladies into seeing the birds in his room.  He shared how the birds are extremely loyal to him or other trainers at the WBS.  It was spell bounding to also hear how the birds always return to the trainer when they are flown before a crowd of 50,000 plus people at a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game.  The huge and very noisy crowds of people never bothers the birds because they are strictly focused returning to the trainer.

The best part though was when the Director of World Bird Sanctuary and fellow trainer, Jeff Meshach,  brought out the Golden Eagle, Mariah.  She is nearly 40 years old and has lost much of her sight.  The audience, especially an 8 year old and a 10 year old boy in attendance, felt awestruck by the bird.  Walt knew bringing the birds out to show people are the key to his successful presentations.  He knows firsthand that people will not be inspired to save nature, unless they can experience it with their own eyes, such as being a few feet away from a live eagle.  He even pointed out the obvious, “You cannot save something unless you love it.”  

Walter Crawford, Jr; Execute Director of WBS

I then was so enthralled with his insightful wisdom that he shared with the group and then with me after the presentation.  He also stated, “Conservation is not a philosophy.  It is how we should live every single day.”  Walt’s mentor was in the 1970s Marlon Perkins, past Director of the St. Louis Zoo.  Marlon Perkins was also the host of the TV show Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom that I watched as a child.  Walt also has continued Marlon’s philosophy that showing animals to “getting people to understand their connection to nature.”

Even more, staying connected with nature will have an impact on you.  Walt stated, “Everything you eat, breath, and drink is a product of what you do.”  Even more, “Everything you touch has an effect on you.”  His words did strike deeply into my heart as I strive to be a climate change communicator and do all I can to promote the protection of nature and the natural world.  Walt really was a ‘Sage on the Stage’ that day.  He certainly motivated me to be a better steward of our planet.

I really felt blessed that I got to see his presentation.  Interacting with Walt, Jeff, and Mariah was the highlight of last week for me.  I also want to thank the members of the Crestwood Sunset Hills Rotary Club, such as Randy Martin, President Jenny Bell, Wesley Finke, Bob Alexander, Randy Martin, and Carl Deutsch for allowing me to feel so welcome at their meeting.

Walt’s words of wisdom reminded me of the Baba Dioum quote:
“In the end, we will only conserve what we love.
We will only love what we understand.
We will understand only what we are taught or allowed to experience.”

I also want to share this video that was given to me and all the other participants at the Earth to Sky: Communicating Climate Change Conference in Shepardstown, West Virginia in September, 2011, sponsored by the National Park Service, NASA, and Fish & Wildlife Service.

I also wanted to share my central philosophy (which is very similar to Walter Crawford’s)
Think Globally and Act Daily

Each and everyone one of us can change the world.
We can do this by 
1. The way we vote
2. The products we buy
3. The attitudes we share with each other. 

Dr. Michael E. Mann’s Hockey Stick Book is a ‘Very Gripping Read’

If you want the latest perspective on climate change science, especially the creation of the famous `hockey stick graph,’ then I highly recommend reading Dr. Michael E. Mann’s book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.” I heard Dr. Mann speak at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco last December. At the end of his talk, he mentioned his up-coming book about the creation of hockey stick graph and his perspective of the onslaught of attacks he received from the contrarians of climate science.
I was eager to read his book and hear his perspective. Before I saw Dr. Mann, what I mostly knew about him was myths perpetrated by his attackers, such as `the hockey stick has been debunked,’ and the fake Climate-gate scandal where supposedly Dr. Mann had `found a trick’ to `hide the decline’ when he created the famous hockey stick graph. I knew these myths were utter nonsense, but I still wanted to hear his point of view. The book did not disappoint me at all.
As a climate change communicator, I did learn much to share when I engage people on the subject of climate change. First, I liked his analogy of `The Serengeti Strategy.’ Lions attack zebras at the edge of herd because the zebras’ stripes make it hard for the lions to see individual zebras in the center of the heard. Deep down, the contrarians know scientific agreement on climate change is overwhelming and extremely strong multiple lines of evidence that climate change exists. Thus, the contrarians desperately nitpick at the hockey stick graph and personally attack individual scientists like Dr. Mann.
In the first chapter, I thought Dr. Mann did a superb job of immediately defending himself against his attackers’ lies. In the fabricated Climate Gate hoax, contrarians loved to wave the stolen e-mail quote of Dr. Mann’s “trick” in assembling the hockey stick graph.   Mike talked about growing up and playing computer games in the early 1980s. Even more, he was deeply influenced by the 1983 anti-nuclear film, War Games. Similar to the movie, he wanted to program his computer to run faster to “learn” from previous games how to play tic-tac-toe better each time. Thus, he discovered a “trick” to get the computer program to learn faster. Mike then defined “trick” on page 6 as “the term scientists and mathematicians often use to denote a clever shortcut to solving a vexing problem.”
What is crazy is contrarians cherry picked a word, “trick,” in the fake scandal. However, they offered no evidence of any kind of “trick” or deception by Dr. Mann. As mentioned in this book, there have now been over 8 independent reviews of the poorly named `Climate Gate’ scandal, including the British Parliament and 2 separate reviews by Dr. Mann’s own university, Penn State. Every time, Dr. Mann was cleared of any wrong doing and the investigating commissions found no devious “tricks” when he constructed the iconic hockey stick graph.
In chapter two, I really latched onto Dr. Mann’s “6 Stages of Climate Change Denial”:
1. CO2 is not increasing.
2. Even if it is, the increase has no impact on the climate since there is no convincing evidence of warming.
3. Even if there is warming, it is due to natural causes.
4. Even if the warming cannot be explained by natural causes, the impact of continued human caused greenhouse gas emissions will be small.
5. Even if the current and projected future human effects on Earth’s climate are not negligible, the changes are going to be good for us.
6. Even if the changes are not going to be good for us, humans are very adept at adapting to these changes; besides, it is too late to do anything about it, and/or the technological fix is bound to come when we really need it.
This ladder was very helpful because I find contrarians to be all over the map to rejecting the science of climate change. They cannot seem to coalesce around a single point of contention. As a matter of fact, when they do gather at their contrarian Heartland Conferences, they contradict each other, clinging to various rungs of Dr. Mann’s ladder. Dr. Mann even points out on page 23 that “Contrarians have tended to retreat up the ladder of denial as the scientific evidence has been more compelling.” This reminds of the movie Titanic when the stranded passengers where running up to cling to projected stern of the boat as the bow was sinking into the water.
Photo source:

The contrarians and undecided folks really need to read Dr. Mann’s detailed explanation in the book how he came up with the hockey stick graph since 1996. He created with cooperation from many other climate scientists, and using vast amounts of tree ring, ice cores, corals, lake & ocean sediment and a smattering of the climate recordings. It was amazing how contrarians so viciously attacked it, ever since, like lions on the Serengeti, trying to find some way to discredit it.

Like Mike points out in the book, numerous other scientists have re-affirmed the Hockey Stick graph with their independent research, data, and computer models. Contrarians love to claim that Mike’s graph was “debunked” because it was not used in the 2007 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, unlike the previous IPCC reports. Mike points out on page 173 that “the purpose Summary for Policy Makers (in the 2007 IPCC Report) was to highlight new findings, not old ones.” Furthermore, he states “the original (1999 hockey stick graph) was one of the dozen reconstructions shown in the IPCC paleoclimate chapter, which collectively formed the basis for the strengthened conclusions of…the anomalous nature of recent warming.”

From meeting Dr. Mann and reading his book, he struck me as a soft-spoken, humble guy who just wants to be a scientist. He even states on page 253, he just wants to be “left alone analyzing data, constructing and running theoretical climate models, and pursuing curiosity-driven science.” Mike does not come across as the kind of guy who is the life-of-the-party telling jokes, seeking the center of attention, and trying to impress people with his accomplishments. He is probably the polar opposite of the Dos Equis `Most Interesting Man in the World’ beer ads.  Dr. Mann is a dedicated climate scientist.

My observation is Mike is an incredible man of integrity. He has accomplished greatly to the world of climate science with the hockey stick graph, co-founding the with Gavin Schmidt and Stefan Rahmstorf, and his other scientific publications and books. This is why his attackers still cannot seem to pin any dirt on him. His scientific body of work is impeccable. The Hockey Stick Graph is a result of years of meticulous research by him and lots of other scientists.
With his honesty, integrity to pursue impactful climate science, and his soft spoken nature, I find the personal attacks, threats, disinformation, and endless political investigations he has received from contrarians very disgusting. However, I am glad to hear that he ends the book by stating that in the future, “My fellow scientists will be fighting back, and I look forward in joining them.”
This is the second book I read by Dr. Mann. I read the first, Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming about a year ago. It has excellent pictures and illustrations to highlight the findings of the 2007 IPCC Report. I used graphs from the book in my own climate change presentations. My minor regret is that I did not have Dr. Mann sign my book when I met him last December. However, now I have two books for him to sign next time I meet him: Dire Predictions and now The Hockey Stick & the Climate Wars, which I highly recommend also.

What do Hummers and Obesity have in common?

Meramec Coal Plant, location Oakville, Missouri. Image Source:

In one word: everything.  In a nutshell, we humans are changing the planet’s climate by releasing over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year.  We release all this carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas) to drive our cars, obtain electricity for our homes and businesses, deforestation and to maintain a very consumptive lifestyle.  This is clearly not sustainable for our planet and our children.  I will never forget reading in the November/December 2002 issue ofSierra Magazine a short article, “Using up the Planet.”  In the article, researchers at Redefining Progress noted that

“In the early 1960s, humans used up 70 percent of the earth’s productive capacity.  By the 1980s, we started to exceed nature’s annual output. In 1999 we were using 125 percent of capacity. At this rate, says lead researcher Mathis Wackernagel, ‘we may have to prepare for ecological bankruptcy.’”

Affluent societies like, the United States, over consumption of the planet’s resources has lead to owning questionable status symbols like GM Hummers and other SUVs, ‘McMansion’ type houses, super large flat screen tvs, and other electronic gadgets.  The outer consumption that leads to climate change though does not end there.

This massive over consumption of resources also extends to our bodies.  In the United States, too many people are eating way too many fatty and unhealthy foods.  According to the US Center for Disease and Prevention, over one third of Americans are overweight and another third are obese.  Just as we may be stripping the planet of our natural resources, excessive over-eating can much damage to our bodies.  It increases health risks such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and even shortening life spans.  An August 25, 2009 edition of USA Today reported that “extremely obese people (over 5% of the US population) — those who are 80 or more pounds over a normal weight — live three to 12 fewer years than their normal-weight peers.”

Overeating is the opposite side of the same coin as climate change.  This has been a central thought of mine ever since I saw a segment on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution show on ABC network in April, 2010.  Chef and media personality Jamie Oliver traveled to Huntington, West Virginia, one of the unhealthiest cities in America, to try to convince the locals to eat healthier.  He has a really hard time making the case to a central figure on the town, ‘Rod the Dawg,’ a local radio talk DJ.  With a very creative message, Jamie takes Rod to a local funeral home to show the extra large caskets in the funeral home.  Jamie’s point: as Americans have increased in girth, funeral homes had to respond by creating larger caskets.  You can watch the show segment here:

For human beings to live sustainable with our planet, we are going to have to forgo the Hummers and greatly reduce the intake of those fatty foods.  Exercise and fresh air should be more valued than TV.  Public transportation, bicycling, and walking should be more of a status symbol than a Hummer.  Caring for the planet also means caring for the way that we treat our bodies.


Extending an Olive Branch to a Climate Change Advesary

Image Source: 


I will never forget my mentor Steve telling me, “There is only one way can deal with your enemies, you engage them.”

His point was ignoring people never inspires them to change.  The best way to reach your adversaries is through conversation.  My friends have huge debates how to engage those who reject the science of climate change and spread misinformation.  Some friends like to engage them in a vigorous debate.  Other friends, citing evidence of prominent reports such as Global Warming’s 6 Americas Report in May 2011 and The Psychology of Climate Change Communication, point out that it can be a huge waste of time to engage people who are completely dismissive of the science of climate change.

I agree more with those who say it is a waste of time to chat with people who are so hostile to the message of climate change.  I have even said so many times myself: The hardest substance in the universe is the human mind.  Once a mind is made up, it can be impossible to change it.”  Thus, I try not to engage closed minded skeptics about climate change.  I have had little success changing their minds.
However, last Sunday evening, I saw an opening to engage my enemies that hopefully would make Steve proud.  I read Brian Merchant’s article from May 12, 2011, “Do Climate Skeptics change their mind?”  In the article, Brian asked Anthony Watts, the meteorologist who runs a very popular climate-skeptic blog, Watts Up With That, what could lead him to accept climate science. A “starting point for the process,” he said, wouldn’t begin with more facts but instead with a public apology from the high profile scientists who have labeled him and his colleagues “deniers.”

Below is the letter I sent to Anthony on his website.  I never did hear back from Anthony.  No surprise.  That did not bother me.  He probably receives plenty of e-mails.  Or, he could have been suspicious about the intent of my e-mail.  That’s his judgment call.

The only disappointing response was when I posted the letter on the Facebook page “Global Warming Fact of the Day.”  Overall, the feedback was very negative from the group about my attempts to reach out to Mr. Watts.  I received responses, such as “No reason to believe that ‘nice’ might work with psychopaths,” “Abandon “denier”? OK, sure. I’ll try to consistently use “denialist” instead,” “(Anthony Watts) is a hack, as well as a cultist who is a clear and present danger to civilization.” and “Walks like a denier; talks like a denier; quacks like a …”

Somehow, they thought I had grand delusions I could change Anthony’s mind over night.  Nope.  I even expressed that in the letter.  However, I saw an opportunity to extend an olive branch.  Anthony stated in the article that he could be more open to the science if prominent people apologized for using the term “Deniers.”  I decided to call his bluff on this.  Anthony decided not to take up my challenge.  Oh, well.  Life goes on.  There was no harm in trying.

I think Steve would be proud of me also for taking this action.  I did an engage an enemy, in a peaceful way with an open heart.  I remember Steve once telling me when it comes to doing the right thing and saving nature, that “At the very least, you have to try.”  Steve, I salute you for teaching me to be a peaceful warrior for the planet.

Mr. Watts:
I just read the article from Slate by Brian Merchant, “Do Climate Skeptics Change Their Minds?” from May 12, 2011. I really enjoyed the article. In the article, the author, Brian Merchant, I asked you what could lead you to accept climate science. Your response: ‘A “starting point for the process wouldn’t begin with more facts but instead with a public apology from the high profile scientists who have labeled you and your colleagues ‘deniers.'”
I thought this was very intriguing. I really try hard not to use this term, since you and your colleagues do find the term so offensive. I am extremely concerned about climate change and I do speak out in the St. Louis area about this issue. I recently went to AGU this past December and met so many top climate change communicators and scientists. I really enjoyed getting to know them. Any chance that if I approached them about dropping the term “deniers” and apologizing to you for using it, would you be more open to hearing about the science of climate change?
Unfortunately, there seems to be an incredible amount of animosity between you and the other side. They may need you to apologize for some things said also. Any chance you are willing to meet them halfway if they are willing to drop the term “deniers”?
I am extremely concerned about the health of the planet with burning so much greenhouse gases. I really do not like all the pollution it creates for the cities and rural areas. I am really concerned about the future of the planet we are leaving behind for my nieces & nephews, the children of the planet, indigenous people across the world, and poor people living at sea level by all of us dumping such copious amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I am very skeptical we can maintain civilization as we know it by our heavy reliance of fossil fuels. As I heard Dr. Richard Alley say in ‘Earth the Operator’s Manual, “We are burning through fossil fuels a million times faster than nature created them for us. Sooner or later they are going to run out.”
I just ask that you read this letter with an open mind and heart. I realize you have invested a lot of time and energy in ‘WattsUpWithThat.’ For the sake of my nieces & nephews, the children across the world, indigenous people across the world, and folks in poverty who may be in biggest harm’s way to the consequences of climate change, I ask you for a more civil and open dialogue for those you disagree with about climate change. I am more than willing to help you with these efforts, starting with not using the term “deniers” myself and encouraging others I know not to use that term also.
I wish you peace.
Brian Ettling

The Silence that Speaks to Us

            I have a friend and mentor, Steve, who was a ranger in Everglades National Park in Florida.  In his spare time, he would drive up to a scenic overlook.  He loved to sit there and look over the beautiful scene of a saw grass prairie.  It looks like this.  One occasion, when he was there for a time, a park visitor drives his car up to the nearby parking lot.  The visitor grabs his camera from the car and quickly runs to the overlook.  When he gets there, the visitor felt disappointed in the lack of action and the flatness of the plain saw grass vista.  So he mumbles, “Nothing.”  Steve smiled at him.  He looked at the scene, stretched out his arms, and proclaimed, “Everything.”
            For the past 20 years, I work in our nation’s national parks.  During that time, I notice that many park visitors do not take enough time to appreciate and enjoy these spectacular areas.  According National Park Service surveys, the average visitor spends about four hours visiting at national park.  Of those visitors, eighty percent of their time is spent inside their car driving around the park.  Those folks spend the remaining time outside their car using the bathroom, getting food, and buying souvenirs.
            My focus today is to encourage you to spend more time in nature.  We need to do this for three reasons:  for inter peace to balance the turmoil in our world, for renewal from the stress and demands of our own lives, and because nature can actually give us guidance on how to live our lives.
            First, as we all know, the chaos in the world is very intense right now with war, recession, terrorism, gas prices, and other problems.  It is so important not to let these problems overwhelm us.  Anne Frank, the teenage girl who was a victim of the Nazi Holocaust almost seventy years ago, wrote in her famous diary on February 23, 1944.
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God.  Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be…amidst the simple beauty of nature.
 In the year 2012, nature can still provide comfort for us when it seems like the world is aiming for us.
            Second, we need to spend quiet time in natural areas not just to escape from the outer problems of the world.  We also need to spend time in nature to refresh ourselves from the stress and obligations of our own lives.  Our own lives carry the demands of paying bills, work, family, school, and even preparing speeches for tonight.  Nature can give us a temporary peace and courage to face our problems.
“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul alike.”
The beauty of nature can provide hope and inspiration for our stressful lives.
            My third point, not only can nature uplift us from the anxiety of the world and our own problems; nature can also teach us how to live and function in the world.  As you spend some quiet time in nature, you will hear your inner wisdom.  You may even be open to the beauty of the scenery speaking to you.  As John Denver sang over thirty years ago:
 “But the Colorado Rocky Mountain high,
   I have seen it rain and fire in the sky
   You can talk to God and listen to the
   casual reply
   Rocky Mountain high, Colorado…”
            I can hear what you are thinking right now.  Brian, I do not have time or money to travel to the Everglades, the Rocky Mountains, Yosemite or other wilderness areas.  However, the beauty is you do not need to leave St. Louis to enjoy nature.  A walk in nearby Power Valley State Park can be quality time in nature.  If you have woods behind your house, take advantage of them.  My favorite activity is go hiking in nearby Bee Tree County Park that overlooks the Mississippi River.  You do not need much time either.  Just ten minutes in a natural area will do a world of good for you.
           Now we have talked about how spending time in nature can provide inner peace, renewal and guidance for our lives.  Before I end my speech, I want to share a story how spending time in nature can also help us develop our sense of humor.  One day a man was walking in the woods when he thought he heard the voice of God.
The man said, “God, can I ask you a question?”
God said, “Sure, go ahead.”
The man said, “God what is a million years to you?”
God said, “Well, a million years is as a second to me.”
The man asks, “What is a million dollars to you?
God says, “To me, a million dollars is as a penny.”
So the man asks, “God can I have a penny?”
God says, “Sure, just a second.”
Spending time in nature can be the silence that speaks to us, even providing us with a sense of humor.  Unfortunately, my friend Steve passed away over four years ago from cancer.  All I have left of him is this picture, as well as his wisdom, humorous stories, and his love of nature.  Steve would want me to conclude my speech tonight saying,
“Spending time in nature even if it is a saw grass prairie, is not NOTHING, it is EVERYTHING.”