On turning 50 years old, reflections for my climate advocacy

“I believe that life should be lived so vividly and so intensely that thoughts of another life, or a longer life, are not necessary.” – Marjory Stoneman Douglas, ending sentence of her autobiography Voice of the River.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018, I turn 50 years old. This is something I am trying to come to an understanding with this new number. My 50th birthday is a celebration of life, a chance to reflect on my achievements, accomplishments and adventures in living. Yet, I am still very unprepared for the future. I am still a child in many ways that was sheltered most of my life. I still have such a lack of understanding how to relate to the world, plan for retirement, and become financially secure.

It is a milestone of a new decade of life, just like all of the previous start of the decades announced big changes for me.

The pivotal years of my birth, age 10, 20, 30, 40 and now age 50. 

1968. It was a rough emotional pregnancy for my mom. My mother and father really wanted a son and I was a planned pregnancy. However, when my mother was pregnant with me, the world was in turmoil. The peak of the Vietnam War was happening. My dad was in the Army reserves. There was still a chance his unit could be called up to serve in the war. My dad got lucky. His unit was spared. Over a million American men, mostly draftees, were rotated to serve in Vietnam for up to one year the U.S military by the beginning of 1968. military by the beginning of 1968. Months before my birth, the Tet Offensive happened, which marked a turning point in the war when the American public started to serious doubt the war could be won. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in Memphis, with riots resulting in cities across the United States. My parents were very worried for their safety with potential unrest my hometown of St. Louis, MO. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated immediately after winning the California Democratic Primary. With all of this happening, it is no wonder I was born 3 weeks late. I probably did not want to come out into a very dreadful and bleak world.

1978. My first very conscious reckoning with mortality. My grandfather Arthur Johnson Sr. passed away just a few months after my 10th birthday. I will never forget the homemade 8mm movies he was filling on my birthday. I tried to reach up to touch the camera, but he was too tall for me to grab it. He was an amazing man that everyone seemed to admire. He was a Baptist Minister who was an excellent public speaker and superb one on one conversationalist. He created a wonderful natural rapport with people that everyone who knew him seemed to love and admire him. He had a deep love for life, traveling, looking his best, people, and sports. He really wanted to be like him. It was jarring shock when he died very suddenly of a heart attack in November. I still hoped he would be around for years to learn from him. It was very hard to comprehend then and to this day how someone could be gone from life so incredibly quickly. It was the first time I had to think about how my family members or I will not live forever.

1988. I started attending William Jewell College, located close to Kansas City, MO. I graduated from Oakville High School just south of St. Louis in 1987. I felt like I was no where near ready for college so I took a year off in between. During that time, I worked as a cashier in a gas station and traveled briefly to New York and Boston with my Mom. I did a road trip with a friend to Pittsburgh, starting to test my own independence just a bit. I celebrated my 20th birthday in Alaska on a family vacation. We were at the Anchorage Zoo for the exact time and date of my birthday. It was the first time I was outside the contiguous United States. I really loved the mountains and scenery in Alaska. I talked my parents into taking Amtrak trains from St. Louis to Seattle then flying from Seattle to Alaska. On the train trip from out west, we did an Amtrak train route that no longer exists going through the Columbia River Gorge that separates Oregon from Washington. I was so blown away by the mountain scenery and tall pine trees that I knew I wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest someday.

Immediately upon arriving in college in 1988, I became involved with the College Republicans. As a result of my leadership on campus with the College Republicans, I got to meet Governor John Ashcroft in January 1990.

Then Missouri Governor John Ashcroft with Brian Ettling. Photo from January 1990.

1998. In January, I started working as a naturalist guide narrating boat tours in Everglades National Park, Florida. This was my first job performing public speaking to large groups. I explained about nature they were seeing and engaged park visitors on the importance of protecting our natural environment. For the first time in my life, I started getting questions on global warming. Park visitors coming to the Everglades asked me questions about it. I knew next to nothing on that subject, and visitors expect park rangers to know everything. It was starting to plant seeds in me to start reading up on it so I could be versed in my answers. I knew I wanted to stretch myself out a little  more to be adventurous with my life. On the exact time and date of my 30th birthday, I paid to swim with dolphins at a dolphin education center, Dolphins Plus, in Key Largo. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life to interact so closely with these very intelligent and playful animals.

2008. By January 2008, I knew it was going to be my last winter season working in Everglades National Park after working there off and on for 16 years. My mentor Steve Robinson, who worked in Everglades National Park for 25 years as well as Crater Lake for around 16 years, passed away from pancreatic cancer in October 2007. It was 6 weeks after his initial diagnosis of cancer. Friends of Steve jokingly called him the Lorax of the Everglades. Steve had an incredible brilliance of understanding of the Everglades Ecosystem and his eloquent way of explaining to park visitors and anyone who would listen why it should be protected. I was in a daze for a year after his death. His mortality made me re-exam my own life to push my own activism up to the next level. I wanted to carry forth Steve’s message of protecting our Earth and environment since he could no longer share that message. In 2008, I was burned out of the south Florida climate, flatness, long drive to spend the winter in south Florida. Even worse, as a single man, it seemed like I was not going to find a wife there.

By 2008, I had read a number of books on climate change. I saw the film An Inconvenient Truth and read the companion book in 2006. I knew I needed to do something on climate change, but I did not know what. I was very clear though that I was not going to find the answer by continuing to work winters in the Everglades. It was time for me to move on with my life. Thus, I said goodbye to the Everglades at the end of April 2008. I vowed never to return to Florida until I was invited back to speak on climate change and share my story. That dream came true when I was invited to Tampa, Florida in February 2016 to speak at the Florida Regional Citizens Climate Lobby Conference. My topic was the importance of storytelling when talking about climate change and I got to share my Everglades story.

When I came to work at Crater Lake National Park for the 2008 summer, I told the lead naturalist ranger, Dave Grimes, and our boss Eric Anderson, the Supervisor of Interpretation, that I wanted to do some kind of ranger program on climate change. Both were very supportive and excited about my vision. With their support, I started doing more research which led to me switching my evening program to climate change in the summer of 2011. For my 40th birthday in July, I celebrated with a big group of friends at Crater Lake at a nearby Mexican Restaurant.

That October, mutual friends of Steve Robinson, Jeanette Gilbert and John Broward, who also also knew from working as rangers at Crater Lake and Everglades, invited me to visit them on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was my first time traveling outside of North America in 19 years. In January 1989, I visited Germany with a high school friend. I really loved spending time in Europe to get a different perspective of the world. For this Hawaii trip, I really went after stretching myself out of my comfort zone. Jeanette and John took me snorkeling over a Hawaii reef. I tried and loved parasailing.

Even more, outside of my comfort zone, I tried surfing. It was one of the scariest actions I ever did because I do have a fear of being in deep water over my head, especially water where I cannot see the bottom. I do not have a great sense of balance. I am not a strong swimmer, which I quickly learned is vital for successfully surfing. I had my instructor very worried the waves were going to push me into the rocky reefs with all of my struggles trying to learn to surf. He would not give up on me. Finally, I did it. I briefly stood on the board, balancing well and surfed a small ocean wave. It was one of the most sublime and coolest experiences of my life.

I proudly have that picture of me on the surf board showcased prominently wherever I live.

Yes, I had skydived twice in 2007. However, I really did come out of that experience thinking “If I can briefly learn to surf, I can do anything if I set my my to it.”

I returned home to St. Louis that November starting a new seasonal job at Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI), closing for good the 16 year chapter of working winters in Everglades National Park. I did not know what adventures or paths were ahead for me, but I was determined to chart a new course with climate change.

2018. In January, KMOX radio host Debbie Monterrey did a profile interview with me about my climate change work for KMOX News and Information Radio, which has the largest listening audience of any radio station in St. Louis, MO area. My parents listened to KMOX since before I was born. This is a very conservative radio station, which has played Rush Limbaugh for 3 hours a day, for almost 25 years now. It felt like a big breakthrough for me to be on KMOX to promote climate change action.

in February 2016, my friend Abhaya invited me to Tampa, Florida to speak at the Florida Regional Citizens Climate Lobby Conference. This was a fulfillment of a dream for me to return to Florida for the first time in 10 years to speak on climate change. I shared my story how I first learned about climate change while working in Everglades National Park and how my time there sparked me to pursue my passion to work for the rest of my life for climate change advocacy.


March 2018, my friend Roberta invited me to speak at the Boise, Idaho Greater Pacific Northwest Regional Conference for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Roberta wanted me to speak on the importance of story telling with climate change. Besides my story telling talk, I also gave a recap of the Oregon Stewardship Tour I led in October to November 2017. These talks marked the 10th state I had given a climate change talk in the past 10 years, as well as giving a climate change talk in Ottawa, Canada in 2016 and Washington D.C. in 2017.

February and April, I spoke to my the largest audiences I could recall on climate change. February 8th & 9th, I gave talks at Covington Middle School to over 250 6th to 8th grade students over two days. On April 16th, my friend Daniela Brod and I spoke to over 800 students at St. Mary’s Academy all girls Catholic High School in Portland, Oregon. St. Mary’s Academy was probably one of my most enthusiastic audiences ever in my 10 years of giving climate change talks, which felt beyond amazing.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby Volunteers Brian Ettling and Daniela Brod

For the first time in 26 years, I did not work my summer job at Crater Lake National Park. I was determined to find a job in Portland, Oregon where I now live with my wife. For the first time, I was working for a job outside of my ranger identity and not working seasonally for the National Park Service. In February, I started a job selling solar panels for Tesla Energy. It was a very huge and painful transition for me going from being a popular ranger that the public adored at Crater Lake to a salesman in Home Depot where most people did not have the time or interest to chat with me. It was a tremendous obstacle for me to go from people approaching me all day as a ranger to having to actually approach people in Home Depot who were not keenly interest in talking to me.

Because of my support wife Tanya and a very supportive boss Mike, I did end up succeeding in the job. I exceeded the company required sales goals for March and April. By the end of May, my supervisor informed me that I was ranked 50th out of 350 employees for the number of home solar appointments booked. I hit a positive strive of booking Tesla Energy Advisors scheduled to come to customers homes in the Portland OR and Vancouver WA area to chat with them about creating a custom solar system for their home. Sadly, Tesla laid off my supervisor, the Advisor Manager, their regional boss and 9% of Tesla’s staff, mostly in the Tesla Energy Division in June. My job got transferred to Tesla Motors, located just south of downtown Portland. Sadly, that job was not a good fit for me with the hours, commute, work environment, work culture, so I decided to leave that job one week ago. Just like 2008, who knows what adventure or path lies ahead for me next.

“Life Begins at 40”

As a child, I hated it when my parents’ friends would say, “Life begins at 40.” As a child and teenager, 40 years old felt so old. However, looking back at my own life, I do believe that expression rings very true for me. I did not discover my passion for climate change until I was nearly 40. Even more, all of the actions I took for climate change happened in my 40s. My proudest life accomplishments are my climate actions, which all happened in my 40s.

Looking back on my life, I was very depressed and full of angst as a teenager, 20 something adult and into my 30s trying to figure out my purpose and passion for my life. It was not until I discovered climate change that I truly knew what I wanted to be.

If I could go back, what would say to my 40 year old self looking to make some impact on climate change?

Advice I would give to my 40 year old self

If I could go back to 2008, I would say to my younger self:

“Believe in you and keep your eye open for opportunities and people to meet because you will accomplish far more than you can even envision right now.

Things will start very slow for you, but hang on! Don’t give up.

Your friend Amelia Bruno at Crater Lake is encouraging you by now to apply for a Climate Reality Training lead by former Vice President Al Gore. I know you feel like you don’t know enough about climate change to apply, but you know more than you think. Be confident of your background. You can do it! You will eventually attend a Climate Reality Training in San Francisco in August 2012, but why not start now? You know this is your passion.

June 2008, National Park Service (NPS) Interpretation Program Manager in the Alaska Region, John Morris will give a an amazing talk at Crater Lake on climate change . Great guy! Get a copy of his climate change talk! Develop a friendship with him. See if you an network with him about attending a Earth to Sky Climate Change Training that is co-sponsored by NASA and the National Park Service to train park rangers how to engage park visitors on climate change.

September 2011, You will eventually attend the Earth-to-Sky V Training in  because of your connection with John Morris. Check with John to see if you can attend an earlier training you can. If not, The Earth-to-Sky V Training in will still be a life changing event for you to learn more about the science of climate change and effectively communicating it to the public.

In November 2009, your friend Naomi will advise you to grab the title, website domain of The Climate Change Comedian. Do it! It will eventually open more doors than you know, such as putting you on national TV. You will start working on your own climate change powerpoint talk in January 2010 that will provide a template for all of your future talks. It’s ok to start earlier if you want! In March 2010, you will start sharing your climate change talk with family friends. You will share it again at Crater Lake with your ranger friends in August 2010.

April 2010, you will create this Climate Change Comedian website with the help of live long family friend John Dantico. The website will be helpful for fleshing out your Climate Change Comedian role and as a way for people to find you on the internet.

In January 2011, you will join the South County Club of Toastmasters International. You will give your first speech in February 2011. Your second speech in March 2011. Your third speech will be in May 2011. It will be the first time of many you will be voted by your fellow Toastmasters as “Best Speaker.”

Overall, from your involvement in Toastmasters from January 2011 until you move to Portland in February 2017, you will win Best Speaker from Toastmasters 8 times out of 20 speeches. You will go on to win Awards such as Competent Communicator, Advanced Communicator Bronze, and 2nd place in a club evaluation contest. Nearly all of your speeches will be about climate change. Roughly a third of the audience will be very hostile to the message of human caused climate change. However, they will still give you helpful tips to be a better speaker. Even more, they will great ideas for speeches as they try to argue with you their worldview that human caused climate change is not real.

You will start writing this blog in February 2011. I would encourage you to even start earlier than that date and write more often. Each day, try to write to crystalize your thoughts and develop, refine, and act on your plan of action.

You will reach a breakthrough in your life when you land a job at the St. Louis Science Center at their Climate Change Exhibit in March 2011. The exhibit will open months earlier in January 2011. Can you try to apply for openings for this exhibit as soon as it is available? If not, this job will still change your life drastically. It will really help educate you on the basic science of climate change, and you will begin to find ways to effectively engage grade school students to adults on this exhibit. Through this exhibit, you will meet St. Louis businessman Larry Lazar.

Like you, Larry Lazar used to be a conservative Republican. Ironically, he first learned about climate change while visiting a national park, in his case in Alaska. Stay in close contact with Larry because he will want to form the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet Up group with you in October 2011. This meet up group will be amazing with holding monthly meetings with climate scientists and organizers to brainstorm on ways to act on climate. Via Skype, we will book well known climate change scientists and communicators, such as Professor Scott Mandia, Dr. Michael E. Mann, John Cook of Skepticalscience.com, Peter Sinclair of climatecrocks.com, Science Comedian Brian Malow, Karen Street, Margaret Klein Salamon, Sam Daley-Harris, Citizens’  Climate Lobby Senior Lobbyist Jay Butera, and others. Larry and you will found such a positive bond and great working relationship that you will ask him to be the Best Man at your wedding 4 years later.

Brian Ettling and Larry Lazar

In August 2011, things are really happening for you as a climate activist. You started giving your climate change evening program Crater Lake National Park. You will continue giving this talk at Crater Lake until you stop working there in September 2017.  With the help of Crater Lake fellow rangers Dave Grimes and Darby Robinson, you are able to film and upload it for YouTube in September 2012.

That same month you start your evening program at Crater Lake, August 2011, a friend from the Everglades, Sundae Horne, will introduce you to her friend Tom Smerling, who had just set up a website Climatebites.org just months before. Tom you I will chat by phone that August and you started contributing writings to his website in October 2011. Over the the period of the next 5 years, you contribute over 216 writings or Climatebite posts to the website which enables you to become a better climate change communicator as you collect these soundbite messages and metaphors.

Tom Smerling and Brian Ettling

December 2011, Larry and you will have your first meeting of the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up. At our meet ups, Carol and Tom Braford from Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) will start showing up. Carol keeps asking you to join her monthly meeting with CCL. She will be very persistent. Finally, you go to a CCL meeting at her house in May 2012. You immediately join CCL and make it your life’s mission to start a CCL group in Southern Oregon while you are working at Crater Lake that summer. You keep networking until you find a few somewhat interested people. The southern Oregon chapter of CCL has their first official group start meeting in January 2013.

Meeting of the Southern Oregon chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, September 2013.

September 2011, from the recommendation of John Morris, you attend the Earth to Sky V: Communicating Climate Change Conference in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. It will change your life to experience climate change talks from NASA climate scientists, such as Dr. Peter Griffith, Dr. Bob Cahalan, Dr. Gavin Schmidt, Dr. Patrick Gonzalez, and many other top speakers. You will gain ideas for climate change talks that you will still be using many years later, such as the talk from Dr. Peter Griffith explaining how understanding climate change comes down a banana vs. a piece of coal. Dr. Griffith posted his own YouTube video with this simple analogy how an influx of old carbon (coal) is adding to the new carbon (banana) in our atmosphere. This additional carbon into our air supply is upsetting a natural balance of the carbon cycle. That is what is causing climate change on a very basic, simple to explain level.

Brian Ettling with NASA climate scientist Dr. Peter Griffith

December 2011, Tom Smerling advises you to attend the 2011 American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual meeting in San Francisco, CA. One of the best pieces of advice anyone will give you. This is one of the largest annual gatherings of scientists to give presentations on their latest scientific findings. At this conference, you are able to meet top climate change scientists and communicators and hear their presentations, such as Scott Mandia, Dr. Michael Mann, Kaitlin Naughten (known then as Kaitlin Alexander) of climatesight.org, Dr. James E. Hansen, Susan Joy Hassol of Climate Communications, Dr. Richard Somerville, John Cook of skepticalscience.com, Dr. Naomi Oreskes author of Merchants of Doubt, Dr. Benjamin Santer atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Dr. Ed Maibach who is Director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication (4C), and so many others. Attending AGU will help you greatly with networking connections for future writings and organizing, understanding the science, and becoming a more effective climate change communicator.

Brian Ettling with NASA scientist emeritus Dr. James Hansen. Photo taken at AGU in San Francisco in December 2011.

At the winter 2011-12 monthly meetings of the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up, a beautiful woman named Tanya shows up interested in the group because of her interest in science. You ask her out for coffee and to practice one of your climate change talks. You actually don’t start going out for coffee until December 2012 and you start dating in February 2013. You end up proposing marriage to her on Christmas Eve, 2014 and getting married on November 1, 2015. Your passion for climate change and co-founding the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet Up group with Larry Lazar will help you eventually find the wife of your dreams.

In April 2012, Yale Change Connections (YCC) publishes an article you wrote, Communicating Climate Change in a National Park. It is the first time you are published on a scholarly academic based mainstream website. YCC publishes articles, radio stories, videos, and webinars to hep the public understand how climate change is already affecting our lives. It does this by telling the stories of the individuals and organizations building a more sustainable world. You will meet Bud Ward, Editor of YCC just months before at AGU. Ironically, you approach Bud for networking to pursue my path with a career climate change communications. He will say to you on the phone, “I am not sure how I can help you. However, I do have a self serving request: Can you write an article for my website?”

August 2012, you attend your first Climate Reality Training in San Francisco, CA. It is a life changing experience to see former Vice President Al Gore for the first time and see his climate change presentation. Even more, you get a copy of his slide deck that you use in presentations for many years to come. You make many friends and strong connections with other Climate Reality Leaders. At this training, you, Larry Lazar and Dr. Lucas Sabalka end up collaborating and giving several climate change talks in the St. Louis area.


November 2012, you teach your first 3 hour climate change 101 Adult Continuing Education Class for St. Louis Community College at the Meramec Campus. 8 people will attend, including your parents and younger sister. The class participants will have lots of great questions for you. Furthermore, you will have such an enjoyable experience  teaching this class that you will teach this class for St. Louis Community College many more times over the years, including October 13, 2018.

November 2012, NASA will invite you to speak at their workshop at the 2012 National Association of Interpreters (NAI) Convention in Hampton, Virginia. You will speak about what it is like to present climate change ranger programs in the national parks. This will be the first time you get an expense paid trip to travel outside of Missouri or Oregon speak on climate change.

December 2012 – You will join with St. Louis volunteers of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and CCL Communications Director Steve Valk for an editorial board meeting with the St. Louis Post-Distpatch. This meeting persuades the Post-Dispatch to write an editorial on December 27, 2012 endorsing Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend, Save the planet. Save Social Security.Save Medicaid. Tax carbon. This meeting will inspire you to eventually submit your own opinion editorials that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ends up publishing.

Brian Ettling, Carol Braford, Tom Braford, Steve Valk, and Lucas Sabalka in front of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Office Building.

April 2013, You get your first editorial opinion published in a newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, For Earth Day, a GOP free-market solution to climate change. This leads you to get many more guest opinions published, including 5 more in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in years to come. Even more, you develop a knack to get guest opinions published various newspapers across Oregon in 2013, including the Oregonian, Shrinking Crater Lake snowpack argues for carbon tax: Guest opinion. Years later, you get more guest opinions published, including this 2016 one pictured below, Protect Crater Lake National Park from climate change (OPINION).

May 2013 – Your friend Pete Peterson invites you to be a speaker to give your climate change ranger evening program at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium at the South Rim Village of Grand Canyon National Park. Over 200 people are in attendance for this ranger program.

August 2013, Climate Reality Project selects you to be a mentor for their 2013 Chicago Training. This will be the first of 6 times and counting that you will be a mentor for a Climate Reality Training. You end up mentoring over 17 people at this training and staying in contact with some of them years later.

Brian Ettling and Climate Reality Leaders he mentored at the August 2013 Climate Reality Training

August 2013 will also mark the first time of many times that you lobby a Congressional office for climate action. You joined the volunteers of southern Oregon Citizens Climate Lobby to lobby the staff of Rep. Greg Walden and Sen. Jeff Merkley to take action on climate change.

Brian Ettling with volunteers from the southern Oregon chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby meeting at the Medford, Oregon District Office of U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley

January 2014, You will make your first YouTube climate change humorous video with your girlfriend and future wife, Tanya Couture.

February 2014, The video with Tanya will then inspire you to make a video with your mom. These videos, along with another video you create with your Mom and Tanya and a video you create with your Dad, Mom, and Tanya will eventually catch the attention of Comedy Central’s Tosh.o.

April 2014 – Along with Larry Lazar and Dr. Fishman, you will do your first radio interview on the local St. Louis NPR radio station on their program, St. Louis on the Air, to promote climate change action. In the same week, you also also do a radio interview about climate change on Earthworms radio show: St. Louis FM 88.1 KDHX. Even more, you will get another opinion editorial published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, For Earth Day: Asking our elected officials to be climate heroes.

Larry Lazar, Brian Ettling, Don Marsh (Host of St. Louis On the Air, and Dr. Jack Fishman at the St. Louis NPR radio studio.

May 2015 – At the Climate Reality Training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, you get a chance directly speak to Al Gore. You get to address the elephant in the room. The one question everyone seems scared to ask: Asking Al Gore directly how to respond to his critics. Even more, you get a chance to shake hands with him. He directly looks you in the eye and thanks you for all of your climate change efforts. On top of all this, you get your picture taken with him. Because of the depth his answer, you receive this incredible gift: a robust response to conservative Toastmaster friends critical of Al Gore.

Brian Ettling meeting former Vice President Al Gore on May 7, 2015.

November 2015 – You get married to your beautiful wife Tanya on November 1st. Two weeks later, you are able to travel to Washington D.C. for the first of many times to lobby Congressional offices as part of the lobby conferences for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. You then blog about 8 Lessons I learned lobbying Congress on climate change November 17 & 18, 2015.

April 2016 – Comedy Central’s Tosh.o flies you, your Mom, and Tanya to Los Angeles for your Mom and you to do a comedy sketch taping with host Daniel Tosh for an episode of Tosh.o that airs in August 2016 promote your work as the Climate Change Comedian.

November 2016 – You return for a second time to lobby in Washington D.C. This time, you get to have a conversation about climate change with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri.

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

In addition, two weeks later, Cathy Orlando invites you to speak at the Canada Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference and Lobby Day. Your wife Tanya gets to join you for this trip. You get the experience of lobbying Canadian members of Parliament for climate action. This will be your first time speaking on climate change outside of the United States. After these trips, you then blog about 8 Lessons learned from lobbying Washington D.C. & Ottawa, Canada 2016-17.

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

March 2017 – You no longer live in Missouri. Your wife and you moved to Portland, Oregon in February. However, you return to Missouri to give presentations on climate change in Jefferson City over over 100 people and Kirksville MO for 60 people. In addition, you help organize 3 meetings with District staff of MO members of Congress. During this tour, Ladue High School student Ian Mason is able to video tape your Jefferson City talk. Ian is then able to take that video and the interview he will recorded with you to turn it into a video presentation report for the Global Student Square website. Your mini-Missouri Citizens Climate Lobby Tour generates a couple of newspaper articles, including Jefferson City News Tribune and Kirksville Daily Express.

Your speaking tour even creates a bizarre but funny political cartoon in the Jefferson City newspaper on March 30, 2017.

Additionally, in March 2017, you will be a breakout speaker for the Day of Action at the Climate Reality Training in Denver, Colorado. At the beginning of this training, Climate Reality President & CEO Kenneth Berlin will mention you and two other Climate Reality Leaders in his opening remarks to an audience of almost 1,000 people as good examples of Climate Reality Leaders. Below is his slide when Ken will use to acknowledge you when he has you stand up in front of the entire audience.

April 2017 – You attend a town hall for Rep. Greg Walden in The Dalles, Oregon. You get to ask him a question in front of several number people about acting on climate change, specifically inviting him to join the House Climate Solutions Caucus. The audience catcalls him when he hedges on giving an answer. Afterwards, you get to shake hands with him.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (OR-02) shaking hands with Brian Ettling

June 2017 – You are a breakout speaker for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby International Conference in Washington D.C. Even more, you co-lead a breakout session with fellow Climate Reality Leader Madison Adkins at the Bellevue Climate Reality Training.

July 2017 – The companion book for the upcoming film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, has a picture of you on page 314 as part of its collage of pictures of examples “some of the 12,000 Climate Leaders giving presentations around the world.” Below is the picture they used. It was taken when I spoke at john knox presbyterian church in Florissant, MO from when I spoke there on April 26, 2015.

October to November 2017 – You are the lead presenter for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Oregon Stewardship Tour. You will end up traveling over 1,600 miles in your car over 12 days. Your tour will go to over 11 Oregon cities in eastern, central, and southern Oregon. You will end up speaking to over 180 Oregon constituents, not to mention the people who will hear you on two radio interviews you do on Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon. Your tour will also generate several newspaper articles, such as the Bend Bulletin and Klamath Herald and News. Best of all, your tour will generate a big stack of constituent comment forms to present to staff of Rep. Greg Walden when you lobby his office in Washington D.C. as part of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Education Day.

Again, Brian of 2008, be at peace. You will accomplish more than you can envision.”

Mark Twain once said “You should live life so fully that even the undertaker will be sad when you go.”

I doubt I am at the point yet where the undertaker would be sad when I am gone. However, I do feel like I have accomplished much happiness in pursuing making a difference on climate change. I know I will be eventually sad someday in the future when I am no longer able to organize, lobby, write, and take action on climate change.

In order to learn how to live, one must learn how to die

A big transition that happened somewhere from my late 30s to now is making peace with my immorality or that there may not be one. When I was a child, I was raised as a Lutheran within the Christian faith. I was obsessed about making sure I was going to heaven and living a life to make sure I had treasure in heaven, as the Bible puts it. A life so impactful to make the afterlife even more rewarding. I have always been obsessed over making a difference in the world to be judged well in the afterlife. Along the same line, I wanted to live a life so robust and fulfilling that it would inspire others and make an impact in the world.


Two friends helped me make peace over not obsessing over an afterlife but to just live the best life that I can.

One day, a friend Sheryl said something to me that was very jarring to hear with my worldview, but it was so liberating to hear. She said to be in a very calm and relaxed tone, “I have made peace with the fact that when I die someday. That’s it. There is no afterlife. I just simply die.”

I had never heard anyone say that in such a confident yet gentle and humble way. It gave me a sense of peace that there may not be an afterlife. That’s ok. Life is a gift. Enjoy the gift while you can. When it is over, it is over. I don’t have to obsess while I am alive over what is when I am gone. I remember having Sheryl repeat the thought and even explain more about her way of thinking so I could absorb it. However, I understood it immediately and it felt very liberating. I felt very blessed that Sheryl had shared that thought with me.

It was an a-ha moment for me. It was re-affiriming what I had read in 1993 the final line in the autobiography of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. She wrote: “I believe that life should be lived so vividly and so intensely that thoughts of another life, or a longer life, are not necessary.”

When I was raised as a Christian as a child into my teen years, it always bothered me within the Lutheran thought that some people were going to heaven and others weren’t, based upon God’s judgement. That judgement depended upon whether one accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and asked him to forgive their sins. If they did not do this, most Christians think non-believers are going to hell. Yet, that thought always bothered me. What about people like Marjory Stoneman Douglas who spent their whole lives trying to work for social justice, equality and a healthier environment, yet they were atheists? I could not fathom an afterlife where Marjory Stoneman Douglas was in hell. Yet, there are people who are Christians who commit very evil acts because they can or in the name of their religion. However, in Christian thought, they are going to heaven. It just made no sense for me.

Good friends like Sheryl and influential authors like Marjory Stoneman Douglas were showing me that there does not have to be an afterlife. Enjoy this moment in the here and now.

At the same time, I still struggled with what happened with my life once it is gone, especially if there is not an afterlife. A spiritual teacher, Naomi, that I regularly saw over over many years from my 30s into my 40s helped me be at peace with this thought.

She explained to me that even after I die, my life force will still carry on influencing the lives of others. I found this to be extremely comforting especially with my climate change work. Hopefully, the energy of my work with my organizing, writings, and interactions with others will still influence the world when I am no longer here. Hopefully, all of my blog writings such as this will be saved. Even if they disappear after a time, hopefully that energy I conveyed of striving to live in more harmony with our planet with continue on to influence others. Just as my mentor Steve Robinson’s energy of speaking out to take care of our planet lives on in me after he passed away in October 2007.

On this post, I enjoyed looking back at at last 10 years and 50 years of my life. I hope you have enjoyed taking this journey with me.

Now I am looking forward to my next 10 years. I sure hope to do something big in my 50s, like giving a TED Talk. If life begins at 40 and my life certainly felt like it did, I am eager to see what my 50s and beyond have for me. Let the adventure begin!

2 thoughts on “On turning 50 years old, reflections for my climate advocacy

  1. Sean M

    This was a wonderful collection of reflections to enjoy, learn, and be inspired from! Thank you Brian for sharing these as well as your efforts to educate and encourage others to take action to address climate change!

    Reply

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