“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” – Elie Wiesel. Author, Holocaust survivor, and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Sometimes it is easy to choose right from wrong when it comes to climate action and choosing to stand with those organizing to make a difference for climate action. Now as we head towards 2022 is the time to take that stand. Hesitation, indifference, and apathy are not acceptable.
A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling Facebook, when I saw a friend post a picture of a gas pump she had taken on a recent trip she took to Las Vegas, Nevada. The gas pump as a sticker with an image of President Joe Biden pointing with the written caption saying: “I did that.” The sticker is conveniently placed so that Joe Biden is pointing towards the price of gas. My friend, Shelly, that typed on Facebook a caption above the picture that said: “Let’s go Brandon.”
Normally, I keep scrolling and I ignore much of the posts similar to this that I see on Facebook that friends have posted. However, this posting hit a nerve with me because years ago my friend Shelly had attended one of my climate change talks back in 2013. Even more, she said very supportive things about my climate organizing as far back as 2010.
In one 2010 Facebook message she wrote to me: “you think you could convince my parents that there really is such a thing as “global warming”? They are in complete denial.” Shelly and I knew each other from when we were kids in the late 1970s and early 1980s growing up at the same church in Oakville, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis that this located at the southern tip of south St. Louis County. We had lost touch but then we got reacquainted when I became active on Facebook in 2009. In between my summer job working as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, I spent my winters in my hometown of St. Louis visiting my parents and family. When I was in St. Louis, we messaged frequently about trying to meet up for coffee, but we could never work out our schedules to make it happen.
I did invite her to attend a Missouri Sierra Club Community Forum on Coal and Clean Energy at Cliff Cave Library, March 27, 2013 where I had been invited to be a speaker. Shelly sent me a message the day before that she planned to attend. Even more, she wrote that she planned to bring her 14 year old son. He asked Shelly if he could come, since he had just read a book about water pollution and he was very concerned. I responded:
“That is fabulous that your 14 year old son wants to come and he. I won’t turn him away. As a matter of fact, I wish I could have gone to a meeting like this when I was 14 years old. I am excited to meet your son and see you again after many years tonight at Cliff Cave Library.”
Shelly and her son Conner did make it to this event. Afterwards, she sent me this Facebook message:
“Wanted to drop u a quick line. My son, Connor, the one u met at the library, has decided on a college and major. He has chosen Missouri S&T and environmental engineering. He says he wants to do what he can and find new ways to get what is wanted without any loss to the animals or land. Thats 3 years from now anyway. We will c.”
In my response, I wrote that it was great to see her at this event and to meet her son Conner. I encouraged her to stay in touch. Her reply:
“Will do. And, btw, u were instrumental with his eye opening and increased concern with climate and environment and what WE have done to it and what WE can do to repair it. U R awesome Brian. U r forever my inspiration that one person CAN make a difference.”
I was inspired that I may have influenced Shelly and her son Conner by encouraging them to attend and the information they received from this Sierra Club Beyond Coal event. With the hundreds of climate change talks I had given in St. Louis and across the U.S. over the past 10 years, I hope I have inspired many people to take climate action. However, I felt that the 2016 election of Donald Trump as President was a giant step backwards reducing the threat of climate change. It felt like all of my climate change efforts had gone down the drain.
At the same time, I didn’t let Trump’s election in 2016 slow me down one bit. When I decided after the summer of 2017 that I didn’t want to be a seasonal park ranger at anymore, I wrote this blog in January 2018, For climate action, never forget: you own our national parks. As a former federal employee and a private citizen, I wrote this to push back against what I perceived as the anti-environmental efforts of the Trump Administration. The Trump Presidency felt like a very dark time to me because of his sexism, racism, divisiveness, caustic tweets, love of international autocrats, attempts to roll back access to healthcare, and worst of all, his hostility to climate policies. I was never going to give up hope and I didn’t want others I knew, especially in the climate movement to give up hope either. Thus, I created this meme that I frequently posted on my social media:
In the last year of the Trump Presidency, I was horrified by his refusal to listen to the science and provide the necessary leadership to reduce the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, I was not surprised when the British medical journal The Lancet published a report in February 2021 that Trump’s Policies Resulted In The Unnecessary Deaths Of Hundreds Of Thousands Of Americans. Even more, the insurrection by an angry and violent mob of Trump supporters that I saw live on TV on January 6th broke my heart and has left me fearful for the future of American democracy. Recent articles like TRUMP’S NEXT COUP HAS ALREADY BEGUN by Barton Gellman in The Atlantic are sounding the alarm that “January 6 was practice. Donald Trump’s GOP is much better positioned to subvert the next election.”
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I was very relieved when the major news networks announced that Joe Biden won the votes in Pennsylvania on Saturday, November 7th and declared he won the election to become President of the United States. My wife and I were so excited that we drove to a local food cart near our home in Portland, Oregon to order a Phily cheesesteak sandwich in honor of the Philadelphia suburbs voting in large enough numbers to carry the state for Joe Biden. My wife Tanya and I were so happy that he won, but the sandwich was disgusting. We didn’t feel like eating for the rest of the day.
On issues such as climate change, women’s rights, racial equity, tackling the COVID pandemic, healthcare, voting rights, gun contraol, immigration, and so many other issues, it felt like a new day that America. That we might be able to achieve progress on the issues facing the U.S. On climate change, it felt like there would be a fighting chance that we might be able to achieve the United Nations IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) advised goals for global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach ‘net zero’ around 2050. With a Joe Biden Presidency, there was a chance he could provide leadership to aim for these IPCC global targets which could help planet Earth by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” A global increase of temperatures of 2°C and even preferably 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels could help reduce the nastiest consequences of climate change harming human civilization.
Even more, Joe Biden was basically all that stood in the way of a functioning U.S. democracy and Donald Trump. For years, many academic and political experts have been sounding the alarm that Since day one, Donald Trump has been an autocrat in the making. Thus, I felt like there was a lot at stake with the Joe Biden Presidency.
With this in mind, I felt very mystified and disappointed when my friend Shelly recently posted on Facebook, “Let’s Go Brandon” when she spoke glowingly of my climate organizing over the years. Thus, I felt I needed to write a response to her post:
Hey Shelly, “For almost 2 years, we have been living in a global pandemic with folks having to stay home and do social distancing to do what they could to avoid catching and spreading a deadly disease, COVID-19. This pandemic led to supply chain disruptions and now the economy roaring back that has led to inflation and high gas prices. Do you really believe that high gas prices is the fault of President Joe Biden?
Did you know that the burning of fossil fuels lead to almost 9 million deaths each year from the resulting air pollution?
Sadly, the true damage to our health is not factored in when we fill up on cheap gas at the gas station.
Even more, I am surprised at you using the slogan “Let’s go Brandon!”
Do you support the previous President who would not accept the result of a free and fair election and then he instigated his followers to storm the Capitol on January 6th in an attempt to end our democracy?
If this is true, then I am shocked because you came to see my climate change talk in 2013, even bringing your son to meet me to possibly also work on climate organizing.
If you really do stand by your post, then I don’t think I could be friends with you any longer. Please let me know that this post was a joke, a mistake and you don’t really stand by it.”
My comments triggered a nasty response by her friend Frank who accused me of not being open minded to listen to the other side. He then had inflammatory comments about liberals, government spending, climate denial talking points, etc. He seemed very set in his opinions and he seemed like he was itching to have an online heated debate with me. It just seemed best to ignore Frank to not give his opinions any oxygen and go down a rabbit hole political argument with him, which was not going to change his mind. I didn’t waste my time responding. Oddly, his comments were deleted by either Frank or Shelly.
Shelly soon wrote a quick reply: “Brian Ettling , first of all I LOVE all that u do and what u stand for. I did not place the sticker there I just thought it was funny. I truly wish there was an answer to all of these tribulations that are before us. Connor still references the eye-opening education u provided to both of us. Time well spent.”
Her comment still left a lot of questions for me though, so I then wrote this response:
“Hey Shelly…Thank you for your response. I am still confused by what you wrote though. You wrote: “first of all I LOVE all that u do and what u stand for…Connor still references the eye-opening education u provided to both of us. Time well spent.” Yet, your post caption reads “Let’s go Brandon.” Your friends are latching onto that. Even more, they are restoring to name calling referring to me as ‘a snowflake, a LBGTQRSTXYZ member,’ etc. Thus, you should think about posting things like this.
What exactly do you mean by “Let’s go Brandon”? Please explain. You say you respect my work as a climate organizer and your son is still quoting my presentation. However, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 was a gigantic setback for me and everyone fighting to reduce the threat of climate change. “Let’s Go Brandon” has become the catchphrase for ‘F*#k Joe Biden.’ For me, Joe Biden is a moderate pragmatic leader who wants to do what he can to reduce the threat of climate change and he is all that’s left standing in the way of an autocratic leader (Trump) who does not respect the rule of law, women’s rights, voting rights, the 1st amendment, and free & fair elections. We are literally running out of time with climate change and we can’t afford to have another term of Trump or a Trump wannabe leader.
Yes, I realize that you did not place the sticker there and on the surface I can see how that would be funny. Yes, these issues that we are dealing are very complicated.
As I tried to explain in my post, the inflationary pressures and high gas prices have very little to do with Joe Biden. Gas prices are low or high because they are a global commodity. The pandemic has led to supply chain breakdowns and high demand for oil/gasoline as the economy has been revved hot lately. Even more, as I have organized for climate action these past 12 years, I have learned that our dependence on burning gasoline is killing millions of people each year due to the resulting air pollution. 20 years ago, then President George W. Bush said we are addicted to oil. Cheap gas prices or not, we have got to find a way to get off this addiction to have a livable planet. Yes, these issues are complicated, but we do need to dig deeper and more creatively to solve them.
Thus, I am still confused why you titled your post “Let’s Go Brandon” when that expression goes against what I am trying to do as a climate organizer. Please explain.”
Shelly never responded to my comments. However, three of her friends did respond with a “Let’s Go Brandon!” to make sure she knew they liked her post. Even more, her friend Frank still seemed triggered by my comments. He tagged me in his comments calling me ‘a snowflake, a LBGTQRSTXYZ member’ etc. Oddly, someone (either Shelly or Frank) deleted those comments, but Frank was not finished. He tagged me on another comment, which is still on Shelly’s wall that says: “Brian Ettling, FJB.” Just in case, I didn’t know what FJB meant, he included this image for me to see:
It’s times to choose sides: Climate Action or “Let’s Go Brandon!”
As I have tried to make very clear in this blog, it’s time to choose sides. Do you want climate action or do you want to support an autocratic leader (Donald Trump) who will try to do all he can block policies to reduce the threat of climate change?
Make no mistake that I do firmly believe that this is very clear binary choice between Joe Biden (a man that can be pushed to do more to act on climate) vs. a dangerous autocrat like Donald Trump who will do everything we can to prevent progress on climate policies.
Yes, I will admit that Joe Biden could be doing more to enact climate policies and work with Congress to pass legislation to address the climate crisis. Many climate activists feel frustration with President Joe Biden. Today, I saw a tweet from 16 yo Climate Justice Activist & Author, Alexandria Villaseñor. She was retweeting an article by 18-year old Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg says it’s ‘strange’ Joe Biden is considered a climate leader.
Alexandria retweeted that article with her comment: “I don’t think it’s strange, but it’s wrong. We haven’t stopped Line 3 or passed BBB, we’ve sold miles of space for new oil/gas leases while people die from heat domes & super storms.Wake up. Joe Biden is not a climate leader. He’s sold our generation out.”
It then looks like she got pushback direst messages from supporters of Joe Biden because she then tweeted:
“The apologists have found my dm’s. Show solidarity, they say. He’s doing his best, they say. But, there is SO much he could be doing, that he’s not. How much hotter will the world get? how many more new emissions will be created by this administration? That’s what matters.”
I am not giving up hope yet on Joe Biden taking significant action to reduce the threat of climate change, but I understand her frustration. WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME TO TAKE THE SIGNIFICANT ACTION NEEDED TO ADDRESS THE CLIMATE CRISIS.
Since U.S. Senator Joe Manchin recently announced that he would not support Biden’s Build Back Better bill, many climate advocates and policy experts are worried that the collapse of Biden’s Build Back Better is a major blow to the climate fight. This recent Guardian article warns: “It would be almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges without the $1.75tn package that Manchin refuses to support.”
Simply getting mad at President Joe Biden, Senator Joe Manchin, or the entire gridlocked American legislative process won’t solve the issue of climate change. We don’t have time for handwringing. We have got to act and act fast! We have to create the political will to enact policies that can take the largest greenhouse gas reductions possible. Period. As my Grandma would say: ‘We ain’t got time to mess around.’
The 2022 mid term elections are coming and there’s an excellent change that the Republicans are posed to take over one or both chambers of Congress. As the NY Times reported in November: Republicans Gain Heavy House Edge in 2022 as Gerrymandered Maps Emerge.
Thus, many climate advocates and political experts see 2022 as the last, best year for Democrats to pass effective climate legislation before everything goes dark for 10 years, if not longer. We have got to push hard to get President Biden, Senator Joe Manchin and Congress to pass some kind of Build Back Better in 2022. Period.
To quote the French left, “The hour calls for optimism; we’ll save pessimism for better times.” (“L’heure est à l’optimisme, laissons le pessimisme pour des temps meilleurs.”)
And, as I like to say:
There’s the mythical story of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt meeting a group of activists, possibly led by A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. During the meeting, the advocates laid out their bold action plan for change that they wanted president to do with his bully pulpit and his executive power. FDR listened and considered their demands they presented. He then retorted, “You’ve convinced me. I agree with what you’ve said. Now go out and make me do it.”
Whether or not it’s true the story points to historical evidence that “Politicians fear the disruptive power of a mobilized base, even when it helps them succeed.”
Thus, those of us alarmed about the threat of climate change and want policies enacted for a livable and sustainable planet must mobilize and push President Biden, Senator Joe Manchin, and Congress to pass meaningful climate legislation. No excuses.
As we do all we can to pass climate legislation in 2022, all of us climate advocates must also do all we can to elect Democrats in November 2022. We can’t let any frustration with President Joe Biden, Senator Joe Manchin, and Congress prevent us from advancing impactful climate legislation and policies. After Senator Joe Manchin announced he was a no vote on Build Back Better on December 19th, this is what former Republican Congressman David Jolly tweeted:
Even more, a similar point was made recently in a promotional interview for the new “Don’t Look Up” Netflix film. At one point comedic actor Jonah Hill asks: “One thing I do want to say as I learn more about (climate change) is from someone like me who is not on the ground, super aware. It’s like when you are making any big changes, Everest just looks so massive and how do I even take one little step. It’s so daunting. It might be nice for people to hear how gnarly it is and how important it is. Like, what’s a minute step they can take that’s not so overwhelming and doesn’t take an enormous amount of privilege to make that change?”
Without hesitation, Leonardo DiCaprio’s responded: “The number one thing they can do is to vote for people who take science seriously, the climate crisis seriously, that want to take action. That’s the number one thing that people can do. And there’s always been a conversation about what you can do in your personal life and I think that does have a lot of validity. But, there are powers that be that are really going to make massive change and that comes from the private sector and comes from the government. And, we need to put pressure on the powers that be the best we possibly can in our own personal way.
Jonah Hill reflected back: “So awareness in your, in the minutia of voting towards these climate issues?”
Leonardo DiCaprio: “Absolutely. That is the number one thing.”
Take it from Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the most vocal and well known climate advocates as well as one of the top movie actors on planet Earth. He advises that voting for candidates who are committed to climate action is one of the best things you can do to act on climate. I would add on top of that to support these climate friendly candidates by canvassing (knocking on doors to support their campaign) and fundraising/contributing to their campaigns will increase their chances of getting elected. From my personal experience, actively participating in the campaigns of candidates committed to climate action will help them prioritize to meet with you to lobby them if they get elected. Throwing your energy into their campaign can also inspire them to prioritize their political capitol into specific climate policies important to you.
Yes, it’s important to see the new Adam McKay “Don’t Look Up” film on Netlix or at the theatre to see a metaphorical example of what could happen if we don’t take climate change seriously. Furthermore, read David Wallace Well’s 2019 book, The Uninhabitable Earth, for the very horrific picture he paints using his understanding of the scientific climate modeling of what the Earth may become if we do nothing or very little to reduce the threat of climate change.
As a climate organizer for over 10 years now, the knowledge of how dangerous the world could become with a runaway, extreme climate change is something I have had awareness of since I began this journey. One of the early sources I found was the 2008 National Geographic documentary, “Six Degrees Could Change the World” and the 2008 book that it was based on Six Degrees: Our Future On a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas. Those resources, along with many others, gave me the motivation that we don’t want to cause a change to our planet with huge amounts of fossil fuel pollution that could lead the collapse of human civilization and possibly doom the survival of the humans.
Thus, we need our friends like Shelly to understand this reality. If they admire climate organizers like me and feel blessed to live on planet Earth, they might want to reconsider using phrases like “Let’s Go Brandon.” The former President (Trump) and those pushing this slogan want to block any action on climate change, regardless to the catastrophic future it could lead to on planet Earth.