A Sudden phone from My Dad about having an emergency high risk surgery
Late in the evening on October 23, 2019, I received a phone call that I will never forget. I live with my wife Tanya in Portland OR, but I got a phone call from my younger sister in St. Louis MO that my Dad was at the hospital for emergency abdominal surgery for an aneurysm . His doctor felt that my Dad had to have immediate surgery to relieve this blockage, otherwise he might not be alive much longer.
My sisters, their husbands, and my Mom came to the hospital to be with him before he was wheeled into surgery. My Dad been fighting stage four bladder cancer since 2013. He had been in and out of hospitals during the past month struggling with health issues related to his cancer. The doctor was not certain that my Dad would survive this surgery, so my Mom and sisters were there to possibly say goodbye. While they were gathered around him minutes before he was scheduled for surgery, he had one request before being wheeled into the operating room. He wanted to call me on the phone, so my sister called me so he could talk with me.
I was speechless to receive this phone call. I had a lot of anger towards my Dad during the course of my life. I always appreciated that he was an excellent provider for our family, working 2 jobs for over 40 years to support his family. My parents paid for my college education and they would let me live with them between my seasonal park ranger jobs as an adult. Yet, I had felt a lot of hurt from my Dad having an unpredictable volatile temper as a child that did leave some really bad emotional scars. As adults, our politics had a deep divide and sometimes we had screaming arguments about it.
As I shared in the 2015 Climate Mama blog, we had bitter confrontation in my late 20s. He did not like that I was working as a seasonal park ranger for years after I graduated from college in 1992. He wanted me working a steady office or management job, which was not how I envisioned my life. I loved him as my Dad, yet our relationship had always felted strained to me. I felt a lot of frustration towards him because it always felt like he did not understand me and get who I was as a person.
My Dad started the conversation saying that the doctor said he must be operated on to dissolve this aneurysm. Without the surgery, my Dad may not have long to live. The doctor also said that he had no idea if the surgery would be a success. My Dad told me: “The doctor said he feels like (the operation) will be like shooting an arrow straight into the air. He has no idea where it will land.”
With that in mind, my Dad wanted to let me know how proud he was of my climate change work and he wanted me to keep doing that. He acknowledged that things had not always been smooth for us, but that he was thinking of me and he loved me. I was speechless except to thank him for all that he did for me and tell him that I loved him. I told him how much I enjoyed when my mom and him came to visit Tanya and me the previous May. I shared that think of him whenever I hear and see the freight trains pass by our apartment in Portland, since he loves trains so much. I encouraged him to get better so they could come visit Tanya and me again. If he came back, I promised to show him more sights around Portland and he could see the trains by our apartment. He liked that idea and I wished him all the best to make it through the surgery before we wrapped up the call.
The Bible tells the story of the Prodigal Son who is forgiven by his father for running away and living a dangerous life. However, I felt like I was experiencing a story of a Prodigal Father who knew he had hurt me in my life and he wanted my forgiveness before it was too late.
That evening, I did something I never do, I kept my iPhone on all night in case my Mom or sister called with any news. I just didn’t know what would happen. I tried to prepare my mind for any outcome, but I just didn’t know. The phone never rang again that night or into the morning. It was another case of ‘no news was good news.’ The next day my Mom called to say that my Dad made it through surgery. It was a success. We dodged a bullet. I still booked flight to St. Louis to go visit them for several days after experiencing this close call and to support my Dad with his recovery. He was very happy to see me when I visited him at the hospital.
For years, I have meant to write this blog to show gratitude to my dad for his support
The news about my Dad was sobering for the next several months. He was not going to be able to walk again, confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. In late December 2020, it was determined that there was nothing else the doctors could do to treat my Dad’s bladder cancer. His doctor thought he might have just months, maybe weeks to live. He was put on hospice care. Tanya and I flew back to St. Louis the second week of December to be with our families. We wondered if we would be soon be flying back to St. Louis for a memorial service for my Dad.
In spite of the fact that my Dad would never walk again and his cancer not curable, he was in good spirits going into 2020. Then the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020. The rehabilitation place where he was living was shut down to outside visitors indefinitely. Except for waving at him through a window and phone calls, my Mom and sisters could not visit my Dad for months. Since I live in Portland OR and was unable to travel with the pandemic, I was not sure if I would see him alive again. Finally, in May 2020, my Mom was able to bring my Dad back to their home with hospice nurses there during the day to care for my Dad.
Tanya and I did not feel safe traveling in 2020 due to the pandemic, so I was not sure if I would see my Dad alive again. During the first half of 2021, Tanya and I were able to get both doses of the vaccine and my parents got both doses of the vaccine. We finally felt it was safe enough to visit them at the end of June and the first two weeks of July in 2021. We had a big family dinner with Tanya’s parents and my parents on Sunday, July 10th, the day before our flight back to Portland. At the end of that visit, I was unsure if I would see my Dad alive again since he was still considered to be on hospice care.
Tanya and I got our booster shots in early December 2021 and then flew back to St. Louis in the 3rd week of December to visit Tanya’s parents and my parents. Just like all of my previous visits, my Dad was in good spirits. My Mom, Dad, Tanya, and I even played cards like we did during July 2021 visit. When I last saw him on December 17, 2021 before flying back to Portland, I wondered if I would see him alive again. Technically, my Dad is still considered to be in hospice care because his condition is still the same. The doctors can’t treat his bladder cancer. At the same time, he keeps chugging along. The universe seems to whisper in my ear though that this good fortune won’t last forever.
My Dad seems to be on “borrowed time,” as the expression goes. However, he has been borrowing time for over two years now. His Dad, my Grandpa Roy Ettling, lived to be 94 years old. Thus, my Dad seems to have some kind of genetic knack to keep going. At the same time, it is been tugging at me for many years to write this blog to my Dad while he is still alive and has a sharp mind. For many years, especially for Father’s Day or his birthday in June, I wanted to write a blog of gratitude to my Dad for being so supportive of my climate change work.
Until I felt inspired to start blogging again this month, I had not felt inspired to write a blog since March 2019. Since then, I had been so busy with my climate organizing. Then, since March 2020, I felt so unmotivated and too depressed to do any blogging with the COVID 19 pandemic. Even though the pandemic is still raging strong with the omicron variant now, I am not going to let all that bad news from keeping me to write this blog.
My Gratitude for my Dad for his support of my climate change organizing
21 years ago, Bill Moyers interviewed George Lucas about how Lucas came up with the Star Wars mythology. In this interview, George Lucas explains how it was his father’s dream for his son to work in and eventually inherit the family office equipment store in Modesto, California.
However, George had no interest in taking over his father’s business. He decided in college that he wanted to be a filmmaker. When George decided to go to the University of Southern California film school and pursue his dream, his dad felt crushed that George was not going to take over the family business.
George Sr. felt young George was making a huge mistake because he had built up this successful business for his son to eventually take over. It was a big source of friction between them until George Sr. saw son George’s huge success with the Star Wars films.
George said his dad was very proud of his achievements as a filmmaker. George told Bill Moyers “the only thing you have to do, in the end, if you have to accomplishment one thing in life, is to make your parents proud of you. If you are healthy and you can take care of yourself, and you are a good person…one who contributes to society and does not take away….that is all your parents really want in the end.”
I loved this story because my Dad and I are both big fans of the original Star Wars movies. As a kid, one of my best memories of him was that he went out of his way to buy tickets to surprise us so our entire family could see the much anticipated Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, on opening day on May 21, 1980. This film is still one of my favorite movies of all time. (Spoiler Alert) It became a cultural icon when Darth Vader announced to Luke Skywalker: “I am your father!”
I will never forget this gift from my Dad because there was an audible gasp from the movie audience when Darth Vader said that. At that moment, no one wanted to believe that plot twist. It took years for me to accept it. Not even the actor James Earl Jones, who played the voice of Darth Vader, believed it, when he recorded that line of dialog for the film.
Since Darth Vader was the villain in those Star Wars films until Luke redeems him, George Lucas has said that the original Star Wars trilogy films is ultimately a space soap opera about a father and son relationship. As mentioned above, George Lucas struggled with the relationship with his father. I certainly struggled in the relationship with my Dad.
When I decided to become a seasonal park ranger bouncing around national parks, it disappointed him for years. He asked me several times, “When are you going to get a real job?” To compound my Dad’s disappointment, I made it my life’s mission to write, teach and give public presentations about the impacts of climate change, which I witnessed first hand and up close, through my work as a park ranger. For my dad, it was initially beyond his comprehension that humans could damage our planet. As I became more aware of climate change and began my work as a climate change activist, my Dad displayed open hostility at my life choice. He tried telling me that: “climate change was not real, that humans cannot change the climate, and that this was liberal nonsense.”
However, like George Lucas, I found my passion in life and nothing was going to stop me. There was no looking back. In the spring of 2010, I put together my first climate change powerpoint presentation to share with friends. In August 2011, I delivered my first climate change evening program as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park.
In August 2012, I attended a training in San Francisco along with nearly 1,000 other people led by Al Gore to become a Climate Reality Project Leader to give presentations on climate change. Since that training, I have given over 200 climate change presentations across the United States and even Ottawa, Canada. Some personal highlights are as a guest presenter for NASA in Hampton, Virginia in 2012, a guest speaker at Grand Canyon National Park in 2013, a presenter for the Oregon Wild Conference in Portland, Oregon in 2014, and a guest speaker at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada Conference in Ottawa Canada in November 2016.
I have attempted every avenue I know to get out the message about taking action on climate change, including writing this blog since 2011, writing opinion editorials in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Oregonian starting in 2013, doing local radio interviews, and in 2014, making funny short videos with my wife (then girlfriend) Tanya and my mom Fran Ettling.
My dad also played a role in our videos, as my cameraperson. After filming our third video in January 2015, my dad seemed to get antsy behind the camera and he told me he wanted to be in front of the camera with me. I decided to take him up on his suggestion, and to see where this would lead..
In February 2015, my dad and I filmed our first climate video together. I interviewed him about how he had changed his mind about climate change. He explained to me that it was me, his son, who had changed his mind. I had helped him understand and see the weight of the evidence before us. Over the years, I watched a shift in my dad’s thinking and I gained a new respect and admiration for him. He evolved from being hostile about my climate activism to being my biggest cheerleader. Yet, as I was making this video with my dad, I kept thinking how crazy this idea would have been 10 years before.
These short YouTube videos that I did with my parents and Tanya caught the attention of Comedy Central’s Tosh.o TV show. A year later, a producer of the show called me to invite my Mom and I to fly to Los Angeles to do a comedy segment with the show’s host, Daniel Tosh. Our comedy segment first aired Comedy Central on August 2, 2016, Climate Change Comedian. The cool thing about this segment is that a very short clip of my Dad was included, so my Dad had a brief moment on TV using comedy to promote climate change awareness.
My parents’ support of my climate change communication efforts did not stop there. Around that same time, my Mom came home to tell me a story. They were at a party of one of their friends. The host of the party remarked, ‘I think that climate change is a bunch of nonsense.’
My Mom responded, “That’s interesting. Can I show you a video?”
My Mom then showed the YouTube video of my Dad and I talking about how I changed his thinking on climate change. My Mom said that the host of the party was silent and did not say another word about climate change for the rest of the party.
A Science Communicator shifts her Dad’s thinking about Climate Change
Around this same time I made the YouTube video with my Dad, the cover story of the March 2015 issue of National Geographic, was The War on Science by Joel Achenbach. This article includes a story about Liz Neeley who helps to train scientists to be better communicators. As it turns out, Liz’s father is a climate change doubter. He gets most of his climate change information from conservative media. In frustration she finally confronted him: “Do you believe them or me?”
She told him she believes the scientists who research climate change and knows many of them personally. “If you think I’m wrong,” she said, “then you’re telling me that you don’t trust me.” Her father’s views shifted; and in the end it wasn’t the facts that finally convinced him, but rather his relationship with his daughter.
Science Denial expert Dr. John Cook’s Dad shifted his opinion on climate change
One of the leading experts on science denial is John Cook from Brisbane, Australia. As the founder of skepticalscience.com in 2007, he started this website as a way to put together scientific peer-reviewed information on climate change in layman’s terms to counter the most common denial myths on global warming. He was motivated to do this by “some ‘vigorous discussions’ with a few in-law family members (primarily his father-in-law) who happened to be global warming skeptics.” His own father was also a skeptic who would ‘run out of the room’ when the subject came up.
I have closely followed John’s work to counter climate science denial since since I first heard of him and skepticscience.com in 2011. I even met John at a house party during the AGU (American Geophysical Union) Conference in San Francisco, CA in December 2011. I used his 2011 “The Debunking Handbook” that he co-wrote with Stephan Lewandowsky, as a guide with much success when I gave climate change speeches from 2012-2017 to my local St. Louis Toastmasters group, which contained my climate change doubters. (This handbook was revised in 2020 to reflect updated knowledge about debunking misinformation).
In spite of John’s world renowned expertise on combating science denial, his own conservative father would not budge in his refusal to accept the science of climate change. In Dr. Katharine Hayhoe’s 2021 book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, she shared the story how John Cook installed solar on his house. However, when he mentioned the benefits of solar to his dad, John said, “He was initially resistant, probably because I was the one saying it and it seemed like a green-y thing to do.”
Then one day, John’s dad crunched the numbers and he thought it was “a financial no-brainer to get solar power.” Saving money is one of his core values, so he had sixteen solar panels installed on this roof. Soon, he started getting checks from his electric company from the power the solar panels were creating for the local power grid. Every time he received one of these checks, he would call John to tell him about it. John’s dad estimated he was saving over twelve hundred dollars a year. Dr. Hayhoe wrote:
“Having solar panels wasn’t just consistent with his values – they were turning him into an even betterversion of himself, thriftier and even more conservative (in the true sense of the word). They enhanced rather than challenged his identity.”
A few years later over dinner, John’s dad told him unexpectedly, during a conservation, “Of course humans are causing global warming.”
John was dumbfounded, asking him, “What changed your mind?”
John was even more surprised when his dad responded, “What are you talking about? I’ve always thought this.”
Oddly, John’s dad had “denied the science for years, and now he was denying that he’d ever denied it.”
With his background as a cognitive psychologist, John thinks that his dad changed his behavior to be more climate friendly first out of a value to save money then it caused a change in attitude towards climate science. Katharine Hayhoe and John Cook believe that “His dad’s perception of who he was had been altered, and at such a fundamental level that he literally couldn’t recall that he’d changed.”
In Conclusion: We should never give up on our Dads (or Moms) accepting climate science
During the Bill Moyers interview, George Lucas talked about how parents can be redeemed by their children. This was part of what he demonstrated through his Darth Vader character. My own dad and Liz Neeley’s dad, all initially found it hard to comprehend that humans could put our future and that of our planet in peril through the burning of fossil fuels. They changed their views and opened themselves up to hearing the reality about climate change because of their love and respect for their children. Or, in the case of John Cook’s dad, he changed his mind on climate science with the money he had saved installing solar panels on his home.
So for those of you whose parents or other loved ones may still be reluctant to see, hear and understand the facts and realities about climate change, don’t give up! If Darth Vader, one of the biggest movie villains of all time can be redeemed by his children Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa, then there is certainly hope that we all may still be able to redeem our own reluctant parents.
I hope my Dad gets a chance to read this blog. I just want him to know how much I love him and how much I appreciate how supportive he has been for all of my climate organizing.
In the first half of 2021, I achieved one of my biggest successes in my 11 years as a climate organizer. As a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), I led the efforts to engage with Oregon legislators and CCL volunteers around the state for the Oregon Legislature to almost pass a state wide climate change resolution. This CCL resolution nearly succeeded because of years working to understand the state legislative process for climate action, while consistently using the CCL core values when engaging with the Oregon Legislators.
Lobbying as a Renew Oregon Volunteer to urge Oregon Legislatures to pass a carbon pricing bill 2018-2020
In July 2018, Sonny Metha, Field Director at Renew Oregon at that time, invited me to join the weekly Clean Energy Jobs Grassroots call. These calls were part of the ongoing organizing by Renew Oregon, a coalition of businesses, non-profits, climate & environmental community organizations, and individual Oregonians, like me, working together to get the Oregon Legislature to pass effective climate change legislation. Renew Oregon focused on urging the Oregon Legislature to pass a state level carbon pricing bill, whcih was a cap and invest bill. This bill became known as the Clean Energy Jobs Bill or HB 2020 during the 2019 Oregon Legislative session.
Soon after I started volunteering for Renew Oregon, I became hooked on Oregon politics, organizing for climate action at the state level, and lobbying the Oregon Legislature. I loved every action I took to be involved with Renew Oregon’s efforts. I wrote letters to the editor and guest opinions in Oregon newspapers, contacting my state legislators by email and letters to support the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, lobbying my state legislators at their offices at the Salem Capitol and meeting with them in district, attending legislative hearings about the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, and giving oral testimony at legislative hearings.
My own state Representative at that time was Diego Hernandez . He liked to post constituent letters on his office bulletin board. I wrote so many letters to him that pointed to his bulletin board during a February 2019 lobby meeting. He wanted to let me know that he had kept all my letters and they dominated his bulletin board.
With my involvement with CCL and The Climate Reality Project, I helped recruit numerous friends and volunteers from these groups to attend the massive Renew Oregon Lobby Day rallies in Salem in February 2019 and 2020.
Even more, I organized two events in Portland to support the Clean Energy Jobs Bill. The first one that I held in Milwaukie Oregon in September 2019 had over 80 people in attendance. The second event I held in January 2020 in Portland had around 100 people in attendance. The speakers at the second event was Oregon Senator Michael Dembrow and Representative Karin Power, who were the legislative leaders of the cap and invest bills. At each of these events, I encouraged participants to sign postcards to their legislators urging them to support the cap and invest bills. On my next trip to the Oregon Capitol, I then delivered over 50 constituent postcards that I would then divide up and personally deliver to the various offices of the Representatives and Senators. I lobbied so frequently at the Capitol that I got to develop a good rapport with a number of the legislators.
All of these actions build up to a pinnacle of excitement. I was in the Oregon House of Representatives gallery, along with so many of other Renew Oregon volunteers, to see The Clean Energy Jobs Bill pass by the Oregon House on a vote of 36 to 24 on June 17, 2019. Sadly, this all came crashing down on June 20, 2019. The Oregon Senate Republicans fled the state to deny the 2/3rds floor voting quorum for the Senate vote on the cap and invest bill. They stayed out of state until June 28th. Senate Democrats agreed to kill the climate bill in order to pass all their other remaining bills before the session ended on June 30th. It felt all my climate organizing in Oregon over the past year had gone down the drain. Through much of July 2019, I did not feel like getting off the couch to do anything. I felt so disheartened by the outcome.
Sadly, the cycle repeated itself during the 2020 Oregon Legislative session. Renew Oregon organized with Oregon Democratic Legislators to try to pass another cap and invest bill. This time, Oregon House and Senate Republicans fled the state to deny quorum for floor votes in either chamber in March 2020. This tactic worked again to run out the clock to kill the climate legislation before the 2020 session ended on March 6th. There was a small silver lining that Oregon Governor Kate Brown did sign strong climate executive orders on March 10, 2020. I attended the Governor’s signing ceremony at the Oregon state Capitol and I wrote a CCL blog about it afterwards, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signs strong climate executive order.
While Governor Kate Brown’s climate executive orders were helpful, I felt very depressed that all the hard work and organizing to pass a climate bill in Oregon proved futile with Republican legislative walkouts. The 2020 legislative defeat felt worse due to the beginning of the COVID pandemic. All climate organizing shut down for months since legislators were then strictly focused on the pandemic and the economic fallout. There was nothing to do but sit at home for several months to adhere to social distancing and to avoid catching COVID 19.
Leading the Effort to try to get the Oregon Legislature to work on a Climate Resolution
However, with my experience learning about the legislative process, I saw a way forward. During the summer of 2020, I started meeting by Zoom and phone with Oregon Legislators that I had met during my lobbying for the cap and invest bills in 2019 and 2020. As a Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteer, I urged them to endorse the federal carbon pricing bill supported by CCL, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA).
As I organized CCL volunteers across Oregon, we successfully urged over 30 Oregon legislators to endorse the EICDA by early 2021. As we met with the state legislators, they really liked the bipartisan market-based solution of the EICDA. Even more the CCL values of respect, appreciation and gratitude seemed to make very easy for many of these legislators to say yes to endorsing the EICDA.
September 17, 2020, I met Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell to ask her to endorse the EICDA. In addition to her endorsement, Tiffiny asked if she could introduce a statewide resolution supporting the bill. I was very excited that Rep. Mitchell was willing to devote time and energy to a possible resolution. She then instructed Oregon Legislative Counsel to draft a legislative resolution that was ready in December 2020.
I was very excited when the draft resolution language was complete in mid December 2020. To be honest, I was very disappointed with the response of the Oregon CCL Leadership. After I shared the news about the resolution, this was the response I received:
“This IS exciting! I have to say though, it would be a lot more exciting to me if it were proposed as a bipartisan resolution. I almost think that an only-D introduction and then vote of support could be harmful to our cause. (I could be convinced otherwise, but that’s where I am now)”
The response felt like huge letdown because I was thrilled that the Democratic legislators would want to even consider trying to pass a resolution for us. I tried to convey this in my response:
“Like Congress, the Oregon state Legislature is going to be swamped with legislative priorities such as COVID relief, economic assistance, racial justice & police reform, etc. Thus, we want to make this as easy as we can for them to pass this quickly while they are giving their lion’s share of attention to the huge issues I mentioned hammering the state and their constituents right now.”
My plan of action was to get the resolution started in the Oregon Legislature. Then we should try to see if we could get Republican co-sponsors and support. Over the next month, I was feeling very angry because one of the Oregon CCL Leaders kept saying: ‘If we don’t have any Republican support, I don’t think we should do this resolution.’
Fortunately, the national CCL staff backed up what I my efforts for the Oregon Resolution. In a group email that included Oregon CCL leaders, a staff person wrote: “Bipartisanship is always good but not a deal breaker. We’ll take what we can get! Oregon would be the first state to pass an EICDA resolution.”
Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell did not run for another term in the November 2020 election. Thus, she asked her friend Senator Michael Dembrow to be the Chief Sponsor. Senator Dembrow then asked me to come up with additional Legislative co-sponsors for SJM 5. Working with CCL volunteers across Oregon, I got 9 Oregon Democratic Legislators to agree to be co-sponsors, including 4 Senators and 5 Representatives.
The resolution was introduced on the Senate floor February 4, 2021, when it officially became known as Senate Joint Memorial 5 or SJM 5. The title specifically “Urges Congress to enact bipartisan climate change legislation.” Towards the end of the resolution text, it states: “we respectfully urge the Congress of the United States to pass, and the President to sign, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.”
On February 10th, SJM 5 was assigned to the Senate Energy and Environment Committee for consideration. SJM 5 would be in good hands, since 3 out of 5 members of the committee had already endorsed the EICDA. Senator Dembrow’s staff then contacted me to organize 5 volunteers to give oral testimony supporting SJM 5 for a committee hearing scheduled on February 25th. Due to the committee hearings and work sessions for other bills and resolutions under consideration, the 5 volunteers I assembled finally had a chance to give their oral testimony on March 4, 2011.
Gaining bipartisan supportto pass the Oregon Senate
With the successful introduction of SJM 5 in the Oregon Legislature, state coordinator Daniela Brod and other fellow Portland chapter members wanted to get Republican legislators on board, too. In November, they met with GOP House Minority Leader Christine Drazan to talk to her about climate action and putting a price on carbon. To their delight, she was very enthusiastic about the EICDA.
In her oral testimony before the Senate Energy & Environment Committee on February 25th, Republican Representative Drazan stated:
“The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is not perfect, but it is an opportunity and we shouldn’t squander it. It is an opportunity for Congress to stop playing small ball on climate.”
Immediately after her testimony, a GOP member of the committee, Senator Lynn Findley, enthusiastically responded, “This is a great thing (and) a process that I fully support.”
On March 11th, Republican Senator Findley joined the 3 Democratic Senators on the Energy & Environment Committee to pass SJM 5 out of committee with a recommendation “to be adopted” by the full Oregon Senate..
For the rest of March and into April, I organized closely with CCL volunteers across Oregon to lobby nearly all the Oregon Senators, Democrats and Republicans, to support SJM 5. We had high confidence that we had the vote of GOP Senator Lynn Findley. However, we did not want to take any vote for granted, Democrat or Republican. Daniela and Oregon CCL volunteer Elizabeth Graser-Lindsey successfully got a meeting with GOP state Senator Bill Kennemer in early April 2021. On April 6th, he agreed to co-sponsor SJM 5 the day before the Senate vote.
SJM 5 passed the Oregon Senate on April 7th by a vote of 23 to 5, with 6 Republican Senators, half of the Oregon Republican Senate caucus, joined with all the Democratic Senators present to vote to support SJM 5. Senator Michael Dembrow gave an amazing floor speech to urge his fellow Senators to support SJM 5. For his floor speech, Senator Dembrow wore an Oregon Climate Reality Green Ring pin that I gave him one year earlier. It was a gift to thank him for speaking in the Climate Event I organized on January 21, 2020.
Of the 23 Senators who voted yes, I directly lobbied only 3 of them by email, phone calls, and personal texts. From engaging with friends across Oregon to ask them to contact their Senators, I indirectly succeeded with 17 Senators voting in favor of SJM 5. I played no role in 3 Senators voting in favor of SJM 5, including the affirmative votes of two GOP Senators. Thus, this was a team effort with the legislators, CCL volunteers and friends across Oregon, but I did play a major part in getting many of the Senate votes and legislative co-sponsors.
Falling short in the Oregon House
On April 8th, SJM 5 was introduced in the Oregon House. It was then referred to the House Rules Committee. To build support for SJM 5, I worked closely with Oregon CCL Leadership as well as CCL volunteers across Oregon engaged with their representatives. As a result, 30 House members, including 7 Republicans, endorsed SJM 5. The Oregon House has 60 members. Thus, half the chamber were co-sponsors of SJM 5.
For the first half of 2021, it was a full time effort for me to build as much legislative support as possible for SJM 5. Of the 39 legislator co-sponsors for SJM 5, I was directly involved in meetings, phone calls, and emails with these legislators or their staffs to persuade 17 to sponsor SJM 5, including three Republicans. From engaging with friends across Oregon to ask them to contact their legislators, I indirectly succeeded in getting 16 legislators to endorse SJM 5. 6 legislators signed up to be co-sponsors, including 5 Republicans, without any interaction from me.
The Oregon House proved to be a tougher beast for us to navigate. We did not have a champion to guide SJM 5 through the Oregon House, like we had with Chief Sponsor Senator Dembrow to guide it through the Senate. Even though House Minority Leader Christine Drazan gave strong supportive oral testimony on SJM 5 to the Senate Energy and Environment Committee on February 25th, she did not seem interested in guiding it through the Oregon House. She seemed hesitant to co-sponsor to put her name officially on the resolution. I could sense that she needed some support within her GOP House caucus for SJM 5 before she was willing to publicly support it.
On March 12th, I was able to get a meeting with former Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and his GOP Rep. David Brock Smith. It took a little coaxing in this meeting, but Rep. David Brock Smith did say yes to co-sponsoring SJM 5. This was actually our first GOP House co-sponsor. Then, when Christine Drazan was starting to see that some of her caucus members were starting to sign on to co-sponsor SJM 5, she co-sponsored it. Thus, I actually got the first Republican House co-sponsor for SJM 5. This was a team effort since other Portland CCL volunteers had a meeting with Rep. David Brock Smith the previous autumn. They laid the groundwork for my successful meeting with David Brock Smith.
Sadly, on Wednesday, June 9th, a state Representative called me to share the bad news with me. He informed me that House Democratic Leadership was not going to allow SJM 5 to have a vote in the Rules Committee or on the House floor before the 2021 Legislative session ended on Saturday, June 26th. Ironically, they considered SJM 5 to be ‘too bipartisan.’ They were worried that if they allowed SJM 5 to pass, it could give Republicans in the legislature cover to tell their constituents that they were acting on climate by supporting SJM 5 while opposing climate policy bills supported by the Democrats. Sadly, the bitter rancor over the cap-and-trade bills from the previous legislative sessions had spilled over to doom SJM 5 from passing the Oregon House.
My Final Thoughts and advice to organize for a state legislature to pass a carbon pricing resolution
As the Lead Organizer of SJM 5, the big lesson we learned was that we needed a stronger effort to build relationships to persuade the vital gatekeepers, such as the Speaker of the House and the House Majority Leader, that it was in their best interests to support passage of SJM 5. Getting bipartisan support was not enough.
There is another takeaway besides fully understanding the legislative process and trying to successfully engage the vital gatekeepers. It is crucial not to forget the CCL core values of respect, appreciation, gratitude, and motivated listening to the legislative priorities and complicated politics facing the key legislators that can stop or move a bill to passage. If they don’t feel like we are fully listening and supporting them, the chances are they will be less inclined to pass a CCL high priority bill.
Undoubtably, there can be hard feelings with CCL volunteers if a House Speaker, Majority Leader, or Senate President decides to kill a CCL high priority bill. It must be stressed not to take those decisions personally. Instead, it should be emphasized to try to positively maintain those relationships for the constructive next step.
For CCL members who feel a little intimidated or unsure how to approach Congressional offices, engaging with your state legislators can be a wonderful way to learn retail politics that can be used to then lobby your members of Congress. When I lobbied state legislators, especially legislators where I was not a constituent, I was amazed how much easier it was to access them and develop relationships with them.
Again, many state legislators work closely with members of Congress. Thus, developing positive relationships with state legislators so that they feel comfortable endorsing the EICDA or other CCL high priority bills can make a difference in shifting members of Congress to support CCL priorities.
When SJM 5 passed the Oregon Senate on April 7th, this was the first legislative resolution to pass through a state legislative chamber supporting the EICDA. I hope my action to lead Oregon CCL volunteers to nearly pass a state resolution in 2021 will inspire someone. My dream is that my efforts can provide a template for CCL volunteers in other U.S. states or even internationally to pass carbon pricing resolution through both chambers of a legislature in 2022 or beyond. Hopefully, passing a state carbon pricing resolution will then influence our members of Congress to pass federal carbon pricing legislation.
“Only poets can approach this task (describing the threat of climate change) until we come up with the right metaphor.” — Donald A. Brown, Associate Professor, Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law, Penn State University.
If you have not seen the Netflix film “Don’t Look Up,” I highly recommend that you watch it. Judging by the number of viewings on Netflix, you might have seen already. As of January 11th, ‘Don’t Look Up’ has become Netflix’s second biggest most watched film of all time, according to the Hollywood news website Deadline. Even though, it had 152.29 million hours watched globally in the week December 27-January 2 alone on Netflix, that does not mean that everyone loved it. Rotten Tomatoes, which is a composite of many movie reviews, gave it a score of 54%, which is not that great, kind of a meh score. On Rotten Tomatoes tomatometer scoring, it says: “When less than 60% of reviews for a movie or TV show are positive, a green splat is displayed to indicate its Rotten status.” Audiences on Rotten Tomatoes had a better response 78%.
Dr. Michael E. Mann’s title really hit home for me because I had tried to use humor for over the past 10 years to try to educate and inspire people to act on climate. In early December 2009 when I was temporarily living in Ashland Oregon, a friend and I were arguing over what I should do with my life. I finally yelled: “Fine! Do you know what I would like to do? If I could do anything, I would like to be the climate change comedian!”
My friend Naomi just about fell out of her chair laughing and responded: “That’s great! When you get home, I want you to immediately grab that website domain and start working on being ‘The Climate Change Comedian.'”
I went home and immediately grabbed that website domain. Several months later, a family friend helped me set up the climatechangecomedian.com website, which I maintained to this day. During the early months of 2010, I created my first climate change powerpoint called, Let’s Have Fun Getting Serious About Climate Change. It was not that funny of a powerpoint, but I did find a couple of good quotes why using humor is important for educating people about science:
‘Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and Three-fourths Theater.‘ – novelist Gail Godwin
“Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy, and literature than any number of dull arguments.” – science fiction writer Isaac Asimov
“When humor goes, there goes civilization.” – humorist Erma Bombeck
“If I had no sense if humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.” – Mohandas Gandhi
Nobody ever laughed at that last quote when I gave this presentation to friends, even though I thought it was very funny when I first saw it. I am a big fan of Gandhi and all he was able to accomplish. This quote shows me that he did not take himself or life too seriously. Nobody in the audience seemed to get that logic though. This was my start to try to do comedy. The key word is try.
As I started marketing myself as The Climate Change Comedian, I had a friend take pictures of me with my inflatable Earth Ball in April 2010.
Outside of showing my powerpoint to friends, I didn’t know what to do with the title Climate Change Comedian. However, to do something on climate, I worked for the St. Louis Science Center for their temporary climate change exhibit in the spring of 2011. When I was working as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park in the summer of 2011, I started giving a 40 minute evening campfire powerpoint talk on the impacts of climate change at Crater Lake. The title of the talk was called The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, which I was able to record for YouTube in September 2012.
I wove some humor into this ranger talk and the audience really seemed to connect with it. My humor was effective enough that Eric Knackmuhs, an Associate Instructor and Ph.D. Student at Indiana University, contacted me in November 2013 that he had found that YouTube video. He contacted me to let me know that he gave a presentation to other rangers, Using Humor to Introduce Controversial Topics, at the National Association of Interpreters Annual Convention in Reno, Nevada in November, 2013. Soon after Eric emailed me, we chatted on the phone because I was curious to find out what he thought I was doing well to connect with my audience. I wrote about this conversation in a February 2014 blog, Using Humor Effectively to Communicate Climate Change.
Besides giving this climate change ranger evening program at Crater Lake from 2011 to 2017, I was involved during the winters in my local St. Louis Toastmasters public speaking group around that same time. I gave around 20 speeches, 8 of which I was voted by my fellow speakers as “The Best Speaker” for out of the four speeches presented by members at their meetings. Nearly all of those speeches were about climate change. I inserted humor where I could in those speeches. Many of those Toastmaster speeches I recorded for YouTube.
My national TV appearances for climate change comedy
This ended up being the coolest experience of my life to on national TV using humor to promote climate change. Most of it was absurd because Tosh.o is an absurd and raunchy TV show. However, I was able to slip in some facts on climate change in between the crazy humor of Daniel Tosh. Before the show, he told me that he did accept the science of climate change and allow him to be funny, unless I wanted to come across on TV as weird. I took in his advice and I had a blast filming our TV segment. My mom appeared at the end of this comedy bit and Tanya got to witness the taping in the TV studio. Thus, it turned out to be an unforgettable family experience. Tanya, my mom and me were very nervous after the taping how my segment would be edited. However, we were very happy and relieved when it aired on national TV in August 2016.
I never thought I could top that experience in my life, nor did I want to out due it. Actually, I was invited back to Tosh.o in November 2020 to appear as part of a panel commenting about the 2020 Presidential election, in a segment spoofing CNN called “Danderson Cooper 361.” All I can say is that, just like they frequently say in Hollywood, ‘The sequel was not as good as the original.’ I was hoping to squeeze in some information about climate change, but none of it made it onto the segment. It felt similar to the Don’t Look Up film where Dr. Randall Mindy character (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Ph.D student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) appear on the TV show The Daily Rip. Those fictional TV hosts (played by actors Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry) aren’t interested at all in hearing the scientists warn that a comet would hit the Earth in 6 months, being being entertaining. Nothing against Daniel Tosh, but the same thing happened here. He did ask me some climate related questions in the pre-recorded interview, but it was all edited out.
The best part of preparting for this national TV appearance was I did exchange emails with climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann of Penn State University to ask his advice on what to say. This was his response:
“These days, my messaging is focused on just two words: urgency and agency. Yes, bad things are happening, we can see them playing out in real time now. But we can prevent the worst from happening. Assuming the election goes our way, there will be leader ship once again in Washington DC. And we have ready climate plans on the table from both Congressional Democrats and the Biden campaign. We need to hit the ground running, and in his perspective first hundred days, Biden and a hopefully Democratic Congress need to pass a climate plan that put a price on carbon, incentivizes clean energy, enforces regulations, and blocks support for new fossil fuel infrastructure.
That’s sort of my elevator pitch!”
That was an amazing gift to exchange emails with one of the world’s top climate scientists, Dr. Michael E. Mann. Ironically, Leonardo DiCaprio said he based his scientist role in Don’t Look Back, Dr. Randall Mindy, in part on climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann. After Dr. Mann’s email, I wrote up my own answer to prepare to a climate change elevator pitch for this Tosh.o appearance. I practiced it over and ever to have it memorized to try to say it naturally during the TV taping. Because of the COVID pandemic and the short notice to film, this time I was filmed at home over Zoom, not flown to Los Angeles like the previous taping. Thus, it was nice not to have to leave home. As I shared with Dr. Mann over email afterwards, very disappointing that I was not able to squeeze in any message on climate change. This was his very gracious response:
HI Brian, Happy to have been of any help. Sorry they didn’t use that material. I’ve had a number of frustrating experiences before where a lot of stuff (and what I considered was the best stuff), got left on the cutting room floor. It’s one the real challenges in the world of media interviews. Good on you for the effort though, keep it up. It will ultimately pay off!
Hopefully, you can see from my story that I have some experience with climate change comedy, good and bad, especially trying to convey this message on national TV. Thus, I am very appreciative of Don’t Look Up writer/director Adam McKay using humor and the allegory of a comet hitting the earth to bring attention to the issue of climate change.
Frankly, since the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016 and the arrival of the COVID pandemic in early 2020, I have not felt funny in years nor I have had much interest these past few years in climate change comedy. Last September 2021 two international climate organizers emailed me about joining them for a Zoom event on climate comedy to respond to the November 2021 COP26 Climate Talks in Glasgow, Scotland. I was happy they wanted to use comedy and humor to promote climate action to help organize to pressure countries for effective climate negotiations at the Glasgow conference. However, I had to be honest with these organizers that I was flattered that they wanted to include me, but I had to decline. I didn’t feel like I had much of a sense of humor since the start of the pandemic. For the past several years, I just felt out of gas and ho hum.
The struggle for scientists, the news media and pop culture to alert the public about climate change
“Words fail us about how to characterize the magnitude of the harm that is being done in the name of ideology. It is too absurd on its face to think that any reasonable observer can seriously conclude that climate change science is a hoax or that the consensus view that humans are causing climate change has been debunked. In fact we are looking for the right metaphors to simply describe the sheer harmfulness of what has been happening. We would appreciate ideas on this issue. Only poets can approach this task until we come up with the right metaphor.”
It’s been a daunting problem for scientists to communicate about the climate crisis because it’s been referred to for years as “A wicked ‘Problem from Hell.'” Scientists, advocates, and policy makers have had a difficult time for years trying to communicate to the public about the urgency to address climate change because the problem is 1. Long term – over decades if not centuries 2. Global – all countries of the world emit greenhouse gases with the U.S, China, Russia, Brazil, European Union, etc. as the biggest emitters. 3. Invisible – typically hard to see greenhouse gases unless you are looking directly at a smokestack or urban smog. 4. Everywhere – the enemies range from the 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions to also most people on the Earth relying on the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil & natural gas) to provide energy for their homes, cars, businesses, farms, etc. 5. Vested enormous special Interests deliberately misleading the segments of the American and global public to oppose collective action to solve climate change.
Some scientists, like Dr. Edward Maibach, the Director of The Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, focused their research helping scientists and communicators, like me, to more effective in their messaging on climate change. I met Dr. Maibach twice. The first time was when I attended his talk at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Conference in San Francisco, CA in December 2011. Then I met with him in his office at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA in February 2012. He directly told me then in a tone bordering on frustration about his work that ‘I just want scientists to speak more effectively to the public about climate change!’
Exactly, 10 years ago, I blogged about Dr. Maibach’s sticky formula for effective public communication: “Simple clear messages, repeated often, by a variety of trusted sources.”
Through his research polling the American public, Dr. Maibach also promoted this Five messages about global warming – identified through audience research – that you may wish to convey:
• It’s real.
• It’s us. (people are causing it)
• Experts agree: human-caused climate change is happening
• It’s bad for us.
• People can limit it, if we choose.
It was not just Dr. Maibach trying to get scientists to be more effective in their communications with the general public. Dr. Randy Olson, a Harvard Ph.D educated scientist and a former tenured professor of marine biology at the University of New Hampshire who resigned to become a filmmaker, wrote a book in 2008 called Don’t be Such A Scientist. I heard much buzz from scientists and fellow climate change communicators talking about this book when I attended AGU scientific conference in 2011. The theme of the book is the challenge scientists face in when communicating science to the general public that feels distracted by information overload. This was also a theme of Don’t Look Up that was portrayed very well by the actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, and Rob Morgan who played the scientists in the film.
Besides scientists struggling to communicate about climate change, pandemics and other scientific issues, the problem has been exponentially worse by the mainstream media that does not seem to know how to report on climate change. In a July 24, 2018 tweet, MSNBC TV host Chris Hayes famously called climate change a “palpable ratings killer.” In July 2021, climate & energy writer Molly Taft wrote in Gizmodo, Why TV Is So Bad at Covering Climate Change. This piece starts with climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University tweeting that she was bumped off of a scheduled interview CNN with Fareed Zakaria to talk about the record-breaking heat wave gripping the West “due to billionaire (Richard Branson) going to space.” Ugh!
Dr. Hayhoe didn’t hold back with her opinion in the tweet thread: “That’s one of the big problems with climate communication, that its impacts accumulate over days, years, and decades. So there is always “breaking news” to displace it in our day to day conversations and media coverage both.
As a society it’s as if we have a collective cat brain: fixated on the latest shiny toy that’s waving in front of our eyes while in the meantime our tail is on fire.”
All of us climate advocates feel your pain, Dr. Hayhoe! Another reason why I liked Don’t Look Up was the way it made fun of TV infotainment shows with it’s fictional show The Daily Rip and their spoof of shadow and superficial TV hosts, played brilliantly by actors Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett.
Overall, scientists and the media have done a dismal job communicating climate change to the general public. Hollywood and popular culture has been silent for the most part also. Outside of 2004’s Day After Tomorrow, which I had no interest in seeing since it was panned by scientists and film critics, I can’t think of any obvious pop culture attempts at climate change that wowed me or a large audience.
(Warning: spoiler in this paragraph and if you click on this YouTube video below) I don’t remember any great popular songs about climate change either. Having said that, the song “Just Look Up” by Ariana Grande & Kid Cudi in the Don’t Look Up film just blew me away. I am seriously thinking about downloading this song for my iTunes. To be completely honest, I had never heard of Ariana Grande before this film. Since then, I just learned she is is one of the world’s best-selling music artists. I was very impressed with her comedic performance in the film when she interacted with actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. The song “Just Look Up” in the film is beautiful and hilarious at the same time.
(Warning! Spoiler alerts in the next three paragraphs if you have not seen the film already) I loved how Ariana Grande dressed as a comet for a stage performance during the film. Even more, she was hung from wires with a ridiculously long train on her dress with a moving star scape background behind her to look like a comet. The lyrics to the song and the way that Ariana sung them with full force still has me has my wife and I laughing out loud in appreciation almost a month later. As a climate organizer, I can’t think of a funnier song that made me feel heard with these lyrics:
“Look up, what he’s really trying to say Is get your head out of your ass Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists We really fucked it up, fucked it up this time…
Just look up Turn off that shit-box News ‘Cause you’re about to die soon everybody”
That song alone has now made me an Ariana Grande fan.
Personal Favorite Films that inspired me to be a climate organizer
Having aired my personal frustration about the media and popular culture not being able to convey the gravity of climate change. I do want to say that there are Hollywood films that did inspire me to become a climate organizer.
10 years ago, I blogged how the film Titanic inspired me to be a Climate Change Communicator when I first saw it in a movie theatre just a week after it had opened on December 19, 1997. The 1912 British passenger liner Titanic sinking on its maiden voyage due to hitting an iceberg was 100% caused by human error. It was completely avoidable, if the ship’s captain and crew had taken the proper precautions. As I wrote in that blog,
“What was striking to me then in 1998 and to this day was the hubris and arrogance of White Star Lines and the ship’s designer, Harland and Wolff. They thought they had outsmarted nature with their watertight compartments on board and other engineering advances. They then foolishly believed their innovations would enable the ship to be “unsinkable.” Well, we all know how that turned out once the ship hit that iceberg.”
Ironically, I first starting learning about climate change back in 1998 as a naturalist guide in Everglades National Park. Park visitors were asking me about global warming when I was narrating the boat tours then. Back then, I learned that sea level rise had risen 8 inches in the Everglades 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. This scared me in 1998. It was like witnessing the Titanic had already hit the iceberg from the ship’s crow’s nest and the boat was already starting to take on water. Sadly, back in 1998, we knew that Everglades was already starting to take on water. The ocean was very slowly starting to creep in on this world class treasure.
In the back of my mind, I always wondered if anyone else had noticed dangerous parallels with the Titanic sinking and the modern day threat of climate change. It turned out that Titanic director James Cameron noticed the similarities. In April 2012, to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the National Geographic TV Channel aired a two hour special Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron.
This is how James Cameron connected the Titanic sinking to the current threat of climate change:
“Part of the Titanic parable is of arrogance, of hubris, of the sense that we’re too big to fail. Well, where have we heard that one before?…
Within that human system on board that ship, if you want to make it a microcosm of the world, you have different classes, you’ve got first class, second class, third class. In our world right now you’ve got developed nations, undeveloped nations.You’ve got the starving millions who are going to be the ones most affected by the next iceberg that we hit, which is going to be climate change. We can see that iceberg ahead of us right now, but we can’t turn.”
I am a big James Cameron fan, also because of his 2010 film Avatar, which really impacted me. That film is set in the 22nd century on the fictional planet of Pandora. It is about a greedy mining corporation from Earth have transported human colonists to try to strip Pandora’s natural resources and displace the Na’vi – a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. In their lust for the planet’s natural resources, the humans push too far in their destruction of nature and attacking the Na’vi and nature strikes back. To me, it felt like James Cameron had made great allegorical film about human hubris in trying to dominate nature and nature having the final say. Besides me, others might not see these films as metaphors about climate change, but I could certainly see some parallels.
Besides these hugely successful films, it was the 2006 documentary film about Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth that had an enormous impact on me. I was a huge fan of Al Gore ever since I read his 1992 book Earth in the Balance. I read this book in January 1993 during my first winter working as a seasonal employee at the front desk of the Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park, Florida. I had spent the previous summer working as a summer employee at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. I had really fallen in love with nature, the national parks, the great outdoors, and our planet. Al Gore’s book really connected with me how he wrote about the negative impacts we humans were doing to the Earth in the early 1990s. Even though I had not voted for the Clinton/Gore Presidential ticket the previous November, this book made me feel very pleased that he was our Vice President with his deep caring for our planet. This book started me on a path for voting for the Clinton/Gore ticket in 1996 and I eagerly awaited him running for President in 2000. I just hoped he would win so he could steer the United States and the world on a more sustainable path if he was elected President.
Needless to say, I was deeply crushed when Al Gore lost the 2000 election. It’s still tough for me to talk about to this day. I personally knew friends in the Miami Sierra Club who voted for Presidential third party candidate Ralph Nader instead. Al Gore lost Florida by only 537 votes to Republican candidate George W. Bush. Ralph Nader received over 97,000 votes in Florida. As Al Gore said in An Inconvenient Truth, “Well, that was a hard blow. But, what are you going to do? You make the best of it.”
In my case, I hoped Al Gore would run for President again in 2004. He didn’t, but I eagerly anticipated his upcoming flim in 2006 when I heard that An Inconvenient Truth was coming to theaters. I had heard about climate change for years, but I had never seen a presentation on climate change so clear and easy to understand before like I had seen Al Gore do in the documentary. The film managed to be a summer hit making over $24 million in the U.S. and $25 million overseas. To my delight, An Inconvenient Truth was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Documentary, winning both at the 2007 Oscars. After first learning about climate change while working in Everglades National Park 1998, I was so happy that Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth was finally bringing a much needed spotlight to this problem to the general public. More publicity for climate action happened when Al Gore was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”
With An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, and extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina which did severe damage to New Orleans in 2005, I was hoping that some event would awaken the American public to truly take action on climate change. It was always frustrating for me that the public would never seem to mobilize for climate action. To be honest, I didn’t even know what to do for climate action after seeing the film, except I bought the DVD to watch it multiple times to absorb the information. I continued reading scientific books on climate change to educate myself on the subject to try to become more knowledgeable to talk about it.
Seeds were being planted though. Al Gore took all the profits he received from An Inconvenient Truth film and companion book, as well as the $1 million award from his Nobel Peace Prize to build the Alliance for Climate Protection, an organization founded and chaired by Gore to build grassroots momentum to solve the climate crisis. The Alliance for Climate Protection later became known as the Climate Reality Project. Their mission is to “recruit, train, and mobilize people to become powerful activists, providing the skills, campaigns, and resources to push for aggressive climate action.”
Even more, Climate Reality’s “signature activist program, the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, has trained over 42,000 change makers worldwide since 2006.” I was one of those individuals trained by Al Gore to become a Climate Reality Leader. Along with over 800 others from across the U.S. and other parts of the world, I attended a Climate Reality Training led by Al Gore in San Francisco, CA in August 2012. Since then I attended 7 more Al Gore led Climate Reality Training held in other cities in the United States where I mentored others attending the Climate Reality Training for the first time. I blogged about this experience in 2016, Want to be effective? Consider becoming a Climate Reality Project Leader.
For years, I said that attending a Climate Reality Training felt like jet fuel for me. Over the past decade, the trainings to give over 200 climate change talks in over 10 U.S. states and Ottawa Canada, co-leading the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up group from 2011 to 2017, give radio interviews, write 19 opinions editorials that were published in newspapers in St. Louis and Oregon, co-found the southern Oregon Citizens’ Climate Lobby group, give climate change speaking tours across Missouri and Oregon, organizing public climate events in St. Louis and Portland OR etc. All this led to being in the audience and very briefly being seen on screen when Al Gore was filmed for the 2017 film An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Even more, a small picture of myself giving a climate change presentation was included in the 2017 companion book, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.
With all I have been able to accomplish as a Climate Reality Leader and Climate Change Organizer, maybe a film like An Inconvenient Truth did have a big difference for me and the thousands of Climate Reality Leaders trained by Al Gore or who just saw the film as far back as 2006. However, scientists keep telling us that we are not moving fast enough to reduce the threat of climate change.
“During the (2020) lockdown around the world, during the pandemic, clean energy took off. The International Energy Agency estimates that 90 percent of new electricity installed around the world in 2020 will have been clean energy. Ninety percent. So the world is changing. It just isn’t changing fast enough. We need more hands rolling that giant boulder. It’s already rolling downhill slowly. And we need it rolling faster.”
Thus, we have to find ways to inspire the general public to step up their game for climate action. The latest news from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication’s Global Warming’s Six Americas, September 2021, where they survey Americans’ opinion on climate change is that 33% of Americans are alarmed about climate change. Since the 6 Americas survey began in 2008, the alarmed “have grown rapidly to become the largest segment of the U.S. population today.” Trend of this ongoing polling shows that “Americans’ understanding of global warming’s reality and risks, and support for climate action is growing.”
According to 6 Americas researchers, the growth of the segment of Americans who are alarmed about climate change “is encouraging because progress on climate change requires strong, coordinated, and sustained action, and the Alarmed are the most likely to demand and support these actions by leaders.Yet, this potential ‘issue public’ still needs to be organized and mobilized to demand action at all levels of American society.”
We still have a ways to go to realize inspire, mobilize, and energize the American public towards climate action. Scientists, the media, and popular culture has fallen short on the urgency to act on climate change now. This was why I was excited in December 2021 when I had heard that writer/director Adam McKay had taken on the task of creating a major movie release centered on a metaphor about climate change using comedy with an all star cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry and others.
If someone could pull off this high wire act, I had confidence that Adam McKay could do it. I was a big fan of his previous two films using comedy to focus on the 2008 financial collapse, The Big Short, and the biography based on the life of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Vice.
My perspective from watching “Don’t Look Up”
I really do appreciate writer/director Adam McKay’s film “Don’t Look Up.” It feels good that others are taking up humor and comedy to bring attention to the issue of climate change. As soon as I heard buzz about Don’t Look Up in December and heard it was going to be released on December 24th, Christmas Eve, I knew my wife and I would be watching it as part of our Christmas celebration. It’s a film that made quite a deep impression that my wife and I are still talking about weeks later.
To be honest, I enjoyed Don’t Look Up, but I still found it to be a heavy movie experience the first time I watched it. I had listened to climate writer David Robert’s Volts podcast on December 10th, Don’t Look Up: the first good movie about climate change. I knew from his review that this film was going to be “fantastic” and “It’s hilarious, and if you’ve spent years banging your head against a wall trying to get people to pay attention to climate change, you will find a great deal of catharsis in the laughter.”
Watching it felt like one of those amusement park log flume rides where you are riding inside of a log like compartment, flowing on the water, trying to enjoy the ride, but having that knot in your stomach the whole time that you will be dumped down a big hill into the water at the end. It’s different than a rollercoaster where you face the biggest hill in the beginning then you get the feeling of flying, going up and down, sideways, before the rollercoaster car slows down to return you to the unloading zone. Between the lines on David Roberts’ blog and elsewhere, it was implied that Don’t Look Up would not have a happy ending. Thus, I did feel a sense of heaviness watching it.
Compounding the heaviness is that no one wants to listen to the scientists during the film. Not the media, the government, big business, or the general public. Sound familiar?
As a climate organizer, I will repeat what other writers, scientists, and organizers have said: I felt heard watching this film. As far back as 1998, when I was a naturalist guide in Everglades National Park. There was times when I was talking about the human destruction of the Everglades and my feeble knowledge of climate change with it’s impact on the Everglades back then. Tourists traveling to Everglades National Park are typically checking Everglades off their list in between going to the beach, visiting Disney World, partying at Miami Beach, and seeing the Florida Keys. Some boat tours that I narrated had Floridians, Americans, and Europeans who did not give a shit about the human caused destruction of the Everglades. At the same time, they were asking me, ‘Where’s the wildlife?’ A number of them didn’t want to hear that the pollution and human drainage of the Everglades to divert water to the cities and farms caused populations of wading birds to drop over 90%, as well as huge losses of the fish and alligator populations. Thus, I could relate to the scientists in the film trying to warn humanity that a comet was going to slam into the Earth in 6 months, but no one seems to care.
The acting by the entire cast was amazing by Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry and others. This was the best casting Hollywood could get for this movie and everyone was on the top of their game. They were all a joy to watch. I especially thought that Jonah Hill, playing the Chief of Staff and President Susan Orleans’ son Jason Orleans, steals the movie with his quirky insults and wit.
(Warning! spoiler in this paragraph! ) Having said that, I didn’t get the Cate Blanchett character the first time I watched it. Nor could I understand why the Jennifer Lawrence character is obsessed when the military Army General charges her and others for snacks that are free at the White House. The first time viewing the film, I didn’t get those film aspects. I needed to ponder those things days after seeing the film. I was determined to watch the film again a week later to appreciate what was happening.
The comedy of this film comes at you quick since it is mocking many targets. Watching the first time, I felt like I was being hit not just by a comet, but by an asteroid field. It was hard to keep track of everything. Don’t try! Watch it again several days later and you will catch so much more that you were not able to notice the first time. The film’s subject is heavy with a huge comet is headed towards Earth but most of the characters are too dense to care. About halfway through the movie, I asked my wife , “Are you enjoying this movie?”
She can be a tough critic watching when she is watching some films with me, but this time she enthusiastically said, “Yes!” Thus, this is a good date night film with your partner and a good film to watch with family and friends to discuss afterwards. Weeks later, we are still laughing about items we remember in the film.
Even though I was not able to understand all the characters or plot devises the first time I watched it, I still see it as a great film. Many great films take more than one viewing to truly appreciate their message and story. That could also be the case for you if you didn’t quite understand Don’t Look Up. Give it a chance to watch it a second time.
My second viewing of Don’t Look up. (Warning! Many spoilers here!)
The second I watched Don’t Look Up was just sitting by my laptop by myself to try to fully absorb the messaging of the film. I took notes and I ended up with 24 pages of things I liked and connected with me. I felt like I was able to catch and appreciate so many of the jokes and humor on the second viewing. I already knew the somberness of the ending. Thus, I didn’t have the knot in my stomach knowing that film would not have a happy Hollywood ending where everything turned out ok.
Actually, to take notes, catch as many details as I could, and truly try to listen to all of the dialogue, I would stop the button. Thus, it took me many hours over a couple of days to watch the film completely in that manner.
For other serious climate advocates, I recommend doing the same thing, realizing that would be very time consuming. However, it would be very rewarding to do this to see all the small items that appear on the scene for a brief moment and the jokes one might missed watching the movie the first time. For instance, did you catch the astronomer Carl Sagan figurine placed suddenly on the character Kate Dibiasky’s (played by Jennifer Lawrence) desk just one minute into the film?
Many people did. This included climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann remarking on this in his January 18, 2021 discussion with film Adam McKay.
Just one minute later in the film, you can very briefly see a drawing of Darwin and Galileo on the bulletin board in the astronomy lab with the post-it-note sticking to it a handwritten quote “Throw my telescope in the air sometimes singing ayyyo Galileo!” (It’s in reference to a 2010 pop hit song Dynamite by Taio Cruz, where the actual lyric was “I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, Saying ‘Ayo! Gotta let go!'”) Looks like the geeky science humor that you might see in any science lab. Yet, the movie seems to be saying that it takes science and the scientific process seriously.
Then 13 minutes into the film, there’s a quick camera shot focusing in on part of a painting in the fictional White House. The scientists (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) are in a waiting area for a meeting with the President of the United States to brief her on the comet heading towards Earth. The painting in a close up shot is of a Native American going into battle in the 1800s probably fighting again the U.S. Army. I thought it was a subtle reference how the Native Americans were overrun by the white colonists and U.S. government. I interpreted this as how the Native Americans screwed then with the settlement of the U.S. and the people in the film were about to be screwed by a comet hitting planet Earth.
There was so many other details like this that caught my eye very quickly in my first viewing, but the details were really able to jump out at me when I watched the film again.
With details like this, I think that Don’t Look Up will still be talked about decades from now, if we humans are still around then with the threat of climate change, nuclear war, Russian or Chinese cyber wars, etc. I have no idea where the film will land in the pantheon of great films. However, with all the amazing small details and quick jokes serving as a reference to climate change, I would suggest that a group of climate advocates get together to watch the film over several hours. Attendees could then yell “Stop!” when there’s something they want to discuss. In his 1991 essay, ‘Citizen Kane’ a masterpiece at 50, film critic Roger Ebert wrote how in 1991 how he showed Citizen Kane at the University of Colorado “joined by several hundred students, faculty and townspeople. We sat in the dark, and audience members called out “stop!” when there was something they wanted to discuss. Scene by scene and sometimes shot by shot, we looked at the performances, the photography, the special effects.”
I am not saying that Don’t Look Up is as good as Citizen Kane or other Hollywood great films but compared to other Hollywood dramatic, action, and satirical films about climate change, Don’t Look Up is so much better than other Hollywood attempts to at a climate change themed movie. Citizen Kane is Citizen Kane. It’s a fantastic film that I highly recommend, if you get a chance to see it. However, I do think that Don’t Look Up is the Citizen Kane of any Hollywood scripted climate change attempted movie so far.
More items that jumped out at me while watching Don’t Look Up. (Warning! Many spoilers here!)
When I was watching Don’t Look Up for the first time, I didn’t understand why the General Themes character (played by actor Paul Guilfoyle) charged the scientists (played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Rob Morgen) for snacks when they were waiting for hours to a meeting with the President of the United States. It made no sense to me.
Then, I heard there was several interpretations for this, which I now totally understand. First, I heard writer/director Adam McKay say in a podcast interview that the General charging the scientists for snacks does not mean anything. He was just toying with the audience. However, the Kate Dibiasky character (played by Jennifer Lawrence) does seem distracted by General Theme’s action for the rest of the film. It showed that even the scientists could get distracted when the moment called for her to stay focused to educate the public about the dangerous pending comet. It’s funny that I was not the only one pondering about this after seeing the film. There are multiple articles about this on the internet with others asking the same thing. In kevin Erdmann’s article for Screenrant, Don’t Look Up: Why The General Charges For Free Snacks he called it a “a humorous commentary on a much bigger societal issue.”
Erdman believed that “the general charging for free food is certainly in line with the film’s core message about the rich and powerful taking whatever they want simply because they can, regardless of the consequences or impact on the greater good.” He went on to say that, “charging for free food is seemingly insignificant, but it serves as a microcosm of the grander issues and commentary at play about rampant greed.”
Thus, with these different perspectives, It’s really up to you why General Themes charged for the snacks.
The first time I saw Don’t Look Up, I was really creeped out by the female TV host Brie Evantee (played by Cate Blanchett) on the fictional TV show The Daily Rip. I just found the character to be repulsive in her phoniness. The character had platinum blonde hair, super shiny pearly white teeth with a fake smile to go with it and a super chipper personality to perform for her morning TV show with no shred of authenticity. Brie was more interested in hitting on Dr. Mindy than hearing his breaking news that a planet-killing comet was headed directly for Earth. I just didn’t like this character at all the first time I saw Don’t Look Up.
It was a few days later that I started understanding this character. She is a female compilation of sleazy TV news anchors Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, etc. who lost their jobs during the #MeToo Movement that blew up in 2017 because they seemed more interested in scoring with the opposite sex than being reporting the news. She also seemed like so many blonde bubbly TV hosts, especially on Fox News, that all look like eye candy and seem about as geniune as cotton candy. Cate Blanchett is a terrific actor. I have enjoyed her work in previous films. She did a great job of inhabiting this role and kudos to Adam McKay for creating a character that I was still trying to figure out days after seeing the film.
The character that just made my skin crawl was the big tech billionaire Peter Isherwell (played brilliantly by actor Mark Rylance). He had no redeeming qualities and I found him to be so fascinating by his lack of humanity. He never gave eye contact to another character. He was so in love with his own creative tech world. He was all about making money for his corporation, even if it had a chance of destroying planet Earth. Hats off to actor Mark Rylance and writer/director Adam McKay for creating a weird high tech giant with a that clearly seemed to be a composite of Mark Zuckerberg, the late Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Tim Cook of Apple Computers, Jeff Bezos, etc. Netflix Diaries created this meme about Peter Isherwell posted on Twitter on December 27, 2021:
I briefly worked for Tesla in 2018. I never met Elon Musk. I was just entry level staff. My job was was to try to convince customers at Home Depots in Portland Oregon to schedule an appointment with Tesla solar advisors come to their homes to sell them on installing Tesla solar panels on their home’s roof. The frustrating part of working for Elon Musk is that he would say weird things in the news that would trigger a drop in the value of Tesla stock. We would then wonder if we would have jobs if the price dropped too much. I remember thinking when I worked at Tesla: ‘I wish he would keep his big mouth shut!’
Don’t Look Up also (correctly) poked fun of moderate climate advocates like mecaught in wishful thinking
Many other things I could mention, but one thing did jump out at me that I do want to highlight. For the movie critics that didn’t like Don’t Look Up, some them complained that actors like Chris Evans “show up for literally no reason at all” in the film. I beg to differ.
(Warning! Another spoiler) Chris Evans plays actor Devin Peters. As the comet is headed towards Earth, actor Devin Peters is on the TV show The Daily Rip and doing interviews with the press for his new action film Total Devastation. Ironically, Total Devastation is scheduled to open in theaters the same day that the comet is projected by scientists to hit the Earth. During his interview with a TV entertainment reporter, asks about his button with the Don’t Look Up and Just Look Up arrows. Devin Peter’s response:
“I think as a country we just need to stop arguing and virtue signaling. Just get along.”
The reporter then commends him saying, “This is so refreshing. I think we are all tired of the politics.”
Having seen myself in the film as one of those folks striving to appeal to both sides, I wished I could have access to the script to weave in the story somehow the people in the climate movement whom I find frustrating. I call them ‘The Climate Individualists.’ I think of them as the folks who say: ‘I am fighting climate change by going vegan, putting solar panels on my roof, driving an electric car, riding my bike as transportation, not having kids, living off the grid in an eco village, growing my own food, not flying in an airplane, reducing my personal carbon footprint, not shopping for new clothes, buy local, etc. You should too. If everyone does this, we will stop climate change.’
Those are all virtuous, well-meaning solutions that will help reduce the burning of greenhouse gases which causes climate change. I applaud these efforts. I try to do as many of these solutions as I can to reduce my carbon footprint. However, it’s simply not enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Individual actions let government, corporate polluters, factory farms, large scale clear cut logging companies, coal extraction companies, oil companies, etc. off the hook. It’s magical, wishful thinking to believe that individual solutions alone will fix climate change. As I wrote earlier on this blog post, 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions.
In the middle of this op-ed, Dr. Mann writes: “a fixation on voluntary action alone takes the pressure off of the push for governmental policies to hold corporate polluters accountable. In fact, one recent study suggests that the emphasis on smaller personal actions can actually undermine support for the substantive climate policies needed.”
For effective action, we must be contacting our members of Congress to enact policies such as carbon taxes so that the large corporations, such as those 100 companies, and businesses in general will reduce their emissions. As Dr. Mann states in this op-ed, “We need corporate action, not virtue signaling.”
It can’t be stressed enough. INDIVIDUAL ACTIONS ALONE WILL NOT SOLVE CLIMATE CHANGE. Dr. Mann ends this op-ed writing: “There is still time to avert the worst impacts of climate change, but not without immediate, collective action.”
I am happy that Adam McKay poked fun of moderate climate advocates like me who has tried to appeal to progressives and conservatives. I think that the plot and story is great of Don’t Look Up the way that it is. At the same time, if I had a chance to nudge him when he was writing his script, I would have also included a spiritual minded character preaching that we are all sinners and the comet is God’s punishment for our pollution and harming the environment. Thus, if we atone for our sins by praying, going vegan, having less or no kids, putting solar on our roofs, buying electric cars, weatherizing our homes, riding our bikes instead of driving cars, join him in living in an eco village off the grid, etc, but not worry about what corporations or the government is doing. If we all live in a simple virtuous way in our individual lives that pollutes less and pleases God, that will cause the comet to alter its course. Just an idea for a future movie, if anyone wants to grab it. (Hint! Hint!)
Seriously, if you read this blog, Adam McKay (especially if you read this very long blog up to this point, God bless you!), I love this film just the way it is!
Having said that, my personal pet peeve is that it’s not enough to do individual actions on climate change. It is vital to contact elected officials, such as your members of Congress, to urge them to make polices addressing the climate crisis the highest priority. I venture to say that Leonard DiCaprio would agree with me on this one.
In a promotional roundtable interview with the cast of Don’t Look Up, Jonah Hill asks: ‘What can one person do to take climate action?‘ Leonardo DiCaprio’s response: ‘The #1 thing is vote in elections for people who take the climate crisis seriously and want to take action.’
Leonardo then went on to say, “And there has always been a conversation about what you can do in your personal life and that has a lot of validity, but there are powers that be that are going to create massive change. And that comes from the private sector. It comes from government and we need to put pressure on the powers that be in the best we can in our own possible way.”
Jonah Hill then tries to clarify: “So awareness in the minutia of your voting towards these climate issues?”
Leonardo DiCaprio: “Absolutely!”
Don’t Look Up has a fantastic conclusion (Spoiler Alert!)
For some movies, they can be great to watch most of the way through, but then they screw up the ending. Don’t Look Up delivers perfectly at the end. It’s not a typical Hollywood ending. Actually, the ending hurts to watch and nearly brought tears to my eyes. This is because it is conveying an important message what happens when we don’t take science seriously.
I knew from climate writer David Roberts Volts blog from December 10th, Don’t Look Up: the first good movie about climate change that Leonardo DiCaprio’s “final words in the movie, as he is surrounded at the dinner table by family and friends: ‘We really did have everything, didn’t we?'”
Like David Roberts, I can’t stop thinking about those final words. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character says it with a lot of love for his family, the blessings he saw in his life all around him, and the fantastic experience of living on Earth with the ability to have everything. It is a beautifully delivered line by Leonardo DiCaprio. Even more, the true story is that the line was DiCaprio’s idea. It was not in the script, according to writer/director Adam McKay.
If Don’t Look Back stands the test of time as a great film, that line will be quoted and remembered as one of the great closing movie lines in history.
After this heavy ending, writer/director Adam McKay also included two post credit “endings” that are more on the humorous side. I don’t want to give away too much, except that the super rich try to move to another planet. Ironically, it does not end up well for them. I loved those extra scenes, so you don’t want to leave as soon as the credits starts.
Because I have been alarmed about climate change for decades, Thank you Adam McKay and the entire team who made Don’t Look Up for this very impactful film experience.
Looking for a good book to start off 2022 to learn about the science and solutions to climate change? Then I recommend the new book released towards the end 2021, From Knowledge to Power: The Comprehensive Handbook for Climate Science and Advocacy by Dr. John Perona. With a Ph.D in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale and LL.M (masters degree) in Natural Resources Law from Northwestern College at Lewis & Clark University and currently on the faculties of Portland State University, John has the understanding and expertise to give you a better depth of knowledge to Earth’s climate system and range of solutions to reduce the threat.
The first half of his book focuses on how Earth’s climate system works. He then writes how it became out of balance with humans releasing large amount of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas) to provide energy for our homes, cars, businesses, etc. John devotes Chapter 3 to climate models and carbon budgets so we have grasp of these concepts that are frequently used by climate scientists. This leads a sobering Chapter 4 on the negative impacts on climate change on sea level rise, weather, forests, endangered species, and us humans with our food & water, health and economy. In the international Paris Agreement of 2015, nearly all the countries in the world agreed that greenhouse emissions should be reduced to avoid an average global temperature rise above 1.5°C (Celsius) by 2100. Basically, if we collectively choose to continue with business as usual to muddle around to just keep burning fossil fuels and clearing forests, the future climate modeling provides a very clear warning. The models project nasty consequences that could threaten our civilization and future to live on Earth. That is, if we allow the average global temperature rise to go beyond 2°C or much greater by 2100.
John does not use this analogy in this book. However, the experiment that humanity is currently conducting on Planet Earth reminds of the Chiffon Margarine TV commercials that I saw as a child in the 1970s. If you old enough to remember (yes, I am dating myself), the ads always ended with thunder and lightning in the background. The actor Dena Dietrich saying with anger: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”
Sadly, with climate change, we are fooling with Mother Nature and already experiencing some negative impacts.
With the 1.1°C increase in global temperature since the start of the industrial revolution around 1850 due to the ever increasing human caused greenhouse gas emissions , climate scientists are now using methods of attribution science to tease out the human contribution to specific recent weather events. John shares a table chart with the examples of the 2020 Australian heat wave (contribution to devastating bushfires), 2019 Tropical storm Imelda (Texas), 2019 European heat wave (results for France) and 2017 Hurricane Harvey rainfall (Texas). Scientists using attribution science have determined that the magnitude and severity of these events could not have happened without human caused global warming.
At the same time, John points out in his Interlude chapter that “The US energy transition (to cleaner energy that emits little or no fossil fuels) is taking place with similar efforts going on all over the world.” The problem John then notes is that “Worldwide, however, (greenhouse gas) emissions are still increasing, and the modest progress so far is not enough to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at levels consistent with either 1.5°C or 2.0°C worlds.”
John thinks that the trends indicate that we are potentially headed towards a future primarily using clean energy. The unanswered question for John and climate scientists is: Can we make this global transition to a clean energy future fast enough in the time frame needed to avoid going above a 2° degree warming with the resulting dangerous consequences that could then ensue?
Thus, individually and collectively we need to step up our game to take action to help usher in this clean energy future. John’s thoughts on the climate energy transition reminded me of a March 2021 Washington Post interview, with climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. During the interview, the reporter asked Dr. Hayhoethis question: ‘What’s your thinking for what’s possible in fighting climate change?’ Her response:
“If we implemented all currently available efficiency measures, that would cut U.S. carbon emissions 50 percent. That’s efficiency — not even clean energy. And during the lockdown around the world, during the pandemic, clean energy took off. The International Energy Agency estimates that 90 percent of new electricity installed around the world in 2020 will have been clean energy. Ninety percent. So the world is changing. It just isn’t changing fast enough. We need more hands rolling that giant boulder. It’s already rolling downhill slowly. And we need it rolling faster.
Thus, it is very helpful that Dr. Perona spends that second have of his book, the last 6 out of the 10 chapters in the book, analyzing the major climate solution tools available to us right now. Chapter 5 is a beneficial chapter on Climate Advocacy giving a brief description of the climate advocacy organizations, such as The Sunrise Movement, 350.org, The Climate Reality Project, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). Even more, he includes a graphic table of where these groups fall on the political spectrum. Personally, this chapter was helpful for me because I have been involved with CCL, The Climate Reality Project and other climate groups for almost 10 years. As a climate organizer for over 10 years, I advised new and fellow climate advocates to get involved with a climate advocacy group. I feel like advocates who are involved with a group are much more effective than if they simply act alone. Thus, I applaud John for having this chapter.
Even more, I was very excited he devoted Chapter 7 to Carbon Pricing. Currently, John and I know each other from our involvement with the Portland chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). CCL primarily advocates for a federal carbon price to tax fossil fuels at the source (the coal mine, oil/natural gas well, or the U.S. border). It’s a policy known as carbon fee and dividend. Even more, CCL empowers volunteers across the U.S. to lobby their members of Congress to support a bill before Congress presently known as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA). I am a strong supporter of this bill. I have attended some lobby meetings with John in Washington D.C. and Portland Oregon with the staffs of our Oregon members of Congress to urge them to support the EICDA. Besides giving information on the EICDA and carbon fee & dividend, John writes in this chapter about the other policy option for pricing carbon, which is cap & trade. He provides analysis of two US current cap & trade systems, the one in California known currently as Senate Bill (SB 32) and Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Chapter 8 focuses on Carbon-Free Power such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and nuclear. John also dives into polices for renewable energy, like renewable and clean energy standards, advocacy for influencing state electricity policy, modernizing the electricity grid, and distributed solar power. Chapter 9 highlights Carbon-Free Lifestyles, such as polices to reduce industry emissions, electric vehicles, and urban climate plans. Chapter 10 covers Carbon Removal & Solar Geoengineering, such as forest restoration, using agriculture and grasslands to drawdown carbon dioxide from the air, carbon capture & storage, solar geoengineering, etc.
I did attend the book launch for John’s book on November 30, 2021. During his remarks for talking about this book John stated: ‘This book is very comprehensive, as the title suggests.’
John was not kidding. The book does read like a college textbook, which makes sense since John is a college professor and a scientist. I can easily see this book being used as a college textbook. Even more, when promoting this book on my social media recently, a friend of mine responded that she plans “to use it to inform the online courses I am creating.”
This book is dense. It was not the easiest book I had read. It took me several days to read through it, during a vacation no less. At the same time, John is extremely intelligent and really knows his stuff on climate change. As you read this book, it jumps out at you that John has really devoted himself for many years to having a deep understanding of the science and solutions to climate change. Climate change science and the solutions are complicated. Thankfully, John treats this subject with the seriousness that it deserves if you really want to gain knowledge and look for ideas for advocacy. It’s dense and comprehensive because it needs to be. I found this book to be very helpful and so will you.
As I mentioned above, I have known John Perona for years through the Portland Oregon Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). However, I first met him when I mentored him and 16 others at the Climate Reality Training, led by former Vice President Al Gore, in Houston, Texas in August, 2016. When I moved to Portland in February 2017, I ran into John at various CCL events. In January 30, 2018, John was scheduled to give a presentation on carbon fee and dividend in Newport Oregon. Weeks before, I asked John if I could tag along to hear his talk. One week before, John called me to tell me that he was not feeling well and he asked me to speak in his place. I was happy to help him. He generously gave me his slide deck for this presentation. I changed it up to fit with my style of public speaking and understanding of carbon fee and dividend. The talk went very well, thanks to John helping me prepare.
During the winter of 2017-18, I attended a series of public lectures that John delivered to the environmental advocacy community in Portland, Oregon. The meeting room was packed for these public events for local climate advocates to attend and learn from John. As noted earlier, John and I have lobbied the staff of our Oregon members of Congress in lobby meetings at their offices in Portland Oregon and Washington D.C. Along with other CCL volunteers who attended these meetings, we urged these members of Congress to support carbon fee and dividend, specifically the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 2307). Our most recent lobby meeting February 26, 2020 at Senator Ron Wyden’s Portland Office. John assigned me to be the note taker to try to capture the information we received from the Congressional staff to learn their position. These meetings are confidential to retain the trust of the Congressional staff. However, I can report that I could barely keep up with John’s conversation with Wyden’s Energy and tax policy advisor. Both of them spoke very quickly about the fine and complex details of energy tax policy. It was great to be a fly on the wall, but horrible to be a note taker. Again, John really knows his stuff.
In 2021, I was the lead organizer for an effort to lobby the Oregon Legislature to pass a resolution, known as Senate Joint Memorial 5 or SJM 5, supporting CCL’s Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. In February 2021, a Senate staffer informed me to organize a group of five volunteers to provide oral testimony to the Senate Energy and Environment committee at a February 25th hearing to urge the Senators to pass SJM 5. I asked John to testify and he said yes. Since this was happening during the pandemic, all public testimony for these legislative hearings was given strictly online. Thus, no one had to drive over an hour to the Oregon Capitol from Portland or drive even further from elsewhere to give their oral testimony. The frustrating part was that this legislative committee twice bumped the group I had assembled off their committee meeting schedule over a week due to other bills and resolutions they were considering. John and my other friends that I had assembled were very flexible and patient as the Oregon Senate Energy and Environment Committee. Along with the others, John gave an excellent oral testimony to this legislative committee on March 4th. This committee voted 4 to 1, with one of the Republican Senators joining with the 3 Democratic Senators, to vote SJM 5 out of the committee on March 11th with a recommendation to pass on the Oregon Senate floor. On April 7th, the full Oregon Senate voted to pass SJM 5 by a vote of 23 to 5, with 6 Republican Senators joining with all the Democratic Senators present that day to support it. Sadly, we were not able to persuade the House Democratic Leadership to hold a vote on SJM 5, so it was not able to pass the Oregon Legislature in 2021.
Having said that, I will always be grateful to Dr. John Perona for his help on SJM 5, all of his efforts to educate the Portland community about climate change, his climate lobbying efforts for Congressional offices, and his friendship & support to me with all of my climate advocacy. Since I had the privilege to get to know John over the years, I can say with full confidence that it will be worth your time and effort to read his book, From Knowledge to Power.