Monthly Archives: January 2023

Giving my climate change ranger talk at Grand Canyon National Park in 2013 

Brian Ettling at Grand Canyon National Park. May 6, 2013.

“Brian, I need you to come to Grand Canyon National Park and jump start our interpretive climate change program. Let’s talk.”

This was a very intriguing question posted to me by my friend Pete Peterson on December 5, 2011 on Facebook. I had just posted an update attending the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference in San Francisco, California, one of the most prestigious annual scientific conferences in the world. I was there to network and see the presentations of the world’s best climate scientists and communicators in the world.

At that time, Pete was a Supervisory Park Ranger at Grand Canyon National Park. I knew Pete from when both of us worked for the National Park Service at Crater Lake National Park from 2003 to 2005. We had struck up a friendship and had reconnected just a couple of years before on Facebook. I was at AGU to see if it could lead to new opportunities for me as a climate change communicator. Although Pete was not attending AGU, an opportunity like what Pete was throwing out to me was something I hoped could be gained by spending time at this AGU.

In the previous two years, I had developed the website in 2010 and I started giving my climate change evening ranger program at Crater lake National Park in August 2011. Pete was following my developments as a climate change communicator and giving climate change ranger talks at Crater Lake. He shared my deep concern about climate change. He thought my efforts could be helpful to inspire the park rangers he supervised at the Grand Canyon to chat with the public more effectively about climate change.

My first two times seeing the Grand Canyon

I latched onto Pete’s invitation because I loved Grand Canyon National Park. I first saw the Grand Canyon on a family cross country vacation in the summer of 1987 and thought is was stunningly beautiful. Afterwards, I jokingly said that we did the Clark Griswald 1983 Vacation Movie thing of just visiting the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park for a few hours. I recall we were only at Grand Canyon Village (or Canyon Village as the park employees like to call it) on the south rim for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, we had a lot to see on this very long looping road trip from St. Louis to Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park, Salt Lake City, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Las Vegas and then back home.

We were there on a beautiful sunny day, late in the afternoon and we only had a couple of hours there before we need to drive a couple of hours to Flagstaff to spend the night. The late afternoon sun seemed to shine a light on the beauty and cast dark shadows of the canyon formations. Although it was way too quick, we relished the time we got to there and I vowed to return for a longer visit.

Brian Ettling at Grand Canyon National Park. July 1987.

After I graduated from college in 1992, I worked summers at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon and winters in Everglades National Park, Florida. Working in the national parks, inspired me to fall in love with all the national parks. I wanted to see as many of them as I could during the travel times in April and October when I traversed across country on road trips from Crater Lake to the Everglades. My first girlfriend and I traveled to see Grand Canyon National Park in October 1995.

This time, we made a point to spend the night in lodging at the most inexpensive place at Canyon Village to give the national park a bit more time than when I saw it on our family vacation in 1987. This time, my then girlfriend and I drove the entire length of the Desert View Drive, which skirted along the south rim 23 miles from Canyon Village to Desert View. Like my first visit in July 1987, it was a clear sky and lovely day to take in the magnificence of the Grand Canyon.

In the years that followed, I kept bouncing back from Crater Lake National Park, Oregon to Everglades National Park, Florida, driving a different cross-country trips in between to see other national parks and scenic places. I had always wanted to return for a visit to the Grand Canyon, but I didn’t seem to have the time in at least other trips that I drove across Arizona.

Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in December 2009

In December 2009, I visited my friends Steve and Melissa who lived in Flagstaff, Arizona, on a cross country trip from Oregon to St. Louis. Steve worked as a back country law enforcement ranger at Grand Canyon National Park. The three of us became good friends spending several winters as next-door neighbors in Everglades City while working in Everglades National Park. During my visit, we were swapping ranger stories from our experiences working in the national parks.

At one point, Steve just said to me out of the blue, ‘Would you like to hike to the bottom of Grand Canyon National Park?

“Yes!” I quickly responded. “I would love to do that someday.”

“No,” Steve sighed. “I am talking right now, while you are visiting us.”

“But, I don’t have backpacking gear,” I sheepishly confessed.

Steve then explainded, “I will set you up with a backpack and all the equipment. You will spend the night at the Phantom Ranch Ranger Station at the bottom. There’s a guest room there at the law enforcement housing there where you will stay. You will just need to bring a change of clothes and lots of food.”

Photo by Brian Ettling of the Grand Canyon near the South Kaibab Trailhead from December 20, 2009.

Immediately, my gut told me that this was a once-in-a lifetime experience that I could not refuse, so I instantly said yes. Steve went to the grocery store with me to help me stock up on lots of food. He advised me that I will be burning a lot of calories hiking down and then back up the trail. Thus, he recommended that I bring the amount of food I would normally eat, plus 20% more for the energy my body would need. Even more, he recommended lot of carbohydrates such as crackers, bread, etc. that will keep me fueled up and retain water. His advice was vital since I did not have a clue how to hike the Grand Canyon. I adhered to every tip he gave me.

Steve even generously lent me his YakTrax Traction Device or “shoe chains” to slip over my hiking boots for the upper part of the trail. I just shorten the name to “YakTrax” whenever I use them. Canyon Village is over 7,100 feet above sea level. It had snowed there recently. Thus, the upper part of the trail was a sheet of ice with well over 1,000-foot drop offs on one side of the trail. When I started walking the trail, those YakTrax were a life saver because the ice did not look forgiving at all. It wanted to cause one to slip and go shooting off the edge. With the YakTrax and my trekking hiking poles, I felt I was in full command of the icy trail. The YakTrax helped me feel like I was walking on a hard dirt surface.

Recent photo of the YakTrak traction devises my wife and I use to walk on icy and slick snowy surfaces.

Steve advised me to park my car at Canyon village near the Bright Angel Trailhead. I would then ride a free shuttle bus from Canyon Village a couple of miles to the South Kaibab Trailhead. I was there one week before Christmas, and I was amazed how many other hikers and backpackers were using the shuttle bus and were at the trailhead. The Grand Canyon bus shuttle felt more like an airport city bus service at rush hour. Even more, it was fascinating to see all the people at the South Kaibab trailhead with their hiking and backpacking gear, probably most of them knew a lot more about how to plan for this trip than I did.

By this time, I had worked 17 years in the national parks. During much of that time, I had issued backcountry permits to visitors wanting to overnight backpack in Everglades National Park. The park trained me on the advice to give the back country campers on the gear they would need and how much time to allow to travel to various backcountry camp sites. Thus, I knew some, but my lived experience was still very little. I did join friends and co-workers on overnight canoe trips in the Everglades and once I overnight backpacked with a girlfriend in Redwoods National Park. As long as someone else planned all of these trips and lent me some of their gear, I was always a ‘yes’ to do a trip like that. As far as me planning an overnight backpacking trip, never.

Photo from Brian Ettling. Upper part of the South Kaibab Trail of the Grand Canyon. December 20, 2009

I had grown very spoiled to hiking on day trails in the national parks and then returning to sleep in my park housing comfortable bed at night. I also enjoyed staying in a motel in or near a national park to do day hikes and sleeping in a comfortable bed at night. Or I would visit a friend during a cross country trip who lived in or near a national park to do day hikes and then stay in their spare bedroom at night. The closest to ‘roughing it’ for me was driving my car to a park or nearby campground, pitching my tent, and then hiking all day in a national park. Even when I was camping in a tent, I would still go out of a nice meal at a lodge restaurant in a national park or eat in a nice restaurant for dinner and breakfast in a nearby town.

Thus, when I was seeing all these serious backpackers and hikers on the shuttle bus and at the South Kaibab Trailhead, I got a momentary churning in my stomach with an internal voice saying to me: ‘What the hell are you doing? You are out of your league!’

At the same time, I was in safe hands with Steve. He loved his job of working as a backcountry ranger at the Grand Canyon and regularly hiking down and up the canyon. He knew exactly what I needed to pack and which trails to use to have an excellent trip. Steve was one of the smart rangers I had met. A man of great intelligence and a very deep thinker. He really should have been a scientist. Sometimes, I felt intimidated by all of his knowledge, but honored that he would let me hang around him as a friend. With Steve advising me on this trip, I felt like a pro.

As far as trail options, Steve advised me to take the South Kaibab Trail down and then return the next day on the Bright Angel Trail. The South Kaibab Trail is considered much more scenic than the Bright Angel Trail. From the Canyon Village trailhead to Phantom Ranch, the South Kaibab Trail is 7.4 miles long and has an elevation drop over 4,900 feet. The Bright Angel Trail is 9.9 miles long and has an elevation drop of almost 4,500 feet. Thus, the Bright Angel Trail is a bit less strenuous and steep going back up to Grand Canyon Village.

I started down the South Kaibab Trail late morning on December 20, 2009, just five days before Christmas and around the time of the winter solstice. It looked like winter at the top with the upper portion of the Grand Canyon covered and snow. There was high wispy clouds that made the sky looked overcast. It looked and felt like winter at the upper part of the Grand Canyon.

Photo by Brian Ettling of the Grand Canyon taken at the South Kaibab Trailhead on December 20, 2009.

As I walked down the trail, the beauty of the Grand Canyon was beyond words. For the previous four summers at Crater Lake National Park, I had walked down and up the Cleetwood Trail once or twice a week to narrate the boat tours as a park ranger. The Cleetwood Trail is 1.1 miles long and drops in elevation around 700 feet and has some lovely views of Crater Lake. The Cleetwood Trail is noted as a strenuous trail in Crater Lake information sources, not recommended for visitors with health issues. At 7.7 miles long and an elevation drop the South Kaibab Trail felt like ‘many Cleetwoods’ with the physical exertion going down the trail with many incredible views. It felt like every time I turned a corner on a switchback on the trail, I got a new view of the Grand Canyon. I could not take enough pictures.

This was a life changing experience and one of the highlights of my life to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This was something that I hoped to do in my wildest dreams, but I probably would not have been able to do without the connections of my friend Steve. He set up the backcountry permit for me, got me a reservation at the spare bedroom at the ranger station, loaned me the gear, advised me on what food and trails to take, and gave me the confidence that I could do this. I will always be grateful to my friends Steve and Melissa for this opportunity.

There were surprises on this trail such as tunnels, especially as one gets close to the bridge that goes across the Colorado River. Except for the occasional planes flying overhead and hikers that I ran into less and less the further I got down the trail, it was a very peaceful and quiet experience. I had also never been on a trail with so many switchbacks on a trail. Even more, this was the most water bars I had seen on a trail, especially the last couple miles of the trail. A water bar is defined as a rounded wooden or rocky ridge in the trail or ridge and channel constructed diagonally across a sloping road or utility right-of-way that is subject to erosion. Used to prevent erosion on long, sloping right-of-way routes by diverting runoff at selected intervals.

Photo by Brian Ettling of the switchbacks and water bars on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.

With the steepness of the South Kaibab Trail, plus the water bars, turning the trail into steep steps, I started getting shin splints or cramping on the sides of my legs on the last mile or so down the trail. It started to hurt to walk in that last mile, even though the scenery was still incredibly beautiful, and every step got me closer to the destination of Phantom Ranch. I was certainly looking forward to a good night sleep to rest my legs and I knew I was going to sleep well from all the exercise.

The bottom of the Grand Canyon was fascinating. The Colorado River made an ever present sound of water rushing by in a hurry. The foot bridges across the river almost looked like a miniature New York City span bridge, like the George Washington Bridge. I got there a half hour before it got dark to take in the scenery there. It was fun to touch the purplish colored Vishnu rocks along the trail as I got close to Phantom Ranch. Geologists consider those rocks to be almost 2 billion years old, probably the oldest rocks on Earth I have touched and seen up close. As I was losing daylight at the bottom, I photographed 4 deer foraging on grasses and leaves of the bushes along the shoreline of the Colorado River.

The two law enforcement rangers at the park housing were pleasant but surprised to see me inside the shared housing unit. I shared that their co-worker and my friend Steve Rice had reserved the extra bedroom for me for the night. They made me feel right at home as one was cooking and the other one was sitting on the couch watching TV. I brought from deep inside my backpack the packaged food for my dinner. It all tasted so good after a very big day of hiking.

Silver Bridge spanning the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon by Phantom Ranch.

Not much to do at Phantom Ranch and I was wiped out from the long hike, so I went to bed early and got a very good sleep. The next day, I woke up early but very rested, eager to complete the over 9 miles and the 4,500 feet elevation gain of the Bright Angel Trail. The weather was overcast for the second day, which was fine for me. I just didn’t want it to be cold and rainy on the slog back up the trail.

One of the changes I noticed going back up the Bright Angel Trail, as opposed to the South Kaibab Trail, was that the mule trains went up and down the trail. The first mule train I saw just had a lead rider and they looked like they were carrying supplies down to Phantom Ranch. The mule trips had a person riding on each mule down to Phantom Ranch. The riders looked so thrilled to be riding the mules, posing for pictures that I took of them. Maybe I had been hiking too long and getting delusional, but I could have sworn that some of the mules on the mule train were even smiling at me.

Photo by Brian Ettling of a mule train near the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail.

Lots of switchbacks going up the last few miles of the Bright Angel Trail. In a sense, it feels like you will never get to the top. It felt like I was getting closer when I started seeing the snow covering the upper Grand Canyon on the last upper mile or so on the trail. However, when I reached the trailhead of the Bright Angel Trail and soon saw my car, I was never so happy to see my car after such a long hike. I called my younger sister and a few friends from one of the rim hotels lobbies in Canyon Village to let them know that I had just conquered the Grand Canyon.

I then drove over two hours to Flagstaff to treat myself to a lovely Thai dinner, since Flagstaff has some great Thai restaurants. The next day, I woke up it was December 22nd, and I was going to have to make efficient time traveling on the road to make it home in time for Christmas to see my parents, sisters and their families. With encountering some snowy and icy road conditions in Missouri, I barely made it home on time on the evening of Christmas Eve. This first trip down and up the Grand Canyon was a fantastic experience that I did not know how I would top in my life.

Photo of Brian Ettling from the upper portion of the South Kaibab Trail at the Grand Canyon.

Hiking the Grand Canyon, North to South Rim, November 2010.

One year later, I visited my friends Steve and Melissa in Flagstaff. This time, they had a six-week-old baby Henry and Steve’s sister was visiting to see Henry. Steve and Melissa were happy to see me, but they looked overwhelmed having a new baby. Even more, Steve’s sister was visiting, in addition to me. It looked like they just wanted to get me out of the house, and I did not blame them. Steve then suddenly asked me: “Hey Brian, would you like to hike the Grand Canyon again?

“Sure!” I quickly responded. “I was really hoping you would ask me that again.”

Steve replied: “Since you just hiked to Phantom Ranch last time, I think you should try hiking hiking from the north to the south rim.”

“Wow!” I responded. “How would we make that work?”

Steve: “This is what I am thinking. We will drive separately to the north rim tomorrow. We will need to camp in a campground, somewhere north of the North Rim. You will park your car at the parking lot at the North Rim. Melissa will drive your car to the South Rim, to the South Kaibab Trail parking lot. It will take you about 3 days to hike Rim to Rim. I will supply you with a tent, sleeping bag, and water filter if you don’t have one. How does that sound?”

This sounded like another incredible adventure that I could not say no. The next day, we did leave Flagstaff with Steve, Melissa and Henry in one car and me driving my car. This was an impressive drive into northern Arizona. We stopped at the Navajo Bridge, which crosses the Colorado River 470 feet (143 m) above the water, spanning the steep cliffs of Marble Canyon on either side. Steve, Melissa, Henry and I stopped to walk the Old Navajo Bridge. With the high elevation of the bridge that seemed to soar above the river like a bird, I felt high anxiety walking on that bridge. I was afraid to take any pictures with the thought that a puff of wind or an unexpected bump could send my camera falling into the deep river canyon below. Thus, I clung to my camera instead of taking any pictures of this engineering marvel.

While walking halfway across the Old Navajo Bridge, I momentarily forgot my intense fear of heights. I was excited to spot some endangered California Condors nesting and hanging out under the new bridge. I bravely got out my camera while safely standing several feet back from the bridge railing. Even with the fear of heights I experienced on the bridge, I could not pass up this opportunity to take a picture. This was the first time I remember seeing and photographing California Condors, one of the most endangered bird species in the world.

Photo by Brian Ettling of a California Condor perched on the underside of the New Navajo Bridge, located just west of Page, Arizona.

That evening, we did camp north of the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. I remember that it was quite windy and even a bit cold that night. Steve, Melissa, and Henry were in a tent not far from me. Henry did cry a couple of times during the night. However, Steve and Melissa seemed thrilled to be taking Henry on his first camping trip of probably many in the future.

The next day, we drove to the parking lot of the North Rim of the North Kaibab Trailhead. There was not another car in sight. It was a huge parking lot that looks like it is probably bustling in the middle of summer. That day it looked like a deserted place that no one dares to visit this time of year. Steve and Melissa were eager to get back to Flagstaff, so I handed Melissa my keys and soon they were gone.

I actually had some fear in my stomach doing a solo backpacking trip for the first time in my life. I asked as many questions as I could before they left. At the same time, I got the feeling that they got tired of my questions and just wanted to leave. It was time for them to set me free on this journey. I was now completely on my own without another person in sight. Steve and Melissa had just given me one of the best gifts in my life. Yet, part of me was wondering: What in the hell did I get myself into?

The North Kaibab Trail was spectacular in its own way, different than the South Rim Trails. It starts at a higher elevation of over 8,000 feet, but it did not feel as steep going down, However, there were still lots of narrow switchbacks and several bridges connecting the switchbacks to wind down into the Grand Canyon. The solitude was fantastic. I don’t think I saw another person the whole time I was hiking that day. Maybe one or two other people hiking or at the campsite that evening. The only sound I heard the entire day was the late fall wind whistling through the canyon. The sound seemed to warn that winter is coming and won’t be avoided if one spends too much time in the canyon. The north side of the canyon looked lusher with some small trees, bushes and some grass than I had remembered walking on the south rim trails a year before.

Photo by Brian Ettling of the northern rim of the Grand Canyon near the North Kaibab Trailhead.

I made it to Cottonwood Campground to spend the night. Not far from the campsite, Steve advised me before the trip to fill up on water for the next day, using the water filter he lent me. to get It ended up being kind of a warmish night without a cloud in the sky. The stars were fabulous without hardly any city lights. I remember pulling down the tent for part of the night just so I could fall asleep seeing the stars. The next day was a relatively flat seven-mile hike to Phantom Ranch, with some interesting short side trail to see a waterfall, Ribbon Falls. I did see a small number of hikers that day, primarily by Ribbon Falls

I made it to Phantom Ranch by late afternoon. Steve arranged for me to stay at the VIP cabin at Phantom Ranch, one of the nicest places I have stayed anywhere. This is the cabin where the park superintendent stays when visiting Phantom Ranch. Its where other dignitaries liked to stay when they hiked the Grand Canyon, such as the late Senator John McCain. Recently, it had been renovated. It felt like the Hilton there with a four-poster full size bed, a washer/dryer, automatic dishwasher, a phone and plenty of outlets to charge the battery of my digital camera, my cellphone and my iPod. Steve heavily emphasized in his authoritative law enforcement ranger voice, but also speaking as a good friend going out of a limb for me, that I will leave the cabin “as immaculate as I found it, if not cleaner.”

I could not help myself that I called my mom and my then girlfriend from the land line phone at the VIP Cottage using my long distance calling card. The reception was great as I shared with them that I was at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Phantom Ranch primarily had tent camping sites, cabins, and four hiker dormitories (two for men and two for women). It felt like I was staying at the best place by far at Phantom Ranch. I was certainly not roughing it that night.

Photo by Brian Ettling of arriving at Phantom Ranch at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon.

That evening, I went to a ranger campfire talk led by a ranger named Mandy Toy. She shared how she typically works around two weeks straight in the canyon and then she gets two weeks off. The starting day of her shift is walking down the Grand Canyon and her ending shift day is walking back up the Grand Canyon. She loved her job but reflected that it gets hard on the knees. She informed us that one of her co-workers had to quit after doing that job for years because it became too hard on her knees.

The next day, I went back up the South Kaibab Trail, doing the trail in reverse from the previous year. As I walked across the bridge that goes above the Colorado River, I got to wave and briefly say hello with some of the water rafters below me. They were full of enthusiasm to be rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. I then had to hike up the South Kaibab Trail, 7.4 miles from Phantom Ranch with an elevation gain of almost 4,900 feet.

With my fully charged iPod, I listened to my favorite music most of the day to motivate me to go up this steep trail while seeing and stopping for the magnificent scenery along the way. The weather was mostly sunny that day, with lots of blue sky, but still, lots of small puffy clouds for dramatic effect for photos. With the bright sun, the different colors of the rocks in the canyon seemed to pop out more to make fabulous photos.

From the year before, I learned firsthand that November and December are ideal months of the year to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. In the winter, in those months the average high temperature at Phantom Ranch is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In the summer, the temperature at Phantom Ranch can be well over 100 degrees. My friend Steve told me the well-worn joke at the Grand Canyon that ‘Only fools and rangers go down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the summer.’

Brian Ettling near the trailhead of the South Kaibab Trail at the Grand Canyon. November 2010.

In late afternoon, I was so happy to see my car parked not far from the South Kaibab Trailhead. Melissa and Steve did a fabulous job of getting my car their safely so I could drive it away from the canyon.

This was a life changing experience for me. It was the first time I had overnight backpacked by myself. I had really stretched myself out of my comfort zone. It was very rewarding to jump at an opportunity that may never come again and to be open to big opportunities that can appear out of nowhere. It reinforced my deep love for the national parks, the outdoors, and connecting with world class wilderness areas. Even more, it reminded me of the incredible planet where we live. Finally, it inspired me on a higher level to want to protect our planet from the threat of climate change and other human caused harms.

After this successful trip hiking from the North to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I did not know how I would top that for a Grand Canyon experience. Fortunately, my friend Pete Peterson had an idea for me that could top that.

Giving a climate change talk to over 200 park visitors at Grand Canyon National Park

Just one year later, December 5, 2011, Supervisory Ranger Pete Peterson asked me in a Facebook post:

‘Brian, I need you to come to Grand Canyon National Park and jump start our interpretive climate change program. Let’s talk.”

With all my fantastic memories of visiting Grand Canyon National Park over the years, I was not going to pass up this offer. Let me counter that, even if I had never visited Grand Canyon National Park, this was still a huge opportunity not to be dismissed because it is Grand Canyon National Park.

Pete Peterson and I kept in touch over the next year to brainstorm when I could come to speak at Grand Canyon National Park. In early 2013, we finally settled on a date of Tuesday, May 7th. At that time, I still worked as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park. Thus, it was ideal to fit in a talk at the Grand Canyon during a cross country drive from St. Louis, where I spent the winters to Crater Lake.

I arrived the day before I was scheduled to speak driving into the East Entrance on Hwy 64. I drove on The Desert View Drive, stopping at the Desert View and other pullouts to get views of the Grand Canyon that day. The canyon looked at bit hazy, but it was still a magnificent site, bringing back great memories of hiking to the bottom just a couple of years before.

At the Desert View Visitor Center, I saw the signs advertising the upcoming ranger evening programs at Grand Canyon Village. It was exciting to see my name and ranger talk listed on the posted public announcement of the scheduled evening ranger programs.

Photo by Brian Ettling of the flyer advertising his special guest evening program at the Grand Canyon

As I arrived to stay with Pete and his wife Carrie at his home in Canyon Village in late afternoon, Pete informed me that I would be speaking at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium in Canyon Village. Pete shared that many of nearby Grand Canyon Park rangers were excited for my talk and planned to attend tomorrow. Even more, these talks were well attended by park visitors, so I should expect an audience of over 200 people.

My talk, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, was geared for a Crater Lake audience, so we agreed that I needed to include some information about the Grand Canyon. Gulp! I only had 24 hours to learn some facts how The Grand Canyon was impacted by climate change and how the Park Service is responding to the threat of climate change. Pete had a busy day for me the next day to meet with park scientists and give me tours of Park buildings that were recently designed to be energy efficient and park friendly.

Tomorrow was going to be a very stressful day. It was really sinking in that I only had hours to learn about the impacts of climate change on the Grand Canyon and how the park was taking action to be part of the solution. I would then be presenting this information to an audience of over 200 park visitors, staff and even park scientists in the audience. Most of this park staff and scientists probably had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Grand Canyon. It felt like I had only given myself a few hours to put together and defend a masters dissertation for a huge audience. Just like each time I start my hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, part of me wondered: What in the hell did I get myself into?

A photo by Brian Ettling of a rocky mountain elk in park housing in Grand Canyon Village. May 6, 2013.

While hanging with Pete and Carrie at their park house in Canyon Village, we saw an elk not far from their back porch. This amazed me because I had not really seen any elk in all my years working at Crater Lake National Park and just a few times visiting other national parks. This might have been the closest I had ever been to seeing and photographing an elk.

At the end of the day, Pete and his wife Carrie took me to see a wonderful sunset from an overlook of the Grand Canyon somewhere in the Canyon Village area. The overlook was crowded with lots of other visitors to get a glimpse of the sunset. The Canyon and the sunset were so captivating with the bright orange glowing colors that you could not blame anyone for wanting to be there, even if it felt like I had to out elbow others to get a photo.

Photo by Brian Ettling of the Grand Canyon colors highlighted from the rays of the setting sun.

Tuesday, May 7th turned out to be me a very busy day for me. Pete first scheduled me to speak briefly towards the end of the weekly park ranger staff meeting about my efforts talking about climate change using humor. This was the first thing in the morning of a required staff meeting. I felt a little intimidated because I did not know these rangers and they didn’t know me. Pete had me speak right before the meeting adjourned, so many of these folks were eager to just start their work assignments for the day. Basically, I was nervous. I didn’t feel funny in that moment, and they didn’t feel like laughing with any humor I might have wanted to share at that moment. It did not feel like my day was off to a good start.

I had to shake off that morning experience that got off to an ok start and go with the agenda that Pete had planned for the day. One of our first meetings was with Stephanie Sutton, District Interpretive Ranger for Canyon Village. She briefed me on the science of phenology, which is the study how seasonal life cycle events for plants and animals are impacted by variations in climate. Of special concern at Grand Canyon are the gambel oaks.

According to Stephanie, with the warming climate temperatures, gambel oaks are now putting out their leaves earlier in the spring. The winter moth caterpillars then emerge earlier to take advantage of the earlier leaves. Unfortunately the Pied Flycatcher still arrives around the same time during the spring migration only to find all the caterpillars gone into their cocoon stage. As a result of no food, scientists noted up to a 90% population decline of the Pied Flycatcher.

PowerPoint slide from Brian Ettling’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly presentation at Grand Canyon National Park. Images and information courtesy of Grand Canyon park ranger Stephanie Sutton.

This helped to share how climate change was impacting the Grand Canyon. It was good evidence to latch onto how climate change was impacting the trees and birds of the Canyon area. The Grand Canyon itself is hundreds of millions of years old. The rocks don’t care about modern climate change. Heck, the rocks have seen many climate changes. On the other hand, climate change can literally spell death for some of the trees and plants that calls the Grand Canyon home. Thus, I had something to point out how climate change was impacting the park’s ecosystem.

As I continued to quickly learn and cram to give my Grand Canyon Evening program that evening, I learned that Grand Canyon National Park is doing what it can to be a Climate Friendly Park. Pete showed me where The South Rim Visitor Center has multiple solar panels to provide most of its electricity. He then took me to see a large cistern tank next to the visitor center to reclaim rainwater for landscaping and restroom toilets. Pete then showcased on this tour how South Rim Village has a very convenient shuttle bus service and bike rentals so visitors can drive less and not idle in traffic jams.

Array of free standing solar panels shown during a tour of Grand Canyon National Park facilities by park ranger Pete Peterson.

Next Pete showed me the recently constructed maintenance and natural resource offices are LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) by the US Green Council. According to Grand Canyon Park signage, “All new buildings in the park meet strong standards for sustainable materials and energy efficiency. Building features include:
· Passive heating and cooling
· Low-flow plumbing fixtures.
· Efficient lighting
· Recycled materials

I spent time in the park library throwing these images in talk of photos I had just taken with Pete hours early on our tour. While I was doing this, my old Toshiba laptop was periodically crashing and not cooperating. This was sending my blood pressure through the roof since it was just counting down to a couple of hours until my talk. Internally, I was really wondering what I had gotten myself into this situation. I felt way in over my head at that moment.

Around 4 pm in the afternoon, Pete scheduled for me to meet with an air quality researcher in the park. For years, The Grand Canyon was known for having poor air quality due to its proximity to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, The Navajo Coal Plant by Page, Arizona, and other sources of air pollution. The good news is that the Navajo Coal Plant, the largest coal plant in the western US when it was in operation, was demolished in 2020.

Photo by Brian Ettling of the eastern view of the Grand Canyon from a Desert View Drive overlook. The view looked diminished from possible hazy from weather and possible pollution on May 6, 2013.

When this researcher met with me, she was devastated because she had just been ordered within the last day or two to remove her scientific air monitoring equipment from the Canyon. She had to walk into parts of the Canyon herself to remove some of the equipment. In a sense they were her “babies.” She was a mom herself and she did not know how she was going to explain this to her kids someday.

Thus, she did not know what she could share with me for my evening program happening in a couple hours about the air quality issues in the Grand Canyon. I felt sad and outraged for her. However, it was also a relief that she did not have any ready information for me since I had so much to cram in my presentation happening soon. My stress level was off the charts with my laptop computer not performing well as I was trying to piece together a PowerPoint talk in less than 3 hours. Yet, I found myself consoling and trying to give hope to this career scientist who felt very despondent in that moment. We both were extremely worried about climate change. I encouraged her to join groups that gave me hope at that time and now, Citizens’ Climate Lobby and The Climate Reality Project.

After my meeting with this researcher, my laptop worked well enough to put the final touches on my Power Point happening in less than 2 hours. I then went to the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium to meet up with Pete Peterson and another ranger that would be assisting me that evening, his name was Shawn Eccles. It turned out that he had a climate change talk that he was giving regularly at the Grand Canyon. We had time before my talk for Shawn to show it very briefly to me. It was a great talk. I asked if he could give me a copy of his PowerPoint and he very graciously shared it with me.

Pete, Shawn and I made sure my slides worked well on the big screen, which they did. I was ready for my 7:30 pm ranger talk. Pete lent me a National Park Service polo shirt to wear that evening. The program was a blur. Unfortunately, we did not get a video of my talk. It was a packed house of over 200 people, the largest in-person talk I have ever given. As far as I remember, they were a receptive audience. It was amazing to be able to reach that many people with a message about climate change. Their seemed to be a whole section of park rangers in one part of the audience, which I hoped to chat with afterwards.

Brian Ettling getting ready to speak at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium at Grand Canyon Village on May 7, 2013.

After my talk was completed, some people lined up to compliment me on my talk. Unfortunately, I had one gentleman who was there with his wife that asked to see some of my slides. I generously pulled up some of my slides, and he started nick picking on the climate science on some of my graphs, saying, ‘That’s misleading!’ ‘Where did you get that information?’ ‘You are not showing the complete picture here.’

It took me a few minutes to comprehend that he was a climate and science denier who strongly objected to my talk. A small group of rangers waited patiently to chat with me after my talk, but they finally gave up and left as this climate denier hogged this time with me. I found the climate denier to be very draining. I should have said to him as he kept droning on with all the critiques of my talk, ‘Sir, I hope you don’t mind, I hope we can continue this conversation at a later point. However, right now I want to chat with some of my fellow rangers who came to this talk to see what they have to say.’

Finally, Pete interrupted to introduce me to a high school science teacher at the Grand Canyon who really liked my talk. Yes, there is a large enough staff and families living in Canyon Village and the surrounding area that the Grand Canyon has its own high school. We started having a great conversation. However, the climate denier was still standing next to me. He chimed in to offer his unsolicited opinion that “scientific consensus does not matter.”

The high school teacher just rolled her eyes. However, this had been a very long and stressful day for me. By this point, I had enough of his comments. I retorted, “Scientific consensus does matter. It is how we get to all our new understanding of science. It does not look like you understand the basic concept of science. I am sure that this teacher or her students would be happy to explain it to you.”

The climate denier then became more irritable. His wife gently led him out of the auditorium acting like she wanted to go home for the evening. It was great to finally to have a lovely conversation with the science teacher and another park ranger that wanted to briefly chat with me. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the climate denier having a strained conversation with his wife by the auditorium entrance looking like he wanted to engage with me more, but she was not having it.

Photo of Shrine of the Ages Auditorium at Grand Canyon Village in Grand Canyon National Park.

Pete later that evening told me that he thought I went too far in admonishing that park visitor and found it to be unproductive. The National Park Service really tries to maintain positive relations with the public, even when visitors disagree with NPS policies and actions. The NPS really does want park rangers to treat visitors with the upmost respect. NPS trains its frontline interpretation rangers that interact with the public in a way showing that “The Visitor is Sovereign” and has a “Visitor’s Bill of Rights:

To have their privacy and independence respected.
To retain and express their own values.
To be treated with courtesy and consideration.
To receive accurate and balanced information.”

Pete felt like I had been a bit harsh with the climate denier, even if he disagreed with everything the climate and science denier was saying. He didn’t think that debating the denier was helpful as the scientific community has already made up its mind.

I did agree with Pete that I let my conversation with the science denier go on too long, which probably led me to argue with him. By arguing with him and strongly pushing back against his opinions, all I did was alienate him. That was a shame. At the same time, I still thought it the image was funny of him hanging out at the auditorium entrance wanting to argue more with me, but his wife would not let him. I sure wish I could have heard what his wife and him were saying.

It was a very tough but rewarding opportunity speaking to over 200 people at the Grand Canyon about climate change. I recently thanked Pete Peterson again for one of the best experiences of my life. The day afterwards, I was able to enjoy the view of the Grand Canyon from the Bright Angel Trailhead overlook before leaving the park to continue my road trip. The canyon was a bit hazy that day. At the same time, The Grand Canyon looked as even a more rewarding place for me with my memories of seeing it the first time with my family, hiking to the bottom twice, and then speaking to my largest audience ever about climate change.

I once worked with a ranger at Crater Lake National Park who said that he thought that the Grand Canyon just looked like a ‘giant hole in the ground. That’s it.’ I can share from personal experience that the Grand Canyon is not ‘just a hole in the ground,’ but one of the most beautiful, awe inspiring, rewarding, and challenging places I have ever seen.

Brian Ettling at Grand Canyon Village by the Bright Angel Trailhead. Photo taken May, 8, 2013.

For Climate Action, Persuading a member of Congress to co-sponsor a climate bill in 2020

Brian Ettling getting ready to lobby Congressional Offices on Capitol Hill, June 11, 2019.

“We have a hot tip for you!” my friend John Van Leer and I shared with staff of a member of Congress on June 11, 2019.

We just came out of a productive meeting with the staff of Democratic U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson, Florida District 24. During the staff indicated to us that there was a good possibility Representative Wilson could be open to co-sponsoring a climate bill we met with her office to urge her to support a climate bill, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA).

John Van Leer and I were part of a lobby team that met with Rep. Wilson’s office during the lobby day happening with Congressional Offices as part of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) June 2019 Conference in Washington D.C. At that conference, over 1,000 CCL traveled from across the United States to lobby 528 Congressional Offices on Capitol Hill.

At that time, we lobbied members of Congress to support and even co-sponsor the EICDA. This bill would have put a fee on carbon pollution to speed up the switch to 100% clean energy. The money collected from fossil fuel companies would then go back to Americans in the form of a monthly dividend check so that all Americans could afford the transition.

Brian Ettling attending a Citizens’ Climate Lobby conference in Washington D.C. in June 2017.

As a climate organizer, I have volunteered with CCL since 2012. Thus, for years, I believed that putting a price on carbon is a top solution to reduce the threat of climate change. As long as I had been involved with CCL, they affirm that putting a price on carbon with a carbon fee and dividend is “the single most powerful tool available to reduce America’s carbon pollution.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch from Florida introduced the first version of this carbon pricing bill in Congress in 2018. He re-introduced the EICDA in April 2021, with along with 28 House co-sponsors. It was a big priority since 2018 for CCL volunteers to help Rep. Deutch get more co-sponsors for this bill. Eventually, through our lobbying he enabled Rep. Deutch to have 96 co-sponsors for the EICDA.

As a very committed and enthusiastic CCL volunteer, I was personally determined to persuade a member of Congress to co-sponsor the EICDA. These CCL Congressional Lobby days happen twice a year, typically the second Tuesday in June and the second Tuesday in November. For those of us attending these conferences, we would typically have around 4 to 5 Congressional lobby meetings on Capitol Hill. CCL would generally assign a lobbying team for each meeting of around 5 CCL volunteers, with a priority for constituents of that member of Congress to attend those meetings.

CCL tries to email a schedule of which Congressional offices the attendees will be lobbying on Capitol Hill several days before the conference. This helps the volunteer participants to start planning their meetings and organizing with the other lobby team participants in advance. With these schedules, the participants know the times and locations of the Congressional Offices beforehand. This information is helpful to know where to go for the lobby day to navigate the 535 Congressional offices spread out over five office buildings.

Occasionally, CCL assigns participants Congressional lobby meetings with the note of “TBD”, meaning “To be determined.” That means the Congressional Office has not yet scheduled a time for a lobby meeting. The Congressional office usually does find a time on their schedule for the lobby day, sometimes giving the meeting time the day before. This was the case for the meeting with staff of Rep. Fredericka Wilson. I received my CCL Congressional Lobby Day schedule on Thursday, June 6th with a TBD noted.

The lobby leader for this meeting, John Van Leer, did not get a confirmed meeting from Rep. Wilson’s office until 2:21 pm on Monday, June 10th. It was set for 10:30 am the next day, Tuesday June 11th. Until I received that meeting time, I was unsure if I would fit into my schedule with the other lobby meetings that I would be attending on the lobby day. The good news is that it did fit into my lobby day schedule for June 11th. The bad news was that I was not able to make the preparation meeting for the lobby team at 7 pm on that Monday, due to other lobby prep meetings I was participating. Thus, I would be “winging it” for this meeting on Tuesday.

Brian Ettling (far left) as with a group of Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers as well as staff of Congresswoman Frederica Wilson at Rep. Wilson’s office on June 11, 2019.

I was able to meet with the other five lobby team participants in front of Rep. Wilson’s Congressional office 15 minutes before the meeting started to develop a lobby plan. I had no idea before I stepped into this Congressional office that this turned out to be the most rewarding lobby meeting that I had ever attended. Since 2015, this was my 7th time attending a CCL Congressional Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. During that time, I lobbied the staff of progressive and conservative members of Congress. Before that meeting, I never had any luck persuading them to support carbon fee and dividend or the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA).

CCL heavily emphasizes to lobby participants not to share what happens inside these meetings so that we can maintain a trusted level of confidentiality with these offices. Having noted that, I still want to share what I saw in the lobby meeting since it was such an amazing experience. Besides the six CCL volunteers including me, two interns and a Legislative Correspondent, Devin Wilcox, from Rep. Wilson’s staff met with us in the meeting room in her office.

The interns and Devin asked excellent questions about the EICDA to see if this could be something that Rep. Wilson could possibly support. They were “kicking the tires” to look for any weaknesses that could be a deal breaker for them. As the meeting progressed, we got a very positive vibe from Devon. He even explained one aspect of carbon fee and dividend to the interns better than an answer that we could have given them. He seemed to be clearly on our side.

I very distinctly heard Legislative Aide Devon Wilcox say towards the end of the meeting that he felt his boss Rep. Wilson could easily co-sponsor our bill. John Van Leer and I kept chatting with Devon even after the meeting was over.

I asked Devon if he would have a conversation with Rep. Ted Deutch’s staff about the EICDA.

His response: ‘That’s easy! They are right next door.’

I told Devon that CCL has an office nearby in Washington D.C. and asked him if it was ok if CCL reached out to him. He was very agreeable and receptive to that.

When I mentioned that Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee was a co-sponsor of our bill. Devon got excited: ‘We really like her!’ He seemed very impressed that Rep. Lee was on board.

I remembered Devon wanted to get in the weeds with us on a level that the paid experts, such as Rep. Ted Deutch’s staff and CCL DC staff should be answering his questions.

John Van Leer and I left the meeting in total agreement that Rep. Frederica Wilson and her office, especially with Legislative Assistant Devon Wilcox, was amiable with our policy and bill. We agreed that Rep. Wilson was a great candidate to be a co-sponsor for our bill.

Brian Ettling and Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer John Van Leer. Photo taken on June 11, 2019.

John and I both felt like ‘the iron was hot’ after our conversation with Devon Wilcox. We believed strongly that this should be on the radar of CCL Washington D.C. staff and Rep. Ted Deutch’s staff. We felt like CCL DC office and possibly Rep. Ted Deutch’s office should reach out to Devon and Rep. Frederica Wilson’s office soon.

Thus, John and I immediately walked across the hall to Rep. Ted Deutch’s office to see if we could meet with his Energy Aide, Josh. The receptionist tracked him down for us.

“We have a hot tip for you!” John Van Leer and I shared with Josh as we recalled what just happened in Rep. Fredericka Wilson’s office. This aide took notes and a keen interest from our meeting. We encouraged him to reach out to Devon as soon as possible to answer the questions that we could not.

During the lunch break at one of the Congressional cafeterias, I shared with Danny Richter, then the CCL Vice President of Government Affairs, what happened at the meeting in Rep. Wilson’s office. Danny seemed skeptical at first. He thought maybe I was exaggerating how well the meeting went. However, I did follow up with an email to Danny, including sending a screenshot of Devon’s business card.

One week later, Danny did respond to my email in a more receptive way:
“Thanks Brian,
appreciate you following up. We have a meeting with Josh scheduled to follow up on highlights from the conference, and this is on our list to discuss.
Good to see you again!

After the June 2019 conference, I would check in with John Van Leer and other Florida CCL friends around once a month to see if they were having any success in persuading Rep. Frederica Wilson to co-sponsor the EICDA (also known then as H.R. 763). Nothing much seemed to be happening, but my Florida CCL friends appreciated when I would prod them now and then for any progress. The situation felt hopeful that if a volunteer or staff person from CCL could meet with Devin, I felt confident that we could close the deal for Rep. Wilson to co-sponsor our bill.

In January 2020, my friend, Greg Hamra, who lives in Miami, Florida, sent me an email that “Apparently Frederica Wilson is coming along.” He shared an email thread from another CCL volunteer that “This is exciting news that Rep. Wilson indicated that she is planning to co-sponsor H.R. 763”

Finally, on Febuary 24, 2020, I saw on the EICDA website that Rep. Frederica Wilson had officially co-sponsored the EICDA. It was such a joy to announce this publicly on my Facebook and Twitter. I shared that “I was (part of a team) lobby meeting with her DC office last June that helped persuade her to become a co-sponsor. This is one of my proudest moments as a #climate organizer!”

Screenshot photo of U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson taken from

Why am I telling you this now?

To this day, this is still one of my proudest moments as a climate organizer to play a role in persuading a member of Congress to co-sponsor a climate bill. In my numerous other lobby meetings, I had no success like that. It felt like in some small way I had made some kind of difference in the world for climate action.

I meant to blog about this as soon as it happened in 2020. At that time, I was super busy lobbying on the state level volunteering with Renew Oregon to push a cap and invest bill during the Oregon Legislative session. Unfortunately, during the first week of March, Republicans walked out of the Oregon Legislature to prevent a vote, which killed the bill. This left me feeling very deflated. Even more, the COVID pandemic shutdown happened in mid-March 2020. That sent me into a very deep depression since I was no longer able to meet with people for climate action, organize events, attend lobby meetings, give climate presentations, and stay busy traveling outside of the home to act on climate.

My depression during the pandemic was so consuming that I did not write another blog entry until December 30, 2021. I am now determined to go back to tell the high and low parts of my climate change organizing story that I may have missed writing about previously over the years.

Looking back now, I feel very blessed to be able to accomplish what I have been able to achieve as a climate organizer. Now, I can say that I am very proud to be part of a team that helped persuade a member of Congress, Rep. Frederica Wilson, to co-sponsor a climate change bill.

I hope you will get involved with the climate movement to accomplish something as big or surpass me to achieve something bigger. Hopefully, you will out do me. If you do, I will be the first to congratulate you. If we can compete against each other for bigger climate actions, this will be a competition where the planet and all of us wins.

For Climate Action, rising above my lowest moment in my climate organizing

Photo of Brian Ettling taken in March 2010.

The last several of years of organizing for climate action left me feeling depleted, empty, and unappreciated. It made me question if I have made any difference at all. Yes, the COVID pandemic that started in 2020 played a role, but it is not the major cause. I have felt like the climate movement has kept me at arm’s length, and it led me to feel burned out.

The story really goes back to November 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. A climate group I had organized with for years, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), had a regional conference. During a brainstorming session during the conference, we determined that the best way to get more people involved was to have a state tour across Missouri. It would be composed of speaking events to expose the public to the organization and the climate solutions it advocated. A leader was needed to speak at these different cities. I volunteered myself since I had the time and passion to do it. At that time, I was a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park. It was in between seasons from my summer job, so I had the availability and enthusiasm to lead this tour. After I volunteered myself to lead this tour, I immediately got some pushback from the local Kansas City volunteers.

They were concerned about the finances to complete this tour. That part didn’t bother me. I figured the money would work itself out, one way or another. As we kept brainstorming about this, they wouldn’t let this issue go. They kept trying to hammer how I was going to pay for this tour. I was annoyed that they weren’t supportive and trying to think outside the box how we were going to grow Citizens Climate Lobby and get more people involved. To get them from stop dwelling on this sticking point, I finally said: “I will do my own fund raising to make this tour happen.”

That seemed to silence the critics, at least I naively thought at the time. However, two weeks later, I received a phone call out of the blue from the Vice President of CCL, Madeleine Para, who had also attended the conference in Kansas City. Madeleine started off the conversation cordial asking me how I was doing. In that moment, I was very excited talking about an upcoming trip I was planning to Ottawa Canada. I had been invited to be a guest speaker and lobby members of the Canadian parliament for a Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada conference. She sounded rather cool and calculated when she said: “Well, I am going to have to burst your bubble.”

She went on to say: “I was just talking to the Executive Director, Mark Reynolds, and we agreed that you can’t do your own fund raising for a state tour. We feel like any fund raising that you would do would interfere with the organization’s fund raising. We can’t let you do that.”

It felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I didn’t have the words to respond, so I hung up the phone. I did email her to apologize, but I felt deeply hurt. She did seem to understand that in a responding email and relaying a comment days later to a mutual friend. That was it though. There was no other action taken to reach out to me to try to heal the breach. Immediately after Madeleine’s call, I called a few CCL friends across the country and they didn’t know what to say. They still advised me to do this tour if I wanted to do it.

During that phone call with Madeleine, I didn’t have the words at the moment to dig deeper into her reasoning. From my interactions with her, I felt an underlying jealousy. She didn’t seem to like my enthusiasm and energy to accomplish big things as a climate organizer. It felt like my plans to organize around Missouri were somehow a threat to her position. Therefore, she had to find a way to get the Executive Director on her side to stop my plans. Her phone call made no logical sense. If I had the words to say in that moment, I would have responded: ‘What was the point of that regional conference? I somehow had the impression it was to think outside our comfort zone to grow our organization to make a difference for climate action. I am failing to see your logic how my own fund raising for a tour would compete with fund raising of the national organization.’

It made me see for the first time that people involved in the climate movement don’t always have the best intentions to effectively act on climate. They don’t always want to help volunteers like me reach for their full potential to make a difference for climate action. Sadly, I learned for the first time being a climate organizer that others’ politics, power, and jealousy can get in the way of my yearning to make difference. Unfortunately, it was a lesson that I was going to have to learn again and again.

The good news is that I didn’t let Madeleine stop me. I ended up giving two climate change speaking tours in Missouri. The first tour was in March 2017, when I spoke at a nature center to an audience of over 100 people in Jefferson City, Missouri. Two days later, I gave a talk to over 60 people at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. The second tour was in October 2018 when I spoke at my alma mater, William Jewell College in Kansas City, University of Missouri in Columbia MO, St. Louis University, and alma mater high school, Oakville Senior High in Oakville MO. No, I was never going to let Madeleine win. However, her phone call in November 2016 really left a bad taste in my mouth. It still hurts to this day to feel like my climate efforts were being squashed by a top leader in a big climate organization.

Brian Ettling giving a climate change talk at his alma mater William Jewell College in October 2018.

Since that November 2016 phone call with Madeleine, I had other big setbacks and disappointed as a climate organizer that left me feeling burned out when the COVID pandemic started in the United States in March 2020. I alluded to this at the beginning of this blog. I hope share more about my high and low moments taking climate action in my future writings. Except for this paragraph and the next two, I actually wrote all of this blog in November 2021, when I was going through another very low period in my climate organizing.

However, when I traveled in North Carolina in November 2022 to give two climate change talks, I felt like I was a happy warrior again. In my previous blog, My Climate Change Comedian Story, I wrote that “It felt like I was back to my old self before the pandemic of traveling to other states once or twice a year to give climate change talks.”

Not sure what I am going to do exactly in 2023, but I am excited to lobby, organize, give speeches, write and do whatever it takes for climate action in this new year.

As a side note, December 7, 2021, CCL sent out a press release that Madeleine Para was promoted as the new Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Brian Ettling, a 1987 graduate of Oakville High School, speaking to students there on October 16, 2018.

For Climate Action, my Climate Change Comedian Story

Image of Brian Ettling taken in April 2016 at the Tennis Channel TV studio where Comedy Central’s Tosh.o is filmed in Los Angeles, California.

“Fine!” I responded with emphatic exasperation, “If I could be anything, I would like to be the ‘Climate Change Comedian’!”

My friend Naomi nearly fell out of her hear laughing and responded: “That great! I would like you to go home and grab that website domain right now!” I immediately went home after I wrapped up this conversation and did just that.

This event happened in Ashland, Oregon around in the fall of 2009. At that time, I was housesitting for a friend. I didn’t know what to do with my life. For seventeen years, I had worked as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon in the summers and Everglades National Park, Florida in the winter. I absolutely loved my job as an interpretation ranger at Crater Lake giving ranger talks, guided hikes, leading evening campfire talks, and narrating the boat tours. I loved every minute of standing in front of an audience, in these iconic places sharing about nature.

In 1998, I started giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park, Florida. Visitors then asked me about this global warming thing. Visitors hate when park rangers tell you, “I don’t know.” Soon afterwards, I rushed to the nearest Miami bookstore and library to read all I the scientific books I could find on climate change.

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

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

I became so worried about climate change that I quit my winter job in Everglades National Park the year before 2008. Up until 2017, I still worked my summer job Crater Lake National Park. I was not ready to give up my summer job there because of the incredible beauty there and the enjoyment I had wearing the ranger uniform while engaging with park visitors. In the fall of 2009, I had too much free time housesitting. I moved there with no job at that time trying to ponder what to do next with this climate change mission for my life.

This led to my conversation with my friend Naomi in Ashland where she pressed me to answer her directly: “What do you really want to do with your life?”

My answer of “The Climate Change Comedian” had a lovely ring and synergy to this for me to latch onto. When I started giving ranger talks in the Everglades in 1998, I discovered that park visitors wanted some humor in ranger talks. They are on vacation, so they wanted to see that I was not taking myself too seriously.

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

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

Any guesses?

“It’s not my fault!”

Yes, I will admit that joke is a dad-joke groaner and that did not fit into any of my ranger talks. However, some of my fellow rangers thought that was hilarious. They even stole that joke from me to use it in their ranger talks.

At the same time, the science of climate change is deadly serious. It has the potential to kill millions of wildlife and people, as well as causing catastrophic harm to our planet. Thus, I had this calling to do something to educate people about the threat of climate change using the skills I acquired as a park ranger to educate, entertain, and inspire an audience. In late November 2009, my friend decided he did not want to spend the winter traveling in an RV, getting snowed out in places like Montana. He moved back to his house in Ashland. We quickly concluded that it was not going to work for me to live in his house.

Developing and Promoting myself as “The Climate Change Comedian”

I then quickly decided to move back to my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri to live with family for the winter. St. Louis has deep ties for me since it was the place I was born, went to high school, my parents and adult sisters lived there. It would be a nurturing place for me to be for those winter months. I only lived in Ashland, Oregon for a couple of months. However, I got exactly what I needed there. Advice that would change my life to be ‘The Climate Change Comedian.’

The other advice Naomi gave me in Ashland was to immediately start creating my own climate change presentation. As a park ranger that gave evening talks in the Everglades and Crater lake, I learned the skill of using Power Point to create engaging and educational presentations with some humor sprinkled in. In January and February 2010, I created my own climate change presentation called “Let’s Have Fun Getting Serious about Climate change.” I started practicing this talk with friends in 2010 and into 2011.

In St. Louis, a family friend named John helped me create The Climate Change Comedian website,, which is still an active website to this day. My friend John encouraged me to start writing blogs for that website, which I have done sporadically to this day.

I started giving climate change talks locally in the St. Louis area in the fall of 2011, but I felt I was not getting notoriety or making a name for myself nationally. To up my exposure, I created a YouTube video on January 10, 2014, with my then girlfriend and now spouse since 2015, Tanya Couture. The video was called, “The Climate Change Comedian and the Violinist.” I soon followed up this video on month later with a YouTube video with my mom, Fran Ettling, in February 2014, “Climate Change Comedian and the Pianist!” One year later, in March 2015, my mom, Tanya and I followed up that video with a YouTube video featuring my dad, LeRoy Ettling, “Climate Change Comedian and his Skeptical Dad!”

In these videos, I developed a tag line where I would promote myself as being very funny. In each of these successive videos, Tanya, my mom, or my dad would strongly respond, “You are not that funny!” I came up with that hook because I don’t consider myself to be that funny, even if I had given myself that title. In all honesty, I didn’t know what to do with that title of the “Climate Change Comedian” besides those videos and the climate change talks I gave around the St. Louis area.

Appearing on national TV Comedy Central as “The Climate Change Comedian”

Then in April 2016, something unexpected and magical happened. I spent the winter of 2015-16 getting married to Tanya in a big celebration wedding attended by family and friends on November 1st. I gave lots of climate change talks that winter and I was planning on returning to Crater Lake for the summer. In mid-April, I was getting ready to start packing up my belongings for the summer when the phone rang at my parents’ house. My mom informed me that ‘someone from Los Angeles wants to chat with you.’

I picked up the phone and the person identified himself as a staff member of Comedy Central’s Tosh.o. We had a very friendly conversation where he asked me about my background such as “The Climate Change Comedian,” and making the YouTube videos with my parents and Tanya. He then got to the point asking me: “We would like to fly you out to Los Angeles to appear on a taping Comedy Central’s Tosh.o next week to be interviewed by our host Daniel Tosh. Would you be interested?’

“Yes!” as I serendipitously jumped at this opportunity.

He then inquired: “Do you have any plans next week?”

“Well,” I responded, “My wife did plan a quick honeymoon trip. It was to stay at bed and breakfast that we had received as a wedding gift.”

“Where?” he asked with curiosity, probably thinking of the traditional honeymoon places of Paris, Hawaii, the Poconos, Niagara Falls, the Bahamas, etc.

“Augusta, Missouri!” I enthusiastically responded.

“Augusta, Missouri?” he seemed genuinely confused.

“Augusta, Missouri is wine country!” I said with much delight looking forward to this trip that my wife had been planning.

“Augusta, Missouri is wine country?” he replied with even more confusion, probably thinking about Napa Valley, California, and other more renowned wine regions.

“It’s wine country for Missouri,” I stated with as much local pride as a I could.
The staff person from Tosh.o then asked me. “We would like to fly your mom out to Los Angeles also. Can you ask her if she would be interested?”

We then wrapped up the phone call. I then approached my mom about this invitation and shared that they wanted to include her. I asked if she would be interested in getting flown to LA to appear on a national TV show.

Her response was a coy and very intrigued response of “Yes.”

Her mood then shifted to a sterner tone: “You better call Tanya and ask her immediately if this is ok. She has been planning this trip to Augusta for a while!”

I immediately called Tanya to share everything. She encouraged me and my Mom to jump at this opportunity. She then inquisitively asked: “Have you ever watched Tosh.o?”

I then lied and said, “Yes!”

All that I really knew about Tosh.o was on before the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, that we faithfully watched at that time. However, that was all that I knew about the show.

Like any good wife when they know their husband is lying, Tanya wasn’t buying it.
She then pressed me, “Have you ever really watched this show?”

“No,” I sheepishly confessed.

“Can you please watch the TV show before agreeing to anything like this in the future?” she stated with an irritation in her voice.

Without mentioning this conversation to my contact at Tosh.o, the staff felt so bad about what they perceived as intruding on my honeymoon that they offered to fly Tanya out to LA also on that trip, as well as my mom and I.

Brian Ettling, his wife Tanya Couture, and his mom Fran Ettling at LAX in April 2016

The three of us had a blast flying out to Los Angeles over a 24-hour period for this trip. The host Daniel Tosh turned out to be very gracious to my mom, Tanya and me. After we had arrived to at the TV studio to meet with staff and prep with the make team before we went air, Daniel arrived about 30 minutes later. He came into the studio yelling, “I am sick, and it is the fault of one of your kids!”

It felt hilarious, like a scene out of a movie or TV show where the big star comes in to be filmed making a big entrance, while they are feeling hung over, with a big ego, and everyone must scramble to accommodate them. I was nervous about this TV taping, but his entrance set me at ease that he did not take himself too seriously. He was clearly indicating that he there to have some fun, even if he was not feeling well.

Something that was very apparent was that his staff was very loyal to him and really liked working for him. The driver who picked us up, dropped us off at a very bland exterior office warehouse area with a sign that said, “The Tennis Channel.” Honestly, until I read that sign, I had no idea that there was a Tennis Channel. Soon after we arrived, Daniel Tosh’s staff explained to us that he started out his show years ago using the TV studios of the Tennis Channel because it was the least expensive studios he could find for the show. He then kept using that studio to save on costs and to pay his staff well. This went further to help me feel like I was in good hands that day.

Soon after Daniel entered, he walked up to the green screen area where he would be interviewing me. I reached out to shake his hand, but he refused saying that he did not want to get me sick with the crud he had. He then advised me to just be myself and not try to be overly funny. He cautioned me to not be a clown on TV, unless I wanted to come across that way. He indicated that he intended to be the funny one. I had zero experience appearing on TV, so I appreciated all he did to make me feel comfortable when we taped the TV interview.

Our TV segment centered around poking fun at Fox News, conservatives, FOX News TV host Sean Hannity, as well as poking fun at me. After the TV interview, Daniel and some of the writers shared with me how they all had conservative, Fox News watching, Rush Limbaugh listening, Dads like mine. Thus, it seemed like all of us were working out our “Daddy issues” with this TV comedy sketch that day.

After we wrapped up the taping, the crew invited us to join them for lunch where they had a big spread catered Cuban food. I had not seen Cuban food since I had worked in the Everglades nearly ten years earlier and I was surprised to see it in LA. Their response was “Of course you can get Cuban food here! It’s LA! You can get everything here!”

As we were getting ready to leave, Daniel Tosh came over to graciously say goodbye to us. He seemed pleased how well the TV taping went with my mom and me. He did not shake hands with us since he did not want to get us sick, but he did allow us to get a picture of him and me to mark the occasion.

Oh, and the good news was that I did not catch any cold, flu, illness, or crud that he had at that time!

As we said goodbye, a driver came to pick us up. He offered to drop us off at the airport or anywhere we wanted in LA. The catch was that if he dropped us off anywhere other than the airport, we would then have to find our own way back to the airport. We asked to be dropped off at the house of my dad’s cousin in Hawthorne, which is just minutes from LAX. During this trip, my mom was in touch with my Dad’s cousin. She was thrilled to see us and to spend a couple of hours with her at her home before she drove us to the airport.

At the airport, my mom joked with some random people that she had joined Tanya and me for our honeymoon trip. All three of us thought it was funny. Tanya and I still went to Augusta, Missouri, later that week to enjoy a brief honeymoon trip. Yes, the wine was great there! There was no traffic on the streets of Augusta. Tanya and I walked down the middle of the streets in Augusta since it was so peaceful there. It was world of difference from LA!

At the studio, Tosh’s staff informed us that the segment that we taped would probably air sometime in late July or early August. For months, Tanya, my mom and me were very nervous how the show could be edited in such a way that we could end up looking very bad. The show finally aired on the Comedy Channel on August 2, 2016, Climate Change Comedian – Web Redemption Tosh.o

The impact of my appearance on Comedy Central TV’s Tosh.o

When the show aired, I was working at Crater Lake. For the park ranger staff, every Tuesday evening The Crater Lake Science and Learning Center scheduled a “Casual Conversations” lecture with a visiting park research scientist or Crater Lake staff researcher. These events were a great way to mingle with park staff and outside researchers, as well as learn about their findings. On that evening, I did not attend since I was nervously anxious to see how my TV appearance. Even more, I learned afterwards that hardly anyone working in the park attended because they were at home to see me on TV.

It aired at 7 pm Pacific time and 9 pm Central time, where my Mom and Tanya saw it in St. Louis. My mom and Tanya each called me to say how relieved they were that the show turned out well and how proud they were of me. We were all so excited we got to experience the taping in LA together. The humor on Tosh.o was way to raunchy and tasteless for my mom, Tanya and me. We would joke that we felt like we had cleaned up the show for a few minutes with our segment. For months afterwards, my mom would walk up to young people to ask them: “Have you ever seen Tosh.o on Comedy Central? My son and I were on that show!” The young people she encountered and older friends of my mom, including her dentist, were very surprised to see her on Tosh.o. That was amazed me because her appearance on the show was very brief.

Screenshot image of Fran Ettling and Brian Ettling on a repeat airing of their original appearance on Tosh.o on August 2, 2016. Image shot by high school friend Randy R. Eichholz on January 24, 2017.

To this day, appearing on Comedy Central’s Tosh.o was one of the highlights of my life. In one sense, I never dreamed when I gave myself the title “Climate Change Comedian” back in Ashland, OR in 2009 that it would lead to a TV appearance seen by millions of people. This reached an audience, especially of young high school and college age Gen Y and Z viewers, primarily male, that regularly watch Tosh.o. These are folks that might not ever attend a park ranger program on climate change or see a scientific lecture on the climate crisis.

Even more, this show episode immediately went into syndication where it was shown several times over the next few months and years on Comedy Central. I had friends that would tag me on Facebook that they had seen my episode months or even years later. My appearance on the show paid extremely well. My mom said she was able to pay to get dental work done from the check she received from the show. Years later, I continued to receive residual Screen Actors Guild checks from my appearance on Tosh.o.

My other media appearances as “The Climate Change Comedian”

As the Climate Change Comedian, I did not know how I would top that appearance on the show, nor did I have ambition to top it. That Tosh.o appearance and that title did feel like it opened some doors for me. Two years later, I was honored to appear on my friend Peterson Toscano’s podcast, Citizens’ Climate Radio, on the May 29, 2018, episode, “Climate Comedy.” Peterson is a great comic performance artist. If you listen to the podcast, it felt we had a great rapport in this interview with our love of comedy. Near the end of our interview, Peterson loved the quote I shared from climate speaker Dan Miller in his 2014 TED talk: “Society conspires to suppress the discussion of climate change. As someone who talks about climate change a lot, I can vouch for this. For me, talking about climate change (can feel) like farting at a cocktail party.”

On March 4, 2020, Puppet comedian Chad Bird interviewed me for the last 18 minutes of the Climate Pod. At that time, I was primarily lobbying as a volunteer for Renew Oregon to urge legislators to pass a state level cap and invest bill to reduce the threat of climate change. Chad Bird asked me primarily about how Oregon Democratic legislators during that 2020 session could not pass strong climate change legislation. The bill failed because of an absurd GOP walkout. As a climate organizer and wannabe comedian (I agree with my critics that I am not that funny) for over a decade, I had many highlights, such as meeting and having a conversation with former Vice President Al Gore. He’s at the top of my list. After that, I would say that I really enjoyed my interaction with Chad Bird.

Composite image of Chad Bird with Brian Ettling. Image source: Brian Ettling

Even more, Tosh.o invited me to be back on this show on November 10, 2020. It was a fun experience to return to the show. With the COVID pandemic still raging, my appearance was on Zoom this time. It was great to interact with Daniel Tosh again. As they say in the movies, ‘The sequel was not as good as the original.’ Tosh was starting to wrap up his series on Comedy Central. I appeared as part of a panel of four previous guests he had on the show. With all the quick editing of the comments from each of the panelists, none of the comments I made about climate change made it into the broadcast. Thus, it felt like a bit of a letdown compared to the first appearance in 2016. At the same time, it was good to get paid, have fun on TV and brought back great memories of my first appearance where I did get to chat about climate change.

Even if my second appearance on Tosh.o did not feel as good as the original, it was one of my highlights of the pandemic. I didn’t feel like laughing much when COVID was raging due to the reports of all the people dying, the economic downturn, President Donald Trump pathetic response including digesting bleach, and for all the lives it disrupted, including mine. I felt a lot of guilt and depression because I did have my health, my wife Tanya, and a safe place to live. So many people struggled with the illness and way too many families lost loved ones. I strictly adhered to the social distancing and staying at home. At the same time, the isolation took a huge psychological toll because I am a people person who loves to be around people to chat, network, organize and attend meetings for climate action.

Screenshot image of Brian Ettling as part of a panel on TV Comedy Central’s Tosh.o on November 10, 2020. Photo taken by Lisa Hunt, Brian’s older sister.

The COVID Pandemic killed my enthusiasm for Climate Change Comedy

Before the pandemic, I was always on the go attending meetings, giving climate change talks in the Portland OR area, meeting up with fellow organizers and friends, carpooling to the Oregon Capitol in Salem to lobby legislators, testifying and attending legislative committee meetings at the Capitol, flying to Washington D.C. twice a year to attend Congressional lobby meetings, participating as a mentor and speak speaker at Climate Reality Project Trainings, traveling to other states to give climate change presentations, and traveling back to St. Louis once or twice a year to see family and give climate change talks there. It was almost non-stop climate action where I was gone from home during the day or evenings often. When the pandemic happened, it all went away. I did not know what to do with myself. With the heaviness of the pandemic hanging over everything, I just did not feel motivated to write or do anything, especially climate comedy.

To find a way forward, I drew upon my experience lobbying and meeting with state legislators to urge them to pass climate legislation. 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).

September 17, 2020, I met with 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. The resolution was introduced on the Senate floor February 4, 2021, when it officially became known as Senate Joint Memorial 5 or SJM 5. One year ago in January 2022, I detailed this experience in a blog I wrote, I led the effort for Oregon Senate to pass a Climate Resolution.

One of the biggest thrills of my life happened when 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. When SJM 5 moved on to the Oregon House that spring, it ended up with 30 House members, including 7 Republicans, endorsing SJM 5. Sadly, SJM 5 died towards the end of the legislation session when the House Democratic Leadership decided not to bring it up for a vote.

The resolution falling short was something I was prepared could happen. During the previous two legislative sessions, I had lobbied hard with Renew Oregon in their efforts to push the Oregon Legislature to pass carbon pricing legislation. In the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions, the Democrats had the votes to pass the bills. Unfortunately, the Republicans would just flee the state to deny a quorum for a floor vote, which killed both bills. I had deep emotional scars from those experiences to know that you can never count on legislation to pass until it does.

The worst part of this experience was the bitterness by the core CCL volunteers who worked most closely we me. With the bill failing short, they directed their anger at the state legislators and me. They took actions that I felt like were burning bridges with the legislators in their last-minute attempt to pressure them to pass the resolution. I wanted no part of their actions, which damaged our relationships. This situation left me feeling burned out as a climate organizer with no energy for climate comedy.

The only joke I could muster at that time was to say: “I just want to go to grad school for organizing to learn how to ‘stand down’ upset fellow organizers once a bill we have worked on for many months fails.”

That summer and fall, I wrote extensively about my frustration over the years as a climate organizer to see if I could possibly turn that into a book someday. In the middle of writing that story in September 2021, I got a Facebook message from my Climate Reality friend Raj, who lives in India. He wrote:

“Hey Brian, how are you? A friend is organizing an event using comedy and climate change around COP26. I mentioned you and she wanted to connect. Do leave your email if you are interested.”

I did reply with my email and received an email from another climate organizer. He wrote that he was part of a group organizing actions for the United Nations COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. They envisioned calling it “UNITED COMEDIANS FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE” / bringing laughter to science on a serious note!”

I admired their energy and enthusiasm to bring humor to that conference that held in November 2021. However, I politely declined writing, “To be honest, I have not felt that funny since then, especially with the pandemic.”

They sent me a couple of emails to try to coax me to join them, but my heart was just not into it at the time. I had no energy for climate organizing in the remaining months of 2021. I had zero interest in climate change comedy at that time.

Getting my groove back as “The Climate Change Comedian”

In addition to the dreary shadow coming out of the COVID pandemic and falling short with the 2021 Oregon SJM 5 climate resolution where I was the lead organizer, watching on TV the events of the insurrection of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021, shook me to the core. After that happened, I was determined to do all I could in 2022 to organize and work on Democratic campaigns. It felt vital for me to work for candidates that would shore up our democracy, abortion rights, and would prioritize climate legislation.

In March 2022, my Climate Reality friend Raz Mason invited me to work on her Oregon Senate campaign as “The Volunteer Coordinator.” I relished this role to deliver lawn signs, recruit volunteers, organize fundraising house parties, call friends to contribute to her campaign, and knock on doors for the Senate district where Raz was running on the southeast exurbs of Portland, Oregon. I worked all spring and summer in this role until Raz became worried about her campaign funds running too low to pay me.

In September, Raz encouraged me to apply to be become a full-time paid canvasser for the East County Rising (ECR) community organization. ECR is a social justice organization that focuses on getting out the vote to elect progressive Democratic local candidates for the eastern part of the Portland metro area. I canvassed full time for ECR, knocking on thousands of doors in the final two months of the campaign, up until the November 8th election.

Self photo of Brian Ettling canvassing for East County Rising endorsed candidates in Gresham, Oregon (part of the Portland metro area) on September 21, 2022.

While I exclusively focused for most of 2022 on organizing for Democratic candidates who would be strong advocates for democracy, a woman’s right to choose and climate action, I got an email from Robin Riddlebarger, Park Superintendent of Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina in May 2022.

Robin wrote: “Howdy! Stumbled upon your (Climate Change Comedian) website as I was searching for inspiration about a guest for our annual conference of superintendents for North Carolina State Parks. I am organizing this year’s conference with three other superintendents. We’re thinking about options. We want this conference to be inspiring and refreshing instead of depressing like it usually is. I’d love to find out more about your prices for doing an in-person and virtual presentation to a bunch of crusty superintendents.”

This looked like a good opportunity to jump on, so I immediately emailed Robin back. I expressed an interest to speak to her group and shared my speaking fee. I made it clear that they would have to reimburse my airline expense. This would be in addition to my speaking fee, which was not going to be cheap since they would be flying me from Portland, Oregon to North Carolina. In that email, I asked why they were interested in me as a speaker. Why me?

Robin’s response: “Myself and three other superintendents are brainstorming guest speakers that will inspire us. We found that we usually leave the conference feeling more burnt out than we were when we arrived. The four of us are determined that this year will be different. We will at least learn something. Instead of listening to boring HR polices that could have been handled in an email.

Our staff has endured great suffering since the pandemic and morale is at an all time low. We even had a ranger take his life recently. The parks were the only thing open during the pandemic and have been loved to death. Are you sensing a theme here? We need to learn something meaningful and we need positive inspiration. The superintendents live for their parks. I always say I don’t know if the park is my husband or my child but it’s something more than a job. We care a lot. But we’re dysfunctional as heck. We don’t need team building. We are already an awesome team. We need something GOOD. Is this anything you would want to tackle? (I’m laughing because obviously climate change is not good, but you know what I mean)”

Robin’s email really touched my heart. As a professional speaker that loved to entertain, educate and inspire audiences, this looked like a challenge I was definitely up to do. It seemed like a great fit for me. I wanted to give a presentation that could provide hopefully some healing for them while entertaining and inspiring them. I figured I was their ideal person for this.

Robin and I kept in touch over the summer and fall to work out the logistics. The North Carolina State Parks Superintendents Conference was scheduled for November 14-16. The timing was perfect. It would be two weeks after the election, when my temporary canvassing job would be completed with ECR. By late in the election season, I was feeling worn down by canvassing all summer and into the fall with the heat, rain, smoke, aggressive dogs, and rude people I would encounter daily who would slam their door in my face.

This would be a much-needed working vacation. I had only been to North Carolina one previous time. This would be a new state for me to give a climate change talk. Before the pandemic, I had given climate change talks in 11 U.S. states, plus Washington D.C. and Ottawa, Canada. I loved giving climate change talks in new states! In October, I started preparing my slides for the presentation. Since I worked in the national parks for 25 years, it felt like this was an audience where I could speak their language of loving their park job while hating the bureaucratic system that manages the parks.

The title of this presentation was “Our Parks: Places of fun, healing, and inspiration to change the world.” I gave this talk at the beginning of the conference at the Haw River State Park Conference Center to about 44 North Carolina state park superintendents on November 14, 2022. This was my first in person talk in almost three years since I gave my last presentation at a public community Meeting in Portland, Oregon on March 2, 2020. The superintendents laughed at some of my jokes, but my timing was rusty since I had not performed live in years.

Brian Ettling speaking to 44 North Carolina state park superintendents at Haw River State Park Conference Center on November 14, 2022.

With her approval, I included Robin’s email to me in my PowerPoint why she thought I would be ideal to speak at this conference, “Instead of listening to boring HR polices that could have been handled in an email.”

When I practiced my talk for Tanya before leaving for North Carolina, she strongly advised me to not use that joke because it might hurt the feelings of HR staff who love their presentations about policies. However, when I shared Robin’s email in my talk, the HR line received a big laugh from the audience. The organizers of this conference joked about that line afterwards and they were still making jokes about dry HR presentations the next day.

I felt like I got my groove back with this talk. I did not know when I would return to North Carolina. In October, I messaged friends that I knew for many years that lived on Ocracoke in the Outer Banks if I could stay with them. They said yes. However, they insisted that I ‘sing for my supper’ by giving a climate change talk to over 50 middle and high school students in Ocracoke. Thus, I ended up giving two climate change talks on this 8 day trip to North Carolina.

While I was in North Carolina, I rented a car from Raleigh to the Outer Banks. The drive from Kill Devil Hills on the northern part of the Outer Banks to Ocracoke was stunningly beautiful with the beaches, lighthouses, and impressive bridges and ferries connecting the islands on the Outer Banks. My talk for the middle and high school students in Ocracoke went well overall. Teens are generally much tougher audiences for the jokes I like to share during my presentations.

It felt like I was back to my old self before the pandemic of traveling to other states once or twice a year to give climate change talks and doing sightseeing in between those talks. I will keep my fingers crossed that I will get more invitations like this in the future since I definitely seem to be a big step up from talks on “boring HR policies.”

Self photo of Brian Ettling getting ready to give a climate change talk to 56 middle & high school students in Ocracoke, North Carolina on November 18, 2022.

Why did I share this very long story with you?

First, I enrolled in a “Writing Your Story” continuing adult education class at my local community college that starts today.

Last week, the instructor left a voice message on my phone to welcome me to the class. She offered that I was more than welcome to bring some of my writing to read to class if it is no longer than 5 minutes.

I started writing a brief account of my story of “The Climate Change Comedian.” As I began writing the story, I realized I had never written the full story. Once I start writing, I have a hard time stopping. Brevity has never been my strong point.

As French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote in his Lettres Provinciales,
“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

Bottom line: I need a really good editor!

For me, it is great to have a full account of this part of my story as I hope to turn my life story into a published book someday. Even more, if life does not give me an opportunity to write that book, I hope someone would be able to use my writings to turn it into a written biography about me.

This class starts today. This week, I decided to write much more condensed version for the class. I then broke it up into two parts since I will only have about 5 minutes to share my story. Here for my blog, it is great to have a longer and more in depth version to share.

Second, While the threat of climate change is deadly serious and potentially catastrophic, it is vital that we find a way to have fun communicating about it.

Many people think of the topic of climate change as depressing, demoralizing, and even fatalistic. ‘Yeah, global warming is bad, but there’s nothing I can do about it,’ someone might say.

I always hope to convey that climate change is very serious, but we can’t take ourselves too seriously. Climate scientists still think there are actions we can take to lessen the threat. If we have hope, we have a chance. Hope can lead to a sense of humor. A sense of humor often has a key ingredient of creativity. Creativity plus fun can provide the inspiration to take the needed actions to reduce the threat of climate change.

I hope to write a future blog with the title “For effective Climate Action, Have Fun!”

I was long overdue writing the full story how I became “The Climate Change Comedian.” I hope my story will inspire you to have fun saving the planet. Even more, I hope my story will inspire you to book me as a guest speaker for your group that is entertaining, educational, and inspiring as “The Climate Change Comedian.”

Brian Ettling getting ready to give a climate change talk at the Haw River State Park Conference Center on November, 14, 2022. Image source: Brian Ettling