Since I became involved in the climate movement around 13 years ago, my aim was to be a top climate organizer and speaker. I wanted to inspire others to take action to reduce the threat of climate change. One place that helped me be a more effective climate advocate was attending a Climate Reality Training in San Francisco in August 2012. After attending that training, I was very proud to become a Climate Reality Leader and become active in the Climate Reality Project.
I was honored when Climate Reality selected me to be a mentor to assist the new trainees at seven Climate Reality Trainings: Chicago, IL 2013, Cedar Rapids, IA 2015, Houston, TX 2016, Denver, CO 2017, Bellevue, WA 2017, Los Angeles, CA 2018, Atlanta, GA 2019, and a virtual training in 2020. On top of that, the peak experience for me was the three trainings that Climate Reality invited me to be a breakout speaker, Bellevue 2017, Los Angeles 2018, and Atlanta 2019. I will always be grateful to Climate Reality Project for those opportunities.
Taking Climate Action to be Noticed by the Climate Reality Project
To grab an opportunity, you have got to get your foot in the door. To get your foot in the door, you have got to get yourself noticed somehow. After I became a Climate Reality Leader in 2012, I was determined to be one of the best Climate Reality Leaders.
Former Vice President Al Gore founded the Climate Reality Project in 2007 from the proceeds he received from the 2006 Academy Award winning documentary film An Inconvenient Truth and other sources. To this day, Al Gore actively oversees Climate Reality and leads their annual U.S. and international Trainings. Thus, one incentive for me to be recognized as a top Climate Reality Leader was the possibility to meet Al Gore. Fortunately, I had a chance to do that at the May 2015 Cedar Rapids Trainings. Even more, I asked him directly how to respond to his critics.
Besides meeting Al Gore, another motivation for me to strive to be a great Climate Reality Leader was the chance to be a breakout speaker at one of the Climate Reality trainings. These Trainings typically had the attendance of over 1,000 people who come from across the U.S. and internationally. The Trainings were an outstanding place to network among other top Climate Reality Leaders and advocates. Even more, it was a great place to be seen “on the stage” giving a breakout talk to advise the attendees how they could give impactful climate presentations and inspire others in their community to join them in the climate movement.
After we are trained as Climate Reality Leaders, the Climate Reality staff urged us to log our “Acts of Leadership,” on the Climate Reality Project hub website, the resource access website for Climate Reality Leaders. Thus, I logged various actions to get myself noticed. I recorded each time I presented my ranger climate change evening program that I performed at Crater Lake National Park during the summer from 2011-2017. I submitted each of the climate change speeches I gave during the winter in St. Louis as a member South County Toastmasters.
In Addition, I logged all my climate change talks, as well as the opinion editorials I wrote that were published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and newspapers across Oregon. I recorded each of my blogs from my climatechangecomedian.com website and my writing contributions for the climatebites.org website. I submitted each time I taught a continuing adult education class for St. Louis Community College and the Oasis Continuing Education Center in St. Louis. I logged each time I lobbied a member of Congress, wrote a letter to them, emailed them, and called their office. I recorded each time I attended climate related meetings and organized climate events. Because of all the times I submitted climate actions, I became known from 2014-2020 as one of the top Climate Reality Leaders for my recorded Acts of Leadership.
Another type of Leadership Action I did was recording the four YouTube videos with my wife Tanya Couture, my mom Fran Ettling, and my dad, LeRoy Ettling. My YouTube videos inspired Climate Reality to invite me to speak as part of a webinar panel with fellow Climate Reality Leaders Dr. Cara Augustenborg and Stian Rasmussen. Cara was a assistant professor at the University College in Dublin and the Trinity School of Business in Ireland. Stian was a videographer, photographer, and music producer. This webinar was called Inspiring Action through Video. It streamed internally on the Climate Reality Hub website on July, 29, 2016. This brief training encouraged Climate Reality Leaders to create short videos to promote climate action and a build up for Climate Reality’s 10 Year Anniversary Project they were planning for 2017.
On the Climate Reality website Hub, the organization encouraged Climate Reality Leaders to log their Acts of Leadership. Climate Reality urged us to log these Acts to keep track of the actions of their volunteers to determine how they could best support us. Even more, they wanted us to log our Acts of Leadership as a metric to show their large donors the effectiveness of funding Climate Reality. Thus, I gladly logged all my Acts of Leadership to see how many I could post and to be supportive in supporting the metrics tracking of the volunteers. This did not go unnoticed by Climate Reality. In August 2016, they acknowledged me on their website as one of “THE TOP TEN CLIMATE REALITY LEADERS HELPING US REACH 10,000 ACTS OF LEADERSHIP.”
In February 2017, it felt like I was really on a roll with Climate Reality. They featured me in their February 2017 online newsletter report in their Climate Reality Leader Spotlight section. At his opening remarks of the February 2017 Climate Reality Training in Denver, Climate Reality President Ken Berlin mentioned me and two others as good examples of Climate Reality Leaders. As Ken briefly spoke about me, he showed this image to the screen to the audience:
During the Denver training on March 2-4, 2017, Al Gore led a panel discussion called CLIMATE REALITY LEADERS: WHO WE ARE. Climate Reality selected three Climate Reality Mentors join him on the stage to discuss their experiences as Climate Reality Leaders and their advice to the new Climate Reality Leaders. Al Gore asked the mentors on the panel how they stay motivated to take climate action. Totally unexpected to me, one of the mentors, Lucia Whalen remarked: “I don’t know if you ever Facebook stalk your friends, but the same thing can happen on the Climate Reality Hub website. Go on Brian Ettling’s page and it will be like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’”
Lucia was very kind to say that in front of an audience of over 1,000 people at the training. Immediately afterwards, I thanked Lucia for her very gracious extemporaneous comment. When I took various climate actions and reported my Acts of Leadership, I always hoped that I could have been selected for the CLIMATE REALITY LEADERS: WHO WE ARE discussions led by Al Gore at one of the trainings I attended as a mentor. Lucia Whalen is a great Climate Reality Leader and a stand-up comedian in Chicago, Illinois. Therefore, when she mentioned me from the stage to Al Gore and to a huge audience of Climate Reality Leaders, that was a big thrill for me.
Presenting as a breakout speaker at the March 2017 Climate Reality’s Denver Day of Action
Because of all the climate change talks I gave beforehand in Oregon, Missouri, Illinois, Virginia, Arizona, and Ottawa, Canada, the Climate Reality staff invited me to be a guest speaker at their March 5th Denver Day of Action. This event took place after the March 2017 Climate Reality Training in Denver, Colorado March 2-4. The staff asked me to speak about Spreading the Word: Mastering Presentations.
In that talk, I shared my 6 tips for Mastering Presentations such as:
1. Sharing your story.
I told my story I how saw climate change working as a park ranger in the national parks.
2. What common values do you share with your audience.
I shared how I related to my audiences with their love of the national parks. When I lived in St. Louis, I would stress that I was born and raised in St. Louis. For conservatives, I shared that I was the President of my College Republicans in my sophomore year of college. In addition, I shared my love of nature and quoted Ann Frank from her book, The Diary of a Young Girl:
“The best remedy for for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be…amidst the simple beauty of nature.”
3. Include the mission statement for the group that invited you.
When I spoke at Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri in January 2017, I included their website statement that they are “a certified ‘Earth Care Congregation.’”
From working in the national parks for 25 years, I included their mission statement in my evening climate change program: “to conserve the natural scenery, historic objects and the wildlife and to provide for the enjoyment that leaves them unimpaired for future generations.”
When I spoke at the Shepherd’s Center in St. Louis, I shared their motto of “where neighbors help neighbors.” I then wove it into the title of my talk How to be a Good Neighbor for Our Planet.
4. Include your audience in your talk.
I then talked about how I would show up at meetings of an organization before my talk to get permission of individual club members to weave them into my talk. The audience loved seeing their friends and themselves in my PowerPoint images. In the training presentations I gave to the Crater Lake rangers how to chat with park visitors about climate change, I would include a picture of my friend and fellow Crater Lake ranger David Grimes. In that picture, Dave is shrugging his shoulders with the Dan Miller TED talk quote above him, “Talking about climate change is like flatulence at a cocktail party.”
5. If possible, Include some humor.
I would share the viral image Positive proof of global warming that shows the changes in underwear fashion over the years. I also included the Bloomberg Business article that I had the unfortunate experience to wake up to the day after my wedding on November 2, 2015, “Climate Change Kills the Mood: Economists Warn of Less Sex on a Warmer Planet.”
6. Share local stories of the problem and solutions to climate change.
I showed the image of the extreme flood that I saw in St. Louis on January 1, 2016. I then shared the story in the St. Louis South County Times, “Living Green With Solar Energy,” from December 14, 2012. The article highlighted St. Louis residents Jim and Judy Stroup. They installed solar panels on their house the year before and saved around 87% on their electric bill. I included the quote from Jim Stroup:
“This past month, I spent more beer & pistachios than I did on gas & electric. And I am not a big drinker. It’s amazing how much (solar) cuts down on your bills and how economical it is to install.”
I then wrapped up my presenting by listing my 6 tips for mastering the presentation for the audience to see it one last time.
This presentation was well received by the audience of primary Climate Reality Leaders and staff. I remember seeing fellow Climate Reality Mentors there such as Harriet Shugarman, Jill MacIntyre Witt and Maria Rotunda. They gave me positive feedback about my talk. Maria’s son, Ian Marchegiani, took a great picture of me speaking.
Co-presenting with Maddie Adkins at the June 2017 Climate Reality Bellevue, WA Training
After this Denver presentation, Climate Reality staff kept in contact with me. They invited me to be a breakout speaker for an April 2017 webinar for Climate Reality Leaders, called Settled Science: Speaking to Climate Deniers. Like the August 2016 Climate Reality webinar that I participated, this was a panel presentation of Climate Reality Leaders that included Greg Jones, Dr. Joe Silverman, Laura Schmidt, and me. Greg Jones was a Climate Science Advisor at Climate Reality. Joe Silverman had a PdD in school and counseling psychology. Laura Schmidt founded the Good Grief Network. Sadly, this was internal Climate Reality training, so I don’t have access to share any video from that webinar. However, participating in that webinar inspired me to write my own blog in April 2017, My 9 tips to Respond to Climate Denial when giving a Climate Change Talk.
The Climate Reality staff was very pleased with my volunteer actions. As a result, they invited me to be a co-breakout speaker with Maddie Adkins at the Climate Reality Training in Bellevue, Washington on June 27-29, 2017. This was very exciting because I was Maddie’s mentor at the Climate Reality Training in Houston, Texas in August 2016. She was 17 years old when I met her in 2016. I helped her with her mentor application for the February 2017 Denver training. I was so happy for her when Climate Reality invited her to be a mentor. Even more, it was very exciting when she was selected as one of the panelists, along with Lucia Whalen, David Ellenberger, and Nana Firman CLIMATE REALITY LEADERS: WHO WE ARE panel discussions led by Al Gore at the Denver Training. From meeting her at the Houston Training, we developed a great rapport.
Maddie Adkins is the name she is known by her family, friends and Climate Reality. She writes and promotes herself professionally under her given name of Madison Adkins. As a teenager, she created a lot of buzz when she lived in Carmel, Indiana. She worked with her mayor and city council on a climate change resolution. She gave speeches at schools and universities to educate young people about climate change and their power as citizens. In 2017, she worked at iMatter, an international youth-led organization that empowers youth to join the climate movement. Before I left for the training in Houston, I received messages from friends telling me how excited they were that I was her mentor and the great things she was doing for climate action.
It happened to be very beneficial that my wife Tanya and I moved to Portland, Oregon in February 2017. Maddie lived in Portland with her parents at that time. Thus, we met in person to prepare and practice our presentation in early June. We were scheduled to give this talk in Bellevue at the Climate Reality Training at the end of June. I really did appreciate her bubbly, joyous youthful enthusiasm, and excitement to give this joint presentation with me. Her playful and exuberant personality helps bring out the fun and creativity in those around her, especially me. I fed off her playful teen energy and she enjoyed my goofy and wacky personality. We practiced hard to do a great job giving this presentation at the training.
We enjoyed weaving together our presentations together in a cohesive talk. Maddie focused on how to speak to youth and schools. I focused on how to speak to adults. I shared the six tips for mastering the presentation and finding an audience that was from the Climate Reality Day of Action talk I gave in Denver just a few months before this June talk. I added a new original quote I created that I have used in the conclusions of my climate change talks since then:
“The most important person who can make the biggest impact reducing the threat of climate change is the person sitting in your chair.” – Brian Ettling
Maddie had great tips for our talk that she later wrote about for an August 7, 2020 article for Medium.com, “How I Grew My Public Speaking Audiences from 10 to 1,000.” In her 2020 article, her helpful tips included practice, invite your friends to your presentation, expect tech issues, tell your story, follow up, and your authenticity is what makes your presentation powerful.
As we practiced our talk in Bellevue the day the day before we gave it, I mentioned to Maddie one of my all-time favorite quotes associated with the poet and author Maya Angelou:*
“People will forget what you said…but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maddie loved hearing that quote. She decided on the spot that would be the conclusion of our talk. She ended her 2020 Medium article with that same quote. With the busyness of our lives, Maddie and I lost contact after that talk. It seemed we were two energetic atoms bouncing off each other. We each received an inspirational boost in our climate advocacy since that collaboration and giving this talk in Bellevue together in 2017. I will always be grateful for Climate Reality Project pairing me up with Maddie to give this talk.
The large audience of Climate Reality Leaders who attended our breakout talk gave us a very positive response. Even more, the Climate Reality staff seemed very pleased with our talk. It felt like the organization really appreciated all my climate advocacy.
I loved contributing to Climate Reality Project in their efforts to create publicity for climate action, Al Gore, and the organization. In the spring of 2017, Climate Reality asked for my permission to use a 2015 photo of me giving a climate change presentation in St. Louis for their companion book to the 2017 documentary about Al Gore, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Local bookstores started selling the published book in mid-July 2017. I rushed to the nearest bookstore when it was available. It was so exciting to see my picture as part of a photo collage of Climate Reality Leaders in action on page 314. The picture showed me giving a climate change presentation at at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Florissant, Missouri on April 26, 2015.
The documentary film about Al Gore, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, was released in theaters nationwide on August 4, 2017. Tanya and I went to see the film in Portland, Oregon on August 5, 2017. The scenes with Al Gore presenting his climate change talk to a live audience were filmed at the Climate Reality Training in Houston, Texas in August 16-18, 2016. I happened to be seated in the front row of the audience on the left side of the stage. When Tanya and I watched the film, we were able to spot me for a very brief second smiling in reaction to something Al Gore said to the audience. This felt like a celebration for Tanya and me since it might be the only time that I will be seen in a Hollywood film.
Climate Reality Project continued to utilize me to promote their organization. The Climate Reality staff asked for my permission to use images of me for a fundraising promotion at the end of July 2018. I was very honored to be a face representing Climate Reality in their 2017 fundraising campaign. That same month for my 50th birthday, I raised over $1000 as a Facebook birthday fundraiser for Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), the other climate organization that I volunteered. Even though I raised money for CCL that month among friends and family. I hope my picture spurred someone open their checkbook to give money to the Climate Reality Project.
Co-presenting with Itzel Morales at the August 2018 Climate Reality Los Angeles, CA Training
Climate Reality thought my 2017 presentation with Maddie Adkins was very successful. Their next step was to invite me to be a breakout speaker for the 2018 Climate Reality Training in Los Angeles, California in August 2018.
For this training, Climate Reality had me co-present with Itzel Morales Lagunes. She was a blessing and a joy to partner with on this presentation. Itzel was from Mexico. She was originally trained as a Climate Reality Leader in Chicago in 2013. Since May 2018, Itzel is the Climate Reality Engagement Coordinator for Mexico and Latin America. She had an impressive background as a biochemical engineer who received a master’s degree from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 2016, the U.S. Department of State awarded her the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship at UC Davis for the 2016-17 academic year. During her fellowship year, she had a professional affiliation with the United States Forest Service and the international Center for the Environment at UC Davis.
Itzel was extremely intelligent, poised with self-confidence, and very focused on what she precisely wanted to share in our joint presentation. Like Maddie, Itzel has a great and generous heart, giving a warm and caring vibe making one feel great to be around her. We first met briefly when we were mentors at the 2017 Denver Training. We enjoyed briefly chatting at the end of the training. Like many mentors who struck up friendships with each other during the training, we got a picture with each other. I was honored at the chance to co-present with her.
A few weeks before the August 2018 Los Angeles Training, we met on Zoom to practice our talk. Itzel was very dedicated to make our talk a success. She was very professional, detailed oriented, and well centered. Her calm and mature demeanor helps project confidence to those around her, including me. She knew exactly what she wanted. She did not need any advice from me. She was generous with her time to practice with me often before and during the evenings of the conference so we had confidence our talk would go smoothly.
Because of Itzel’s steady and optimistic confidence, our presentation was a success. I don’t really remember any glitches except I struggled pronouncing the names of a couple of Climate Reality friends that I mentioned in that talk. I shared the same information from my 2017 Climate Reality Training breakout talks in Denver and Bellevue. However, for this 2018 Los Angeles talk, I included information on the October 2017 speaking tour I led across Oregon for CCL. In addition, I showed an image of my friend and fellow Climate Reality mentor Rachel Molloy and her daughters standing in front of her house with the solar panels on her roof. I then shared how Rachel saved a lot of money on her electric bill by installing solar panels on her home.
Itzel and I gave this presentation along with Tim Ryder, who was the Associate Project Manager at The Climate Reality Project. Tim shared with the audience how the new Climate Reality Leaders could find, access, and utilize Al Gore’s presentation on the Climate Reality Hub website. In my presentation slides, one of my tips advised new Climate Reality Leaders to join and partner with local climate and environmental groups. After Itzel, Tim and I practiced our breakout session before giving it live, Tim urged me to encourage the Climate Reality Leaders attending this talk to join or even create a local Climate Reality Chapter in their community. I was happy to include that in my portion of the presentation.
In her portion of our talk for creating your story to share in a presentation, ltzel had great advice learning about who is your audience before your climate talk to create a talk that will appeal to them. She advised the Climate Reality Leaders to determine the aspects of your background and personality that best connects with an audience. Itzel nailed the conclusion of this talk with a very inspiring quote that I heard for the first time:
According to Itzel’s notes in her PowerPoint: “Ijeoma Umebinyuo is a Nigerian author. She was born in Lagos, Nigeria. She is the author of Questions for Ada, her first published collection of prose poems and poems. Her writings have been translated to Portuguese, Turkish, Spanish, Russian and French. In 2016, Ijeoma Umebinyuo was named one of the top ten contemporary poets from sub-sharan Africa by wrtivism.org.”
Itzel had a beautiful and stunning dark milky way night sky background behind that quote that made the quote look even more captivating. I took a screen shot of that quote on the day of our presentation and shared it on social media. After that quote, Itzel had a great audience interaction directing the audience to stand and clap with her in unison to motivate them to give their own climate change talks. She would even pretend she was putting her hands together to see if she could trick the audience into clapping before she was ready to clap. The audience loved that moment of deception and that burst of interactive energy at the end of her talk that basically gave the message: You got this! You can do it!
Climate Reality staff gave very positive feedback they received from the Climate Reality Leaders who attended this joint presentation with Itzel. During this Los Angeles Training, I wanted to promote Climate Reality Project and CCL. I loved volunteering for both organizations and encouraging climate advocates to get involved with one or both amazing organizations. Thus, Steph Zhu a blogger for CCL wrote a blog about me, “One person’s journey to Climate Change Activist” for the Red, Green, and Blue website on September 12, 2018.
Co-presenting with Maria Santiago-Valentín at March 2019 Atlanta, GA Training
In the fall and winter of 2019, I stayed in touch with Climate Reality staff. They invited me to be a co-presenter with Maria Santiago-Valentín for their March 2019 Training in Atlanta, Georgia. Maria is from Clark, New Jersey, and she was originally from Puerto Rico. She had a very impressive background as a doctoral student in education, a learning disabilities consultant. She is the author of a 2019 book that is available in English and Spanish, Bipolar Disorder: Etiology and Treatment Overview: Mindfulness, Medication, Digital Psychiatry and Classroom Accommodations.
Maria attended the Climate Reality Training in Chicago in 2013. Climate Reality noticed her activism as a co-leader of the New Jersey People’s Climate Rally in 2017 and 2018, and a steering committee member of the 2018 New Jersey March for Science. In July 2018, Maria presented at the Global Mental Health Congress in Paris, where she presented her research entitled “An Overview of the Neurological Base of Bipolar Disorder” published by the Journal of Childhood and Development Disorders. She was the treasurer of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, New Jersey Chapter and vice chair of the New Sierra Club Environmental Justice Committee.
Maria was very humble and shy. She was worried about giving our joint presentation to a huge group of Climate Reality Leaders during the Atlanta Training. She was very modest about her accomplishments and background. She seemed to have limited experience with public speaking and speaking in front of large audiences. Unlike Itzel or Maddie, Maria relied much more on me to create and edit our presentation. Maria had a very kind heart and gentle spirit. I was happy to help her feel comfortable giving this presentation. She was very appreciative of everything I did to help us prepare for this Atlanta presentation. Speaking to hundreds of Climate Reality Leaders at this training seemed quite daunting to her. I did my best to be her rock of support. I had someone take a picture of both of us in Atlanta with our fists pumped, with the attitude of “WE GOT THIS!”
In fact, that became our theme for the new Climate Reality Leaders attending this talk, “YOU GOT THIS!” Maria even had a picture of herself in the talk not smiling with the text: “OMG!!! I am freaking out! The content and my accent!!!”
I used that phrase “YOU GOT THIS!” several times in this presentation. I started this talk borrowing from Tim Ryder’s presentation that he gave with Itzel Morales and me at the Los Angeles Training in 2018. I showed an overview of images of Al Gore’s 518 slides from his long presentation. Al Gore gave his nearly three-hour climate presentation using most of those slides the day before. In our breakout presentation, I walked through how they could find Al Gore’s slide decks on the Climate Reality Hub. I then encouraged them to use the 59 slides of Al Gore’s Truth in 10 slide deck that is available to everyone, not just Climate Reality Leaders. It is accessable on the public Climate Reality website. The Truth in 10 slides do not have any copyright limitations. They can be shown to anyone anywhere, especially if the climate presentation is being livestreamed, video recorded, or uploaded to YouTube.
I then used a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr quote:
“Everyone can be great. Because anybody can serve.
You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.
You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.
You don’t have know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.
You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.
You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
This seemed very appropriate to use a Dr. King quote since this presentation was given in his hometown of Atlanta, GA. After I used that quote, I repeated the theme: “YOU GOT THIS!”
I might have even had Maria say it out loud for effect. I then gave my 6 tips for Mastering Presentations that I which I had been sharing since my Denver breakout talk.
When I shared my story as my first tip, I then turned to Maria and asked her to share her story.
She talked about her background with Organizing for Action (OFA) and her involvement with the Climate Change State Team at OFA in New Jersey. She then told the audience how her and her family were impacted by Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey in 2012. Even worse, her relatives were devastated by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in September 2017.
In my second tip, Finding Your Audience, I gave my examples of forming a Climate Reality Meet Up Group in St. Louis, then getting involved with the Climate Reality Chapter, joining a Toastmasters Club in St. Lous, and leading the CCL tour across Oregon in October 2017. Maria gave her examples speaking to OFA, lobbying her New Jersey Assemblyman, and speaking at Columbia University. Maria also shared how she organized and spoke at environmental marches People’s Climate Movement, NJ Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, NJ March for Science and as a panelist for a public screening of the 2017 National Geographic documentary From the Ashes.
Maria and I then tag teamed for the rest of this presentation with me providing tips and examples and then Maria responding with her own examples. She was lovely to co-present with as a team. She really gave it her all, stepping out of her comfort zone to speak to this large group of Climate Reality Leaders.
I started the conclusion with my standard quote: “The most important person who can make the biggest impact reducing the threat of climate change is the person sitting in your chair.”
For the final slide, I showed a quote from former President Barack Obama, “We are the ones we have been waiting for!” Then Maria once more proclaimed, “YOU GOT THIS!”
Like Maddie Adkins and Itzel Morales, it was a huge honor and pleasure to present with Maria.
From the conversations and email exchanges with Climate Reality staff afterwards, they seemed very pleased with this presentation. Sadly, Atlanta was the last Climate Reality Training I attended in person. I hoped to participate as a breakout speaker in trainings after that, but I was not even invited to attend the trainings.
The crushing defeat of the Clean Energy Jobs Bill in Oregon in 2019
After Atlanta, the next Climate Reality Training was in Minneapolis, Minnesota in August 2019.
In May, I applied to attend this training as a mentor. Even more, I hoped to participate in this training in roles such as a breakout speaker, master of ceremonies for one of the training days, or a mentor for the VIP table. Because it’s Al Gore and Climate Reality has earned a stellar reputation for training climate advocates, there are celebrities, prominent individuals, major donors, and prestigious scientists who are typically seated in a table at the front of the room. Climate Reality assigns a mentor to their table to answer their questions and assist their needs.
My biggest dream was to be selected as one of the CLIMATE REALITY LEADERS: WHO WE ARE panel discussion led by Al Gore. Two of the Climate Reality Leaders that I mentored at previous trainings, Maddie Adkins and Sara Vargas, were panelists for this discussion. As their former mentor, I was so proud of them. At the same time, I always hoped to be part of that panel. I logged hundreds of Acts of Leadership hoping to be selected for that panel, but it was not meant to be.
After Atlanta, I became very involved volunteering to Renew Oregon to urge Oregon legislators to pass a cap and invest bill. It was known as the Clean Energy Jobs Bill or HB 2020. Renew Oregon and their many volunteers, including me, lobbied the legislators extensively before and during the session to build good relationships with them. Therefore, we were confident we had the votes among the Democratic legislators in the Oregon House and Senate to pass this bill before the end of the legislative session. One of the highest moments of my climate organizing and for all the Renew Oregon climate organizers was the moment HB 2020 passed on the Oregon House floor on Tuesday, June 18, 2019.
The Clean Energy Jobs Bill moved on to the Senate floor where we had the Democratic votes to pass this bill. On June 20, 2019, it was very disheartening when Oregon Senate Republicans fled the state to deny the required 2/3 quorum for a floor vote for HB 2020. Over the next ten days, it felt more depressing as Republicans Senators refused to return to work until the Democrats agreed to kill HB 2020. It felt like a year of effort for me of numerous lobby meetings with legislators, attending organizing meetings, testifying at hearings, helping to organize events and rallies, encouraging residents across Oregon to contact their legislators, and countless trips to the Capitol in Salem was all going down the drain. It was that helpless feeling that a bitter defeat was about to happen and there was nothing we could do about it.
The bill had to pass the legislative before the Sunday, June 30, 2019, the last day of the session or it would die. The last day of the session is known on the Oregon Legislative calendar as Sine Die. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary Sine Die means, “without any future date being designated (as for resumption): indefinitely. the meeting (or legislative session) is adjourned.” We hoped for a miracle that the GOP Senators would come to their senses and return to Oregon. However, it was looking bleaker each day.
On Tuesday, June 25th, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney announced that he did not have the Democratic votes to pass HB 2020. Therefore, the bill was dead. On Friday, June 28th the Republican Senators returned to Salem to vote on the remaining legislative bills before the Sine Die happened. A friend talked me into going to the Capitol to at least look at the weak-kneed Democratic Senators in the eye. I felt so numb that a major bill on climate action failed. I just needed some good news. Any good news!
I hoped to hear if I had been accepted to the Climate Reality Minneapolis Training in August. Unfortunately, this email arrived from Climate Reality on that ride to Salem on Friday, June 28th:
Thank you for applying to serve as a mentor at the upcoming Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Minneapolis. Due to overwhelming interest from many exceptional Leaders, we regret to inform you that we are not able to invite you as a mentor to this training.
Several key factors are considered in the review process, including geographic need (matching registered attendees to mentors from their area), travel budget, carbon footprint, application responses, and logged Acts of Leadership. The selection process can be extremely difficult with so many qualified applicants, and this training was no exception.
Please know we value your important work as a Climate Reality Leader and are honored to count you among our volunteers. Though the criteria for putting you on the mentor list did not align this time around, it is possible that another mentor might have to cancel and we would need someone to step in on short notice. Would you be willing to serve as a back-up mentor for the Minneapolis training? If so, we would contact you in the event of a last-minute cancellation to see if you’re available to fill in. Let us know soon if you’d like to be a back-up mentor.
These decisions are never easy, and we greatly appreciate your understanding in the application review process. Thank you for your incredible work and dedication to the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.”
Climate Reality had no idea what was happening with the timing. However, receiving this email on the car ride to Salem that morning felt like a kick in the stomach when I was already feeling so numb. I always considered the Climate Reality Trainings, even more the honor of being a breakout speaker for three of the trainings, as jet fuel for me to help me with my climate organizing. I could have really used that good news on a day where the Republicans had officially killed the climate change legislation.
No matter how hard one works as a Climate Reality Leader, you don’t get recognition from Climate Reality Project for climate legislation that does not pass. You don’t get to be on a CLIMATE REALITY LEADERS: WHO WE ARE panel discussion led by Al Gore when you help pass major climate legislation in only one legislative chamber. You don’t get to be a Breakout Speaker or a Master of Ceremonies if you are unable to stop a Republican walkout that kills climate legislation. You don’t even get to be a mentor of the VIPs or even just a mentor if you spend many months lobbying Oregon legislators, encouraging many Oregonians to contact their legislators, attending many legislative hearings at the Capitol, testifying numerous times for climate legislation, and organizing events to urge legislators to support strong climate bills. Sadly, you get nothing.
I understood that Climate Reality wanted to offer their trainings to other exceptional mentors besides me. Just like Climate Reality, I believe it’s important that we grow the movement. As we grow the movement, it’s vital that we provide support for new Climate Reality Leaders a chance to be mentors. Even though I felt very disappointed, I emailed a gracious response:
“Thank you for letting me know about the status of my mentor application for the Minneapolis Training. Understandably, I am sad I was not selected as a mentor. However, I totally understand the selection process is extremely difficult with so many qualified applicants.
Yes! I would absolutely love to be willing to serve as a back-up mentor for the Minneapolis training.
Yes, please do keep me in mind and do contact me immediately if any mentor positions become available. (my emphasis)
Stay in touch.
Give my best to everyone on the Climate Reality staff.”
Unfortunately, I was not selected as a backup mentor for that training.
After the Clean Energy Jobs Bill failed, I spent weeks on the couch at home with no energy to do anything. However, I had to pull myself back up to help Renew Oregon pass a cap and invest bill in the 2020 short session.
My success and heartbreak as the Chapter Chair of the Portland Climate Reality Chapter
When Tanya and I moved to Portland, Oregon in February, 2017, I became very involved in the Climate Reality Portland Chapter. In the fall of 2018, I joined the Leadership Team for the Chapter. In June 2019, Deb Lev, the Chapter Chair at that time, announced to the Leadership Team that she intended to step down to work full time for another environmental organization. She quickly needed an interim Chair for our Chapter to replace her. I liked Deb a lot. I was her mentor at the 2016 Climate Reality Training in Houston. However, I wanted to take the chapter up to the next level so I asked The Leadership Team if I could take on the role as an interim Chapter Chair. At that time, I served as the Program Manager on the Leadership Team. My role was organizing the monthly meetings, so I would then be performing two roles as the Chapter Chair.
As Chapter Chair, I wanted to organize two big events over the next six months to urge legislators to take another shot at a cap and invest bill. With these two big events, my goal was for the Climate Reality Portland Chapter to become well known in Portland, Oregon. I hoped that more recognition would help us attract more members and energize our membership. Even more, I intended that we partner more closely with other climate and environmental groups in the Portland area to help get climate legislation passed in the 2020 Oregon legislative session.
Unfortunately, I had three people on the Leadership Team questioning and nitpicking everything I was doing. They did not have any constructive ideas of their own, just criticizing every decision that I made. They were relentless. Half of the leadership team were supporting me, and half were not. The friction grew worse as the summer turned to fall. I contacted a local Climate Reality staff person for advice. Her only feedback was basically, ‘In the organizing world, volunteers can be brutal and vicious and even make you cry hard on some days.’
Even though the chemistry on the Leadership Team was bad, I organized two very successful events. The first was held at a local theatre in Milwaukie, OR on September 16, 2019. We filled this theatre with over 80 local climate advocates and Climate Reality Leaders for an event called: “Climate Legislation: Where do we go from here in Oregon?” We had a panel of three speakers: Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, Dylan Kruse from Sustainable Northwest and Shilpa Joshi from Renew Oregon. We encouraged folks to fill out post cards to their legislators. We ended up with 50 postcards and 11 letters. I took the train to Salem and delivered them to legislators. They just happened to be having a workday in Salem two days after our event.
We had another large Climate Reality Portland Chapter event on January 21, 2020, attended by over 100 people. We packed the meeting space at the Hollywood Senior Center in northeast Portland. The speakers were Oregon Senator Michael Dembrow and Oregon Representative Karin Power, the chief sponsors of the 2019 Clean Energy Jobs Bill. At this gathering, I encouraged attendees to fill out postcards to their legislators urging them to support the cap and invest bill for the 2020 legislative session. I had another huge stack of filled out postcards to take to the Oregon Capitol. I was exhausted from organizing these events.
At both events, I shot 4 second videos with the packed audience hold up pieces of paper that read, “CLIMATE ACTION NOW!” I then had the audience shout in unison with their fists pumped: “CLIMCATE ACTION NOW!” I sent these videos to Climate Reality staff to use these videos as they see fit, but I did not get much of a response.
Yet, some members of the Leadership Team endlessly criticized me while offering few ideas of their own. When I incorporated their ideas, it was never enough. They wanted to be in charge, but they said they did not have time to be in charge. We desperately needed to recruit new Climate Leaders in the chapter who would be team players and great at collaborating. Thus, I applied in December 2019 to attend the Climate Reality Training in Las Vegas March 8-10, 2020.
On February 10, 2020, I received this message from Climate Reality:
Thank you for applying to serve as a mentor at the upcoming Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Las Vegas. Due to overwhelming interest from many exceptional Leaders, we regret to inform you that we are not able to invite you as a mentor to this training.
Several key factors are considered in the review process including geographic need (matching registered attendees to mentors from their area), travel budget, carbon footprint, application responses, and logged Acts of Leadership. Additionally, if you’ve served as a mentor as a recent training, we may have offered the spot to a first-time mentor or someone who has not mentored recently. The selection process can be extremely difficult with so many qualified applicants, and this training was no exception.
These decisions are never easy, and we greatly appreciate your understanding in the application review process. Please know we value your important work as a Climate Reality Leader and are honored to count you among our volunteers.
Thank you for your incredible work and dedication to the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.”
That letter looked the same as the first letter in June 2019 that rejected me for the August 2019 Minneapolis Training.
My feeling of being letdown and pushed aside by the Climate Reality Project
At that point, I felt done with the Climate Reality Project and the Climate Reality Portland Chapter. I was burned out of putting a tremendous amount of work into organizing meetings and events, plus logging my Acts of Leadership. Yet, I felt no reward.
I put so many hours into Climate Reality’s Pricing Pollution campaign to turn out CCL volunteers and Climate Reality Leaders for the cap and invest rallies in 2019 and 2020 at the Oregon Capitol in Salem. On February 6, 2019, Renew Oregon had a huge rally and lobby day in Salem. Al Gore even sent in a video message endorsing the Clean Energy Jobs Bill.
The next day Sonny Mehta, Field Director for Renew Oregon, called me to say over 700 people turned out for that event at the capitol and he wanted to thank me for all my efforts. Numerous attendees told him they came because they were involved with CCL and the Climate Reality Project. Along with others, I went through long spreadsheets of calling CCL volunteers and Climate Reality Leaders to get them at that rally. With his phone call, Sonny thought that I had played a key role. Whenever I showed up at any Renew Oregon planning meeting, I would always say: ‘I am here as a volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby and the Climate Reality Project.’
I became a liaison between Renew Oregon and CCL and Climate Reality to make sure both of those organizations were fully coordinating with Renew Oregon during the efforts to get the Oregon Legislature to pass the cap and invest bills. Climate Reality looked at Renew Oregon’s efforts to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Bill to advance their Pricing Pollution campaign.
I became interim Chapter Chair of the Portland Climate Reality Chapter in July 2019 to specifically organize Climate Reality events in partnership with other climate groups to pass Renew Oregon’s cap and invest bill. Some of the members of the Leadership Team were lukewarm about these efforts, which created tremendous friction within our Leadership Team. I felt like I received very minimal support from Climate Reality when I was receiving a very hard pushback about this in the fall of 2019.
I came extremely close to resigning as the Chapter Chair in October 2019 because of all the fighting. However, Oregon Senator Michael Dembrow and Representative Karin Power said yes to a big event where I planned to have them speak on January 21, 2020. We needed this event to be a success and to work closely with other groups in the Renew Oregon coalition. The leading climate champions in the Oregon Legislator were Senator Dembrow and Representative Power. They needed to see that the Renew Oregon coalition, including Climate Reality, had their full support as they attempted another very difficult push to pass a cap and invest bill in the 2020 Oregon legislative session. This was a time for concentrated and coordinated action for Oregon Climate Reality Leaders.
In November 2019, I attended the Citizens Climate Lobby Conference and Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. On the day that CCL volunteers had scheduled lobby meetings with Congressional Offices on Capitol Hill, I organized a breakfast meeting of CCL volunteers who are also Climate Reality Leaders to meet with Climate Reality Project staff. We met for a breakfast meeting at a coffee shop located just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. During that meeting, Climate Reality staff person thanked me for leading the chapter. She then told me how sorry she was how I had been treated by some of the Portland Chapter Leadership Team. Those were comforting words that I heard, but that was the minimal support I received from Climate Reality.
Sadly, we have members of our Leadership Team that did not have their own vision for the chapter. They just wanted to attack my vision. However, my vision for the Climate Reality Portland Chapter was aligned with Climate Reality Project’s Pricing Pollution Campaign. Their Pricing Pollution Campaign Toolkit had a picture that included me on Page 20. We needed new Climate Reality Leaders within the Chapter and Leadership Team that could see the big picture and had great team building skills. It was important for me to attend the Climate Reality Trainings in Minneapolis in August 2020 and Las Vegas in March 2020 to try to recruit some new Climate Reality Leaders from the Portland area into the chapter. Or at the very least, I hoped to receive some ideas how we could make our chapter more effective.
Thus, I felt crushed when I received that letter on February 10, 2020. For all I did over the years of being loyal and dedicated to Climate Reality, it did not feel like Climate Reality was supportive to me. No matter how many large events I organized. No matter how many speaking tours I led. No matter how many elected officials I lobbied. No matter what I did to try to guide the Portland Chapter. No matter how many people I helped turn out for rallies to try to pass climate legislation. No matter how many letters to the editor and opinion editorials I wrote to my local newspapers. It did not feel like Climate Reality was there for me anymore.
The part that hurt the most is that they said nothing after the Atlanta Training about the possibility to be a breakout speaker at a future training. It felt like all of that was forgotten. I would have understood if they would have said, ‘We want to go in a different direction with the NOW PRESENTING: THE MASTERING THE PRESENTATION breakout session. Is there any way you could help us with another role instead at the training?’
Part of me would have been thrilled because it took a lot of work to put together these joint presentations for the Climate Reality Trainings. I would have been so honored to be a mentor for the VIPs who attend the trainings, a Master of Ceremonies, or other roles. Even more, I pushed myself so hard to do so many acts of leadership with giving presentations, lobbying elected officials, organizing events, writing letters to the editor, meeting with fellow Climate Reality Leaders, etc. It was my dream to be on the CLIMATE REALITY LEADERS: WHO WE ARE panel that was led by Al Gore or to receive some acknowledge that I was positively contributing to Climate Reality. It just did not seem like no matter how hard I pushed myself or what actions I did that I was going to achieve those things.
My depths of despair and a beginning sense of renewal as a climate organizer and writer
When I resigned as Chapter Chair of Climate Reality in March 2020, it was around the time that the COVID-19 pandemic started. Global and American society went into extreme social isolation to try to contain the spread of the virus. That same month, the 2020 Oregon Legislative session ended with the GOP legislators of both chambers fleeing the state over a week before. That action killed all the legislation scheduled for votes in both chambers, especially Renew Oregon’s cap and invest bill. Just like 2019, the Republicans succeeded in killing climate legislation. After all the work that I and so many others put into that effort, that was a heartbreaking defeat.
The 2020 defeat of Oregon’s cap and invest bill, my disappointment with Climate Reality, and the pandemic triggered a very bad depression for me. For many years before, I received joy and purpose from giving climate change presentations, lobby elected officials, organizing events, and attending meeting. All of that was suspended indefinitely and I felt like I lost my purpose.
Climate Reality decided to cancel all their in-person trainings for 2020, including Las Vegas. That provided no solace for me. It just made me sad. I really loved attending those trainings as a mentor and breakout speaker. I was selected as a mentor for their virtual July 2020 training, but that was it. They did not seem interested in offering me additional roles for their trainings.
Before the pandemic, if I felt like I had suffered a defeat or setback, I would just jump to another project. If I got thrown off the horse, I would just jump back onto another horse and ride away. However, I felt like I could not do that during the pandemic.
The good news is that I did not give up. I started lobbying Oregon Legislators in the summer of 2020 to endorse a bill in Congress, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA). Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) asked their volunteers to meet with grass top leaders such as state legislators to endorse the EICDA. CCL figured that more local endorsements would motivate members of Congress to support the EICDA. Working with other CCL volunteers, I led the efforts to get over 30 Oregon Legislators to endorse the EICDA.
During our meeting in September 2020, Oregon Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell asked if she could introduce a state resolution endorsing the EICDA. Representative Mitchell did not run for re-election. Thus, Senator Michael Dembrow proudly introduced the resolution on the Oregon Senate floor February 4, 2021, when it officially became known as Senate Joint Memorial 5 or SJM 5.
SJM 5 passed the Oregon Senate on April 7th by a vote of 23 to 5, with 6 Republican Senators, half of the Oregon GOP Senate caucus, joined all the Democratic Senators present to vote to support it. Unfortunately, SJM 5 fell short of receiving a floor vote in the Oregon House in June 2021. It was exciting was that 30 House members, including 7 Republicans, signed on to co-sponsor it. The Oregon House has 60 members. Half the chamber was SJM 5 co-sponsors.
Even though SJM 5 fell short from passing in the Oregon Legislature, it was one of my best experiences as a climate organizer. At the same time, I struggled to find a new sense of purpose after that happened. In August 2020, I reached out to Climate Reality Leader and Mentor Jill MacIntyre Witt for her advice for my next steps forward. Jill responded in an email: “I am getting certified to be a wellness coach, focusing on climate action coaching. Would you be willing to participate in my practice coaching sessions (Zoom calls)?”
Jill and I spoke regularly for the next couple of months. In her advice as a wellness coach to me, she urged me to start writing again. I had blogged for over 10 years, but I had completely stopped writing for the previous two years. I was not motivated to write during the pandemic.
Thus, I took Jill’s advice and started writing in the fall of 2021. I began to write a blog which turned into over 82 pages of writing. It looked like a possible book with the title Why I Quit the Climate Movement. However, that title and those writings felt too pessimistic. I set those writings aside in 2022 to work on political campaigns for state legislators.
I focused on trying to elect local Democratic candidates who would protect our democracy. The violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 really scared me that we came close to losing our democracy. Former Vice President Al Gore said it best years ago, ‘In order to fix the climate crisis, we first must fix the democracy crisis.‘
As a climate organizer, I devoted my energy in 2022 to elect local Democratic candidates who would be strong on enacting climate policies and protecting our democracy. However, Robin Riddlebarger, Park Superintendent of Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina sent me an email in May 2022. She asked me if I would speak to a group of crusty park superintendents at their annual conference of North Carolina State Parks Superintendents on November 14, 2022.
I jumped at this opportunity to travel to North Carolina to give a climate change talk to these state park superintendents. I had a great time speaking at this conference on November 14, 2022. It felt like I had my groove back giving an in-person climate change talk for the first time since before the COVID pandemic started in March 2020. It reminded me of the days when I was a very active Climate Reality Leader.
In January 2023, I signed up for a Writing Your Story Continuing Education Class at my local community college. This class really sparked my interest and focus on writing again. I decided to go back to write and blog about my highest and lowest moments as a climate organizer. Like the title of this blog suggests, one of my highlights was the three times Climate Reality invited me to be a co-presenter at three of their Trainings. It was such an honor to co-present in the breakout sessions with Maddie Adkins, Itzel Morales, and Maria Santiago-Valentín.
It was extremely painful to write about my low times as a climate organizer. In this blog, I talked about how incredibly difficult it was to lead the Climate Reality Portland Chapter in the fall of 2019. Even more, it felt very demoralizing for me when Climate Reality stopped inviting me to be a mentor and breakout speaker at their trainings in 2019 and 2020.
Writing about my high and low points as a climate organizer helped me with some much-needed healing. I can now see that I did accomplish a lot as a climate organizer, especially as a Climate Reality Leader. Even more, I had so much fun! It was a grand adventure along the way.
My final thoughts
In 2023, I decided to regularly write and blog to account for the missing chapters of my life’s story. I hope to take these writings and turn it into a memoir to publish as a book. I hope it can be a historical account of what I witnessed in the climate movement. Even more, I hope that the ups and downs of my story can provide helpful lessons for other climate organizers.
To be honest, writing about the low points has been incredibly painful, but cathartic. At the same time, it is a relief to document my peak experiences into writing.
Looking back over my past 13 years as a climate organizer, I am very proud to receive a beautiful award for giving a climate change lecture at my alma mater William Jewell College in October 2018. At the May 2015 Climate Reality Training in Cedar Rapids, I chatted with Al Gore and asked him a vital question of how to respond to his critics. I appeared on national TV Comedy Central’s Tosh.o as The Climate Change Comedian on August 2, 2016. As I wrote this blog, I recalled the occasions where Climate Reality acknowledged all my hard work as a Climate Reality Leader several times over the years.
Finally, I had the honor to be a breakout speaker for three Climate Reality Trainings. For each of those occasions, I co-presented with fantastic Climate Reality Leaders: Maddie Adkins, Itzel Morales, and Maria Santiago-Valentin. Each of them taught be valuable lessons in the joy, confidence, and teamwork in giving a great climate change presentation.
Thank you, Maddie Adkins, Itzel Morales, Maria Santiago-Valentín and Climate Reality Project, for those fantastic opportunities to be a breakout co-presenter at three of your Trainings.
* Correction: In writing this blog, I discovered that quote is misattributed to Maya Angelou. According to the Quote Investigator website (QI), which “records the investigatory work of Garson O’Toole who diligently seeks the truth about quotations.” According to QI, the quote actually originates from “1971 collection titled “Richard Evans’ Quote Book”. The statement was ascribed to Carl W. Buehner who was a high-level official in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”
Brian Ettling April 2023 ©