On turning 55 years old, reflections for my climate advocacy

Brian Ettling with his Earth Ball and his brand new suit. Photo taken on April 27, 2023.

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”
– Joseph Campbell from the 1987 book, Joseph Campbell and Power of Myth with Bill Moyers

A birthday is a good day to reflect upon what have I done with my life and where do I want to go from here. Five years ago, I did a blog of life reflection, “On turning 50 years old, reflections for my climate advocacy.

In that blog, I wrote about pivotal years of my birth, age 10, 20, 30, 40 and turning age 50. I then focused on the advice I would give my 40-year-old self, since I grew up hearing my parents and their friends say, “Life begins at 40.”

My advice to my younger self: “Believe in you and keep your eye open for opportunities and people to meet because you will accomplish far more than you can even envision right now.”

I then listed and described my accomplishments, adventures and highlights from the age of 40 years old to 50 years old. I then ended the blog thinking about my own mortality. It is possible I have more yesterdays than tomorrows since it is statistically unlikely that I will reach 100 years old or now even 110 years old. It could happen. I am not fatalistic or pessimistic. I love life, but tomorrow is never guaranteed.

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

I have not accomplished a TED Talk yet, but I hope to do that. However, I am now halfway through that ‘next 10 years.’ I had some fabulous high points and some crushing low points.

Earlier in 2023, I blogged, “For Climate Action, who’ll buy my memories?” That blog was a potential introductory chapter when I eventually write my autobiography or memoir about my life as a climate organizer. My goal is to write a memoir called From Park Ranger to Climate Activist: My peaks and valleys on this Journey. In that blog, I touched upon highlights and low lights from life from the past five years. This blog expands upon my life’s journey of the past five years.

July 2018 – Transitioning from a Tesla Motors employee to a Renew Oregon volunteer

In July 2018, I was in a mid-life crisis. Just nine days before my 50th birthday, I quit my job at Tesla Motors. That job was not a good fit for me. From January to June 2018, I worked at Tesla Energy selling solar panels at nearby Home Depots. As my first sales job in my career, It presented a big challenge for me to sell home solar systems to often skeptical and uninterested Home Depot customers.

This Tesla Energy job felt strange after working 25 years a park ranger in the national parks. People love park rangers. They treated me like a celebrity as a park ranger. I loved my seasonal park ranger job in the Everglades and Crater Lake National Parks, but I stopped working as a park ranger in October 2017. I wanted to organize for climate action. This Tesla sales job allowed me to set my own hours and schedule, enabling me the flexibility to be a climate organizer.

Brian Ettling working for Tesla Energy at a Home Depot in Portland, Oregon on February 18, 2018

On June 12, 2018, I was lobbying Congressional Offices at the U.S. Capitol as part of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) Lobby Day. Suddenly, my iPhone exploded with texts and messages with my job. In the messages, I learned Tesla laid off my supervisor, the advisor manager, their regional boss and 9% of Tesla’s staff, mostly in the Tesla Energy Division.

When I returned to Portland days later, I received the news that my job transferred to Tesla Motors, located just south of downtown Portland. Sadly, the new job felt relentless and demoralizing for me with the long hours, long commute, unsupportive work environment, and stifling work culture. Therefore, I decided to leave that job on July 9, 2018.

That day I resigned from Tesla, my mind was in a fog. I was not sure what to do with my life. The Tesla store was in the south waterfront district just south of downtown. I decided to go to the Powell’s Books downtown store to restore my soul. Powell’s Books is a big landmark, institution, and tourist destination in Oregon. It claims to be “the largest used and new bookstore in the world, occupying an entire city block and housing approximately one million books.” After spending two hours there to cheer myself up after quitting a very stressful job, I walked towards a MAX commuter train stop to take public transit home.

During this walk, I ran into Sonny Mehta, an organizing Field Director for Renew Oregon. I first met Sonny October 22, 2017, two days before I departed Portland to start the 2017 The Oregon Stewardship Tour. In autumn 2017 and 2018, Renew Oregon was in the middle of organizing a campaign to lobby the Oregon Legislature to pass cap and trade legislation in the upcoming 2019 session. When I led The Oregon Stewardship Tour, Oregon CCL leadership wanted me to include information in my talks on Renew Oregon’s cap and trade policy. Thus, I stopped by the Renew Oregon office in downtown Portland just before I left for the 2017 tour. As I chatted with Sonny, he gave me handouts from Renew Oregon to share with Oregonians during my tour.

When I ran into Sonny on July 9, 2018, he asked what I was doing. I shared that I just quit my Tesla job. Sonny and I agreed to meet for coffee in a couple of days. He encouraged me to volunteer for Renew Oregon in their organizing efforts to get the Oregon Legislature to pass a cap-and-trade bill in the 2019 Oregon Legislative session. Looking to do the most effective climate action, I jumped at the opportunity to get involved with Renew Oregon. I soon joined their weekly organizing calls late in July.

July 2018 – My first efforts to fund raise for climate and political action

It took several weeks for me to be fully involved with Renew Oregon’s campaign. A few days before my 50th birthday, I choose to do something new to boost my morale. I posted a birthday fundraiser on Facebook for CCL on July 13th. My initial goal was to raise $200. I actively promoted this fundraiser and encouraged friends and family to contribute.

To my surprise, I blew past that $200 goal within a couple of days. I then set a goal to raise over $1000 by the time of my birthday. By the time of my birthday on July 18th, I raised over $1,137 for CCL. That far surpassed any expectations I had. I discovered a new talent and skill for myself: fundraising. Two years later in the fall of 2020, I co-hosted two virtual fundraising house parties for the campaign for Chris Gorsek for Oregon Senate and Shemia Fagan for Oregon Secretary of State. Those house parties went above expectations for fundraising.

In 2022, I co-hosted a successful fund-raising house party for my Oregon Senator Kayse Jama. From April to September, I was the Outreach Coordinator for the Raz Mason for Oregon Senate Campaign. I co-organized three house parties for her campaign. Furthermore, I encouraged local and national friends and family to contribute to her campaign. I helped raise over $7000 to her campaign. All my efforts for fundraising started with that 2018 fundraiser for CCL.

Around the time of my CCL birthday fundraiser, the Climate Reality Project (CPR) asked my permission to use my image for their fundraising campaign. CRP was originally known as the Alliance for Climate Projection. Al Gore established CRP in 2006 with the proceeds he received from the 2006 documentary film and book, An Inconvenient Truth, plus the prize money he received as the co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. CPR’s mission is “to recruit, train, and mobilize people of all walks of life to work for just climate solutions that speed energy transition worldwide and open the door to a better tomorrow for us all.”

Along with over 850 other climate advocates, I first attended a Climate Reality Project Training led by Al Gore in San Francisco in August 2012. Since then, I was a mentor to help train other Climate Reality Leaders in Chicago, Illinois in 2013, Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 2015, Houston, Texas in August 2016, Denver, Colorado in March 2017, and Bellevue, Washington in June 2017. After I became an active Climate Reality Leader after the 2012 San Francisco training, I frequently promoted CRP as a great organization to get involved with the climate movement.

By July 2018, CRP appreciated my efforts to promote them as I organized for climate action. Thus, I was honored when they selected two Climate Reality Leaders and me as the faces to represent their summer 2018 fundraising campaign.

Photo of Brian Ettling with Crater Lake National Park in the background featured in the July 2018 Climate Reality Project fundraising campaign.

August to November 2018: Actions as a public speaker, canvasser, and volunteer lobbyist

Around the time of that July fundraiser for Climate Reality Project, they invited me to be a breakout speaker for a co-presentation with another Climate Reality Leader for their upcoming training in Los Angeles August 28-30, 2018 . That took time to prepare that presentation and schedule time with the co-presenter Itzel Morales to get our talk ready for the training. Itzel and I gave this breakout session, “Mastering the Presentation” to several hundred people during this Climate Reality Training. We were very pleased how the presentation unfolded and the positive responses we received from fellow Climate Reality Leaders and mentors.

In September and October, I devoted consider time to canvass in Washington state for their 1631 ballot initiative to put a price on carbon. I knocked on many doors of the homes in Vancouver, Washington to urge these residents to vote for this carbon pricing initiative. This ballot measure lost by a vote of 43% to 56%. I was very proud of my efforts to engage with Washington state voters to support this climate action.

In mid-October, I organized a climate change speaking tour across my home state of Missouri. I gave presentations at my alma mater William Jewell College, Missouri University in Columbia, my alma mater Oakville High School, St. Louis University, and teaching a Climate Change 101 continuing education class at St. Louis Community College. It was a very successful tour with the presentations I gave across Missouri. The student newspaper for William Jewell College, The Hilltop Monitor, published an article on October 26, 2018 about my talk on the campus, “Brian Ettling presents the conservative case for a carbon tax at the 2018 Truex Economic Lecture.”

Before the 2018 Missouri climate speaking tour and while I canvassed for the 1631 ballot initiative, I deepened my involvement with Renew Oregon as they ramped up their efforts to urge Oregon Legislators to pass a cap-and-invest bill in the upcoming 2019 Legislative session.

During the summer of 2018, I started reaching out to my Oregon Legislators. In August 2018, fellow CCL volunteer and Climate Reality Leader KB Mercer and I met for coffee with our Democratic nominee for the Oregon Senate, Shemia Fagan. As constituents, we urged her to support the cap-and-invest bill in the upcoming 2019 Oregon Legislative session.

In addition, I wrote letters to my Oregon Representative Diego Hernandez. I met him for the first time on September 25, 2018, on a legislative working day at the Oregon state Capitol. We met for a second time on December 18, 2018 to urge him to support a Renew Oregon cap-and-invest bill. Both of my legislators were strong climate champions and dependable supporters of the legislation, so my meetings with them were positive experiences.

As a side note, I will point out that Shemia Fagan was elected as Oregon Secretary of State in November 2020. She resigned from that position in May 2023 because of ethical violations while serving in that position. In March 2021, Diego Hernandez resigned serving as a Representative from the Oregon Legislature due to multiple accusations of sexual harassment.

In both cases, the professional conduct of these two public servants disappointed me. I thought they took the appropriate position to resign their elected positions because they lost public trust with their ethical violations. Having acknowledged this, I still want to note both of these individuals were very supportive and generous with their time with me when I started lobbying them in 2018 to support the cap-and-invest bills.

Besides lobbying my state legislators, I wrote op-eds for Renew Oregon’s cap and trade bill for Oregon newspapers in the fall of 2018. On September 25, 2018, Klamath Falls Herald and News published a guest opinion that I wrote. “To reduce wildlife smoke, let’s act on climate change.” At that time, I was an active volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Renew Oregon. Thus, it was fun for me to promote CCL’s carbon fee and dividend proposal and Renew Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs Bill in one op-ed.

On October 6, 2018, the Bend Bulletin printed my guest column, “2018 drought and smoke should push us to act on climate change.” My op-eds for the Herald and News and the Bend Bulletin both referenced recent articles about the intense heat and smoked happening in Oregon that summer. In writing those op-eds, I then pivoted to the solution of supporting CCL’s carbon fee and dividend and Renew Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs bill. These op-eds were published just days before I left for my October speaking tour in Missouri.

2018-19: Inviting guest speakers for Climate Reality Portland Chapter Monthly Meetings

On September 17, 2018, around the same time I volunteered with Renew Oregon, I attended the Climate Reality Portland Chapter monthly meeting. I was active with this group since I first moved to Portland in February 2017. At this meeting, I volunteered to be the Program Director recruiting guest speakers for the monthly meetings. For over the next year and four months, I enjoyed booking the local monthly speakers for the chapter meetings.

  • For the October 2018 meeting, my friends Marvin Pemberton and Ken Pitts talked about how they give climate change presentation to the schools in the Portland area.

  • At the November 2018 meeting, I booked Climate Reality Leader Katy Eymann from Bandon, Oregon shared about her latest efforts to stop the proposed Jordan Cove LNG pipeline and Sonny Mehta from Renew Oregon gave an update about the Clean Energy Jobs bill to price carbon pollution in Oregon.

  • For the January 2019 meeting, I asked Lenny Dee, co-founder at Onward Oregon and Just Energy Transition Campaign Co-Coordinator for 350PDX, to share the latest about the Portland Clean Energy Fund and Climate Reality Leader Jane Stackhouse gave a summary on what was happening with Renew Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs Bill.

  • At the February 2019 meeting, I recruited 15-year-old organizers Jeremy Clark and Charlie Abrams to talk about their achievements in climate organizing and my friend Francine Chinitz gave a 10-minute presentation about Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

  • For the March 2019 meeting, I reached out to Charlotte Shuff from the Community Energy Project, to share how her organization helps low-income renters in Portland with weatherization to reducing their utility costs. This also helps them lower their carbon footprint.

  • For the May 2019 meeting, we invited chapter member Kate Gaertner, founder of TripleWin Advisory to present the necessity and opportunity of pursuing deep corporate sustainability measures within business. During the second half of the meeting, I gave a sample Truth in 10 Climate Reality Talk on the problem and solutions to climate change.
Brian Ettling giving a climate change talk at Portland Climate Reality Chapter meeting on May 21, 2019.

Organizing in 2019 to urge Oregon Legislators to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Bill (HB 2020)

For the first half of 2019, I was very involved volunteering to Renew Oregon to urge Oregon legislators to pass a cap and invest bill. It was introduced in the Oregon House as the Clean Energy Jobs Bill or HB 2020 on February 4, 2019.

Just two days after the bill’s introduction, I helped Renew Oregon turn out volunteers and participants for their Lobby Day at the Capitol in Salem on February 6th. Along with other CCL members and Climate Reality Leaders, I called over 160 volunteers across Oregon with CCL and Climate Reality Project to attend this rally and lobby their state legislators to pass HB 2020. Over 700 people attended this rally. The day after the rally, Sonny Mehta called me to thank me for all my efforts. He shared that many people told him that they were there because of CCL. He was blown away by CCL’s involvement and participation in the event.

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 a 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 Legislature 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 looked 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. I felt so numb that a major bill on climate action failed. I had no energy in July 2019. I did not want to get off the couch for weeks. Fortunately, I had other climate actions happening at that time that gave me some hope.

Brian Ettling getting ready to lobby and attending a legislative hearing at the Oregon State Capitol on September 25, 2018.

June 2019 to February 2020: Persuading a Member of Congress to co-sponsor a climate bill

From November 2015 to November 2018, I attended 6 Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) Conferences and Lobby Days in Washington D.C. I participated in numerous CCL lobby meetings with Congressional staff to ask them to support CCL’s preferred policy of a climate bill that included a carbon fee and dividend. On November 27, 2018, a small bipartisan group of House members and U.S. Senators introduced Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA).

This climate bill was first introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL-22), Charlie Crist (D-FL-13), and John K. Delaney (D-MD-06), as well as Republican Reps. Francis Rooney (R-FL-19) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-08), On December 19, 2018, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) introduced bipartisan Senate version.

Those versions of EICDA died when the new session of Congress started on January 3, 2019. However, the House version of the EICDA was re-introduced on January 24, 2019. In the 6 previous times I lobbied with CCL in Washington D.C, I never persuaded the staff of a member of Congress to support or co-sponsor climate legislation.

I only had one face to face meeting with a member of Congress, U.S. Senator Clair McCaskill of Missouri, on November 17, 2016. This meeting happened just 9 days after Donald Trump was elected President. During a morning coffee meeting with her and other constituents, I voiced my concerns about climate change. She retorted, ‘Good luck with anything good happening with climate policies for the next four years.’

This face-to-face meeting did not go well. My hunch was that I would probably have better success persuading Congressional staff to support a climate bill than a member of Congress. If the Congressional staff likes your policy, you may have a powerful ally that can help sway the Representative or Senator to support your position.

This strategy turned out to be successful for me in June 2019 when CCL volunteers and I met with the Washington D.C. Congressional staff of Representative Frederica Wilson, Florida District 24. We had a very productive conversation with her Legislative Correspondent, Devin Wilcox. Devin seemed very supportive of the EICDA. I very distinctly heard Devon say towards the end of the meeting that he felt his boss Rep. Wilson could easily co-sponsor our bill.

The Florida CCL volunteers and Washington D.C. CCL staff stayed in touch with Devin for months afterwards. I reached out to Florida CCL volunteers periodically to make sure they were in contact with Devin regularly. That June 2019 meeting, plus CCL volunteer and staff follow up conversations with Devin led to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson to join with 95 of her U.S. House colleagues to co-sponsor the EICDA on February 24, 2020.

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.

Inviting Kelsey Juliana to speak at our June 2019 Climate Reality Portland Chapter Event

As Program Director for the Portland Climate Reality Project Chapter, I asked the Chapter Leadership Team in the spring of 2019 for suggestions for a speaker for the June 2019 meeting. Someone suggested that we reach out to Kelsey Juliana one of the lead plaintiffs for a Youth vs. Gov court case, officially known as Juliana vs. the United States. Their complaint asserts that the federal government’s affirmative actions cause climate change. Therefore, it violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.

Kelsey is originally from Eugene, Oregon. In June 2019, she was a college student at the University of Oregon in Eugene. She is the oldest of the youth 21 plaintiffs taking on the federal government. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit were represented by the non-profit Our Children’s Trust, located in Eugene, Oregon. Hence, that’s why her name is on the lawsuit. The CBS TV show 60 minutes featured these plaintiffs, including Kelsey Juliana, on their March 3, 2019 broadcast.

I emailed Kelsey at the end of April 2019 and she responded that she would be “be happy to come up and present.”

Our leadership team decided to go big for scheduling this event on June 18, 2019. We secured an event space in northeast Portland, known as Tabor Space. The Sanctuary Room at this venue could hold up to 250 people. One member of our Leadership Team, Jonathan Bailey, was able to persuade the City Club of Portland to help co-sponsor the event. The City Club was a terrific partner helping to split the rental costs of the large room at Tabor Space with us. Everything was falling into place for a fabulous event to happen.

The turnout exceeded our expectations. We estimated over 220 people at this event. We had a professional videographer record the event to Vimeo. The Leadership Team chose me as the MC (or Master of Ceremonies) to give the introductions and announcements during the event.

Overall, the event went fantastic. I was very proud to have participated in it, sent the initial email to invite Kelsey Juliana to the event, and to be the MC for the event. I was honored to get my picture with Kelsey Juliana. The full credit to making this event a success really goes to Amy Hall-Bailey and her husband Jonathan Bailey, as well as Brenna Burke, Deborah Lev, Wally Shriner, Brittany Kimzey, Jane Stackhouse, Steve Holgate, the Portland City Club, and many others. My friend and fellow Climate Reality Leader Ken Pitts took wonderful pictures of the event. It was great to be at the right place at the right time to see this event come together.

We really did appreciate Kelsey Juliana and Our Children’s Trust for their time and participation. Kelsey was an enthusiastic and engaging speaker with the audience.

Brian Ettling with Kelsey Juliana at the Climate Reality Portland Event for her at Tabor Space in Portland, Oregon on June 18, 2019.

Organizing two big climate events in Portland OR in August 2019 and January 2020

In June 2019, Deb Lev, the Chapter Chair of the Portland Climate Reality Chapter, announced to the Leadership Team that she intended to step down. She quickly needed an interim Chair for our Chapter to replace her. I wanted to take the chapter up to the next level so I asked The Leadership Team if I could take on the role. At that time, I served as the Program Manager on the Leadership Team. That role organized the monthly meetings and inviting guest speakers. I would continue as Program Manager, along with performing as the interim 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.

With approval of the Leadership Team, I organized two very successful events. The first was held at a local theater in Milwaukie, OR on September 16, 2019. We filled this theater 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.

At this event, we encouraged folks to fill out post cards to their legislators. We ended up with 50 postcards and 11 letters. Two days later, I took the train to Salem. I delivered the postcards and letters to legislators at their offices at the state Capitol. They just happened to be having a workday in Salem that same day.

Brian Ettling delivering 50 constituent postcards to Oregon Legislators at the state Capitol urging them to support the Clean Energy Jobs Bill. Photo taken on September 18, 2019.

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.

Similar to the Milwaukie event, I had a big stack of postcards and letter filled from the attendees to their Oregon senators and representatives urging the legislators to pass the cap and invest bill during the 2020 legislative session.

Organizing an Oregon legislative resolution for climate action

I did not know it at the time, but this was the last Climate Reality Portland Chapter event or any kind of climate event that I organized. At the end of February 2020, the House and Senate Republicans walked out of the legislative session killing all the bills waiting to be passed that session, including the cap and invest bill. For the second legislative session in a row, Republican legislators used a walk out to deny a 2/3 required quorum to kill a climate bill. It was another kick in the stomach and depressing defeat.

On the bright side, Oregon Governor Kate Brown did not take that bad news lying down. On March 10, 2020, she signed bold climate executive orders aimed to cut Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions. Governor Brown signed her climate executive orders surrounded by youth active in the climate movement. Governor Brown’s office invited climate advocates from around the state to attend, such as Renew Oregon volunteers. Thus, I was part of the group in her office to watch her sign the climate executive orders. That day provided hope and some solace, but the defeats of the cap and invest bills still felt like open wounds.

Brian Ettling (pictured on the far right side) with Oregon climate advocates and Governor Kate Brown when she signed her climate executive orders at her Capitol office on March 10, 2020.

The bright spot of Governor Brown’s executive climate orders soon ended. Within a couple days, by the the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns loomed over everything. All events, meetings, and indoor activities soon cancelled indefinitely. For years, I was very active in the climate movement planning meetings, organizing events, lobbying, attending hearing, etc. All my climate organizing seemed like it fell off a cliff overnight. I was not sure what to do. I was very depressed.

In March 2020, I resigned as the interim Chair and Program Director of the Climate Reality Portland Chapter. I was burned out from the feuding within the Leadership Team over the previous six months. Fortunately, the bad apples within the Leadership Team who caused the strife left, but I then I had no energy or motivation left to lead the chapter after all the battles with them.

At the same time, I found ways to bounce back from the lowest times. During the summer of 2020 while the COVID pandemic was still raging, I met with numerous Oregon legislators by phone and Zoom. I led the efforts with Oregon CCL volunteers for over 30 Oregon legislators to endorse the CCL federal bill, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA). During one of these meetings, 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 on 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.

The worst part of this defeat was Oregon CCL leadership becoming very angry when the OR House Democratic Leadership refused to give SJM 5 a floor vote. After I experienced two dreadful GOP walkouts that defeated the 2019 and 2020 cap and invest bills, I never believed SJM 5 would pass until I saw it with my own eyes. The Oregonian published an opinion editorial (op-ed) from Oregon CCL leadership and I disagreed with the tone. Former Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell advised us not to publish it since it seemed to attack OR House Democratic Leadership.

I pleaded with the Oregonian and Oregon CCL leadership to re-edit the op-ed to be more gracious, but they ignored my input. Oregon CCL leadership then organized a protest at the Capitol that I did not want to participate. It looked pointless. OR House Leadership conveyed to me in a clear message that SJM 5 would not receive a vote. The reactions of the CCL Leadership Team after SJM 5 died left me feeling disenchanted with CCL and the climate movement.

My comeback after the COVID Pandemic setback and defeat of the Oregon resolution

In autumn of 2021, I began writing 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 frightened me that we came close to losing our democracy. Former Vice President 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. Out of nowhere, 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 in November 2022.

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

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.

In August 2022, my South County Toastmasters group, where I was a member from 2011-17, invited me to be a guest speaker. I gave a short climate change talk to them on April 19, 2023, Reaching for Your Dreams, when I traveled to St. Louis to visit with family for over a week.

In June, I traveled to Washington D.C. for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) conference and lobby day. Because of the COVID 19 pandemic, this was first scheduled in-person conference and lobby day since November 2019, about 3 and a half years ago. I had many frustrations with CCL over the years, especially how the SJM 5 resolution ended. Thus, I had a hard time deciding if I wanted to go to Washington D.C. to attend their conference and lobby day.

The key factor that pushed me to register to attend the CCL conference and lobby day was the CNN town hall with Donald Trump on May 10th. It upset me that CNN allowed this twice impeached, indicted, disgraced former president to say a lot of false information with very little real time fact checking. Even worse, the audience cheered with approval when he lied about the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from him. It still seemed like our democracy was under severe threat from Donald Trump and this modern Trumpist movement.

Thus, I chose to lobby with CCL in Washington D.C. for climate action to celebrate our democracy and stress the importance of climate action. Yes, I felt raw how CCL treated me over the years. However, my love for our democracy and passion for climate action was a higher priority for me than my misgivings about CCL. Thus, I bought my airline tickets and registered for the CCL conference and lobby day just a couple of days before the May 21st deadline. I really do try to live my life by the Winston Churchill quote:

“It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”

I was glad I attended this CCL conference and lobby day. It was great to see fellow climate advocates that I had not seen in over three and a half years. Even more, my three lobby meetings on Capitol Hill were productive. The best part was a brief conversation that two other CCL friends from Oregon and I had with Congresswoman Andrea Salinas. We were originally scheduled to have a face-to-face meeting with her. However, on the CCL lobby day, that meeting changed to a staff level meeting when the time of one of her committee meetings changed.

My friend Walt and I spotted her in a Congressional hallway. She recognized us from when we lobbied her on climate during her time as an Oregon legislator. We asked if we could chat with her as she walked briskly to her office. She happily agreed. During this quick chat, I asked her if she would co-sponsor the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA), if it was re-introduced. Rep. Salinas endorsed the EICDA as a state representative in 2020. Even more, she was one of the first legislators to co-sponsor the SJM 5 resolution in 2021. She indicated that it was a possibility co-sponsor the EICDA, but she would want to read the bill first.

Then she was nearly at her office. I wanted to give her time and space to go to her next scheduled commitment. In the rush of everything happening, I asked if we could get a picture with her. She graciously obliged to get a selfie photo on with her along with Oregon CCL friends Walt Mintkeski and Tamara Staton.

Final Thoughts

In 2023, I am focusing my efforts on writing blogs that I hope to eventually turn into a memoir. As I wrote in the opening paragraphs of this blog, my working title for a book is From Park Ranger to Climate Activist: My Peaks and Valleys on this Journey. I hope someone would be interested in reading my life stories as a park ranger to climate organizer.

As I look forward in my life, I hope to turn my blogs on the www.climatechangecomedian.com website into a book or two. I still hope I to do something big in the last five years of my 50s, like giving a TED Talk. For many years, I dreamed of going to grad school to learn how to become a better climate organizer. I still would love to get a dream job as a climate organizer. I don’t have a clue how to do that yet. I hope that path becomes more apparent in the next few years.

Life is a gift. I believe that Joseph Campbell said it best:

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”

I want to use my remaining years, which is hopefully many years, to experience life fully that I can inspire others, hopefully you, to make a difference to reduce the threat of climate change.

Brian Ettling in front of the U.S. Capitol getting ready to lobby Congressional Offices for climate action on June 13, 2023.