Monthly Archives: November 2023

For Climate Action, let’s protect our democracy, Part 3

Brian Ettling working as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park during the summer of 2007.

“When any great moral challenge is ultimately resolved into a binary choice between what is right and what is wrong, the outcome is foreordained because of who we are as human beings.”
– Former Vice President Al Gore
From his 2017 book An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

This is the toughest blog for me to write. In fact, I have devoted the last year to blogging and writing about my life story and blogging for years before that. This was the blog I knew it was vital for me to write, but I dreaded writing this blog. For the past 23 years, I have not felt that environmentalists, climate advocates, progressives and Democratic leaning voters were smart about electing Presidential, state level, and local candidates who would protect our environment, planet, and our democracy.

This is going to be a very painful blog to write, but I feel like I have no choice to share but to share my story. Hopefully, someone can learn from my disappointment and letdown I felt from environmental and climate Democratic voters who allowed awful candidates for President and other elected offices win.

The first post in this blog series, focused on My 1980s childhood in Missouri to witnessing 2000 Presidential Election in Florida. Part 2, focused on my story from 2001 to 2007.

For Part 3, this post is about my life in 2007. I was not focused on politics or Presidential elections. Instead, I achieved the peak life experience of skydiving twice and enjoyed my park ranger interpretation job at Crater Lake while I lost a close friend from that same year.

Part 3: Loss of a friend, Leaving the Everglades, and finding my passion for climate action

My peak experience of skydiving and enjoying a new summer ranger job at Crater Lake

In the summer of 2006, I transferred an entrance station ranger to an interpretative ranger at Crater Lake National Park. After many years of working other jobs there, I felt triumphant leading a lodge talk about the park founder William Gladstone Steel, giving a geology talk, and narrating the boat tours. In late August, I debuted a junior ranger program and an evening campfire program when other rangers left for the season to return to their teaching jobs.

I really stretched my boundaries in 2007 by going tandem skydiving twice. The first time I did it was in the south Florida in April 2007, at a small airport near Everglades National Park. This was a life goal that I have been itching to do for a few years. The Everglades is extremely flat with no hills or mountains. This would be my opportunity to finally get a bird’s eye view of south Florida.

My friend and fellow Everglades ranger, Jackie Dostourian, joined me for moral support that day. She decided that day that she was not going to skydive, and I was fine with that. I was determined to do it. It was great having her at the facility as I was very nervous before this experience, and she immediately saw me after I completed my jump.

This would be a tandem skydive, attached to a professional who does this for a living. After I paid the hefty fee, the other customers and I watched a 20-minute video to prepare for our tandem sky dive. The narrator on the video explained how he designed the tandem skydiving equipment for maximum safety. Oddly, he had a very long hair and beard. His piercing eyes spoke right into the camera and right into you. He was wearing a suit and tie. His hair and beard were so long that they covered up his shirt and suit collars, as well as his tie knot.

The narrator looked like a cult leader, not a businessman selling people on skydiving. I was very nervous to complete this life goal. My mind was committed, but my body thought it was a terrible idea to want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Thus, I was scared this narrator was going to say towards the end of this video, ‘And if you find that you enjoyed your skydive, I hope you will join us to live in our community forever.’

My body was waiting for a message like this on this video so we could go screaming out of there. After watching the video with the others committing themselves to skydiving that day, I met the person I would be attached to for this tandem skydive. He was a friendly guy in a profession where everyone needs to be super chill to relax nervous folks like me. Yet, he was confident and very detail oriented to help relax and calm down nervous folks like me.

For me, getting ready to go skydiving felt the same feeling as going to the dentist. My mind was totally set to do this, but my body wanted no part of it!

Brian Ettling tandem skydiving near Eugene, Oregon in August, 2007.

The weather was a typical Florida partly cloudy day. There were enough clouds rolling in that the professional skydivers had to wait until the last minute to decide if it was safe to jump out of the plane. They made this decision after the plane took off and we were 10,000 feet above the ground. The person making the decision was the lead skydiver, who was attached to me. The door was open on the side of the plane to make the decision. Each time he leaned of the plane to make the final call, I was leaning out of the plane with him. It was freaky looking out 10,000 feet below me with nothing between me and the ground. It’s not natural to be looking down on clouds thousands of feet below me. This was one scariest parts was when he leaned over the side several times to make his final call.

To the joy of my mind and the horror of my body, he determined it was safe for all of us to jump out of the airplane. Before we knew it, I was outside of a perfectly good airplane falling 110 miles per hour. It sounded so damn loud, like driving your car at 110 mph with the windows down. The Everglades looked huge and flat from high up in the sky, not much different than the ground. We just needed to aim for the landing zone, which was right next to Everglades National Park. I did not want to end up in the Everglades with all the alligators, venomous snakes, etc.

The experience was over in just a few minutes. I was thrilled that I accomplished it. It was great that Jackie was there to greet me when it was over to share this experience with her. I called up my parents and sisters that evening to let them know I skydived that day. None of them seemed impressed. My dad remarked, “Don’t ever do that again!”

I always had a rebellious streak in me. After my dad said that, I was determined to do it again.
I decided to do it again in Oregon when I returned to work at Crater Lake for the summer. I found co-workers at Crater Lake who were interested in joining me. We made our reservation to skydive in early August.

For this second time, I wanted to skydive to see the mountains of Oregon from 10,000 feet. This time, I decided to pay extra to have a video made of this skydive and pictures taken to remember this experience. Later on, I uploaded the video to YouTube.

In 2007, along with the skydiving experience, I had a terrific summer as an interpretative ranger at Crater Lake. I worked hard the previous summer to create all my ranger programs. Thus, I could enjoy my free time more in early July knowing that my ranger talks were ready from the previous summer. I just had to review my notes for all these programs. I felt like I improved each time I gave these ranger programs. It was a fabulous summer, but then tragedy struck.

The tragedy of losing my Everglades and Crater Lake mentor, Steve Robinson

In August 2007, we received news that fellow Crater Lake ranger Steve Robinson had pancreatic cancer. It was stage 4 and incurable. I knew Steve since I attended his ranger evening program in Flamingo in Everglades National Park in February 1993. When I returned to Crater Lake National Park for the summer, he narrated the boat tour I traveled on as a passenger in July 1993. I discovered that Steve and his wife Amelia Bruno were seasonal park rangers like me that spent their winters in Flamingo and their summers at Crater Lake.

In the years that followed, I stuck up a friendship with Steve and Amelia. He became a mentor to me how to be a good ranger, human being, and a man. When I worked in Flamingo and Crater Lake, I came to Steve and Amelia’s house to spend hours with Steve to learn his wisdom.

Everglades and Crater Lake National Park Ranger Steve Robinson (1950-2007)

I learned a lot from Steve trying to absorb his wisdom. At that time, I wrote down inspiration quotes from to pin on my bedroom bulletin board. Steve was an optimist who would respond to cynicism, “Just because it has not happened yet does not mean it can never happen.”

Steve was a fourth generation Floridian who had a deep love for the Everglades and natural world. For 25 years, he worked as a seasonal park ranger in Everglades National Park. Steve had the good fortunate to meet the ‘Mother of the Everglades’ Marjory Stoneman Douglas one time when he worked as a ranger. He happened to see her at one of the scenic overlooks in the park and struck up a brief conversation with her when they were both admiring a scenery. Steve loved to quote Marjory and share her stories.

Steve had the gift of connecting with park visitors and people caught up in momentary short term, knee jerk, superficial thinking. One time, Steve told me, “My goal in life is to remove the rocks that other people’s paths.”

One of the pearls of wisdom that Steve gave to me was, “Every single person makes the world every single day.”

Steve and I saw eye to eye that the best way to protect our environment and planet is by speaking out every day. Even more, it was vital to vote in elections for Democratic candidates such as Al Gore who made those issues a top priority. Steve, his wife Amelia, and I were big fans of Al Gore. We watched the election results together and we all had a difficult time processing what happened in Florida.

In August 2007, I assumed I had years to absorb Steve’s knowledge. It shocked me when I learned he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest and aggressive forms of cancer. I visited Steve often in the hospital as his health deteriorated. During my hospital visits, he was too weak and on too many medications to talk. Sadly, Steve passed away on October 1, 2007.

Cover photo from the audio CD of Steve playing music. This CD was put together as a tribute after Steve passed away in October 2007. Watch this YouTube video that is a Life Celebration of Steve Robinson.

I was in a daze for a year after Steve’s death. His mortality made me re-exam my own life.

Steve’s quick passing at the age of 57 years old showed me that tomorrow and a long life is not guaranteed. Steve made the most of his life as a park ranger, musician, husband, father, friend to many, someone who loved all people, and a mentor to me. He loved life and lived everyday like it was a gift to be alive. After Steve’s death, I felt lost no longer having my mentor around. I needed to do something different with my life to overcome the loss and to make the most of my life. I wanted somehow to be beneficial to the world as Steve was when he was alive.

Transitioning away from spending my winters in Everglades National Park 2007-08

In early September, around the same time that my mentor Steve was tragically losing his battle to pancreatic cancer, I received an email from my Everglades City District Supervisor Sue Reece. She told me that she would be happy for me to return to Everglades City for the winter. However, she had an opening for a winter seasonal ranger in the Shark Valley area in Everglades National Park. She thought I could be a good fit to work there. The Supervisor Ranger at Shark Valley at that time, Maria Thomson told Sue,

‘I want a good seasonal interpretative ranger to work at Shark Valley this winter. Someone who cares about the Everglades and can relay that to visitors. Someone like Brian Ettling.’

With Steve’s prospects of recovering from pancreatic cancer looking dim in September 2007, I needed some good news. It was heartwarming to hear that I was needed in Shark Valley. Therefore, I decided to work at that location in Everglades National Park for the winter. I would be narrating the tram tours, giving a short ranger talk, leading bicycle tours, and possibly providing a guided bird walk. This looked like a good opportunity to try a new location in the Everglades. Maria hoped I would work there. I had an opportunity to make a difference there.

When I arrived in Shark Valley in November 2007, it did not feel like a good fit for me. I had a housemate with a very surly personality. I missed my friends in Everglades City and other parts of the park. I felt like I was living in the middle of nowhere off Hwy 41, the Tamaimi Trail. The park housing was just a few miles west of Shark Valley, but it felt very isolating there. I could not sleep at night, and I fell into a very bad depression. I wanted to leave the Everglades, but I did not know where I wanted to go.

In my sleeplessness, depression, and restlessness, I found my life’s purpose. I wanted to carry forth my mentor Steve’s message of protecting our Earth and environment since he could no longer share that vision with others.

I recalled 1998 when I started giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park. Visitors then asked me about this global warming thing. Visitors hate when park rangers tell you, “I don’t know.” Visitors expect park rangers to know everything. Don’t you?

Soon afterwards, I rushed to the nearest Miami bookstore and to the park library to read all I the scientific books I could find on climate change.

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

A photo by Brian Ettling of the wild Flamingos in Everglades National Park. Photo taken in 1999

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

By the winter of 2007-08, I read several books on climate change. Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth and his companion book, as well as the HBO documentary Too Hot Not to Handle, dominated my thoughts. I knew I needed to do something on climate change, but I did not know what. I was very clear though that I would not find the answer by continuing to work winters in the Everglades. It was time for me to move on with my life. By the winter of 2007-08, I was burned out of the south Florida climate, the very flat terrain, and the long cross-country drive to spend the winter in the Everglades. Even worse, as a single man, it seemed like I would not find a wife there.

I said goodbye to the Everglades at the end of April 2008. I decided I would spend my winters in my hometown of St. Louis Missouri to organize for climate action. I had no idea how I was going to do that, but I was excited I found my life’s purpose.

Photo of Brian Ettling taken in St. Louis, MO on March 23, 2010.

End of Part 3 of For Climate Action, let’s protect our democracy

In part 4, of this blog series, I will cover Healing from Grief and Taking climate action in Oregon and Missouri 2009-2016. Stay tuned!

For Climate Action, let’s protect our democracy, Part 2

“We have everything we need to begin solving the climate crisis – save, perhaps political will.
But in America, political will is a renewable resource.”

– Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore from his 2006 book, An Inconvenient Truth

Photo of Brian Ettling taken on November 15, 2023.

This is the toughest blog for me to write. In fact, I have devoted the last year to blogging and writing about my life story and blogging for years before that. This was the blog I knew it was vital for me to write, but I dreaded writing this blog. For the past 23 years, I have not felt that environmentalists, climate advocates, progressives and Democratic leaning voters were smart about electing Presidential, state level, and local candidates who would protect our environment, planet, and our democracy.

This was a very painful blog to write, but I felt like I have no choice to share but to share my story. In the process of writing this blog, I discovered that I wrote so many pages that I am breaking this into an 8-part blog story. Hopefully, someone can learn from my disappointment and letdown I felt from environmental and climate Democratic voters who allowed awful candidates for President and other elected offices win.

The first post in this blog series, focused on my 1980s childhood in Missouri to witnessing 2000 Presidential Election in Florida. This blog, Part 2, focuses on my story from 2001 to 2007.

Part 2: My disgust with President George W. Bush and my thrill with the return of Al Gore

My disillusion with politics after George W. Bush became President over Al Gore in 2001

I know that in the year 2000 no one could foresee what Al Gore would end up doing after the election, as President or as a private citizen. At the same time, we all saw how the George W. Bush Presidency was a total disaster. During his Presidential campaign, he supported putting mandatory limits on carbon-dioxide emissions. Then he flip-flopped soon after he became President. On March 13, 2001, Bush announced he would not regulate carbon dioxide, stated he did not believe in the science of global warming, and affirmed his opposition to the Kyoto protocol, the only international procedure attempting to reduce the threat of global warming.

The climate disinformation efforts by the Bush Administration became a central tenant of the Bush era – and perhaps causing the most long-term damage. Even more, they went out of their way to censor, doctor, and suppress government scientific reports on climate change that hamstrung government action and misled the public. The list is long how the George W. Bush Administration set back climate policy.

Just as outrageous to me was the case that the Bush Administration seemed asleep at the wheel when the 9-11 terrorist attacks happened. A month before the attack, Bush received an intelligence briefing paper called paper titled: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

What was Bush’s answer to Americans how to respond to 9-11? “Go shopping” and “Get down Disney World in Florida.

Led by President George W. Bush, experts drew the conclusion that “After 9/11, the U.S. Got Almost Everything Wrong.

For years afterward, I felt guilty after every time I put gas in my car wondering if my money went to Saudi Arabia and then to finance terrorism there. There were zero attempts by the Bush Administration to try to switch the U.S. to clean energy to deprive oil money flowing to Middle East, which funds terrorism.

Knowing all that I have read about Al Gore and even meeting him, I have a hard time believing that Gore would have responded as awful as George W. Bush did to 9-11. Even more, George W. Bush and Bush administration ignored clear warnings that led to the 2008 housing crash and resulting Great Recession.

As I mentioned in the first post of this blog series, I grew up as a fiscal conservative Republican. George W. Bush was a total failure with exploding annual federal deficits and increasing the federal debt by 57%.

Bush inherited a federal budget that had surpluses for three straight fiscal years (after running deficits for nearly 30 years in a row) and was on course for a surplus in fiscal year 2001. In fact, according the Center on Budget and Policies, “both President Bush’s Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that if the policies in place when President Bush took office remained unchanged, the budget would generate surpluses that would total $5.6 trillion over the next ten years — more than enough to pay off the entire outstanding federal debt held by the public.”

So why did large federal deficits and huge increases in the federal debt occur under President George W. Bush?

“The biggest factors were very large tax cuts and increases in security-related programs (primarily for two wars that were not paid for). The tax cuts and security spending increases cost nearly $3.4 trillion over those eight years and accounted for more than four-fifths of the fiscal deterioration that policy changes caused during that period.”

Oh, in case we forgot, Al Gore received over a half million more votes nationwide for President than George W. Bush, which should have made him the winner of the 2000 Presidential election. Instead, because of Florida tipping the Electoral College for Bush, he got to pick two Supreme Court Justices, John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Along with Donald Trump’s three Conservative Supreme Court picks, this current Supreme Court now tilts far right. As a result, in recent years, they overturned legalized abortion, favored loosening gun protection laws, allows for discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, etc.

I sure wish that the 2000 election Nader voters gave that more thought instead of hiding behind excuses that ‘Gore ran a weak campaign’ or getting easily duped when Nader referred to George W. Bush and Al Gore as “Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”

Not voting and squandering votes on 3rd party candidates in the 2000 election does have consequences that reverberate to this day. This still hurts for me to talk about 23 years later. The 2000 election deeply crushed my spirit.

With my job narrating the boat tours at Flamingo, I found some of the passengers from other states to be downright cruel. Some of them mocked me, ‘Can’t your state vote correctly.’ Or, I heard juvenile jokes about hanging chads. I responded that the same thing could have had in their state if their election results had been extremely close. Even more, it bothered me that we should be counting ballots to make sure that every ballot counts when we have extremely close elections. However, these visitors did not really care about this point I tried to make to them.

Even more, George W. Bush and his campaign were not interested at all in voter recounts to accurately determine who won Florida and the 2000 Presidential election. According to a 2023 CNN article,

“Amid ballot recounts in various challenged counties, the Florida secretary of state certified a 537-vote margin on November 26 for Bush, from 6 million votes cast. Bush strove to stop the recounts as Gore continued to challenge the state’s tallies.”

George W. Bush and his supporters wanted to win at all costs. For the sake of American democracy, they were not interested in holding off declaring victory until there was a completion of recounts to get a more accurate picture of who really won the election. I thought this started a dangerous precedent for American politics to try to win at all costs that Donald Trump and his supporters tried to do in the 2020 election.

After the election of 2000, I lost a lot of faith in the U.S politics, the American people, and American democracy. With thousands of Floridian environmentalists voting for Ralph Nader, the snarky comments I heard from Everglades visitors about the chaos counting the votes in Florida, and how Americans felt indifferent that a man who won the popular vote nationwide, plus possibility that Gore might have won the votes in Florida, left me feeling disgusted with the U.S. I felt very little sense of patriotism after that election.

I spent every day on the boat tours talking about ecology and trying to plant seeds in visitors minds to commit themselves to save the Everglades and our planet. The Florida Nader voters left me feeling less motivated to do this. There were probably many others who felt disheartened like me. Was that really the intention of those Florida Nader voters? Did they really think through the long-term implications of their actions?

President George W. Bush came to Everglades National Park on June 4, 2001. The National Park Service asked me for help to volunteer for this event. I initially said yes. I loved working in the Everglades, and this was a big deal to have the President come to the Everglades. However, the more I thought about it, the more I could not participate. I did not believe Bush won the 2000 election fair and square. I believe he tried to stop the recounts to determine who really won. I did not consider him to be an honorable and trustworthy man. I still don’t to this day. Thus, I choose to protest with a good friend and fellow park employees with many others at a designated free speech area at the park entrance.

President Geore W. Bush visiting Everglades National Park on June 4, 2001.
Image source:

Focusing on my seasonal park ranger jobs and my disappointment with the 2004 election

A year later, I gave up my year-round naturalist guide job in the Everglades where I had full time benefits. I needed a break from trying to inspire visitors to save the Everglades during my boat tour narrations. In addition, in 2001 and early 2002, I volunteered giving ranger talks at the Royal Palm Visitor Center and the Flamingo Visitor Center on the water ecology of the Everglades. Like my boat tour narrations, I hoped to educate and influence them to protect the Everglades, our natural world, and our planet.

In May 2002, I drove away from Flamingo and Everglades National Park unsure if I would return. My friend Amelia Bruno hired me to return to my old summer job entrance station ranger job at Crater Lake National Park. I planned to enjoy the summer there and do lots of hiking. I was unsure what I would do next. It turned out that I was not finished with the Everglades.

In 2002, I had a wonderful summer at Crater Lake. It was a superb summer for me to return because the park was celebrating its centennial. Congress passed a bill establishing the national park and President Theodore Roosevelt signed it into law on May 22, 1902. It was great to make new friends working in the park since I was gone for four years. It was a joy to rediscover all the trails in the park that I enjoyed hiking.

The stressful part was I did not have plans for the winter of 2002-03. I applied to work for the National Park Service in the Everglades that winter at the Flamingo Campground Kiosk, but I did not hear back from the park. I ended up going back to St. Louis to stay with my parents.

I returned to the entrance station ranger job for the summer of 2003. In June, I had a new housemate at Crater Lake, David Grimes. He worked seasonally in other national parks such as Congaree Swamp in South Carolina and Zion in Utah. We became friends. We both applied to work as seasonal interpretation rangers in Everglades National Park for the winter 2003-04.

In late November, I received a phone call from Candice Tinkler, the District Supervisor Ranger at the Everglades City Visitor Center. Someone she hired for the winter declined to work there. She needed to hire a new ranger fast. She saw my name on the list of eligible candidates. Grimes highly recommended me, so she called to offer me an interpretative ranger position for the winter. She needed me to come down fast, within a week if possible. I started throwing my ranger uniforms and other belongs in the car to drive from St. Louis to Everglades City, Florida. I left shortly after Thanksgiving and arrived during the first week in December 2003.

This was my first National Park Service interpretative ranger job. After my four years as a naturalist guide in Flamingo, this new ranger position was an ideal fit for me. I enjoyed narrating the boat tours in Everglades City, leading the canoe trips, and giving ranger talks on the water drainage issues and the Everglades Restoration plan. I liked spending the winter in Everglades City and I ended up spending three more winters there from 2004 to 2007.

Brian Ettling giving a ranger talk in Everglades City in the spring of 2004.

In subsequent winters working in Everglades City, I expanded to do additional ranger programs, such as guided bike tours and an evening program on the birds of the Everglades. I enjoyed my year-round work of summers working as an entrance station ranger at Crater Lake and the winters working as an interpretive ranger in Everglades City.

With Al Gore’s 2000 campaign where he was extremely close to winning the Presidency, I eagerly wondered in 2001 and 2002 if he would run for President. If he ran for President again, I would be tempted to give up my ranger jobs to volunteer or to even see if I could somehow work on his campaign. Leading up to his decision for 2004, I still thought Al Gore was the best potential Presidential candidate for the environment. I really wanted him to run again.

On December 15, 2002, I received the crushing news that Al Gore decided he would not run for President in 2004. Furthermore, he disclosed that he did not expect ever to run for president. I felt deflated by that news. I was in St. Louis living with my parents. I had to go for a very long neighborhood walk to try to process the news and attempt to somehow lift my spirits. I still considered him to be the leading voice in the U.S. for protecting the environment and reducing the threat of global warming. I hoped he would continue to use his voice and platform to make a difference and to influence citizens like me.

As the 2004 Presidential campaign heated up, I was happy that Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean for President. Like Gore, I was impressed with Dean’s ability to appeal to the nation’s “grassroots” elements and his fundraising. After his poor finishes in the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa Caucus, I lost interest in Howard Dean. After John Kerry became the Democratic nominee for President, I supported him for President hoping he could defeat George W. Bush.

On Wednesday, November 4, 2004, I heard on the radio that George W. Bush had officially won the election. I was inside my car, and I could not stop crying. I thought it was a fluke of the electoral college that Bush won the first time in 2000. It shocked me that a majority Americans re-elected him in 2004. With that election, it did not seem like Americans cared about the environment or any long-term damage humans were causing the planet. The election left me feeling numb and so disappointed with the U.S. The election of 2000 still felt like a recent open wound that crushed my spirit further when I heard the outcome of the 2004 election.

I needed some good news that Americans really cared about the environment and the health of our planet. During that time, I focused on my summer ranger entrance station job at Crater Lake and my winter interpretative ranger job in Everglades City.

Brian Ettling leading a ranger led canoe trip in Everglades National Park around 2006.

My excitement seeing Al Gore back in the public spotlight promoting climate action

In May 2006, I saw that maybe America was getting a tad bit more serious about the environment and climate change. I had wrapped up my winter season in Everglades City. I embarked on a cross country drive to my summer job at Crater Lake. Along the way, I decided to visit friends in North Carolina. My friend Dana Ostfeld was getting ready to graduate from Duke University with a master’s degree in environmental management. My friend Sheryl Shultz lived that time not far away in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I had a good visit with these friends. I then went to see the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. I got a motel room to spend the night not far from Asheville. The next day, I had plans to visit and hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

When I turned on the TV for a few minutes that morning to start my day, a documentary on HBO grabbed my attention. It was called Too Hot Not to Handle. The film had video interview clips with climate scientists throughout the program. The message of this documentary was that “Global Warming is the most urgent threat facing humanity today.” I found the film to be mesmerizing. It laid out a stark warning from scientists the threat of climate change and what they think we need to do to solve it. Soon afterwards, I bought my own DVD copy of it online from the HBO store to watch multiple times.

On a random news stand while I traveled across country, I noticed the May 2006 edition Wired magazine with Al Gore on the cover staring right at me. The headline of the magazine news proclaimed, “CLIMATE CRISIS: The Pro-growth, Pro-tech Fight to stop Global Warming.” In the lower right corner of the magazine had a sub-headline, “AL GORE and the Rise of the Neo-Greens.”

In the article, “The Resurrection of Al Gore,” I read something that jumped out at me,

“Al Gore is traveling the globe, delivering a slide show that, by his own estimate, he’s given more than a thousand times over the years. His one-man campaign is chronicled in a new documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which made Gore the unlikely darling of the Sundance Film Festival earlier year and will be released on May 26th by Paramount Classics. He has also written a forthcoming companion volume of the same name, his first book on the subject since the 1992 campaign tome Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit.”

This was suddenly my “must see” movie and book to read for the summer. When I returned to Crater Lake in June 2006, I watched the internet periodically to see when the film would be shown at a theatre in southern Oregon. Finally, An Inconvenient Truth had a showing at a movie theater in Ashland, Oregon in July 2006. I saw the documentary with my girlfriend at the time, Marie Malo. We were speechless afterwards how fantastic the film was. Al Gore was very compelling to watch and even displayed a great sense of humor as the film showed him giving his climate change presentation. The film was sobering about the serious danger of climate change.

As we watched the credits, our hearts were further touched by the Melissa Etheridge theme song. “I Need to Wake Up.”

Like many others who saw An Inconvenient Truth, I wanted to do something, but I was not sure what to do. I did not know of any individuals or organizations working on climate change at that time. The film did give great advice as the credits rolled, such as “Vote for leaders who pledge to solve this crisis. Write to Congress. If they don’t listen, run for Congress.” To further reinforce what I saw and learned in the documentary, I purchased the companion book. Laurie David, the Executive Producer of the HBO documentary Too Hot Not to Handle, was a producer of this film.

When the film came out on DVD that winter, I bought it as soon as it was available. At that time, I was working my winter seasonal ranger job in Everglades City. I never shop at Wal Mart. I despised their business practices how they displaced so many small independent businesses. However, I had so much fun that day walking into Wal Mart to buy this film. I wanted to vote with my dollars that this was a good product that they for sale that day.

An Inconvenient Truth turned out to be a profitable movie for Hollywood. It costs about $1 million to make and made over $50 million during its showing in movie theaters worldwide. That was an unheard of a box office success at that time for a documentary. It turned out that this film was one of the “must see” films for the summer of 2006, not just for me. Years later, I had friends tell me that they got involved in the climate movement after seeing An Inconvenient Truth. In fact, Marshall Saunders, founder of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) – one of the first climate groups I joined back in 2012 and became a volunteer, was motivated to start CCL after seeing the film and attending one of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Trainings in 2007.

I was elated over the buzz An Inconvenient Truth created in 2006 and 2007. On January 25, 2007, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Feature). On Sunday, February 25, 2007, the Everglades City rangers had an Oscar watch TV party. I was ecstatic when An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar for Best Documentary feature. Al Gore came on the stage with the Director Davis Guggenheim and producers Lawrence Bender and Laurie David to accept the award. Guggenheim even allowed time for Al Gore to give a short speech,

“My fellow Americans, people all over the world, we need to solve the climate crisis. It’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue. We have everything we need to get started with the possible exception of the will to act. That’s a renewable resource. Let’s renew it.”

Later at that same Academy Award ceremony, rock musician Melissa Etheridge won the Oscar for Best Original Song for “I need to Wake Up.” Just like Gore, it was great to see her urge the audience of top Hollywood celebrities and a global TV audience of over a billion people to take climate action. She said,

“I have to thank Al Gore for inspiring us, inspiring me, showing that caring about the earth is not Democratic or Republican, it is not red or blue, we are all green.”

The accolades continued later that year when the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore. Their motivation to give the Prize to the IPCC and Al Gore was due to “their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

“According to the Nobel Committee, Gore is probably the single individual who has done most to rouse the public and the governments that action had to be taken to meet the climate challenge. ‘He is,’ in the words of the Committee, ‘the great communicator’.”

With an Oscar winning documentary feature about climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, plus a Nobel Peace Prize. I was happy for him and how he was elevating the issue. At the same time, it was bittersweet because he because he should have elected President in 2000.

At the same time Al Gore made a comeback from his devastating 2000 Presidential loss with the Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar winning documentary about him in 2007, I experienced a bad depression and my own heart-breaking loss.

Brian Ettling in Everglades National Park in December 2006.

End of Part 2 of For Climate Action, let’s protect our democracy

In part 3 of this blog series, I will cover The Loss of a friend, Leaving the Everglades, and Finding my Life’s Mission for Climate Action. Stay tuned!

For Climate Action, let’s protect our democracy, Part 1 

Photo of Brian Ettling taken on November 15, 2023.

‘In order to fix the climate crisis, we need to fix the democracy crisis.’
– Former Vice President Al Gore

This is the toughest blog for me to write. In fact, I have devoted the last year to blogging and writing about my life story and blogging for years before that. This was the blog I knew it was vital for me to write, but I dreaded writing this blog. For the past 23 years, I have not felt that environmentalists, climate advocates, progressives and Democratic leaning voters were smart about electing Presidential, state level, and local candidates who would protect our environment, planet, and our democracy.

This is a very painful blog to write, but I feel like I have no choice to share but to share my story. In the process of writing this blog, I discovered that I wrote so many pages that I am breaking this into an 8-part blog story. Hopefully, someone can learn from my disappointment and letdown I felt from environmental and climate Democratic voters who allowed awful candidates for President and other elected offices win.

Part 1: My 1980s childhood in Missouri to witnessing 2000 Presidential Election in Florida

Growing up in Missouri with the American Dream in the 1970s and 1980s

I grew up in Oakville, Missouri, a suburb in the south part of the St. Louis metropolitan area. My childhood and teen years where in the 1970s into the 1980s. I am old enough to remember the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-1981, when inflation and stagflation was high, and the malaise of the late 1970s. I was a kid in the late 70s and 1980 just happy to ride my bike, play with my Star Wars toys, and enjoy touch football with neighborhood friends. Yet, I remember my parents and other adults feeling somber with the inflation, hostage crisis, the 1980 boycott of the summer Olympics, and the direction of the country.

I was a 12-year-old kid fascinated with the nightly news anchored by Walter Cronkite and the humorous monologues of the Johnny Carson commenting on the times. At the time, it seemed like a positive shift in the country when Ronald Reagan became President. He projected confidence with his sunny disposition and a conservative simplistic governing philosophy that I could understand at that age, ‘government bad, private sector good.’ Reagan was President from when I was in 6th grade until I started college in 1988. Growing up on Reagan, he seemed someone like a grandpa figure for me that felt like he was good for America at that time.

This was the 1980s when capitalism, money, and wealth were overly idealized in the U.S. The popular TV shows in America and our home at that time was Dallas, Dynasty, and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I graduated from high school in 1987. I had no idea what to do with my life, so I took a gap year to travel a bit in the U.S. and work at the neighborhood gas station.

Brian Ettling graduating from Oakville High School, just south of St. Louis, Missouri

During that time, I was enthralled with the move Wall Street and Donald Trump’s book The Art of the Deal. Like Trump, I wanted to be a success in business and be rich. As I became 20 years old, America seemed like the perfect democracy. It was ‘the land of opportunity’ if one just worked hard enough in business and the free enterprise system.

To pursue that dream, I decided I would major in Business Administration when I started my freshman year at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, which is just outside of Kansas City. I enjoyed my business classes. However, I could see that I was too much of a free spirit to spend my entire work career in an office cubicle and trapped inside an office building. I wanted to be outside or at least working close to the great outdoors. While I attended college, a recruiter for A Christian Ministries in the National Parks (ACMNP) convinced me to work a summer job in the national parks. They would find a concession job for me in the parks if I agreed to help lead interdenominational Christian church services on Sundays. At that time, I was very religious, so that seemed like a good deal for me.

Leaving Missouri to work summers at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

I graduated from William Jewell College on May 17, 1992. That evening, I stepped on board an Amtrak train on a three-day train ride to take me from Kansas City to Los Angeles. I then changed trains in Los Angeles to take the very scenic Coast Starlight train from LA to Klamath Falls, Oregon. The train ride was phenomenal to see the Pacific Ocean beaches in Santa Barbara, watch the train weave into the Mediterranean interior climate of San Luis Obispo and then head up towards the Bay Area. We arrived at the Oakland Train station late at night to see the city lights of the East Bay, the sparkling twinkling lights of San Francisco, and the lights of the majestic bridges that span across the wide bay.

I woke up the next morning with the train veering around the massive snowcapped Mt. Shasta. Growing up in the low elevation of the Midwest, I had always dreamed of living close to mountains with snow on top. As the train wheels squealed going around the huge mountain. I felt like I had arrived in my new home. Mt. Shasta was a very welcoming sight for my blurry eyes that did not get much sleep sitting in the train coach seat that night.

A Crater Lake gift store park employee named Kevin picked me up at the Klamath Falls, Oregon train station. As we drove over an hour to get to Crater Lake National Park, I was so anxious to see it that I kept asking Kevin soon after the drive started, ‘Will we see the lake after we go over this next ridge?’ He assured me that we would see it on this drive. I just had to be patient. To make small talk, I asked Kevin about the dumb questions that visitors ask the employees. He said that he had heard that visitors sometimes asked park employees, ‘What time of year do the deer turn into elk?’

I laughed and responded, ‘Ha! That’s funny! How could they ask such a thing?’ Internally, I was thinking: ‘I don’t know a thing about deer or elk or really anything else about the park. I am going to have to learn quickly!’

When I saw Crater Lake for the first time on May 20, 1992, it changed my life. The scenery did not disappoint. Crater Lake was one of the most spectacular sights I saw in my life. The lake was 6 miles across at its widest point with this deep cobalt blue color. The rim mountains that surrounded it were decorated with snow, looking like an amazing cake decoration with the white icing on top. The pine trees where so tall, unlike the much smaller deciduous or leaf producing trees in my home state of Missouri. It was so quiet standing on the rim admiring the lake, except for the very light whistle of the wind and an occasional airplane flying overhead.

Seeing Crater Lake for the first time reminded me of a quote I later read from the founder of Crater Lake National Park, William Gladstone Steel. He saw it for the first time on August 15, 1885. One year afterwards, he wrote:

“Crater Lake is one of the grandest points of interest on earth. Here all the ingenuity of nature seems to have been exerted to the fullest capacity, to build one grand, awe-inspiring temple, within which to live and from which to gaze up on the surrounding world and say: ‘Here would I dwell and live forever. Here would I make my home from choice; the universe is my kingdom, and this is my throne.’”

I loved my summers at Crater Lake. I spent the summers of 1992-94 working in the Crater Lake gift store. Because this was a seasonal job, I had to find a different place to work in the winter.

Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park. Photo taken on November 3, 1992.

Spending my winters working in Everglades National Park, Florida

I had to find another seasonal job for the winter in those months to mark time before returning to Crater Lake for the summer. Fortunately, the peak season for Everglades National Park visitation in Florida was from late November to early April. I arrived at the Flamingo Outpost in Everglades National Park in December 1992. My first job was working in housekeeping. I then transferred to a Front Desk job at the Flamingo Lodge.

Unlike Crater Lake, I was disappointed with my first views of the Everglades. The sawgrass prairie, which made up much of the park, looked as flat as the eye could see. It looked like a Midwest farm field, not at all like the iconic western national parks with towering mountains. The only high features in the Everglades were the lofty clouds that I had to imagine they were as high and dominating as the Rocky Mountains, Cascades or Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges.

My seasonal housing unit looked out into the subtropical Florida Bay, which made up the lower third of Everglades National Park. Numerous mangrove islands dotted the shallow Florida Bay. In the western part of the bay, the water blended into the Gulf of Mexico. As a child growing up in the landlocked St. Louis, Missouri, I dreamed of living close to the ocean to see that horizon line where the ocean met the sky with no land to interfere. Flamingo was probably the cheapest place in Florida to live next to the ocean, even if Florida Bay was considered an estuary, a place where inland freshwater met and mixed with seawater from the ocean.

It felt very tranquil to live by so much water. Surrounding our housing area and Flamingo were subtropical mangrove trees living in the shallow waters and coconut palms stood by the higher solid grounds of the buildings. The Everglades had a fascinating variety of wildlife with alligators, crocodiles, dolphins, manatees, deer, raccoons, and a wide variety of colorful wading birds. November to April is the dry season in the Everglades where it rains occasionally and is most sunny most of the time. The high temperature from December to April is in the upper 70s to lower 80s. South Florida is a fun place to comfortably wear shorts in the depths of winter.

To mark time until I could return to Crater Lake, I made the best out of working winters in the Everglades. I relished exploring all around the park and seeing the unique wildlife I saw, such as alligators, crocodiles, dolphins, manatees, and the wide variety of birds. The canoeing in the Everglades was a fabulous experience. My high point was the overnight canoe trip with friends to Alligator Creek and Florida Bay in February 1993.

Brian Ettling in Everglades National Park, Florida. Photo taken in mid April 1993.

Reading books t deepen my connection with the national parks and the environment

In my first year of working in the national parks, I yearned to read everything about them. I bought picture books and guidebooks on the national parks, hoping to see them all someday. I wanted to learn the history of our national parks, so I purchased at the Crater Lake gift store, Regreening The National Parks. This was a 1992 book by Michael Frome, a conservationist writer and Professor of Environmental Journalism at the Huxley College of Environmental Studies at Western Washington University. In this book, Frome critiqued the over commercialization of the national parks and offers advice on the policies needed to truly protect them.

While working at the front desk of the Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park in January 1998, I had a chance encounter with Michael Frome. I recognized his name while checking him into the hotel. I complimented him on his book, and he appreciated my kind words. When he checked out the next day, he generously signed my copy of his book.

Besides Frome’s book, I read Dr. Tony Campolo’s 1992 book, How to Rescue the Earth Without Saving Nature: A Christian’s Call to Save Creation. At that time, I was a devout Christian with leading ACMNP Sunday church services at the campground amphitheaters at Crater Lake and Everglades National Parks. I felt a calling to save the environment, the national parks, and our planet in a way that honored God. I knew Dr. Campolo as a fantastic public speaker. He spoke twice to William Jewell College when I was a student. He was known as a progressive evangelical Christian theologian. He was a professor of sociology at Eastern College in Pennsylvania.

During my first winter in the Everglades, I figured one of the best ways to learn about it was to read the 1987 book Voice of the River by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the mother of Everglades National Park. She ended up having a big impact on my life when I became a naturalist guide in Flamingo in 1998 and an environmental advocate for the Everglades. Unlike Dr. Tony Campolo, Marjory Stoneman Douglas was not religious at all. She did not seem to have much use for it. She ended her book with a quote that had a huge reverberation within me. She wrote,

“I believe that life should be lived so vividly and so intensely that thoughts of another life, or a longer life, are not necessary.”

Marjory was a huge voice speaking out for the protection of the Everglades and the natural environment. She lived as an outspoken advocate for the Everglades until she died in 1998 at the age of 108 years old. Even though she was an atheist, I thought at that time, ‘If there is a heaven and Marjory is not there, no one deserves to be there.’

I think Tony Campolo would have agreed with me on that point. Both Marjory and Tony loved people and getting to the truth of the matter. I think if they had ever met, they would have really liked each other.

Brian Ettling’s copy of Voice of the River by Marjory Stoneman Douglas. He purchased this book in the Everglades in 1993.

In early 1993, another book that had a massive influence on me was the 1992 book Earth in the Balance by Al Gore. He wrote the book while he as a U.S. Senator from the state of Tennessee. The book came to my attention when he ran for Vice President in 1992 as Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign running mate. The book examined the threat to our planet’s environment from global warming, pollution, and deforestation. I thought that the book was very compelling, well researched, and very insightful how humans were threatening life on our planet and ourselves.

To back up, in November 1992, I supported Ross Perot for President. My thinking was then the federal deficit and debt had greatly increased under President George H.W. Bush. I considered myself to be a fiscal conservative then and I did not find Bush to be an effective leader. At the same time, I was intrigued for years by Al Gore with his strong stands to protect the environment. My older sister shared with me afterwards her favorite moment of the Vice-Presidential Debate between Vice President Dan Quayle, Admiral James Stockdale and Al Gore on October 13, 1992. Forty two minutes into the debate, Dan Quayle attacked Al Gore for supposed statements made in the book. After Quayle finished attacking Al Gore, he responded, ‘Dan, I appreciate that you read my book.’

My older sister said she laughed when she saw that on TV and she noticed laughter from some members in the audience at the debate. Thus, I was curious to Gore’s book. I found it to be a very helpful reference for the global environmental problems happening at that time. I remember thinking, ‘Thank God that Al Gore is our Vice President. After reading his book I became a big admirer of Al Gore. I still considered myself to be a Republican at that time. By 1996, I voted for Bill Clinton to be re-elected as President primarily because Al Gore was his Vice President. To me, Gore seemed to be by far the strongest environmental champion in politics. I eagerly looked forward to supporting and voting for him for President in 2000.

Becoming a Crater Lake park ranger and a naturalist guide in Everglades National Park

I left the Everglades in the middle of April 1993 to return to work at the Crater Lake National Park Gift Store for the summer. I briefly worked at Furnace Creek in Death Valley during the spring of 1994 before working again at the Crater Lake gift store for the summer. The General Manager of the Crater Lake concessionaire talked me into working the night auditor position at the rehabilitated Crater Lake Lodge during the grand re-opening summer of 1995. I quickly discovered that working graveyard shifts was not my cup of tea. I was sleeping during the daytime beauty of Crater Lake.

In 1996, the National Park Service (NPS) hired me to be an Entrance Station ranger at Crater Lake. I wore the ranger uniform with pride as I welcomed visitors to Crater Lake and charged them the $5 entrance fee. I was working in a tiny entrance station booth, which was more like a box. The park entrance road was surrounded by the tall skinny lodgepole pine trees. Except for the stream of vehicle traffic in the summer, it felt like I was working in the woods.

For the summer of 1997, it was soul satisfying to return to this Crater Lake entrance station ranger job. That summer NPS changed the job title to Visitor Use Assistant. I did not care what they called me. I was delighted to spend my summers at Crater Lake. Yet, I found myself drawn to spend my winters working in Everglades National Park.

I skipped two winters, 1993-94 and 1994-95, to spend time with family in St. Louis. I returned to Flamingo in the 1995-96 winter to work as a night auditor at the lodge front desk. I thought I would use my Business Administration college degree to do this accounting job to balance the lodge’s daily receipts. Like my 1995 summer at Crater Lake, I was a glutton for punishment working this overnight job. It was stressful to complete all the office work in time. The computers were finicky and glitchy with no one around to assist if I ran into technical issues. The sleep schedule was brutal and hard on my dating relationship at that time. I vowed to never do that job again.

I skipped working in the Everglades in 1996 to 1997 to visit family in St. Louis. It was good to be home that winter because to be at the hospital hours after my oldest niece and goddaughter, Rachel was born. When I returned to Everglades National Park in November 1997, I worked front desk at the Flamingo Lodge. In early January 1998, a naturalist guide position opened to narrate the boat tours in Flamingo. I applied for the position and started in late January 1998.

Brian Ettling narrating a boat tour in Everglades National Park. Photo taken around 1998-2002.

My admiration for Marjory Stoneman Douglas while working as a naturalist guide

It was great to talk about how and why the Everglades became a national park in 1947. Unlike western national parks which were protected for their dramatic scenery, the Everglades National Park was the first national park in the world protected for its biodiversity. Florida conservationists wanted it protected because of its wide diversity of plants and animals.

I greatly admired “The mother of the Everglades” Marjory Stoneman Douglas who fought many years to protect the Everglades. She wrote the most renowned 1947 book, The Everglades: River of Grass. She opened the book by writing,

“There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth, remote, never wholly known…The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass.”

I shared that quote and others from Marjory Stoneman Douglas during my boat tour narrations. Sadly, She passed away in May 1998 at the age of 108 years old. This happened just months after I became an Everglades naturalist guide. It felt like her torch moved on to me and others in my generation to cherish and protect the Everglades. When possible, I made sure park visitors knew about her during my interactions.

Most of all, this job gave me a great opportunity to talk about the importance of saving the Everglades, our precious environment, and our planet from the harm caused by humans. In most of my programs, I talked about how the Everglades was one of the most threatened national parks in the United States due to over development and over drainage. In December 2000, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed a multi-billion-dollar plan to try to save the Everglades.

I ended most of these narrations with a famous quote incorrectly attributed to Marjory Stoneman Douglas to this day. In fact, a lesser-known Everglades activist named Joe Podgor gave Marjory the iconic quote: “The Everglades is Test. — If We Pass, We May Get to Keep the Planet.”

During those four years that I was a naturalist guide in Flamingo, I did my best to live up to that quote. I gave around 20% of the tips I received from passengers to environmental advocacy groups, such as the National Parks and Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the Florida Sierra Club, the Save Manatees Club, and the Friends of the Everglades, the organization Marjory Stoneman Douglas founded in 1969 to “Preserve, Protect & Restore the Everglades.”

Photo by Brian Ettling of the Everglades “River of Grass” taken in 1993.

Becoming active environmentalist whiling working in Everglades National Park

During my time off from work, I attended monthly meetings of the Miami Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Tropical Audubon Society, located in Miami. After I became a Flamingo naturalist guide in 1998, I read all the articles I could find about what was happening in the Everglades.

I soon discovered that developers, the City of Miami, and even the state of Florida wanted to turn the former Homestead Air Force Base into a commercial airport to deliver products from Latin America, Europe and around the U.S. to the south Florida area. The Hurricane Andrew destroyed Homestead Air Force Base in 1992, leaving a large hole in the local Homestead and south Miami economy.

The outgoing George H.W. Bush Administration, incoming Bill Clinton Administration, and the U.S. Defense Department did not think it was vital to rebuild the Homestead Air Force Base for American security or military training. Instead, local Miami business leaders and many local, state, and federal officials supported building a commercial airport where the Homestead Air Force Base was located. They believed a new commercial airport would grow the economy and provide jobs for Homestead and the surrounding south Miami area.

The problem was that this airport would be located just a few miles between Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. The Everglades was already one of the most threatened national parks in the U.S, if not the world. This was due to over drainage, pollution from Miami, introduction of exotic plants and animals, etc. The last thing that Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park needed was a constant sound and emissions pollution from jet airplanes constantly flying overhead with up to 600 flights a day. I was not a scientist, just a naturalist guide who loved the Everglades. The idea of constant low flying jets over the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks sounded like a terrible idea to me.

In 1999 and 2000, I attended public hearings and meetings about the proposed Homestead Jetport plans. The meetings became very contentious with yelling on both sides. Local environmentalists strongly opposed the jetport. However, business leaders, local businesses, and members of the minority communities who wanted the jobs pushed hard for this airport.

I will never forget one public meeting where arguments broke out. One individual even said, ‘This airport would be under construction right now except for you rich people on Key Biscayne that don’t want it.’

I remember a gasp from the audience that hung in the air after that very blunt statement. A friend and I turned to each other thinking, ‘This airport will eventually lose. Don’t ever piss off rich people. They have lawyers and they know exactly how fight the system for their advantage.’

A final decision to approve the construction for the jetport resided in a federal environmental review by the Clinton Administration. This environmental review final statement would have definite winners and losers. The quandary that this decision was bumping up against the 2000 Presidential election and the end of the Clinton Administration on January 20, 2001. One group of Florida voters would be very happy, and the other side would be very angry with the final decision of the environmental review. In the fall 2000, it seemed very likely that the Presidential race could result in Florida determining the outcome for the Electoral College.

My heartbreak seeing up close Al Gore lose the 2000 Presidential election in Florida

For Democratic Presidential candidate Al Gore and Republican candidate George W. Bush, both of them needed those votes to possibly win Florida and then win the White House. Some south Florida voters wondered, ‘Why won’t Al Gore, ‘Mr. Tree Hugger, pro-environment, anti-global warming candidate’ stop or at least come out publicly to oppose the Homestead airport?’

Great question! The problem for Al Gore was that Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, a key Gore ally in Florida, was a strong supporter of the airport.

Sadly, the Homestead airport ended up costing Al Gore the 2000 Presidential election.

To this day, this is an open wound for me that never healed. In 2000, Florida environmentalists were upset with Al Gore for not publicly making statements against the Homestead airport. From my perspective, he was staying silent until the environmental assessment was complete, so it did not appear he was interfering in the process. Even more, it looked like the Clinton Administration was slow walking the environmental decision until after the election so they would not upset the Gore supporters who strongly advocated for the proposed commercial airport.

On January 16, 2001, four days before the Clinton Administration left office, the Air Force rejected the airport plan as “inappropriate.” By then, the election was over, and Al Gore lost.

In the fall of 2000, I pleaded to no avail with environmentalists in south Florida who were upset with Al Gore to not vote for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. In late October, Nader flew to south Florida and publicly spoke out against the Homestead Airport, criticizing Gore in the process. This was music to the ears of many environmental activists trying to stop the airport.

For the November 3, 2000 Presidential election, Ralph Nader ended up 96,000 votes in Florida. Al Gore lost the state to George W. Bush by 537 votes. In his 2002 book Crashing the Party, Ralph Nader admits on page 276 that the Homestead Airport issue was a ‘”another ‘what-if’ that might have brought Gore the state of Florida and the White House.”

In his June 23, 2002 article, Washington Post writer Michael Grunwald quoted Nathaniel Reed, a prominent South Florida conservationist who served in the Nixon administration, who said the airport issue cost Gore “conservatively, at least 10,000 votes.”

To this day, I still feel raw that the strongest candidate on the environment at that time was abandoned by many Florida environmental voters. Al Gore was the man who wrote the landmark book Earth in the Balance that impacted me to be become an environmental activist. He was a strong advocate for protecting the Everglades. If one read between the lines, you could see that Al Gore was not favor of a Homestead commercial airport.

Al Gore was a visionary for climate action who would be featured in the 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. That film won the Academy Award for the best documentary at the 2007 Oscars ceremony. This is the same man who would go on to co-win the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for his climate advocacy. It’s the same person who would take his proceeds from An Inconvenient Truth to create the Climate Reality Project. That organization led by Al Gore would train thousands of volunteers to become effective climate advocates, including me.

From 2012 to 2019, I attended eight Climate Reality Trainings, seven as a mentor to guide new Climate Reality Leaders. Al Gore led all those trainings, giving up to a 3-hour slide show explaining the problem and solutions to the climate crisis. Plus, he led many of the panel discussions during these trainings. Even more, I met and chatted with him during the 2015 Climate Reality Training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. At each training, I marveled how much he knew about climate change and his passion to make a difference on that issue. These trainings were bittersweet for me to see him in person. Yet, I was angry because he should have elected President in 2000.

Al Gore and Brian Ettling at the Climate Reality Training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 7, 2015.

End of Part I of For Climate Action, let’s protect our democracy

In part 2, of this blog series, I will cover my experience living in the years 2001 to 2007 with my disgust with President George W. Bush and my thrill with the return of Al Gore. Stay tuned!  

Join the climate movement, you might meet the person of your dreams!

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling on their wedding day on November 1, 2015.

“Very few people on earth ever get to say: ‘I am doing, right now, the most important thing I could possibly be doing.’ If you’ll join this fight, that’s what you’ll get to say.”
– Environmental author and activist Bill McKibben speaking about the climate movement.

How would you like have fun getting involved in the climate movement? Heck, you might even meet the person of your dreams. That’s what happened to me!

Since 2008, my life’s mission is to take action to reduce the threat of climate change. From 1992 to 2017, I was a seasonal park ranger in the national parks. I worked in my summers at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon and winters working in Everglades National Park, Florida.

In 1998, I started giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park. Visitors then asked me about this global warming thing. Visitors hate when park rangers tell you, “I don’t know.” Visitors expect park rangers to know everything. Don’t you?

Soon afterwards, I rushed to the nearest Miami bookstore and to the park library to read all I the scientific books I could find on climate change.

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

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

I became so worried about climate change that I quit my winter job in Everglades National Park in 2008. I decided to move back to my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. I had no idea what I was going to do there. However, I knew I had to speak out, write and organize locally to inspire others to take action to reduce the threat of climate change.

Brian Ettling at the Climate Change Exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center on March 25, 2011.

It took me several years to try to figure out what to do. In March 2011, I got a short-term job at the St. Louis Science Center at their temporary climate change exhibit. At that job, I met local businessman Larry Lazar, who was also very worried about climate change. We would regularly meet for coffee early in the mornings to brainstorm. In November 2011, we co-founded the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up (now called Climate Meetup-St. Louis) group to discuss, learn, and take climate action.

At one of the Climate Reality-St. Louis Meet Ups in early 2012, a beautiful slender woman with long blonde hair sat at the bar drinking a birch beer. As one of the founders of the group, I walked up and introduced myself. She was shy and quiet However, she seemed interested to meet me since I was one of the leaders of the group. Her name was Tanya and I asked her how she liked her birch beer soda. She let me try some of her drink. I invited her to a planning meeting for our Meet Up group and she came.

Tanya and I struck up a friendship. I asked her to meet me for coffee to hear one of my climate change talks and she said yes. Thus, we met for coffee at a Starbucks in December 2012 and again in February 2013. I practiced climate change talks for her both times. During the second meeting, I asked her if she would be interested in having dinner and seeing a movie. We ended up eating at a fun local Indian restaurant and seeing the Jennifer Lawrence and Bradly Cooper movie, Silver Linings Playbook.

Right away, there was a wonderful chemistry between us. We started dating in March 2013. She kept coming to my climate change talks around St. Louis. In April 2013, I took the train to see her Little Rock, Arkansas when she performed with the Little Rock Sympathy. One week later, Tanya played the violin for my parents’ 50th Anniversary Party.

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling in Little Rock, Arkansas on April 14, 2013.

Tanya invited me to her parents’ house for dinner in April 2013 so they could meet me. Around that time, I dropped 7 Mentos into 2-liter bottles of diet Coke to make 25-foot fountains to demonstrate how volcanic eruptions work when I was a guest speaker for St. Louis area schools. Tanya has a quirky sense of humor like me. She thought I should bring the Mentos and Coke to demonstrate to her parents in their backyard after dinner. Her parents, Nancy and Rex Couture, didn’t say much about that demonstration in their backyard. They seemed to enjoy it and they liked meeting me.

That summer, Tanya came to visit me at my summer ranger job at Crater Lake National Park. She saw me narrate a trolley tour around Crater Lake. We then went to see Redwoods National Park in northern California. We stayed at a beautiful beachside motel just south of Crescent City just yards from the ocean. It was fun to hike along the beach and along the big trees. She thought it was hilarious how I craned my neck up to look at the Redwoods and remark, “Big Trees!” She then mimicked what I said. When I asked her if we could take a selfie with my digital camera, she had never heard that term. Afterwards, she kept going, “Selfie!” to because the sound of that word sounded so silly.

Through Tanya, I was invited to speak at a climate change event when I returned to St. Louis for the winter that October. In December 2013, her good friend Connie who manages a library in north St. Louis asked me to give a climate change talk at her library. January 2014, Tanya and I started filming goofy videos for YouTube where we promoted ourselves as the “Climate Change Comedian and the Violinist!”

By the summer of 2014, we had so much fun being around each other that each of us was starting to think about marriage. Tanya got a job at the visitor center at Crater Lake for the summers of 2014 and 2015 so we could be together. We had fun driving from Crater Lake to St. Louis in October 2014, briefly stopping for a day to visit Yellowstone National Park. I proposed to her on Christmas Eve, 2014 at Castlewood State Park, located west of St. Louis. My proposal was on one knee at a bench high on a bluff overlooking the Meramec River and a vast Missouri forest.

Throughout 2015, we had so much fun planning our November 1st wedding with Tanya’s mother, Nancy. Tanya and Nancy laughed and approved all my goofy ideas for the wedding. My inflatable Earth Ball that I use for all my climate change talks played a dominant role in the wedding. The minister for our ceremony, Darla Goodrich, talked about our love for the earth and protecting creation from climate change during her homily. Tanya chose to wear a beautiful green dress. The front of our wedding bulletin had an image of the earth.

The day of our wedding was a sunny warm autumn day. We could not have asked for better weather to take our wedding photos outside. Tanya’s mother, Nancy, is originally from Denmark. Nine of her family members flew from Denmark for this wedding. We must have had around 100 people attend our wedding and reception. Nancy gave a fabulous toast at our reception. She welcomed me into the family and stated she admired my climate advocacy.

My best man was Larry Lazar, who I had co-founded the Climate Reality-St. Louis Meetup. Without Larry asking me to co-create this Meet Up, I am not sure if I would have met Tanya. Thus, all the credit goes to him. Larry gave a wonderful toast how Tanya and I met and about all my climate change efforts. During the toast, he invited the reception guests to come to our next meet-up, a screening of the Merchants of Doubt documentary, on Sunday, November 14, 2015.

Surprisingly, two people from the reception came to this event two weeks later. Larry joked during his toast, and I concurred, that people should come because maybe they too might meet the person of their dreams, like Tanya and I did.

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling in front of the Centre Block Parliament Building in Ottawa, Canada on November 27, 2016.

Tanya has been so supportive of all my climate change organizing, public speaking and lobbying over the years. She flew with my mom and I in April 2016 to Los Angeles when the Comedy Central TV show Tosh.o taped an episode with host Daniel Tosh interviewing me. I appeared as “The Climate Change Comedian” and my mom played the comedic role as the overbearing mom. In November 2016, Tanya joined me for a short trip to Ottawa, Canada, when I spoke at the Citizens Climate Lobby Canada Conference. Tanya and I then attended separate lobby meetings with members of the Canadian Parliament to lobby them for climate action.

In October 2018, Tanya joined me for a speaking tour across Missouri. During this trip, I gave climate change talks at my alma mater William Jewell College, the University of Missouri in Columbia MO, St. Louis University, St. Louis Community College, and Oakville High School, where I graduated in 1987. Over the years, I have given over 200 climate change talks in over 12 U.S. states. I could not have done all my climate actions without her.

She is my best friend. We have fun hiking together and just hanging out. Today is our 8th wedding anniversary and we are still very happily married.

In all my climate change talks, I share the story how Tanya and I met. I then say, “If you join the climate movement, you might meet the person of your dreams!”

The audience members always laugh. Some of the older men jokingly respond, “Sign me up!”

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time for you to join the climate movement. You might meet the person of your dreams!

Brian Ettling and Tanya Couture. One month after they were engaged on January 26, 2015.