“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.
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 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 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!