For Climate Action, say hello to my Little Green Friend

Brian Ettling with his green 2002 Honda Civic. Photo taken on February 19, 2023.

On February 22, 2002, I felt full of nervous anxiety. I was working as naturalist guide narrating the boat tours at the Flamingo Outpost in Everglades National Park, Florida. It was fun to point out the alligators, crocodiles, dolphins, manatees, and variety of wading birds to park visitors on the boat tours. However, I was restless to do something different with my life. Flamingo was in a remote location an hour and a half drive south of Miami, Florida. The scenery was lovely there as this national park outpost looked out into the shallow sea of Florida Bay and the Florida Keys.

Traveling by car was the only way in and out of Flamingo. However, I didn’t have a car. I was almost 32 years old, and I had never owned a car in my life. I dated my previous girlfriend Sheila up until the summer of 2000. We were together when she picked out her brand-new silver Ford Ranger extend cab pickup truck. It was nice vehicle. After we broke up, Sheila let me borrow her truck on weekends so I could do grocery shopping, attend meetings, and meet up with friends. She was very patient and generous allowing me to use her truck over a year and a half, but we both knew I needed my own car.

I knew nothing about buying a car, but I knew I did not want a pickup truck. It was way too much car for me. Many of my park ranger friends had pickup trucks for hauling their gear to seasonal jobs in the national parks. However, I wanted a brand new green small compact manual transmission car that would be fun to drive and give me excellent gas mileage. I looked at Toyota Corollas, Mazda Proteges and even a used green Honda station wagon caught my eye. My parents also offered to chip in $2000 to help me purchase my own car. After many months of looking, a brand-new green stick shift Honda Civic LX caught my eye in early February 2002.

I saw the car at the tiny Key Largo Honda dealership and they let me take it for a test drive. It was a fun zippy car to drive and it fit my personality perfectly. This was the biggest purchase of my life. The weight of the decision stressed me out. I figured out the payment costs and got the car insurance through State Farm. I was ready to make the purchase on February 22nd.

Sheila and her new boyfriend Dave dropped me off at the Honda dealership that morning in Sheila’s silver Ford Ranger truck. I was officially saying goodbye to my grey dependable Ford Pick Up Truck friend that had transported me around for almost 5 years. At the dealership, I made the arrangements and signed the paperwork for me to purchase the vehicle. My stomach was churning because I had not eaten all day. As it became dark, something was wrong. The monthly financing was way too high. The numbers were not adding up like I had calculated in advance. Then, it dawned on me: the dealership sneaked in the extended warranty. I told them twice during the day that I did not want it, but they selectively chose not to listen to me.

I lost my temper and started yelling at the salespeople in the dealership. Fortunately, they were closing the store for the day, so no other customers heard my outbursts. The salespeople kept trying to sell me with their sales tactics why I would want the extended warranty. I was not having it. They let me to go to a back room to compose myself and think it over. I called an expert from Consumer Reports that I just happened to have the phone number. He told me, ‘I am not your dad, but don’t let them twist your arm for the extended warranty.’

I came out of the back room and was emphatic that I did not want the extended warranty. They very meekly took it off my sales contract and did not say another word. It was dark, but everything was set for me to drive the new car back to Flamingo.

It was exciting and scary to have my own car for the first time in my life. The road driving through the Everglades was always very pitch black on a moonless night with no streetlights. However, I felt as free as a bird to not be dependent for others for transportation. I bought a car cover to keep the sun from prematurely fading the shiny green paint job. Green is my favorite color and my dream color for a car. I felt intoxicated every time I went inside breathing in that new car smell. I would take the cover off briefly to show my friends in Flamingo.

At the end of April, I stopped working my job in Flamingo, Florida to spend my summer working as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. I would be returning to work at Crater Lake for the first time in five years. I worked at Crater Lake from 1992 to 1997. However, I never had my own car before when I worked there so this would be a new experience for me. My new car was helping me break free from Flamingo to explore new and old familiar places.

This would be my first of many cross-country drives from Florida to Crater Lake, Oregon and back. Even though I would never work in Flamingo again, I would end up working in other parts of Everglades National Park from 2003 to 2008. In May 2002, during my first cross country drive, I visited my parents in St. Louis, Missouri.

Brian Ettling and his mom Fran Ettling. Photo taken in St. Louis, MO in May 2002.

My dad asked me in advance if he could join me on my cross-country drive from St. Louis to Crater Lake, Oregon. I thought it would be fun to have my dad along for this long drive. He loved driving my car and said it was a very sweet driving car. He admonished me for driving too slow on the interstate highways. I still only drive about 60 to 65 mph to this day to try to save on gas mileage. I always thought it was funny that my dad disapproved of my driving, warning me, ‘If you drive this slow, other cars and trucks are going to push you off the highway!’

My car brought both of us safely to Crater Lake. My green Honda Civic continues to be my friend to this day. It had less than 100 miles on the car when I bought it. Now it has over 316,000 miles. I traveled to see 36 U.S. states in this car, plus Vancouver, British Columbia and Vancouver Island, Canada. This car took me from the Florida Keys to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. From Lancaster, Pennsylvania to see the old, covered bridges and Amish settlements to see the majestic Hearst Castle near San Simeon in southern California.

My car has traveled has high as the Eisenhower Tunnel Pass on I-70, which is about 11,158 feet above sea level in the middle of Colorado to Badwater Basin in Death Valley, California, which is 282 feet below sea level. My car has seen the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico. My car has been up to see Lake Superior in the upper peninsula of Michigan and the brilliant fall colors in Door County, Wisconsin. It has seen the huge Sequoia Trees, Redwood Trees, the meek Joshua Trees in southern California and lots of palm trees in Florida.

My car met all the women I dated in my life: Sheila, Marie, Lesley, Jill and Tanya. It likes Tanya the best! It was my companion in my single years, a place to cry when my heart was broken, and a cramped place to make out in the back seat. It was the vehicle I took Tanya on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014 to Castlewood State Park, Missouri to propose marriage to her on the bluffs overlooking the Meramec River. It was our limo that we drove to and from our wedding on November 1, 2015 in St. Louis.

It was the car that took Tanya and I cross country from St. Louis to Portland, Oregon when we moved permanently here in February 2017, seven years ago. It is now the car Tanya uses 5 days a week to go to and from work. Thus, the best part of my day now is when Tanya pulls up in front of our home at the end of her workday in my green Honda Civic.

The car was in 3 major fender benders in 2004, 2010, and 2021. However, it was fully restored each time and I am now on my 4th front fenders. Except for one time that it broke down because of an overheated thermostat in the middle of Utah in September 2011, my car has always been there for me. I have now owned this car for about 40% of my life and hope to continue to have for months if not years to come.

My Green Honda Civic was there for me when I decided during the winter of 2007-08 while working in Everglades National Park that I wanted to be a climate organizer. One year later, this car was with me when I took the title of The Climate Change Comedian as a dare from a friend in Ashland, Oregon in November 2009.

This was my vehicle when I started spending the winters in my hometown of St. Louis to organize for climate action. It was my mode of transportation in February 2011 when I joined South County Toastmasters to become a better climate change communicator. It was the car I drove when I started working at the temporary Climate Change Exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center in March 2011. This my set of wheels when I co-founded the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet Up group, now known as Climate Meet Up-St. Louis in November 2011.

It was my car when I became a Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteer in May 2012 and organized to co-found the Southern Oregon Chapter of CCL in January 2013. It was my companion to travel across country to network and organize for climate action while giving climate change talks in 12 U.S. states, including speaking at the Grand Canyon in May 2013.. My car was my trusted friend when I traveled over 1,600 miles to 11 cities in 12 days across eastern, central, and southern Oregon to give climate change talks and lead the CCL Oregon Stewardship Tour.

Since my wife and I moved to Portland, Oregon in February 2017, I have frequently used the TriMet public transportation of buses and MAX commuter trains to organize to act on climate and give public presentations. I really tried to lower my carbon emissions and ‘spare the air’ by using TriMet, while lessening the wear and tear on my car with urban car trips. My car seems to have really appreciated that.

My car was a dependable vehicle to transport me when I organized 3 large climate events, one in St. Louis in January 2017, another event in Milwaukie, Oregon in September 2019 and a third event in Portland, Oregon in January 2020. My Civic enabled me to attend town halls to engage with Oregon members of Congress to urge them to pass strong climate legislation.

When I celebrate the anniversary of my car every year on February 22nd on Facebook, friends like to advise me, “When are you going to get an electric vehicle (EV)?”

My wife and I would love to get an EV. Tanya made an appointment so we could test drive a Tesla on December 26, 2015. We get excited whenever we see one when we are driving my car or out on a neighborhood walk. We hope to eventually purchase an EV. Right now, EVs are very expensive. In addition, we live in an apartment, so we don’t know how we would charge an EV from our apartment complex. Hopefully, the problem of charging EVs for those who live in apartments will soon be overcome.

Right now, the cheapest and most cost-effective thing we can do is to maintain my 22-year-old Honda Civic until the prices of EVs decreases and it is more convenient to charge the EV’s battery for apartment renters. We hope to transition straight from my Honda Civic to an EV someday and skip the step of a hybrid vehicle if we help it. However, we might have to get a hybrid vehicle if my car eventually dies sooner rather than later.

Until then, we will keep using this car for Tanya’s commute to work and my political and climate organizing. I have heard for many years that keeping old cars longer can help the environment and more than buying new electric cars. Tanya and I love to use our Civic to travel to our favorite hiking trails in the nearby Columbia River Gorge, to hike up nearby Portland buttes, travel to Mt. Rainier once or twice a year to go hiking, and to occasionally travel to the Oregon Coast to hike and walk along the beach.

My wife is using it for work today, but I hope one of these days you can say hello to my little green friend.

Brian Ettling and his 2002 green Honda Civic. Photo taken on November 20, 2021 around the time his car reached 300,000 miles.