Yes, we have a Climate AND a Democracy Emergency 

Photo of Brian Ettling taken on November 15, 2023.

“I feel a sense of deep connection with people living in climate truth, especially with activists who take risks, put their bodies on the line, rearrange their lives, or otherwise go all-in for the mission. These are my allies, my comrades, my people. Even though we may never meet, we are in this fight together.”
– Dr. Margaret Klein Salamon from her recent book Facing the Climate Emergency.

This is my long-delayed review of Dr. Margaret Klein Salamon’s 2023 second edition of her 2019 book, Facing the Climate Emergency.

My familiarity with Dr. Margaret Klein Salamon

Dr. Salamon is a clinical psychologist turned climate activist who has dedicated her work to helping people to face the truth of the climate emergency and transform their despair into effective action. I first hear of Margaret as the Founder and Director of The Climate Mobilization from 2014-2020. Under her leadership, they advocated an all-hands-on-deck, whole society mobilization to protect humanity and the living world from climate catastrophe.

She is currently the Executive Director of the Climate Emergency Fund, which raises funds for and make grants to the brave activists waking up the public to the climate emergency in the disruptive nonviolent climate movement. Margaret and I have followed each other for years on Facebook and Twitter (X). We have exchanged a few messages in that time.

In November 2011 when I was still spending my winters in St. Louis Missouri, local businessman Larry Lazar and I co-founded and I the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up group in November 2011 (now called Climate Meetup-St. Louis) to organize regular meetings and promote events in the St. Louis area to create more awareness about climate change. Larry invited Margaret to be guest speaker online for our monthly event on November 20, 2014. Her topic was ““The Climate Mobilization: A Practical Approach to a Moral Revolution.” I enjoyed her presentation and became an admirer of her efforts to mobilize for climate action with her background in psychological to urge us to think differently to organize for climate action.

Because of my own focus on climate organizing in 2019, I was not aware when the first edition when her book Facing the Climate Emergency was released. However, I became aware of the second release of the book in 2023. She was interviewed twice in 2023 on one of my favorite podcasts, The Climate Pod, most recently on May 31, 2023 talking about “Why ‘Emergency Mode’ in climate activism is Essential.”

When she announced on Facebook last September about the second edition about her book, it promoted me to purchase an electronic version of the book. I commented to Margaret at that time that “I recently purchased your book. It’s the next book I intend to read.” She replied, “yay thank you! I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions.”

I enjoyed reading her book last October. However, I delayed writing a blog review or giving a response to Margaret because of other writings and projects I worked on last fall and this winter. I still feel like this is an important book. I want to give my feedback to Margaret and others who might potentially read it.

As I side note, I will be referring to Dr. Margaret Klein Salamon for the rest of this blog as Margaret. I am respectful of her title and work as a PhD licensed clinical psychologist. Outside of a brief exchange on Facebook, we do not know each other personally. She has never given me permission to call me by her first name. When I chat with elected leaders, academia, or licensed professionals in person, I call them by their title and last name out of respect. That is, unless they tell me to call them by their first name or were introduced to me by their first name. Even more, there’s a history of racism and sexism of calling someone by their first name to deny a person the dignity of being called by their last name and title. That is not my intent here.

I hope by using her first name I will make Margaret more approachable to the reader. I am very appreciative of all her professional work and climate activism. I want readers to seek out her writings, organizations, and support groups she created. The good news is that I have edit control over this blog since it is on my website. If she or others object to calling me by her first name, I will update this blog post to respect that.

Writer Director Adam McKay writes the Foreword to this book

First, I was impressed that Academy Award® winning writer and director Adam McKay wrote the forward to the second edition. I am a fan of Adam McKay ever since I saw his 2015 film The Big Short. It was about a group of investors who foresaw the housing bubble burst in 2008 that led to the Great Recession. The movie displayed great humor as the characters discovered with terror the flaws and corruption of the mortgage market. McKay received his Oscar® for for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work in the film.

I enjoyed his next film, Vice, released in 2018. Similar to The Big Short, this movie had an effective mix of humor and drama to portray the life of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

As a climate organizer, I was very appreciative of his 2021 film, Don’t Look Up. It was about two scientists trying to persuade the world that a catastrophic comet was coming. It was a deliberate allegory for climate change. This was a movie I had longed Hollywood to make for years to bring attention to the climate crisis. Soon after its release, the film became Netflix’s Second Biggest Film Of All Time. I wrote a blog about this film in January 2022, “As a decades long climate change organizer, I applaud Don’t Look Up film.”

McKay begins the Foreword of this book, “Never have I rooted for a book not to have a second edition more than Margaret Klein Salamon’s Facing the Climate Emergency.” He then wrote, “Never have I rooted for a book not to have a second edition more than Margaret Klein Salamon’s Facing the Climate Emergency.”

Not sure if Margaret could help me with this. However, I have a film idea I want to pitch to McKay for a project using humor to reflect on how the greedy love of money is destroying our society and planet. I just not found a good connection yet to introduce me to Adam. Margaret, can you help me with this?

Screenshot of Brian Ettling’s Kindle copy of Facing the Climate Emergency

The Preface and Introduction to Facing the Climate Emergency

In the Preface, Margaret informs us, “When I wrote the first edition of Facing the Climate Emergency in 2019, the idea that the climate emergency was profoundly affecting our psychology was still a bit marginal. But conditions are changing rapidly.”

In the Introduction, she then expands how climate change has become exponentially worse in recent years. She warns, “We are in pain because our world is dying, and through our passivity, we are responsible for killing it.”

At the same time, she states, “It’s time to find our maturity and our heroism.”

She then proclaims, “this is a self-help book, but its goal is not to make you feel less pain. Its purpose is to make you feel your pain more directly and constructively, to turn it into action that protects humanity and all life.”

Margaret then shares her example of how she came to center her life around facing the climate emergency in 2012. At that time, she was “a clinical psychologist working on a doctorate degree, preparing to enter private practice and start paying off my six-figure student debt. I avoided thinking or reading about the climate because it made me feel terrified and helpless.”

Then Hurricane Sandy impacted her while living in New York. The event shook her to the core as she started learning about climate change causing her to “reassess my life. I realized that It was my responsibility to do everything I could to halt and reverse the coming catastrophe.”

She chose to leave “the field of clinical psychology––which I love––and dove headfirst into activism. Through her activism and networking, she met Ezra Silk. They “founded and built an organization called The Climate Mobilization or TCM.” It was a think tank and an advocacy organization calling for WWII-scale climate mobilization.

Margaret shared, “With the help of an amazing team of volunteer organizers, we mainstreamed the ‘Climate Emergency’ frame by initiating a city-based Climate Emergency declaration…In 2019, use of the term “Climate Emergency” went up 10,000 percent and Oxford declared it Word of the Year.”

From her story, she boldly asserts, “this book will show you how to join our ranks as members of the climate emergency movement… I will help you transform your despair into a collective effort to build power for the movement.”

She then ends the Introduction, “When you face climate truth and let it transform you, you will become heroic, leveraging your talents, energy, and resources in service of protecting humanity and all life. No one is coming to save us, but together, we might be able to save ourselves.”

This message was music to my hears. I often share my story how I discovered climate change working as a park ranger in Everglades National Park in 1998.

The climate has been an emergency for me for decades. 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 really 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.

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

I became so worried about climate change that I quit my winter job in Everglades National Park in 2008. I moved back to my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri in the winters to give speeches and organized about climate change. I joined my local Toastmasters Club in January 2011 to be a better climate change communicator. In March 2011, I found a job at the St. Louis Science Center at their temporary climate change exhibit so I could absorb the scientific information at this exhibit and engage with the museum visitors about climate change.

While working at this climate change exhibit, I met local businessman Larry Lazar. We founded the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up in November 2011. At one of our monthly meetings, Larry invited Margaret to speak, which led me to stay in contact with her on social media.

By 2017, I was so worried about seeing climate change at Crater Lake national park that I quit my summer job to be a year-round climate organizer. Over my 25 years working at Crater Lake National Park, I saw climate change with my own eyes a diminishing annual snowpack and more intense wildfire season in the summer. Even though I gave a climate change evening program as a park ranger at Crater Lake since 2011, I felt I could no longer be the happy park ranger. Climate change was an emergency for me and my life’s mission to take climate action.

Over the past 14 years, as a park ranger, Toastmaster, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteer, and Climate Reality Leader, I have given around 300 climate change talks in 12 U.S. states, Washington, D.C, and Ottawa, Canada. I traveled to Washington D.C. 9 times from 2015 to 2023 to urge Congressional offices to prioritize effective climate legislation. I wrote numerous newspaper op-eds and letters to the editor, participated in radio interviews, organized 3 big events – one in St. Louis and two in Portland, Oregon – attended by 80 to 100 people to empower them to act on climate. I lobbied numerous times to state legislators at the Oregon Capitol in Salem and gave oral testimony supporting state level climate bills over 9 times.

Brian Ettling giving oral testimony to the Oregon Senate Environmental & Natural Resources Committee on February 6, 2020.

Introduction Margaret’s emphasis on dedicating our lives to treating climate change as the emergency that it is certainly piqued my interest to read her book.

Margaret then breaks the book in a five-step guide with the chapters:
Step One: The Climate Truth
Step Two: Welcome Fear, Grief, and Other Painful Feelings
Step Three: Reimagine Your Life Story
Step Four: Enter Emergency Mode
Step Five: Join the Movement and Disrupt Normalcy

Then, her Conclusion: All-In for Life

Step One: The Climate Truth

In Step One: The Climate Truth, Margaret starts with a journalist David Wallace-Wells quote: “It’s worse, much worse, than you think.” She interprets Wallace-Wells’ quote that “it means realizing that many parties are creating an unrealistic optimistic picture of the climate emergency.”

Near the start of the chapter, she frames the climate truth this way, “To respond fully and humanely to the climate emergency, we need only understand the basic concepts of the crisis and its implications, allow ourselves to face and feel the feelings we’re avoiding, and then act.”

She then recounts the misinformation and propaganda of ExxonMobil, David and Charles Koch, the fossil fuel industry and their conservative allies to keep us hooked on fossil energy (oil, coal and natural gas) while they made incredible profits.

Despite the resistance of the entrenched and massive fossil fuel interests, Margaret acknowledged, “In 2022, the Democrats finally passed major climate legislation, known as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), marking a crucial new phase in the fight for real climate action. Independent analysis suggests this bill will, alone, get the United States 40 percent below 2005 emissions by 2030. It is likely to kickstart a clean energy, agriculture, and transport revolution, and the importance of that momentum-building can’t be overstated.”

Margaret credits the “climate emergency activism, Extinction Rebellion, Sunrise Movement, School Strikers, Indigenous water protectors and their many allies and coalition partners who led the way,” otherwise the IRA “would not have been possible.”

She then throws cold water on the IRA, writing “While we recognize and celebrate our successes, we must remain firmly rooted in reality. The bill is wildly insufficient. Because our political system has been captured by big money, this bill didn’t do anything to directly stop or penalize the fossil fuel industry, which is still, suicidally, expanding. It does little for biodiversity or land protection. The bottom line? The IRA won’t be enough on its own to stop the Earth from hitting catastrophic climate tipping points.”

Margaret urges that “We must escalate our resistance. If we don’t, we will soon be living in the Inflation Reduction Act future, where cleaner, cheaper energy, electric cars, and trucks offer a temporarily tolerable lifestyle for the privileged, while electric tanks at the border stop desperate migrants from coming in; where solar- powered air-conditioned indoor farms grow fresh greens and berries for the wealthy, while others choke in dust storms, suffer in heat waves, and starve; and the fossil fuel industry hangs on to wealth and power with increasingly desperate and violent measures. This eco-apartheid has already begun, and we are racing toward total collapse, in which everyone, even the privileged, loses everything.”

Later in the chapter, Margaret discussed sharing her fears about climate and ecological threats in therapy. Her therapist believed she was overreacting. She told Margaret, “You worry a lot about the climate, but you don’t know much about it.” Margaret took on her therapist’s challenge to read the online climate articles and books she had avoided. She read and cited sources in her book that I read years ago, such as Bill McKibben’s Eaarth, Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption, David Wallace-Wells’ 2017 New York magazine article, “The Uninhabitable Earth.”

As Margaret gained knowledge about the dangerous extent of the climate crisis, it did not immobilize her. It energized her. She reflected, “Once I began to acknowledge the climate’s comprehensive impact, I was able to free myself to fully feel the fear and pain that I had been repressing. It felt like the world was collapsing in on me. But it also felt deeply liberating. I was finally confronting the grief, apocalyptic fear, anger, and guilt that I had been working so hard to deny. Rather than relegating them to the corner of my consciousness, where they continued to nag at me, I put those feelings front and center, treating them—and myself—with compassion.”

Margaret affirms, “Telling the truth about the climate, and treating the climate crisis like the emergency it is, is highly contagious.”

She then gives examples of how “Americans as a nation entered into emergency mode before. She pointed to World War II as the prime example. At the other extreme, the 2020 COVID pandemic was a heart breaking example, “In the United States, low levels of social trust, the lack of public health infrastructure, the failure of leadership from the CDC, and the cynical exploitation of the crisis by the Trump administration and its allies held us back from fully entering emergency mode and undertaking transformative projects, such as installing high-grade ventilation systems in buildings and air-quality monitors in every public space.”

Margaret then cited the historical events as the U.S. Civil Rights movement and the 1980s Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia building in the 1970s and 80s as examples of societal emergency mobilizations where we can learn and receive inspiration.

She ends the chapter on this note, “Thankfully there is a robust movement that is committed to telling the truth, disrupting normalcy, and building power. I call it the climate emergency movement. This movement demands what science and morality tell us are necessary—absolutely no more expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, instead we need a race to zero emissions that takes ten years or less, plus drawdown and massive ecological restoration. The climate emergency movement is dedicated to disrupting normalcy because normalcy threatens us all.“

Step Two: Welcome Fear, Grief, and Other Painful Feelings

In order to face the climate emergency, Margaret begins the chapter by encouraging us to “learn to feel your feelings.” She concedes that it is “one of the hardest things for humans to do, especially in an alienated society like ours.”

She observes, “Psychoanalysis provides critical insights and tools regarding how to face climate truth, emotionally as well as intellectually. Margaret wishes, “Everyone in the world could access high-quality, emotionally supportive therapy. It can help virtually every problem…For me, therapy has helped in every area––and almost every stage––of my life.”

She spends several pages promoting the idea of seeking professional therapy to be effective and balanced to face the climate emergency. She writes, “Think of therapy as hiring a personal trainer––one that helps you prepare for the marathon of life.”

With her background as a clinical psychologist and her experience of participating in therapy, Margaret invites us to fully feel our fears, grief, pain, and recommends “you try to get comfortable with crying.”

I want to disclose that I took Margaret’s advice to heart. At the end of 2023, I was feeling depressed with a lack of direction for my life. For my New Year’s Resolution, I contacted my health insurance, and I did receive 6 free sessions with a professionally licensed therapist. I found it to be very beneficial. My therapist gave me tools for understanding cognitive distortions that arise internally, recognizing the cognitive triangle where we get trapped in negative and distorted thoughts, and learning the Fair Fighting Rules when engaging with our life partners, family, and friends. I did feel like each session was building back up my self-esteem, self-confidence, and allowing me to think more rationally.

Sadly, I did not have time to assess with my insurance how to continue with my therapy. I became busy with my climate organizing in February. It was a hectic month with lobbying with the Oregon Legislature in session and I participated in candidate interviews with the Oregon League of Conservation Voters Multnomah County Endorsement Team. I hope to continue with more professional therapy soon when my schedule seems to slow down a bit.

Brian Ettling at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on February 22, 2024.

Over the past 14 years, I found my climate activism can be psychologically rough with personal guilt over not doing enough to reduce the threat of climate change, jealousy from fellow activists within the climate movement, fellow advocates and organizations ignoring or belittling my ideas for climate action, climate organizations acting in a bureaucratic way that is unsupportive and dismissive of my input and involvement, and my heartbreak of not getting paid jobs within the climate movement. I knew I needed professional counseling for years. This book and Margaret’s advice in the Step Two chapter motivated me to seek therapy at the start of 2024.

Step Three: Reimagine Your Life Story

Margaret kicked off this chapter 3 with the words, “In the context of the ecological emergency, we must each revise our story of self. In this new story, you are the hero. This designation might feel over the top. It might make you uncomfortable. But it’s true: Humanity needs as many heroes as it can get—people who put the mission over their self-interest, people who realize that the mission is their self-interest.”

She shared her family background, growing up “hearing about the Holocaust from my grandmother. Whenever we spoke, whether on a visit, on the phone, or on a family trip, she talked almost exclusively about the Holocaust. She saw everything through its life-altering lens. She carried with her a deep and abiding feeling of betrayal—not just the betrayal she experienced by the Nazis, but the betrayal she experienced by ordinary Germans like her schoolteacher, who refused to acknowledge her on the street after my grandmother was kicked out of school. Hearing these stories at every visit instilled a visceral understanding of the adage that, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” (her emphasis)

Margaret went on to say, “I know in my bones that terrible things happen. My grandmother told me this over and over, but only by experiencing it myself did I internalize the message: Unexpected catastrophes happen, and we are all vulnerable to them. If we have a chance at preventing them, we must.”

I appreciated Margaret opening up about her family story as well as her high school boy friend’s tragic death. Margaret confided, “During his psychosis, however, I received little of this support—people didn’t want to talk about what was happening to him. They felt uncomfortable. They didn’t know what to say, and wanted to hope everything would.”

I appreciated Margaret’s openness sharing about her life experiences as she informs us, “your challenges and most painful moments have also prepared you for this work.”

I found her story and the other ideas she gave in this chapter as motivating that we can take on this climate emergency.

Step Four: Enter Emergency Mode

Margaret launches this chapter with this quote, “We can rapidly transform our economy and society to beat back a global catastrophe––I know because we’ve done it before. But to solve an emergency like the climate crisis, we must collectively and immediately exit “normal mode” and abandon the gradual policy advocacies and enervated emotional states that accompany it. We need a collective awakening on the scale to our response to a national attack.”

She points to a personal achievement from switching from “normal mode” to emergency mode when “Ezra (Silk) and I had the honor of working with Congresswoman Ocascio-Cortez and Congressman Earl Blumenauer on a national Declaration of Climate Emergency into Congress, introduced in 2019, which would put the House and Senate officially on record acknowledging the existence of a climate emergency and calling for a massive-scale national mobilization that phases out oil, coal, and gas and reverses climate change at emergency speed.”

It was exciting to read this because I live in Portland, Oregon and Earl Blumenauer is my Congressman. I attended his public rally for his Climate Emergency Resolution in July 2019. I chatted with Rep. Blumenauer at this event and got my photo with him. I appreciated that he put climate action as a high priority during his work as in Congress to elevate it as an emergency. It was thrilling to read that Representative Blumenauer worked with Ezra Silk, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocascio-Cortez, and Margaret Klein Salamon on this Climate Emergency Resolution. It is a small world, especially in the climate advocacy space to this day.

Brian Ettling and Congressman Earl Blumenauer in Portland, Oregon at the rollout of his Climate Emergency Resolution on July 14, 2019.

Margaret stakes the position in this chapter for climate advocates to truly treat the climate crisis like the emergency that it is. She affirms that “It is time for each of us to break the silence about the climate emergency––to tell the truth, loudly, and all the time. Talk about climate is the one mode of engagement that I recommend to everyone.”

She cites studies from the Yale Program on Climate Communication, which has been influential on me over the years as a climate communicator, that “only 9 percent of Americans hear people talk about climate change at least once a week, and only about 15 percent once a month. Yet, the same study found that 35 percent of Americans are ‘very worried’ about the climate.”

Margaret talked the talk on this by creating Climate Emotions Conversations during the COVID lockdown of 2020. She describes it as “a free virtual platform where you participate in a guided video call with a small group of others. You take turns sharing and listening to each other’s climate feelings.”

At the very least, she advocates us to have online conversations to “talk about the climate emergency and the need for mobilization on social media and, depending on your access, on email lists, blogs, or in mainstream publications.”

Climate action starts with regularly talking about it. However, Margaret wants us to step up our game for the climate emergency to be more effective. She states,

“It is irresponsible to say, for example, ‘Just do something on climate,’ and then praise any action or campaign under that banner. That’s the nice and polite approach, and it won’t anger anyone. But it’s not what we need. We have a moral and strategic obligation to rigorously and relentlessly improve––to grow our power, efficacy, and impact. While the climate emergency is accelerating, we can’t settle for ‘pretty good’ because, as Bill McKibben says, ‘Winning slowly is the same as losing.’”

Because I have been very alarmed about climate change for decades, I get what she is saying. For the past 14 years, I aimed to talk about climate change every day with friends, on social media, and by giving over 300 climate change talks in my community and in 12 U.S. states. I lobbied Congressional offices in Washington D.C. numerous times, written newspaper op-eds, given several radio interviews, organized three large events, led 3 state speaking tours: two in my home state of Missouri in 2017 & 2018 and one in Oregon in 2017, gave oral testimony to Oregon Legislative committees several times, etc. I even was interviewed on national TV, Comedy Central’s Tosh.o on an episode that first aired on August 2, 2016 trying to use comedy to elevate the issue of climate change.

TV Host Daniel Tosh and Brian Ettling. Photo taken on April 13, 2016.

Anyone who knows me, knows that climate is an emergency. Like Margaret, I wish that more people considered climate an emergency.

I am on the same wavelength as Margaret when she wrote in Step Two of this book about many people in her life who don’t feel that climate change is an emergency. She reflected,

“Although some people feel visceral anger at oil company executives or GOP politicians, I guess I expect that evil people do evil things. I agree they have committed crimes against humanity and should be tried at the International Court of Justice. I feel angrier with people I know—and often people I love—for failing to protect me and all life. I feel betrayed by my family members who voted for Trump. But also betrayed and abandoned by family members who support my climate activism as ‘my thing,’ but don’t recognize that it needs to be ‘their thing,’ too.”

I hope that Margaret and I can chat more at some point how she, I, and others can exchange ideas how we can best act in this climate emergency. Specifically, how we can elevate climate awareness so that more people, including friends and family, will join us in taking action to elevate the threat of this climate emergency. I will have more thoughts on this later.

STEP FIVE: Join the Movement and Disrupt Normalcy

Margaret commences this chapter to rally her readers to join her in the climate emergency movement, she writes, “Are you ready? Have you faced climate truth and mourned your losses? Are you building emotional muscle––confronting your defenses and experiencing fear and other uncomfortable feelings?…Are you convinced that nothing matters more than solving the climate catastrophe? If so, welcome to the team––climate emergency movement.”

She lets us know that “I sleep soundly, as I have come to the conclusion that sustained escalating disruptive action is the fastest, most effective route to transformative change.”

Her climate movement experience led her to believe, “That is why Climate Emergency Fund exclusively funds groups who take part in disruptive protest––because we believe it is the fastest way to create transformative change. But social and science and history lead to this conclusion.”

She gives the example of 2016 Standing Rock protests “where the Indigenous Water Protectors showed the country what heroism looks like…Congresswoman (Alexandria) Ocascio-Cortez who has championed the Green New Deal and the Climate Emergency frameworks in Congress, cites her time at Standing Rock as critical to her decision to run for Congress.”

For me, I have not felt a calling to do disruptive protests. It is not my cup of tea. Even more, I had Congressional staff tell me that they ignore the disruptive protests, especially from climate and progressive groups, outside of the Washington D.C. Congressional office buildings since those protests are so common. I get fulfillment in the climate movement by lobbying, engaging with my elected officials, organizing community events, supporting strong climate champions running for office, public speaking, writing newspaper op-eds and letters to the editor, etc. I would rather be on the inside “in the room where it happens” than on the outside protesting.

Margaret addresses the lack of enthusiasm with disruptive protests for climate organizers like me with this response, “If you, like me, have trouble imagining yourself directly participating in a disruptive protest, getting arrested, or going to jail, that’s okay. There are so many support roles that need to be filled, so many ways to use your skills and inclinations in support of the disruptive climate movement. Just don’t confuse personal discomfort for strategic evaluation, something I see happen all to often. Nonviolent civil resistance is our best hope.”

She documents the effectiveness of effective protests: “Analyzing the effects of activist movements leading up to recent US climate legislation, researchers at Giving Green calculate that, when political conditions are right, in the United States every ‘dollar spent on activism could remove more than 6 metric tons of CO2e’ (CO2 equivalent) through galvanizing policy change, like the Inflation Reduction Act.”

She adds: “Climate Emergency Fund’s strategy is informed by history. In This Is an Uprising, Paul and Mark Engler lay out the history, theory, and shocking efficacy of social movements.”

Margaret then spotlights of the some of the most effective nonviolent protests in history:

“While violent conflict seems to be a sad part of the human endowment, the ability to wage nonviolent conflict appears to be a core human capacity, as well. The Roman commoner uprising is one of over 1,200 nonviolent campaigns occurring across thousands of years and around the globe, catalogued in Swarthmore’s Nonviolent Direct Action (NVDA) Database. Examples ranger from the Indian independence struggle to the American abolitionists, the suffragettes to the campaign for Indigenous Guatemalans led for rights, to the successful student-led campaign at Harvard to organize a workers union.”

In addition, she points out, “Nonviolence is a strategic imperative for movements, not just a moral one. Movement scholars like Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephen (2012) have found that nonviolent movements to overthrow authoritarian governments are more than twice as likely to succeed as violent movements.”

As the chapter draws to a close, Margaret asks 4 questions to consider how you can most help the climate emergency movement:
o Your body: What risks are you willing to take?
o Your time: How many hours can you give the movement?
o Your skills: What special skills can you offer the movement?
o Your wallet: Are you willing to give away money or fundraise?

Margaret urges her readers to consider fundraising for social change. Two years ago, I worked on the 2022 political campaign for Raz Mason. She ran as the Democratic candidate for the Oregon Senate in a purplish district in Oregon. I knew Raz as a fellow Climate Reality Leader who was running for office to prioritize enacting strong climate legislation. Raz did not win her campaign. However, I had fond memories of organizing fundraising house parties for her. It was empowering to call fellow Climate Reality Leaders and climate friends across the country to raise thousands of dollars for her campaign.

I can attest that fundraising for a political campaign helped me feel like I made a difference. My wife and my mother saw that I had a skill in fundraising. For the best candidate, organization, or cause, I hope to do more fundraising in the future. Thus, I hope more climate advocates would consider fundraising as a valuable endeavor.

Margaret makes a good point that “Core full-time movement staff doesn’t need to be paid a market rate––but they do need a living wage. Then there are other expenses, office space, travel, and printing, to name a few. Simply put, organizations need money!”

Conclusion: All-In For Life

As she concludes the book, I thought Margaret had some inspiring words to get involved in the climate emergency movement.

First, “However (if) you get involved, this path is richly rewarding. You will feel lit up and renewed by the mission. You will be awed by the immensity and beauty of all life. You will be grateful and proud to be in its service. You will have and you will feel connection and belonging with your fellow activists, protectors of humanity and the natural world.”

From my life, I know I am most proud of my accomplishment in the climate movement. People I encounter still think of me as ‘Park Ranger Brian’ since I worked as a seasonal park ranger for 25 years at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon and Everglades National Park, Florida. Even though, I stopped working as a park ranger in 2017, seven years ago, I still encounter friends, even in the climate movement who think of me as a park ranger. I am fine what that.

I am most proud though of my achievements as a climate organizer over the past 14 years. I had all my successes over the age of 40 years old as a climate organizer. When I turned 40 in 2008, I had no idea where this path would take me to act on climate. It’s hard to overshadow people’s perception of me as a park ranger. However, I hope to be remembered for my public speaking and climate presentations, writings, organizing events, radio interviews, and appearing on national TV as the “Climate Change Comedian.”

Brian Ettling on April 27, 2023

I would add to what Margaret writes that getting involved in the climate movement will led to connecting with amazing friends, going to places you might not expect, interacting with people you never thought you would meet (I had a peak experience briefly chatting with Al Gore), and accomplishing actions you never thought you could do (I once successfully persuaded a member of Congress to sponsor climate legislation).

I love the quote by Bill McKibben that Margaret would probably agree: “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.”

Second, like any good gymnast or write, I thought Margaret nailed the ending: “It is not a given that we will successfully transform, that this movement will win with enough time to avert civilization’s collapse, but it is our only hope. We must join together to do everything we can to initiate emergency mobilization as quickly as possible. We must turn our pain into action and take personal responsibility for protecting humanity and the living world. We must take our rightful place in the disruptive climate movement. We must become heroes. Onward!”

Well said, Margaret Klein Salamon!

My Criticism of Facing the Climate Emergency

While I found much to admire about Facing the Climate Emergency, I have several criticisms of the book from my own perspective as a climate organizer and 14 years in the climate movement. In the book, Margaret wrote about the importance of being critical of ourselves as climate advocates. She stated,

“The element of rigorously criticizing ourselves is also critical. This is not about meanness, masochism, or purity politics but rather about continual improvement in efficacy and strategy. The ability to self-assess, as an individual and an organization, contains tremendous power. It is not enough to “do something” in the face of the climate emergency. We have to rigorously and continuously ask ourselves, What can I do better? How can I have the greatest impact? And, What can our group do better? How can we have the greatest impact? These are touchy questions. No one likes to have their action, plan, or idea criticized––I know I don’t. But if we are in the movement mentality, we put the success of the movement above our ego. This is an emergency! This is a race against time! We have to ask tough questions.”

Thus, I read items in the book where I did not agree or have a much different perspective.

Margaret’s thoughts on “Fear of Fear,” and Dr. Michael Mann

In Step One (the first chapter), Margaret penned, “In 2017, when (David) Wallace-Wells published his wildly popular article on the possible worst-case scenarios of the climate crisis, he was reprimanded from within the climate movement and called a “doomist.” World-famous climate scientist Michael Mann wrote in response, “fear does not motivate, and appealing to it is often counterproductive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt, and even dismiss it.”

I thought that she overly relied on Wallace-Wells for trying to make her case that we are living in a climate emergency. Margaret acknowledged that Wallace-Wells was “reprimanded from within the climate movement and called a ‘doomist’” for his 2017 New York article. When I read the article then to see what the buzz was about, I found the article to be a bit over the top and very bleak. It was well written account of the worst possible outcome if we don’t address climate change. However, I found it to be alarmist and uninspiring. It did not really connect with me.

From my background as a park ranger and climate change communicator who has given around 300 climate change talks, I have not seen from personal experience that fear is a motivating factor. In fact, when I spoke too starkly about environmental damage and severe consequences of climate change, I would see my audiences stare at their shoes, get very quiet, and sink lower in their chairs. Reading the room, I could see them start to disengage from my talk.

When I started giving ranger talks in 1998, I noticed two things very quickly. First, national park visitors expected park rangers to know everything. Visitors hate it when park rangers say, “I don’t know.” They were asking me about climate change as far back as when I started giving ranger talks in 1998. At that time, I knew nothing about global warming, but I had to study up on it quickly. Which book did I read first? Laboratory Earth: The Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose by climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider of Stanford University.

To this day, Stephen Schneider is one of the best scientific communicators about climate change. He had a compelling way of speaking where he would mix in a tad of humor, very clear analogies, fascinating stories, and a straight up view of the science. Tragically, he passed away in 2010. He once remarked that “the end of the world” and “good for you” are the two “lowest probability outcomes.” The truth, he strongly believed, was somewhere between those extremes. As Schneider liked to say, “The truth is bad enough.”

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

Park visitors wanted my ranger talks to be truthful, grounded in science, and they would call me out if they thought I was bullshitting them. Even more, occasionally I had scientists on my tours who were on vacation, and they would let me know when I was veering from the science.

The second thing I quickly became aware of when I started giving ranger talks is that park visitors wanted to see some fun in my programs. They wanted some jokes. They were on vacation, and they did not want to see me take myself too seriously. If I could explain a scientific concept using humor, they were more likely to grasp it than if I relayed it to them in a dry Dragnet “Just the fact, Ma’am” tone. My experience was that fear does not work for communicating climate change to the general public.

In Facing the Climate Emergency, Margaret doubled down on her defense of David Wallace-Wells and the criticism he received from climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann and others of exaggerating the fear and worst-case scenario in his 2017 New York article. She attacked Mann’s response writing, “These comments reflect what has become orthodoxy in the mainstream, or what I call the ‘gradualist’ climate movement: We must not scare the public; they cannot handle it.”

Margaret didn’t stop there: “This misguided and counterproductive mandate has its origins in the culture of science, which tends to treat emotion as a threat to rationality. The ‘fear of fear’ is reinforced by philanthropy, which is funded by corporations and the very rich, who generally prefer cheerful optimism and more frequently fund direct projects, like land conservation, or reformist political ideas like carbon pricing, instead of investing in a grassroots movement for transformative change.”

She still was not finished: “The claims that ‘fear doesn’t work’ are not only patronizing and cynical, they have also been devastating in terms of mounting a real and timely response to the crisis. These claims are not supported by evidence.”

I learned as far back as 2011 that dire messaging does not work. Even worse, it can have a backfire effect causing people who hear climate doom messages to be even less likely to take climate action. In December 2011, I heard Susan Joy Hassol, Director of speak at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco. During her presentation, she stated that “Most people will find it difficult to accept the science of climate change if they feel there is no solution.” She was citing the December 2010 research paper, “Apocalypse Soon? : Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World Beliefs” by Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer who uncovered this finding with experimental studies on 97 Berkeley undergraduates.

Susan Hassol explained to me by e-mail soon after her lecture, “that people who believe in a ‘just world’ have trouble accepting something that is hopeless.” Too much emphasis on doom and gloom without providing hope can influence people to be even more pessimistic about climate change and the science that supports it.

Margaret does not seem aware of the “Apocalypse Soon” study, the work of Susan Joy Hassol, or other researchers who have looked into the best messaging to reach people effectively when communicating about climate change. It raised eyebrows for me how dismissive she was about climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann, one of the most respected climate scientists. Even she referred to him as “world-famous.”

Before writing this section, I wish Margaret had interacted with Dr. Michael Mann to learn more about his perspective on David Wallace-Wells and “doomists.” In the climate movement, we go batty when we hear people deny climate science. “Respect the science and the scientists” we like to say when it comes to climate change, vaccines, and other issues that we need science and scientists to inform and guide us.

Yet, even in the climate movement, one can find activists who reject scientists and economists when their findings differ from the activists’ world view and theory of change. My advice to Margaret is to contact Dr. Mann. One of the email addresses I have for him is I have found him to be very approachable, sincere, and generous with his time when I and other climate friends reached out to him with questions or requests over the years.

I briefly met him when I attended the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco in December 2011. I wrote blog reviews for three of his books, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, The New Climate War, and recently Our Fragile Moment. I nearly agree with what Dr. Mann writes. However, I wish he would write more about climate solutions in his books.

Dr. Mann and I exchanged emails over the years. I find him to be very thoughtful, measured, and open to answer my questions about the science. He took time out of his busy schedule to advise me how to briefly talk about climate change before I appeared on Comedy Central’s Tosh.o in November 2020.

I am not by any means a heavyweight in the climate advocacy or communications world. Yet, Dr. Mann responded to my emails and Twitter messages. I have no doubt that if Margaret contacted him and mentioned that she is Executive Director of the Climate Emergency Fund and the former Director & Founder of Climate Mobilization that he would answer her.

It should be noted that Dr. Mann did not just criticize David Wallace-Wells and then dismiss him. Dr. Mann’s strong criticism of Wallace-Wells sparked a lot of discussion, which led to a November 2017 New York University event, called “The Doomed Earth,” where Dr. Mann had an in-person discussion with David Wallace-Wells, narrated by Robert Lee Holtz, a science writer at the Wall Street Journal. Dr. Mann mentioning this event on page 209 of The New Climate War. His perspective inspired me to find the YouTube video from this event. Watching the video, I was amazed how much of the time that Dr. Mann agreed with David Wallace-Wells, yet Mann still quietly held his ground where he thought that Wallace-Wells strayed from the science.

I would encourage Margaret to listen to climate scientists more closely like Dr. Michael Mann in guiding her opinions.

Margaret’s criticism of Al Gore

Embedded in Step one with Margaret’s defense of David Wallace-Wells and her belief that fear can work in communicating about climate change, it irritated me that Margaret also went out of her way to attack former Vice President Al Gore. In the paragraph when she attacked the claims that “fear doesn’t work,” this is what she penned about Al Gore:

“The claims that “fear doesn’t work” are not only patronizing and cynical, they have also been devastating in terms of mounting a real and timely response to the crisis. These claims are not supported by evidence. Further, the hollow optimism and positive messaging have tripped the public’s bullshit detector. People can tell when they are being given a canned message rather than the unvarnished truth, like at the end of An Inconvenient Truth, when Al Gore urges viewers to carpool, check their tire pressure, buy low-wattage light bulbs, and change the settings on home thermostats. We know, with varying degrees of conscious awareness and intellectual understanding, that the Earth’s systems are deteriorating more rapidly than these low-effort tips suggest.”

Ouch. I found that attack on Al Gore to be unnecessary and unwarranted. My question for her is: Why do that? Really? I am a huge Al Gore fan for many decades, like many people in the climate movement. In 1993, I loved reading his book Earth in the Balance. I was excited when he ran for President in 2000, with one of his top issues was the environment and reducing the threat of global warming. I was a Florida voter and I felt crushed when he was defeated by 537 votes in Florida.

I was thrilled when the documentary and companion book An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006. In 2012, I attended a Climate Reality Training in San Francisco led by Al Gore. I was proud to become a trained Climate Reality Leader. I was selected to be a mentor for 8 Climate Reality Trainings. At four of those trainings, Climate Reality chose me to be a breakout speaker for “Mastering the Presentation and Finding Your Audience.”

Best of all, I got to chat with Al Gore at the May 2015 Climate Reality Training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. When he met with the mentors attending this training, I asked him the elephant in the room question that no one dared to ask him in the previous training I participated. I pressed him on how to respond to his critics who are the loudest voices in a room spouting climate denial. He was very heartfelt and passionate with his answer. It was a gift of a lifetime. He gives 110% of himself at these three-day Climate Reality Trainings. It does not sit well with me when I see someone, especially a fellow climate advocate, attack him.

Al Gore and Brian Ettling on May 7, 2015.

So, Margaret did not like the tips during the credits of An Inconvenient Truth. She referred to them as “hollow optimism,” “a canned message,” and “low-effort tips.” Wow! Just wondering if she watched all the tips during the credits of the film. You can find the credits on YouTube.

As a refresher, here they are:

Are you ready to change the way you live?

The climate crisis can be solved. Here’s how to start.

Go to

You can reduce your carbon emissions.

In fact, you can even reduce your carbon emissions to zero.

Buy energy efficient appliances + lightbulbs.

Change your thermostat (and use clock thermostats) to reduce energy for heating + cooling.
Weatherize your house, increase insulation, get an energy audit.


If you can, buy a hybrid car.

When you can, walk or ride a bicycle.
Where you can, use light rail + mass transit.

Tell your parents not to ruin the world that you want to live in
If you are a parent, join with your children to save the world they will live in

Switch to renewable sources of energy.
Call your power company to see if they offer green energy.
If they don’t, ask them why not.

Vote for leaders who pledge to solve this crisis.
Write to Congress. If they don’t listen, run for Congress.

Plant Trees. Lots of Trees.

Speak up in your community.

Call radio shows and write newspapers.
Insist that America freeze CO2 emissions.

join international efforts to stop global warming.

Reduce our dependence on foreign oil; help farmers grow alcohol fuels.

Raise fuel economy standards; require lower emissions from automobiles.

If you believe in prayer, pray that people will find the strength to change.

In the words of the old African proverb, ‘When you pray, move your feet.’

Encourage everyone you know to see this movie.

Learn as much as you can about the climate crisis.

Then put your knowledge into action.

Tell me after reading this list if you find this to still be “hollow optimism,” “a canned message,” “low-effort tips,” and “positive messaging have tripped the public’s bullshit detector.” An Inconvenient Truth and the closing messages during the credits had a huge impact on my life. It planted seeds in me to elevate climate action as my life’s mission and dedicated my life to treat climate change like the emergency that it is. Can we please stop this mindless criticism of Al Gore?

Margaret’s criticism of carbon pricing

In Step One, where I found Margaret making critical statements about Dr. Michael Mann and Al Gore, it looked like she had negative thoughts on carbon pricing.

In this paragraph, she stated, “This misguided and counterproductive mandate has its origins in the culture of science, which tends to treat emotion as a threat to rationality. The “fear of fear” is reinforced by philanthropy, which is funded by corporations and the very rich, who generally prefer cheerful optimism and more frequently fund direct projects, like land conservation, or reformist political ideas like carbon pricing, instead of investing in a grassroots movement for transformative change.”

With far-left climate progressives, it seems to be an article of faith in recent years to say disparaging things about carbon pricing. I don’t understand that reasoning.

In 2008, when I quit my winter ranger job in Everglades National Park to start climate organizing my hometown of St. Louis MO, I knew of no climate organization to join at that time. In January 2011, I joined a local Toastmaster group to be a better climate communicator. In the spring of 2011, I worked at the St. Louis Science Center at their temporary Climate Change Exhibit. That’s where I met local businessman Larry Lazar. We co-founded the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet Up group in November 2011 to organize monthly meetings and events for climate action.

In 2012, Carol Braford from the St. Louis chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) came to several our Climate Reality Meet Ups to invite me to attend their monthly CCL meetings. I joined CCL in May 2012. I liked their carbon fee and dividend solution to put a fee on fossil fuel pollution and return the revenue to Americans in monthly dividend checks to reduce the threat of climate change. Many economists and climate scientists think that a price on carbon is one of the most effective solutions to reduce the threat of climate change.

Over the years, I have been frustrated how many progressives are negative about a carbon tax. A price on carbon is supported by top climate scientists such as Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Katherine Hayhoe and Dr. Michael Mann. Carbon taxes are favored by economists across the political spectrum. According to the January 17, 2019 edition of the Wall Street Journal, “Economists’ Statement on Carbon Dividends,” around 3,649 U.S. Economists, 4 Former Chairs of the Federal Reserve, 28 Nobel Laureate Economists, and 15 Former Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers support carbon pricing.

When we think about our energy costs, we tend to think about the costs of buying gasoline for our cars and the electricity to power, heat, and cool our homes. This accounts for about 30% of Americans carbon footprint. My understanding is that over 70% of our carbon footprint is embedded from the fossil fuels burned to manufacture and transport the products we buy. Thus, putting a price on carbon upstream at the source, the coal mine, oil well or methane well, would cause the price to be passed along to the manufacture and then the customer.

The smarter industries would switch to clean energy to maintain and even lower their prices. The less efficient industries would try to pass along the increased price to consumers. A local apple grown in the U.S. becomes cheaper than an apple shipped from Chile. This would be a win for customers, the environment and local U.S. businesses.

I love the quote by author and educator Anna Lappé,

Source: a quote that is found multiple places on the internet

A carbon price would make every decision easy for consumers to buy the cheaper product made with cleaner energy.

Even more, the monthly dividend check would more than cover the costs of increased prices for low and middle income Americans, helping them to come out ahead financially.

A strong, economy-wide price on carbon help could reduce America’s carbon pollution by 50% by 2030, putting us on track to reach net zero by 2050. Those are the benchmark goals we must reach according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to avoid dangerous impacts of climate change.

In 2015, after nearly a decade of conservative rule, Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party won a majority of seats in the Canadian parliament and control of the federal government. Part of Trudeau’s election platform was a carbon tax. In fact, the Trudeau Government realized after they won control of government that they could not reach Canada’s 2015 Paris Climate Accord goals without a carbon fee and dividend policy.

Thus, I wish I could somehow convince Margaret the merits of putting a price on carbon is one of the best solutions to tackle the climate emergency. I would also love to see Margaret and her group Climate Emergency Fund coordinate with CCL to lobby together for Congressional policies to reduce the threat of climate change.

Margaret’s criticism of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)

Speaking of building a strong coalition, Margaret seemed to be faultfinding of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which was passed by a Democratic Congress in 2022 and then signed into law by President Joe Biden. She noted,

“While we recognize and celebrate our successes, we must remain firmly rooted in reality. The (Inflation Reduction Act) is wildly insufficient. Because our political system has been captured by big money, this bill didn’t do anything to directly stop or penalize the fossil fuel industry, which is still, suicidally, expanding. It does little for biodiversity or land protection. The bottom line? The IRA won’t be enough on its own to stop the Earth from hitting catastrophic climate tipping points.

We must escalate our resistance. If we don’t, we will soon be living in the Inflation Reduction Act future, where cleaner, cheaper energy, electric cars, and trucks offer a temporarily tolerable lifestyle for the privileged, while electric tanks at the border stop desperate migrants from coming in; where solar- powered air-conditioned indoor farms grow fresh greens and berries for the wealthy, while others choke in dust storms, suffer in heat waves, and starve; and the fossil fuel industry hangs on to wealth and power with increasingly desperate and violent measures. This eco-apartheid has already begun, and we are racing toward total collapse, in which everyone, even the privileged, loses everything.”

Like many climate activists, I hoped for more with the IRA. However, I was happy with what we got since the Democrats needed the votes of moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Simena to pass this bill. The Democratic Senators and the Biden Administration had to do dedicate negotiations with them to pass this bill.

The good news is that the IRA is the single largest investment in climate and energy in American history. Even Margaret acknowledged that the IRA “will alone get the United States 40 percent below 2005 emissions by 2030. It is likely to kickstart a clean energy, agriculture, and transport revolution, and the importance of that momentum-building can’t be overstated.”

I agree with Margaret on the bad news that the IRA does not go far enough, and we must do more policies to fully address the climate emergency. This is where we need the solution of voting that I did not notice in her book.

Elections matter and elections have consequences. We would not have passed the IRA with the election of Joe Biden as President and a Democratic majority in Congress in 2020. It really is that simple that we need climate advocates to vote and vote in strong numbers to elect strong majorities of Democrats in Congress in the November 5, 2024 election if we want to defend and build upon the IRA to solve the climate emergency.

Besides voting, we need climate activists to be speaking out, phone banking, door-to-door canvassing, encouraging friend and family to go to the polls in November to vote, voting, and supporting Democratic candidates so we will elect enough candidates to pass even more effective policies to address the climate emergency.

Donald Trump and the Republican Party would love to repeal the IRA and the clean energy actions of the Biden Administration. Even worse, Trump and his supporters would like to destroy American democracy. As historian Heather Cox Richardson warns, ‘If Donald Trump or a Trump like candidate wins, we will lose American democracy for a generation.’

Too much is at stake for climate advocates to not be fully active in the November 5, 2024 Presidential election. I wish Margaret had mentioned voting, supporting Democratic candidates, and electing Democratic candidates who will uphold our democracy in the November 5th election.

I am skeptical we always need to feel our fear, grief and pain to act on climate

I enjoyed reading Step Two about Welcoming Fear, Grief, and Other Painful Feelings. This chapter motivated me to seek professional therapy in 2024, which has been very helpful for me.

At the same time, I am not totally convinced that we need to always get in touch to feel our fears, grief and pain to take climate action. This chapter reminded me of the scene in the film Star Trek 5: The final Frontier.

The antagonist in the film, Sybok, and his followers try to capture the Starship Enterprise. However, Sybok, runs into resistance from Captain Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy. Sybok undertakes a process with Spock and Dr. McCoy to help them “face their (psychological) pain and drawing strength from it” that has troubled them for much of their lives. Their healing sways them to be less resistant of Sybok. However, Captain Kirk refuses to play along with Sybok’s healing techniques, saying, “I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!”

Sometimes in my life, I felt I did not always need to dwell on my feelings, grief, and pain. I just needed to take the necessary action in the moment. For over 20 years, I was a park ranger in the national parks. Sometimes I was the first ranger on scene respond to medical emergencies, such as heart attacks, visitors falling off trails, visitors slipping on ice receiving concussions, possible spinal injuries, etc.

I had no time to think about my own feelings in those moments. As a first responder, I had to set my feelings aside to focus on the emergency at hand. My job required me to accurately assess the patient and the situation to then use my radio to call the park dispatch for the law enforcement/Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) rangers to respond quickly.

I feel the same way about the climate emergency. I lost a lot of sleep worrying about it in 2008. However, once I decided that I would dedicate my life to reducing the threat of climate change, I slept much better. I did not need to take time to go to professional therapy to act on climate, I just needed to fully focus myself on taking climate action.

Since Margaret is a professional psychologist, I would love to get her impression of that scene from Star Trek 5.

Over the last decade, I paid a heavy price for treating climate as an emergency

In Step Four, Margaret invites us to Enter Emergency Mode. Well, that’s what I have done over the past 14 years, fully dedicate my life to treating climate change as an emergency. Yet, I have scars to show for all my climate organizing.

In 2013, I was a plaintiff for a Missouri Sierra Club lawsuit against the local power utility corporation for the pollution of their nearby coal plant. In January 2016. I sat down with a lawyer from the Sierra Club and a lawyer representing the utility for my sworn deposition. This was the time I testified in a court case. All I can say was: Oh my! It felt like one of the most grueling experiences of my life to be cross examined for two and a half hours by the defense attorney.

By the end of the deposition, I emotionally felt like I had gotten my ass kicked in a bar fight. I never felt so depleted and exhausted. I had no energy for two days and basically spent the weekend in bed. Fortunately, the Sierra Club and the utility company settled the case out of court in terms that were somewhat favorable for the Sierra Club. I was proud to participate in this lawsuit. I helped the Sierra Club win. For the climate, I would do that again in a heartbeat. However, the emotional toll it took on my body to testify in a deposition was brutal.

I volunteered heavily in Oregon in 2019 and 2020 to try to get cap and invest bills passed to make a concerted policy effort to reduce greenhouse pollution in this state. Sadly, Republican legislative walkouts prevented passage of these bills.

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

I felt depleted and depressed when these climate bills died. I did not want to get out of bed or off the couch for weeks after those bitter defeats.

In 2021, I led the efforts to try to pass an Oregon Legislative resolution urging Congress to pass bipartisan climate legislation, especially the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. The resolution, known as SJM 5, sailed through the Oregon Senate by a vote of by a vote of 23 to 5, with 6 Republican Senators, half of the Oregon Republican Senate caucus, joined with all the Democratic Senators present to vote to support SJM 5. We ended up getting 30 Oregon House co-sponsors for this resolution.

Sadly, the Democratic House Speaker and Majority Leader did not want to pass SJM 5. The worse part was my Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) friends who organized with on this resolution wrote a scathing opinion editorial (op-ed) in the Oregonian about the House Democratic leadership. Specifically, they wrote, “No excuses remain for the Oregon House leadership to delay SJM 5′s prompt hearing and vote.”

A former Oregon Legislator advised us not to publish that op-ed since she thought it attacked the Democratic leadership and would burn bridges in the future. My CCL friends did not want to listen to me. It left me feeling disenchanted with CCL.

From June 2019 to February 2020, I was the interim Chapter Chair of the Portland Chapter of the Climate Reality Project. The high point was organizing three large climate events in the Portland area with around 100 people attending each event. The low point was that our chapter leadership team could not get along. It was a sharp contrast of personalities. As the interim leader of the group, some of the Leadership Team Leader members wanted to endlessly criticize me. It felt like I could not do anything correct in their eyes and I felt very demoralized. Even more, I tried to bend over backwards to incorporate their ideas, but it was never enough.

After the climate event I organized on January 21, 2020, I felt burned out as the interim Chapter Chair. After all that infighting with some of the members of the leadership team, I felt spent. I had no energy left. I resigned in March 2020, just after the COVID lockdowns began.

Between the horrid defeats of Oregon’s cap and invest bills and the bitter infighting with the Portland Climate Reality Leadership Team, I had no desire for climate organizing. On top of that, the COVID lockdown created a deep depression for me in the spring of 2020.

Organizing for climate action, especially treating it like an emergency, took a heavy toll on me.

I want to ask Margaret as a professional psychologist and climate organizer: how does one prevent burnout while taking actions over the years to treat climate change like an emergency?

Even more, my savings have gone down focusing my life for years on the climate emergency.

Job prospects were disheartening. Over the years, I told myself that if I organized a climate event, led a speaking tour, or took other climate actions, it would lead to a job in the climate movement. It never did. I applied for various positions, but I rarely got an interview or a job.

I felt especially demoralized by Climate Reality Project. It took hundreds of actions as a volunteer with Climate Reality. I logged all my actions on their website for Climate Reality Leaders, known within the Climate Reality world as “The Hub.” The organization selected me as a breakout speaker for three of their trainings from 2017 to 2019.

Then, in the summer of 2019, Climate Reality stopped selecting me as a mentor and a breakout speaker for their trainings. They told me that they wanted to select other Climate Reality Leaders to be mentors. I understood the first time it happened to me. Then it kept happening where they did not select me for their trainings. They never explained why. I felt like I had been ghosted by them or given the cold shoulder. For their March 2017 Training in Denver, Colorado, they acknowledged me as a good example of a Climate Reality Leader. Then, it felt like radio silence from the summer of 2019 and beyond. I did not feel valued anymore and it stung badly.

A slide in the opening remarks by Climate Reality President Ken Berlin at the Climate Reality Training in Denver, Colorado on March 2, 2017.

For years, various climate groups and fellow organizers me as a “super volunteer.” While it is flattering to be thought of that way, it makes me lousy. I feel like I am stuck in an endless purgatory where I tell myself if I help with just one more volunteer climate project, it will lead to a job. However, I seem to be stuck and endlessly running in place. I don’t know how to breakout from this quagmire. I just wonder if Margaret would advise me on this.

I sort of feel like when I was single and most women valued me as a male friend, but they did not see me as attractive or dating material. Believe it or not, I was mostly stuck in the “friend zone” when I was a seasonal park ranger. It was when I started veering away from being a seasonal park ranger and becoming a climate organizer that I met my wife, Tanya. We started dating over 11 years ago and have been married for over 8 years. I wonder if I am going to need leave the climate organizing world to get a steady job that pays well.

That would be a shame if I had to leave the climate movement to look for work because I do believe, like Margaret, that we are in a climate emergency.

Yes, we have a ‘Climate Emergency’ AND a ‘Democracy Emergency’

Margaret’s book was initially written in 2019, second edition in 2023. However, the 2023 edition does not mention the threat to our democracy. In 2019, we had hope that Trump might be voted out of office in the November 2020 election. The good news is that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by seven million votes and by a comfortable margin in the Electoral College. The bad news was that Donald Trump never conceded that he lost.

I watched the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol live on TV and it really frightened me. I especially felt sick to my stomach because I traveled to Washington D.C. eight times from 2015 to 2019 to lobby Congressional offices for climate action. I absolutely love lobbying for climate action. It is a sacred experience for me. It crushed me to see live on TV the protestors violently storm the U.S. Capitol Building to prevent a peaceful transfer of power.

The January 6th Insurrection happened for one reason only: Donald Trump desperately wanted to remain President even if it ended American democracy as we know it. Sadly, the threat of Donald Trump and his MAGA movement to squelch American democracy continues to this day. As I write this blog in March 2024, Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee for President. If elected President, he promised to be a dictator ‘on day one.’

Donald Trump expresses openly hostility to any policies related to climate change. Most likely, he would try to gut the Inflation Reduction Act. Just like his first term, he would task the Environmental Protection Agency to protect fossil fuel polluters. Trump would push the EPA to not holding polluters accountable and enacting regulations to ratchet down their pollution that harms the environment and causes climate change.

A second Donald Trump Presidency would be a nightmare for the climate. It would be horrific, setbacking American climate policy for decades. It would be such a catastrophic disaster that he would prevent the U.S. from reaching the IPCC goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 and by net zero by 2050. Those are the goals that scientist warn we must reach to prevent more dangerous climate change impacts. For the climate, protecting our democracy and stopping Donald Trump from becoming President is a big frigging deal.

Yet, I did not notice a peep about this threat in Margaret’s book, especially in the 2023 edition. Since January 6th, we are now aware of the daunting threat Trump poses to our democracy and climate. However, I did not see her write at all about this in her book. Furthermore, I have not seen her post anything about the threat to our democracy in her social media.

Al Gore has said for years, “To fix the climate crisis we need to fix democracy.”

Present and future generations will judge us if we acted effectively to solve the climate emergency. Even more, they will judge us if we lived up to the times in 2024 to stop Donald Trump and the MAGA Republican movement from destroying American democracy. Without a democracy, it will be impossible to tackle the climate emergency.

Although I prefer lobbying and supporting Democratic candidates committed to prioritize climate action rather than Margaret’s approach of direct disruptive actions and protests, I admire her theory of change. I think her emphasis on strategic, nonviolent, heroic disruptions is part of the spectrum of climate actions needed to face the climate emergency.

I urge Margaret and anyone else to read the January/February 2024 issue of The Atlantic where various experts weighed in on the dangers of a second Donald Trump Presidency, “If Trump wins.” Many of the articles pointed to their understanding that Trump would use the U.S. Military and the Insurrection Act to crush protests and throw dissenters in jail. Yes, one can organize disruptive protests in a Joe Biden Presidency to try to shape his policies on climate. We should be very clear that second term Donald Trump would have no qualms about attacking protesters and taking every action necessary to silence their voices.

If we are serious about facing the climate emergency, we must speak out, organize, march, support Democratic candidates who will uphold our democracy, encourage people we know to vote, and vote to ensure Donald Trump is NOT elected President on November 5, 2024. Full stop. Period.

As a fellow climate organizer, I really do need Margaret to address the democracy emergency in 2024 so we can then face the climate emergency

Final Thoughts

I really did enjoy reading Dr. Margaret Klein’s Salamon’s book, Facing the Climate Emergency. Yes, Margaret and I have different ideas, tactics, and theories of change how to solve the climate crisis. However, I admire all that Margaret does. I have been a big fan ever since I saw her speak at our Climate Reality St. Louis Meet Up in November 2014.

This blog review is extremely long because the book did trigger a lot of thoughts for me, mostly positive. I hope that Margaret is not offended by my criticisms and skepticism. In fact, I would be honored to have a conversation with her. As a climate organizer, I trust science. I believe in the scientific method to make a judgement based upon the weight of the evidence. Even more, I am always open to change my mind when presented with new robust evidence that is stronger or disproves my strongly held beliefs.

I fully understand that not a single word I wrote may change Margaret’s mind or sway her to think differently. I am good with that. I think her advocacy and work is vital. I never considered climate organizing to be a competition between me or any other climate organizer. If someone is a more effective climate advocate than me, I always want to be the first to congratulate them.

I always felt that if this is a competition to be the best climate activist, then the planet and our fellow human beings win as we each strive to have the most efficacy. If anything, I want Margaret to keep doing what she is doing as I share my perspective.

I agree with Citizens’ Climate Lobby core value of building relationships. To support that value, they state, “We know that there is a place for protest, but our approach is to build consensus, which we believe will bring enduring change.”

Yes, I have different views than Margaret on the use of fear to educate and inspire people to take climate action, Dr. Michael Mann, Al Gore, carbon pricing, the Inflation Reduction Act, deeply getting in touch with our feelings through therapy, and understanding our emotions before we act on climate. I acknowledge her book inspired me to seek counseling for my letdowns and depression I felt as a climate organizer. Yet, I am not sure everyone needs to seek therapy or get deeply in touch with their feelings to be effective in the climate movement.

Yes, I agree with Margaret that we want more people advocating for climate and treating it as an emergency. At the same time, I dedicated my life for years to climate action. I feel like I have many scars and heartbreaks from interactions with other climate advocates and organizations.

As far as my life’s journey, I have said for years that ‘Being a park ranger was easy. Being a climate organizer is very hard, but very rewarding.’

This is a very long blog review. I don’t care if no one reads it all the way to the end. Maybe not even Margaret. Ultimately, my writing audience is me. In addition, I hope to write a book someday. I want to take writings from my blogs to complete my life’s story or memoir soon.

Thus, at the very least, Margaret Klein Salamon’s book inspired me to write this blog and discover more about myself. For that, I will always be grateful to her.

Thank you, Margaret!

Brian Ettling at the Climate Planet temporary exhibit in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo taken on October 20, 2017.