“We have a hot tip for you!” my friend John Van Leer and I shared with staff of a member of Congress on June 11, 2019.
We just came out of a productive meeting with the staff of Democratic U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson, Florida District 24. During the staff indicated to us that there was a good possibility Representative Wilson could be open to co-sponsoring a climate bill we met with her office to urge her to support a climate bill, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA).
John Van Leer and I were part of a lobby team that met with Rep. Wilson’s office during the lobby day happening with Congressional Offices as part of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) June 2019 Conference in Washington D.C. At that conference, over 1,000 CCL traveled from across the United States to lobby 528 Congressional Offices on Capitol Hill.
At that time, we lobbied members of Congress to support and even co-sponsor the EICDA. This bill would have put a fee on carbon pollution to speed up the switch to 100% clean energy. The money collected from fossil fuel companies would then go back to Americans in the form of a monthly dividend check so that all Americans could afford the transition.
As a climate organizer, I have volunteered with CCL since 2012. Thus, for years, I believed that putting a price on carbon is a top solution to reduce the threat of climate change. As long as I had been involved with CCL, they affirm that putting a price on carbon with a carbon fee and dividend is “the single most powerful tool available to reduce America’s carbon pollution.”
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch from Florida introduced the first version of this carbon pricing bill in Congress in 2018. He re-introduced the EICDA in April 2021, with along with 28 House co-sponsors. It was a big priority since 2018 for CCL volunteers to help Rep. Deutch get more co-sponsors for this bill. Eventually, through our lobbying he enabled Rep. Deutch to have 96 co-sponsors for the EICDA.
As a very committed and enthusiastic CCL volunteer, I was personally determined to persuade a member of Congress to co-sponsor the EICDA. These CCL Congressional Lobby days happen twice a year, typically the second Tuesday in June and the second Tuesday in November. For those of us attending these conferences, we would typically have around 4 to 5 Congressional lobby meetings on Capitol Hill. CCL would generally assign a lobbying team for each meeting of around 5 CCL volunteers, with a priority for constituents of that member of Congress to attend those meetings.
CCL tries to email a schedule of which Congressional offices the attendees will be lobbying on Capitol Hill several days before the conference. This helps the volunteer participants to start planning their meetings and organizing with the other lobby team participants in advance. With these schedules, the participants know the times and locations of the Congressional Offices beforehand. This information is helpful to know where to go for the lobby day to navigate the 535 Congressional offices spread out over five office buildings.
Occasionally, CCL assigns participants Congressional lobby meetings with the note of “TBD”, meaning “To be determined.” That means the Congressional Office has not yet scheduled a time for a lobby meeting. The Congressional office usually does find a time on their schedule for the lobby day, sometimes giving the meeting time the day before. This was the case for the meeting with staff of Rep. Fredericka Wilson. I received my CCL Congressional Lobby Day schedule on Thursday, June 6th with a TBD noted.
The lobby leader for this meeting, John Van Leer, did not get a confirmed meeting from Rep. Wilson’s office until 2:21 pm on Monday, June 10th. It was set for 10:30 am the next day, Tuesday June 11th. Until I received that meeting time, I was unsure if I would fit into my schedule with the other lobby meetings that I would be attending on the lobby day. The good news is that it did fit into my lobby day schedule for June 11th. The bad news was that I was not able to make the preparation meeting for the lobby team at 7 pm on that Monday, due to other lobby prep meetings I was participating. Thus, I would be “winging it” for this meeting on Tuesday.
I was able to meet with the other five lobby team participants in front of Rep. Wilson’s Congressional office 15 minutes before the meeting started to develop a lobby plan. I had no idea before I stepped into this Congressional office that this turned out to be the most rewarding lobby meeting that I had ever attended. Since 2015, this was my 7th time attending a CCL Congressional Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. During that time, I lobbied the staff of progressive and conservative members of Congress. Before that meeting, I never had any luck persuading them to support carbon fee and dividend or the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA).
CCL heavily emphasizes to lobby participants not to share what happens inside these meetings so that we can maintain a trusted level of confidentiality with these offices. Having noted that, I still want to share what I saw in the lobby meeting since it was such an amazing experience. Besides the six CCL volunteers including me, two interns and a Legislative Correspondent, Devin Wilcox, from Rep. Wilson’s staff met with us in the meeting room in her office.
The interns and Devin asked excellent questions about the EICDA to see if this could be something that Rep. Wilson could possibly support. They were “kicking the tires” to look for any weaknesses that could be a deal breaker for them. As the meeting progressed, we got a very positive vibe from Devon. He even explained one aspect of carbon fee and dividend to the interns better than an answer that we could have given them. He seemed to be clearly on our side.
I very distinctly heard Legislative Aide Devon Wilcox say towards the end of the meeting that he felt his boss Rep. Wilson could easily co-sponsor our bill. John Van Leer and I kept chatting with Devon even after the meeting was over.
I asked Devon if he would have a conversation with Rep. Ted Deutch’s staff about the EICDA.
His response: ‘That’s easy! They are right next door.’
I told Devon that CCL has an office nearby in Washington D.C. and asked him if it was ok if CCL reached out to him. He was very agreeable and receptive to that.
When I mentioned that Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee was a co-sponsor of our bill. Devon got excited: ‘We really like her!’ He seemed very impressed that Rep. Lee was on board.
I remembered Devon wanted to get in the weeds with us on a level that the paid experts, such as Rep. Ted Deutch’s staff and CCL DC staff should be answering his questions.
John Van Leer and I left the meeting in total agreement that Rep. Frederica Wilson and her office, especially with Legislative Assistant Devon Wilcox, was amiable with our policy and bill. We agreed that Rep. Wilson was a great candidate to be a co-sponsor for our bill.
John and I both felt like ‘the iron was hot’ after our conversation with Devon Wilcox. We believed strongly that this should be on the radar of CCL Washington D.C. staff and Rep. Ted Deutch’s staff. We felt like CCL DC office and possibly Rep. Ted Deutch’s office should reach out to Devon and Rep. Frederica Wilson’s office soon.
Thus, John and I immediately walked across the hall to Rep. Ted Deutch’s office to see if we could meet with his Energy Aide, Josh. The receptionist tracked him down for us.
“We have a hot tip for you!” John Van Leer and I shared with Josh as we recalled what just happened in Rep. Fredericka Wilson’s office. This aide took notes and a keen interest from our meeting. We encouraged him to reach out to Devon as soon as possible to answer the questions that we could not.
During the lunch break at one of the Congressional cafeterias, I shared with Danny Richter, then the CCL Vice President of Government Affairs, what happened at the meeting in Rep. Wilson’s office. Danny seemed skeptical at first. He thought maybe I was exaggerating how well the meeting went. However, I did follow up with an email to Danny, including sending a screenshot of Devon’s business card.
One week later, Danny did respond to my email in a more receptive way: “Thanks Brian, appreciate you following up. We have a meeting with Josh scheduled to follow up on highlights from the conference, and this is on our list to discuss. Good to see you again! -Danny
After the June 2019 conference, I would check in with John Van Leer and other Florida CCL friends around once a month to see if they were having any success in persuading Rep. Frederica Wilson to co-sponsor the EICDA (also known then as H.R. 763). Nothing much seemed to be happening, but my Florida CCL friends appreciated when I would prod them now and then for any progress. The situation felt hopeful that if a volunteer or staff person from CCL could meet with Devin, I felt confident that we could close the deal for Rep. Wilson to co-sponsor our bill.
In January 2020, my friend, Greg Hamra, who lives in Miami, Florida, sent me an email that “Apparently Frederica Wilson is coming along.” He shared an email thread from another CCL volunteer that “This is exciting news that Rep. Wilson indicated that she is planning to co-sponsor H.R. 763”
Finally, on Febuary 24, 2020, I saw on the EICDA website that Rep. Frederica Wilson had officially co-sponsored the EICDA. It was such a joy to announce this publicly on my Facebook and Twitter. I shared that “I was (part of a team) lobby meeting with her DC office last June that helped persuade her to become a co-sponsor. This is one of my proudest moments as a #climate organizer!”
Why am I telling you this now?
To this day, this is still one of my proudest moments as a climate organizer to play a role in persuading a member of Congress to co-sponsor a climate bill. In my numerous other lobby meetings, I had no success like that. It felt like in some small way I had made some kind of difference in the world for climate action.
I meant to blog about this as soon as it happened in 2020. At that time, I was super busy lobbying on the state level volunteering with Renew Oregon to push a cap and invest bill during the Oregon Legislative session. Unfortunately, during the first week of March, Republicans walked out of the Oregon Legislature to prevent a vote, which killed the bill. This left me feeling very deflated. Even more, the COVID pandemic shutdown happened in mid-March 2020. That sent me into a very deep depression since I was no longer able to meet with people for climate action, organize events, attend lobby meetings, give climate presentations, and stay busy traveling outside of the home to act on climate.
My depression during the pandemic was so consuming that I did not write another blog entry until December 30, 2021. I am now determined to go back to tell the high and low parts of my climate change organizing story that I may have missed writing about previously over the years.
Looking back now, I feel very blessed to be able to accomplish what I have been able to achieve as a climate organizer. Now, I can say that I am very proud to be part of a team that helped persuade a member of Congress, Rep. Frederica Wilson, to co-sponsor a climate change bill.
I hope you will get involved with the climate movement to accomplish something as big or surpass me to achieve something bigger. Hopefully, you will out do me. If you do, I will be the first to congratulate you. If we can compete against each other for bigger climate actions, this will be a competition where the planet and all of us wins.
The last several of years of organizing for climate action left me feeling depleted, empty, and unappreciated. It made me question if I have made any difference at all. Yes, the COVID pandemic that started in 2020 played a role, but it is not the major cause. I have felt like the climate movement has kept me at arm’s length, and it led me to feel burned out.
The story really goes back to November 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. A climate group I had organized with for years, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), had a regional conference. During a brainstorming session during the conference, we determined that the best way to get more people involved was to have a state tour across Missouri. It would be composed of speaking events to expose the public to the organization and the climate solutions it advocated. A leader was needed to speak at these different cities. I volunteered myself since I had the time and passion to do it. At that time, I was a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park. It was in between seasons from my summer job, so I had the availability and enthusiasm to lead this tour. After I volunteered myself to lead this tour, I immediately got some pushback from the local Kansas City volunteers.
They were concerned about the finances to complete this tour. That part didn’t bother me. I figured the money would work itself out, one way or another. As we kept brainstorming about this, they wouldn’t let this issue go. They kept trying to hammer how I was going to pay for this tour. I was annoyed that they weren’t supportive and trying to think outside the box how we were going to grow Citizens Climate Lobby and get more people involved. To get them from stop dwelling on this sticking point, I finally said: “I will do my own fund raising to make this tour happen.”
That seemed to silence the critics, at least I naively thought at the time. However, two weeks later, I received a phone call out of the blue from the Vice President of CCL, Madeleine Para, who had also attended the conference in Kansas City. Madeleine started off the conversation cordial asking me how I was doing. In that moment, I was very excited talking about an upcoming trip I was planning to Ottawa Canada. I had been invited to be a guest speaker and lobby members of the Canadian parliament for a Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada conference. She sounded rather cool and calculated when she said: “Well, I am going to have to burst your bubble.”
She went on to say: “I was just talking to the Executive Director, Mark Reynolds, and we agreed that you can’t do your own fund raising for a state tour. We feel like any fund raising that you would do would interfere with the organization’s fund raising. We can’t let you do that.”
It felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I didn’t have the words to respond, so I hung up the phone. I did email her to apologize, but I felt deeply hurt. She did seem to understand that in a responding email and relaying a comment days later to a mutual friend. That was it though. There was no other action taken to reach out to me to try to heal the breach. Immediately after Madeleine’s call, I called a few CCL friends across the country and they didn’t know what to say. They still advised me to do this tour if I wanted to do it.
During that phone call with Madeleine, I didn’t have the words at the moment to dig deeper into her reasoning. From my interactions with her, I felt an underlying jealousy. She didn’t seem to like my enthusiasm and energy to accomplish big things as a climate organizer. It felt like my plans to organize around Missouri were somehow a threat to her position. Therefore, she had to find a way to get the Executive Director on her side to stop my plans. Her phone call made no logical sense. If I had the words to say in that moment, I would have responded: ‘What was the point of that regional conference? I somehow had the impression it was to think outside our comfort zone to grow our organization to make a difference for climate action. I am failing to see your logic how my own fund raising for a tour would compete with fund raising of the national organization.’
It made me see for the first time that people involved in the climate movement don’t always have the best intentions to effectively act on climate. They don’t always want to help volunteers like me reach for their full potential to make a difference for climate action. Sadly, I learned for the first time being a climate organizer that others’ politics, power, and jealousy can get in the way of my yearning to make difference. Unfortunately, it was a lesson that I was going to have to learn again and again.
The good news is that I didn’t let Madeleine stop me. I ended up giving two climate change speaking tours in Missouri. The first tour was in March 2017, when I spoke at a nature center to an audience of over 100 people in Jefferson City, Missouri. Two days later, I gave a talk to over 60 people at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. The second tour was in October 2018 when I spoke at my alma mater, William Jewell College in Kansas City, University of Missouri in Columbia MO, St. Louis University, and alma mater high school, Oakville Senior High in Oakville MO. No, I was never going to let Madeleine win. However, her phone call in November 2016 really left a bad taste in my mouth. It still hurts to this day to feel like my climate efforts were being squashed by a top leader in a big climate organization.
Since that November 2016 phone call with Madeleine, I had other big setbacks and disappointed as a climate organizer that left me feeling burned out when the COVID pandemic started in the United States in March 2020. I alluded to this at the beginning of this blog. I hope share more about my high and low moments taking climate action in my future writings. Except for this paragraph and the next two, I actually wrote all of this blog in November 2021, when I was going through another very low period in my climate organizing.
However, when I traveled in North Carolina in November 2022 to give two climate change talks, I felt like I was a happy warrior again. In my previous blog, My Climate Change Comedian Story, I wrote that “It felt like I was back to my old self before the pandemic of traveling to other states once or twice a year to give climate change talks.”
Not sure what I am going to do exactly in 2023, but I am excited to lobby, organize, give speeches, write and do whatever it takes for climate action in this new year.
As a side note, December 7, 2021, CCL sent out a press release that Madeleine Para was promoted as the new Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
Image of Brian Ettling taken in April 2016 at the Tennis Channel TV studio where Comedy Central’s Tosh.o is filmed in Los Angeles, California.
“Fine!” I responded with emphatic exasperation, “If I could be anything, I would like to be the ‘Climate Change Comedian’!”
My friend Naomi nearly fell out of her hear laughing and responded: “That great! I would like you to go home and grab that website domain right now!” I immediately went home after I wrapped up this conversation and did just that.
This event happened in Ashland, Oregon around in the fall of 2009. At that time, I was housesitting for a friend. I didn’t know what to do with my life. For seventeen years, I had worked as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon in the summers and Everglades National Park, Florida in the winter. I absolutely loved my job as an interpretation ranger at Crater Lake giving ranger talks, guided hikes, leading evening campfire talks, and narrating the boat tours. I loved every minute of standing in front of an audience, in these iconic places sharing about nature.
In 1998, I started giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park, Florida. Visitors then asked me about this global warming thing. Visitors hate when park rangers tell you, “I don’t know.” Soon afterwards, I rushed to the nearest Miami bookstore and library to read all I the scientific books I could find on climate change.
I learned about 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 beautiful Flamingos I enjoyed seeing in the Everglades could all lose this ideal coastal habitat because of sea level rise enhanced by climate change.
I became so worried about climate change that I quit my winter job in Everglades National Park the year before 2008. Up until 2017, I still worked my summer job Crater Lake National Park. I was not ready to give up my summer job there because of the incredible beauty there and the enjoyment I had wearing the ranger uniform while engaging with park visitors. In the fall of 2009, I had too much free time housesitting. I moved there with no job at that time trying to ponder what to do next with this climate change mission for my life.
This led to my conversation with my friend Naomi in Ashland where she pressed me to answer her directly: “What do you really want to do with your life?”
My answer of “The Climate Change Comedian” had a lovely ring and synergy to this for me to latch onto. When I started giving ranger talks in the Everglades in 1998, I discovered that park visitors wanted some humor in ranger talks. They are on vacation, so they wanted to see that I was not taking myself too seriously.
I even created my jokes as a park ranger, such as:
“What did one continental plate say to the other after the Earthquake?”
“It’s not my fault!”
Yes, I will admit that joke is a dad-joke groaner and that did not fit into any of my ranger talks. However, some of my fellow rangers thought that was hilarious. They even stole that joke from me to use it in their ranger talks.
At the same time, the science of climate change is deadly serious. It has the potential to kill millions of wildlife and people, as well as causing catastrophic harm to our planet. Thus, I had this calling to do something to educate people about the threat of climate change using the skills I acquired as a park ranger to educate, entertain, and inspire an audience. In late November 2009, my friend decided he did not want to spend the winter traveling in an RV, getting snowed out in places like Montana. He moved back to his house in Ashland. We quickly concluded that it was not going to work for me to live in his house.
Developing and Promoting myself as “The Climate Change Comedian”
I then quickly decided to move back to my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri to live with family for the winter. St. Louis has deep ties for me since it was the place I was born, went to high school, my parents and adult sisters lived there. It would be a nurturing place for me to be for those winter months. I only lived in Ashland, Oregon for a couple of months. However, I got exactly what I needed there. Advice that would change my life to be ‘The Climate Change Comedian.’
The other advice Naomi gave me in Ashland was to immediately start creating my own climate change presentation. As a park ranger that gave evening talks in the Everglades and Crater lake, I learned the skill of using Power Point to create engaging and educational presentations with some humor sprinkled in. In January and February 2010, I created my own climate change presentation called “Let’s Have Fun Getting Serious about Climate change.” I started practicing this talk with friends in 2010 and into 2011.
In St. Louis, a family friend named John helped me create The Climate Change Comedian website, www.climatechangecomedian.com, which is still an active website to this day. My friend John encouraged me to start writing blogs for that website, which I have done sporadically to this day.
I started giving climate change talks locally in the St. Louis area in the fall of 2011, but I felt I was not getting notoriety or making a name for myself nationally. To up my exposure, I created a YouTube video on January 10, 2014, with my then girlfriend and now spouse since 2015, Tanya Couture. The video was called, “The Climate Change Comedian and the Violinist.” I soon followed up this video on month later with a YouTube video with my mom, Fran Ettling, in February 2014, “Climate Change Comedian and the Pianist!” One year later, in March 2015, my mom, Tanya and I followed up that video with a YouTube video featuring my dad, LeRoy Ettling, “Climate Change Comedian and his Skeptical Dad!”
In these videos, I developed a tag line where I would promote myself as being very funny. In each of these successive videos, Tanya, my mom, or my dad would strongly respond, “You are not that funny!” I came up with that hook because I don’t consider myself to be that funny, even if I had given myself that title. In all honesty, I didn’t know what to do with that title of the “Climate Change Comedian” besides those videos and the climate change talks I gave around the St. Louis area.
Appearing on national TV Comedy Central as “The Climate Change Comedian”
Then in April 2016, something unexpected and magical happened. I spent the winter of 2015-16 getting married to Tanya in a big celebration wedding attended by family and friends on November 1st. I gave lots of climate change talks that winter and I was planning on returning to Crater Lake for the summer. In mid-April, I was getting ready to start packing up my belongings for the summer when the phone rang at my parents’ house. My mom informed me that ‘someone from Los Angeles wants to chat with you.’
I picked up the phone and the person identified himself as a staff member of Comedy Central’s Tosh.o. We had a very friendly conversation where he asked me about my background such as “The Climate Change Comedian,” and making the YouTube videos with my parents and Tanya. He then got to the point asking me: “We would like to fly you out to Los Angeles to appear on a taping Comedy Central’s Tosh.o next week to be interviewed by our host Daniel Tosh. Would you be interested?’
“Yes!” as I serendipitously jumped at this opportunity.
He then inquired: “Do you have any plans next week?”
“Well,” I responded, “My wife did plan a quick honeymoon trip. It was to stay at bed and breakfast that we had received as a wedding gift.”
“Where?” he asked with curiosity, probably thinking of the traditional honeymoon places of Paris, Hawaii, the Poconos, Niagara Falls, the Bahamas, etc.
“Augusta, Missouri!” I enthusiastically responded.
“Augusta, Missouri?” he seemed genuinely confused.
“Augusta, Missouri is wine country!” I said with much delight looking forward to this trip that my wife had been planning.
“Augusta, Missouri is wine country?” he replied with even more confusion, probably thinking about Napa Valley, California, and other more renowned wine regions.
“It’s wine country for Missouri,” I stated with as much local pride as a I could. The staff person from Tosh.o then asked me. “We would like to fly your mom out to Los Angeles also. Can you ask her if she would be interested?”
We then wrapped up the phone call. I then approached my mom about this invitation and shared that they wanted to include her. I asked if she would be interested in getting flown to LA to appear on a national TV show.
Her response was a coy and very intrigued response of “Yes.”
Her mood then shifted to a sterner tone: “You better call Tanya and ask her immediately if this is ok. She has been planning this trip to Augusta for a while!”
I immediately called Tanya to share everything. She encouraged me and my Mom to jump at this opportunity. She then inquisitively asked: “Have you ever watched Tosh.o?”
I then lied and said, “Yes!”
All that I really knew about Tosh.o was on before the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, that we faithfully watched at that time. However, that was all that I knew about the show.
Like any good wife when they know their husband is lying, Tanya wasn’t buying it. She then pressed me, “Have you ever really watched this show?”
“No,” I sheepishly confessed.
“Can you please watch the TV show before agreeing to anything like this in the future?” she stated with an irritation in her voice.
Without mentioning this conversation to my contact at Tosh.o, the staff felt so bad about what they perceived as intruding on my honeymoon that they offered to fly Tanya out to LA also on that trip, as well as my mom and I.
The three of us had a blast flying out to Los Angeles over a 24-hour period for this trip. The host Daniel Tosh turned out to be very gracious to my mom, Tanya and me. After we had arrived to at the TV studio to meet with staff and prep with the make team before we went air, Daniel arrived about 30 minutes later. He came into the studio yelling, “I am sick, and it is the fault of one of your kids!”
It felt hilarious, like a scene out of a movie or TV show where the big star comes in to be filmed making a big entrance, while they are feeling hung over, with a big ego, and everyone must scramble to accommodate them. I was nervous about this TV taping, but his entrance set me at ease that he did not take himself too seriously. He was clearly indicating that he there to have some fun, even if he was not feeling well.
Something that was very apparent was that his staff was very loyal to him and really liked working for him. The driver who picked us up, dropped us off at a very bland exterior office warehouse area with a sign that said, “The Tennis Channel.” Honestly, until I read that sign, I had no idea that there was a Tennis Channel. Soon after we arrived, Daniel Tosh’s staff explained to us that he started out his show years ago using the TV studios of the Tennis Channel because it was the least expensive studios he could find for the show. He then kept using that studio to save on costs and to pay his staff well. This went further to help me feel like I was in good hands that day.
Soon after Daniel entered, he walked up to the green screen area where he would be interviewing me. I reached out to shake his hand, but he refused saying that he did not want to get me sick with the crud he had. He then advised me to just be myself and not try to be overly funny. He cautioned me to not be a clown on TV, unless I wanted to come across that way. He indicated that he intended to be the funny one. I had zero experience appearing on TV, so I appreciated all he did to make me feel comfortable when we taped the TV interview.
Our TV segment centered around poking fun at Fox News, conservatives, FOX News TV host Sean Hannity, as well as poking fun at me. After the TV interview, Daniel and some of the writers shared with me how they all had conservative, Fox News watching, Rush Limbaugh listening, Dads like mine. Thus, it seemed like all of us were working out our “Daddy issues” with this TV comedy sketch that day.
After we wrapped up the taping, the crew invited us to join them for lunch where they had a big spread catered Cuban food. I had not seen Cuban food since I had worked in the Everglades nearly ten years earlier and I was surprised to see it in LA. Their response was “Of course you can get Cuban food here! It’s LA! You can get everything here!”
As we were getting ready to leave, Daniel Tosh came over to graciously say goodbye to us. He seemed pleased how well the TV taping went with my mom and me. He did not shake hands with us since he did not want to get us sick, but he did allow us to get a picture of him and me to mark the occasion.
Oh, and the good news was that I did not catch any cold, flu, illness, or crud that he had at that time!
As we said goodbye, a driver came to pick us up. He offered to drop us off at the airport or anywhere we wanted in LA. The catch was that if he dropped us off anywhere other than the airport, we would then have to find our own way back to the airport. We asked to be dropped off at the house of my dad’s cousin in Hawthorne, which is just minutes from LAX. During this trip, my mom was in touch with my Dad’s cousin. She was thrilled to see us and to spend a couple of hours with her at her home before she drove us to the airport.
At the airport, my mom joked with some random people that she had joined Tanya and me for our honeymoon trip. All three of us thought it was funny. Tanya and I still went to Augusta, Missouri, later that week to enjoy a brief honeymoon trip. Yes, the wine was great there! There was no traffic on the streets of Augusta. Tanya and I walked down the middle of the streets in Augusta since it was so peaceful there. It was world of difference from LA!
At the studio, Tosh’s staff informed us that the segment that we taped would probably air sometime in late July or early August. For months, Tanya, my mom and me were very nervous how the show could be edited in such a way that we could end up looking very bad. The show finally aired on the Comedy Channel on August 2, 2016, Climate Change Comedian – Web Redemption Tosh.o
The impact of my appearance on Comedy Central TV’s Tosh.o
When the show aired, I was working at Crater Lake. For the park ranger staff, every Tuesday evening The Crater Lake Science and Learning Center scheduled a “Casual Conversations” lecture with a visiting park research scientist or Crater Lake staff researcher. These events were a great way to mingle with park staff and outside researchers, as well as learn about their findings. On that evening, I did not attend since I was nervously anxious to see how my TV appearance. Even more, I learned afterwards that hardly anyone working in the park attended because they were at home to see me on TV.
It aired at 7 pm Pacific time and 9 pm Central time, where my Mom and Tanya saw it in St. Louis. My mom and Tanya each called me to say how relieved they were that the show turned out well and how proud they were of me. We were all so excited we got to experience the taping in LA together. The humor on Tosh.o was way to raunchy and tasteless for my mom, Tanya and me. We would joke that we felt like we had cleaned up the show for a few minutes with our segment. For months afterwards, my mom would walk up to young people to ask them: “Have you ever seen Tosh.o on Comedy Central? My son and I were on that show!” The young people she encountered and older friends of my mom, including her dentist, were very surprised to see her on Tosh.o. That was amazed me because her appearance on the show was very brief.
To this day, appearing on Comedy Central’s Tosh.o was one of the highlights of my life. In one sense, I never dreamed when I gave myself the title “Climate Change Comedian” back in Ashland, OR in 2009 that it would lead to a TV appearance seen by millions of people. This reached an audience, especially of young high school and college age Gen Y and Z viewers, primarily male, that regularly watch Tosh.o. These are folks that might not ever attend a park ranger program on climate change or see a scientific lecture on the climate crisis.
Even more, this show episode immediately went into syndication where it was shown several times over the next few months and years on Comedy Central. I had friends that would tag me on Facebook that they had seen my episode months or even years later. My appearance on the show paid extremely well. My mom said she was able to pay to get dental work done from the check she received from the show. Years later, I continued to receive residual Screen Actors Guild checks from my appearance on Tosh.o.
My other media appearances as “The Climate Change Comedian”
As the Climate Change Comedian, I did not know how I would top that appearance on the show, nor did I have ambition to top it. That Tosh.o appearance and that title did feel like it opened some doors for me. Two years later, I was honored to appear on my friend Peterson Toscano’s podcast, Citizens’ Climate Radio, on the May 29, 2018, episode, “Climate Comedy.” Peterson is a great comic performance artist. If you listen to the podcast, it felt we had a great rapport in this interview with our love of comedy. Near the end of our interview, Peterson loved the quote I shared from climate speaker Dan Miller in his 2014 TED talk: “Society conspires to suppress the discussion of climate change. As someone who talks about climate change a lot, I can vouch for this. For me, talking about climate change (can feel) like farting at a cocktail party.”
On March 4, 2020, Puppet comedian Chad Bird interviewed me for the last 18 minutes of the Climate Pod. At that time, I was primarily lobbying as a volunteer for Renew Oregon to urge legislators to pass a state level cap and invest bill to reduce the threat of climate change. Chad Bird asked me primarily about how Oregon Democratic legislators during that 2020 session could not pass strong climate change legislation. The bill failed because of an absurd GOP walkout. As a climate organizer and wannabe comedian (I agree with my critics that I am not that funny) for over a decade, I had many highlights, such as meeting and having a conversation with former Vice President Al Gore. He’s at the top of my list. After that, I would say that I really enjoyed my interaction with Chad Bird.
Even more, Tosh.o invited me to be back on this show on November 10, 2020. It was a fun experience to return to the show. With the COVID pandemic still raging, my appearance was on Zoom this time. It was great to interact with Daniel Tosh again. As they say in the movies, ‘The sequel was not as good as the original.’ Tosh was starting to wrap up his series on Comedy Central. I appeared as part of a panel of four previous guests he had on the show. With all the quick editing of the comments from each of the panelists, none of the comments I made about climate change made it into the broadcast. Thus, it felt like a bit of a letdown compared to the first appearance in 2016. At the same time, it was good to get paid, have fun on TV and brought back great memories of my first appearance where I did get to chat about climate change.
Even if my second appearance on Tosh.o did not feel as good as the original, it was one of my highlights of the pandemic. I didn’t feel like laughing much when COVID was raging due to the reports of all the people dying, the economic downturn, President Donald Trump pathetic response including digesting bleach, and for all the lives it disrupted, including mine. I felt a lot of guilt and depression because I did have my health, my wife Tanya, and a safe place to live. So many people struggled with the illness and way too many families lost loved ones. I strictly adhered to the social distancing and staying at home. At the same time, the isolation took a huge psychological toll because I am a people person who loves to be around people to chat, network, organize and attend meetings for climate action.
The COVID Pandemic killed my enthusiasm for Climate Change Comedy
Before the pandemic, I was always on the go attending meetings, giving climate change talks in the Portland OR area, meeting up with fellow organizers and friends, carpooling to the Oregon Capitol in Salem to lobby legislators, testifying and attending legislative committee meetings at the Capitol, flying to Washington D.C. twice a year to attend Congressional lobby meetings, participating as a mentor and speak speaker at Climate Reality Project Trainings, traveling to other states to give climate change presentations, and traveling back to St. Louis once or twice a year to see family and give climate change talks there. It was almost non-stop climate action where I was gone from home during the day or evenings often. When the pandemic happened, it all went away. I did not know what to do with myself. With the heaviness of the pandemic hanging over everything, I just did not feel motivated to write or do anything, especially climate comedy.
To find a way forward, I drew upon my experience lobbying and meeting with state legislators to urge them to pass climate legislation. During the summer of 2020, I started meeting by Zoom and phone with Oregon Legislators that I had met during my lobbying for the cap and invest bills in 2019 and 2020. As a Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteer, I urged them to endorse the federal carbon pricing bill supported by CCL, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA).
September 17, 2020, I met with Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell to ask her to endorse the EICDA. In addition to her endorsement, Tiffiny asked if she could introduce a statewide resolution supporting the bill. The resolution was introduced on the Senate floor February 4, 2021, when it officially became known as Senate Joint Memorial 5 or SJM 5. One year ago in January 2022, I detailed this experience in a blog I wrote, I led the effort for Oregon Senate to pass a Climate Resolution.
One of the biggest thrills of my life happened when SJM 5 passed the Oregon Senate on April 7th 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. When SJM 5 moved on to the Oregon House that spring, it ended up with 30 House members, including 7 Republicans, endorsing SJM 5. Sadly, SJM 5 died towards the end of the legislation session when the House Democratic Leadership decided not to bring it up for a vote.
The resolution falling short was something I was prepared could happen. During the previous two legislative sessions, I had lobbied hard with Renew Oregon in their efforts to push the Oregon Legislature to pass carbon pricing legislation. In the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions, the Democrats had the votes to pass the bills. Unfortunately, the Republicans would just flee the state to deny a quorum for a floor vote, which killed both bills. I had deep emotional scars from those experiences to know that you can never count on legislation to pass until it does.
The worst part of this experience was the bitterness by the core CCL volunteers who worked most closely we me. With the bill failing short, they directed their anger at the state legislators and me. They took actions that I felt like were burning bridges with the legislators in their last-minute attempt to pressure them to pass the resolution. I wanted no part of their actions, which damaged our relationships. This situation left me feeling burned out as a climate organizer with no energy for climate comedy.
The only joke I could muster at that time was to say: “I just want to go to grad school for organizing to learn how to ‘stand down’ upset fellow organizers once a bill we have worked on for many months fails.”
That summer and fall, I wrote extensively about my frustration over the years as a climate organizer to see if I could possibly turn that into a book someday. In the middle of writing that story in September 2021, I got a Facebook message from my Climate Reality friend Raj, who lives in India. He wrote:
“Hey Brian, how are you? A friend is organizing an event using comedy and climate change around COP26. I mentioned you and she wanted to connect. Do leave your email if you are interested.”
I did reply with my email and received an email from another climate organizer. He wrote that he was part of a group organizing actions for the United Nations COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. They envisioned calling it “UNITED COMEDIANS FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE” / bringing laughter to science on a serious note!”
I admired their energy and enthusiasm to bring humor to that conference that held in November 2021. However, I politely declined writing, “To be honest, I have not felt that funny since then, especially with the pandemic.”
They sent me a couple of emails to try to coax me to join them, but my heart was just not into it at the time. I had no energy for climate organizing in the remaining months of 2021. I had zero interest in climate change comedy at that time.
Getting my groove back as “The Climate Change Comedian”
In addition to the dreary shadow coming out of the COVID pandemic and falling short with the 2021 Oregon SJM 5 climate resolution where I was the lead organizer, watching on TV the events of the insurrection of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021, shook me to the core. After that happened, I was determined to do all I could in 2022 to organize and work on Democratic campaigns. It felt vital for me to work for candidates that would shore up our democracy, abortion rights, and would prioritize climate legislation.
In March 2022, my Climate Reality friend Raz Mason invited me to work on her Oregon Senate campaign as “The Volunteer Coordinator.” I relished this role to deliver lawn signs, recruit volunteers, organize fundraising house parties, call friends to contribute to her campaign, and knock on doors for the Senate district where Raz was running on the southeast exurbs of Portland, Oregon. I worked all spring and summer in this role until Raz became worried about her campaign funds running too low to pay me.
In September, Raz encouraged me to apply to be become a full-time paid canvasser for the East County Rising (ECR) community organization. ECR is a social justice organization that focuses on getting out the vote to elect progressive Democratic local candidates for the eastern part of the Portland metro area. I canvassed full time for ECR, knocking on thousands of doors in the final two months of the campaign, up until the November 8th election.
While I exclusively focused for most of 2022 on organizing for Democratic candidates who would be strong advocates for democracy, a woman’s right to choose and climate action, I got an email from Robin Riddlebarger, Park Superintendent of Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina in May 2022.
Robin wrote: “Howdy! Stumbled upon your (Climate Change Comedian) website as I was searching for inspiration about a guest for our annual conference of superintendents for North Carolina State Parks. I am organizing this year’s conference with three other superintendents. We’re thinking about options. We want this conference to be inspiring and refreshing instead of depressing like it usually is. I’d love to find out more about your prices for doing an in-person and virtual presentation to a bunch of crusty superintendents.”
This looked like a good opportunity to jump on, so I immediately emailed Robin back. I expressed an interest to speak to her group and shared my speaking fee. I made it clear that they would have to reimburse my airline expense. This would be in addition to my speaking fee, which was not going to be cheap since they would be flying me from Portland, Oregon to North Carolina. In that email, I asked why they were interested in me as a speaker. Why me?
Robin’s response: “Myself and three other superintendents are brainstorming guest speakers that will inspire us. We found that we usually leave the conference feeling more burnt out than we were when we arrived. The four of us are determined that this year will be different. We will at least learn something. Instead of listening to boring HR polices that could have been handled in an email.
Our staff has endured great suffering since the pandemic and morale is at an all time low. We even had a ranger take his life recently. The parks were the only thing open during the pandemic and have been loved to death. Are you sensing a theme here? We need to learn something meaningful and we need positive inspiration. The superintendents live for their parks. I always say I don’t know if the park is my husband or my child but it’s something more than a job. We care a lot. But we’re dysfunctional as heck. We don’t need team building. We are already an awesome team. We need something GOOD. Is this anything you would want to tackle? (I’m laughing because obviously climate change is not good, but you know what I mean)”
Robin’s email really touched my heart. As a professional speaker that loved to entertain, educate and inspire audiences, this looked like a challenge I was definitely up to do. It seemed like a great fit for me. I wanted to give a presentation that could provide hopefully some healing for them while entertaining and inspiring them. I figured I was their ideal person for this.
Robin and I kept in touch over the summer and fall to work out the logistics. The North Carolina State Parks Superintendents Conference was scheduled for November 14-16. The timing was perfect. It would be two weeks after the election, when my temporary canvassing job would be completed with ECR. By late in the election season, I was feeling worn down by canvassing all summer and into the fall with the heat, rain, smoke, aggressive dogs, and rude people I would encounter daily who would slam their door in my face.
This would be a much-needed working vacation. I had only been to North Carolina one previous time. This would be a new state for me to give a climate change talk. Before the pandemic, I had given climate change talks in 11 U.S. states, plus Washington D.C. and Ottawa, Canada. I loved giving climate change talks in new states! In October, I started preparing my slides for the presentation. Since I worked in the national parks for 25 years, it felt like this was an audience where I could speak their language of loving their park job while hating the bureaucratic system that manages the parks.
The title of this presentation was “Our Parks: Places of fun, healing, and inspiration to change the world.” I gave this talk at the beginning of the conference at the Haw River State Park Conference Center to about 44 North Carolina state park superintendents on November 14, 2022. This was my first in person talk in almost three years since I gave my last presentation at a public community Meeting in Portland, Oregon on March 2, 2020. The superintendents laughed at some of my jokes, but my timing was rusty since I had not performed live in years.
With her approval, I included Robin’s email to me in my PowerPoint why she thought I would be ideal to speak at this conference, “Instead of listening to boring HR polices that could have been handled in an email.”
When I practiced my talk for Tanya before leaving for North Carolina, she strongly advised me to not use that joke because it might hurt the feelings of HR staff who love their presentations about policies. However, when I shared Robin’s email in my talk, the HR line received a big laugh from the audience. The organizers of this conference joked about that line afterwards and they were still making jokes about dry HR presentations the next day.
I felt like I got my groove back with this talk. I did not know when I would return to North Carolina. In October, I messaged friends that I knew for many years that lived on Ocracoke in the Outer Banks if I could stay with them. They said yes. However, they insisted that I ‘sing for my supper’ by giving a climate change talk to over 50 middle and high school students in Ocracoke. Thus, I ended up giving two climate change talks on this 8 day trip to North Carolina.
While I was in North Carolina, I rented a car from Raleigh to the Outer Banks. The drive from Kill Devil Hills on the northern part of the Outer Banks to Ocracoke was stunningly beautiful with the beaches, lighthouses, and impressive bridges and ferries connecting the islands on the Outer Banks. My talk for the middle and high school students in Ocracoke went well overall. Teens are generally much tougher audiences for the jokes I like to share during my presentations.
It felt like I was back to my old self before the pandemic of traveling to other states once or twice a year to give climate change talks and doing sightseeing in between those talks. I will keep my fingers crossed that I will get more invitations like this in the future since I definitely seem to be a big step up from talks on “boring HR policies.”
Why did I share this very long story with you?
First, I enrolled in a “Writing Your Story” continuing adult education class at my local community college that starts today.
Last week, the instructor left a voice message on my phone to welcome me to the class. She offered that I was more than welcome to bring some of my writing to read to class if it is no longer than 5 minutes.
I started writing a brief account of my story of “The Climate Change Comedian.” As I began writing the story, I realized I had never written the full story. Once I start writing, I have a hard time stopping. Brevity has never been my strong point.
As French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote in his Lettres Provinciales, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
Bottom line: I need a really good editor!
For me, it is great to have a full account of this part of my story as I hope to turn my life story into a published book someday. Even more, if life does not give me an opportunity to write that book, I hope someone would be able to use my writings to turn it into a written biography about me.
This class starts today. This week, I decided to write much more condensed version for the class. I then broke it up into two parts since I will only have about 5 minutes to share my story. Here for my blog, it is great to have a longer and more in depth version to share.
Second, While the threat of climate change is deadly serious and potentially catastrophic, it is vital that we find a way to have fun communicating about it.
Many people think of the topic of climate change as depressing, demoralizing, and even fatalistic. ‘Yeah, global warming is bad, but there’s nothing I can do about it,’ someone might say.
I always hope to convey that climate change is very serious, but we can’t take ourselves too seriously. Climate scientists still think there are actions we can take to lessen the threat. If we have hope, we have a chance. Hope can lead to a sense of humor. A sense of humor often has a key ingredient of creativity. Creativity plus fun can provide the inspiration to take the needed actions to reduce the threat of climate change.
I hope to write a future blog with the title “For effective Climate Action, Have Fun!”
I was long overdue writing the full story how I became “The Climate Change Comedian.” I hope my story will inspire you to have fun saving the planet. Even more, I hope my story will inspire you to book me as a guest speaker for your group that is entertaining, educational, and inspiring as “The Climate Change Comedian.”
In any battle or war, nothing can be more demoralizing than taking friendly fire from your fellow allies. As a climate organizer, I consider climate shaming (criticizing a fellow climate activist for not taking actions such as owning an electric car, installing solar panels, going vegan/vegetarian, flying in an airplane, having children, etc) very infuriating. I have been on the brunt end of this several times over the years and I have no patience for it now. For climate advocates, it is time to stop shaming our fellow climate advocates NOW.
It started the day after Christmas, December 26th, when I posted on Facebook: “For #ClimateAction, 7 years ago today, (my wife) Tanya and I test drove a Tesla to learn more about Electric Vehicles. I am still a huge fan of EVs and Teslas, but not of their CEO, Elon Musk.” The picture and the original post popped up on my Facebook memories. The original post from seven years ago: “Tanya and I test drove a Testa, a 100% electric car today. It was a lot of fun. I hope to blog more about the experience soon.” Yes, blog about it soon afterwards, I did. Just four days later, December 30, 2015, I blogged, With climate change action, you can receive far more than you can seek.
My wife Tanya and I love EVs (Electric Vehicles). With my climate organizing, for years I have dreamed about owning a car that is not dependent upon fossil fuels/gasoline for fuel and emits carbon dioxide from the tail pipe that contributes to climate change. Tanya and I were newly weds, getting married the month before, in November 2015. This was a very sweet gesture for her to book a free appointment for us to test drive a Tesla. Even more, the cost was free. Thus, I highly recommend everyone go for a test drive of an EV so they can see how quiet, quick and enjoyable they are to drive.
Not long after I posted this 7th anniversary of our Tesla test drive, my mother-in-law Nancy commented in jest: “It suits you!!!” I responded: “Yes, Nancy…Tanya and I dream of having a nice electric car someday. So, yes, it does suit me. My green Honda Civic is still going strong that is almost 21 years old. I have also heard that one of the greenest things you can do is to keep your present car running as long as you can. We also have the problem of living in an apartment without the ability to charge an electric vehicle yet.”
Just a few hours later, this was where the ugly monster of carbon shaming reared its head. A friend named David wrote: ‘Brian Ettling: just remember that “green” Civic at say 40 miles/gal Is putting out .6lbs CO2 per mile or nearly 3X that of a Tesla on the Oregon grid.’ Ouch!
I had reached my limit with what I perceived as carbon shaming over the years, so I was not going to let that comment slide. Years later, someone had shamed me on Facebook because my wife and I had thought about having kids. This person was very worried about over population, fair enough. So am I. However, this is a sensitive subject for my wife and I since we met later in life. As it turned out, too late to have kids. We would have loved to the opportunity to create our own children. This person would not listen to my reasoning and kept wanting to lecture me how having children is bad with overpopulation. That conversation left a very bad taste in my mouth.
Sadly, I have encountered other carbon shaming over the years from not buying an EV yet, flying on airplanes to attend climate conferences, etc. Apparently, I am not the only climate advocate on the receiving end. Climate scientist Dr. Katherine Hayhoe tried to address some of the biggest topics of climate shaming in her 2018 Global Weirding video, ‘The easiest ways to fix climate change is population control and going vegan – right?’ One year later, climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann addressed these same concerns in a 2019 USA Today opinion commentary he co-wrote fellow Penn State Professor Jonathan Brockopp, You can’t save the climate by going vegan. Corporate polluters must be held accountable. Their op-ed stated: “Many individual actions to slow climate change are worth taking. But they distract from the systemic changes that are needed to avert this crisis.” Taking even more direct aim at carbon shaming, they wrote: “a focus on personal action can divide us, with those living virtuously distancing themselves from those living ‘in sin.'”
In 2021, Dr. Mann wrote his most recent book, The New Climate War: The fight to take back our planet. In chapter 4 of this book, Dr. Mann devotes pages to the futility of carbon shaming for those who are not vegan, still flying, having children, etc. Dr. Mann frequently points out that he gets his ‘electricity from renewables, has one child, drives a hybrid, and does not eat meat.’ However, that has not been enough for the purists criticizing him. It’s a “purity test” where no one, not even the top climate scientists in the world can measure up. It’s incredibly unproductive for decarbonizing the U.S. and global economy to reduce the threat of climate change. In 2022, I wrote blog to review of The New Climate War when the paperback edition was released in the spring. In my blog, Dr. Michael E. Mann says: ‘We need urgency & agency to solve the Climate Crisis’, I applauded Dr. Mann devoted for drawing attention to the harm of shaming in the climate movement. I stand with Dr. Mann, Dr. Katherine Hayhoe and others denouncing carbon shaming. It must end now if we are serious about fully addressing the climate crisis.
With my deep animosity when I see carbon shaming, I posted this response to my friend David on Facebook: “Hey David! Careful what you say there, buddy. I am sensing some ‘carbon shaming,’ which I don’t really appreciate. Unfortunately, I live in the U.S, where sadly, most places, you need a car to get around. When I bought my “green” Honda Civic almost 21 years ago, it was the most fuel efficient economical car I could afford then. If you spend much time with me, you would know that I don’t like to drive and I use public transit as much as possible. I live in Portland, Oregon, which does have great public transit and I do use it as often as possible. You don’t need to remind me how much CO2 my car emits. As a climate organizer, I find that to be rather insulting. If you are reading this post, I will notice that I love EVs and want to own one. However, I can’t afford one right now. Even more, I live in an apartment complex with no access to charging. I keep my car running in top condition to get the best mileage and my wife depends upon this car for work. When I do eventually have to replace my “green” Honda Civic, I hope to get an EV. Instead of wagging you finger at me, I wish you would spend more time lobbying and engaging your elected officials for more mass transit, policies to incentivize charging outlets for apartment owners, more charging stations, and more affordable EVs.”
I then shared a photo of me from 2019 using public transit of me sitting on board the MAX light rail commuter train, taken in October 2019.
David replied: “ah Brian I DO lobby (CCL – Citizens’ Climate Lobby) and write Congress often and even write a monthly opinion column in the local paper. But I find those fully walking the talk to be most convincing. Yes you are doing many good things and have a plan to do more in the future. That is all good. But if we who are truly concerned about climate change do not ourselves change how could we expect others to change?”
My response: “David: I wish you could shadow me for a day in Portland OR because I do take public transportation a lot. To the extent that I feel very spoiled living in Portland and I will probably feel frustrated moving to another city where the public transit is not as good, unless I move to NYC, Washington D.C, Vancouver B.C, Boston, or a couple of other North American cities with amazing public transit. I always try to take public transit when I attend climate organizing meetings in Portland, meeting up with friends, going to see movies, going downtown, to the airport, various jobs I have held, or even to some of the trails that my wife and I enjoy hiking. As a matter of fact, I don’t think my car would have lasted this long if I would have been using it to run around for all of these short trips. Even more, my wife needs this car for work. My wife has dutifully taken buses and ridden a bike to work when I absolutely needed the car for work or my organizing. Sadly, we live in a part of Portland that is not bike friendly, even though we live in a city that is very bike friendly overall. If I had a huge Cadillac or Hummer that I was constantly driving all over the place, then you could call me out for not “walking the talk.” However, I wish you could shadow me to see how often I use public transit, such as what I did this evening to meet up with a friend.”
At this point, my friend Claire stepped in to comment: “This conversation is utterly frustrating.
I am walking the walk in every way I can. I’ve a long climate mitigation to do list I made nearly a decade ago and just about everything is done on it. One thing after another done. Electric cars, heat pumps, superinsulation, heat pump hot water heater, solar panels, electric lawnmower, recycle, reuse, reduce…I do everything I can think of right down to using a bidet instead of toilet paper.
And you know what? All those actions eliminate a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the US emissions. Heck, they eliminate a fraction of my own footprint when you consider the roads I drive on and the public buildings I frequent.
Our personal actions are critical because they are political speech. They convey the depth of our convictions and our commitment. They scream to others how much this matters.
But without public policy changes, these are a drop in the bucket.
And here’s the thing, being able to afford all the stuff I’ve done is a privilege. I’m really fortunate.
What is really great is the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law. Those will make these actions more affordable and accessible to more folks. But even that spreads the incentives over a span of a decade.
There should be zero shame in our climate efforts. There should be a boatload of making electrification and decarbonization affordable and the most accessible option.
Climate action is not penance. It must not be made into penance. It has to be integral to mainstream life.
In the meantime, each of us must find the things we can do (lobby, protest, drive electric, superinsulate our home, frequent businesses that do the same, buy solar, eliminate meat, reuse grocery bags…) and push for support for the things on that list that we cannot do.
Because our system is designed to make this hard. Impossible for many.
Stop climate-shaming people.
Brian Ettling is a dedicated climate activist finding every avenue where his skills and passion can work. We would be very fortunate if everyone was doing just that.”
At this point, I admired David for conceding in this discussion and trying to seek common ground. He wrote: “Claire: There is no shaming. I was just point out a fact that EV’s do have a much lower carbon footprint than burning gas. That is ALL I said. Sorry as I did not mean to hit such a sore spot. I respect Brian and I do appreciate what he does do.”
Claire had more to say in her exchange with David that you can find in comments on this Facebook post from December 26, 2022.
At this point, I decided it was good for me to extend an olive branch to David. I admired his passion as a climate advocate with his comments on my wall, even if I thought he was going a bit too far. I wrote back to him: “Thank you for your comments, David. I absolutely know that EVs have a much lower carbon footprint than burning gas. Don’t get me wrong, I love EVs. I have EV envy when I see friends and strangers drive theirs down the street. This green Honda Civic is the first car I ever owned and I do want to see how long it will last. At the same time, it won’t last forever. It will be 21 years old in February. At some point, it will wear out. When it does, my wife and I hope to get an EV or EV hybrid that we can afford. Until then, I will continue to be using public transit as much as I can, getting our bike fixed up, and keeping this car running in the best shape possible.”
Furthermore, I appreciated Claire’s input and positive support of my climate organizing on this chat thread. Thus, I wanted to respond to her. Thus, I posted: “
Thank you so much for your comments Claire Cohen-Norris because I really do appreciate all that you do and always learn from your comments. You have been a model climate advocate for me with getting electric cars, heat pumps, super insulation, solar panels, electric lawnmower, recycle, reuse, reduce, etc. You amaze me and I say that with all sincerity.
I am sorry if this conversation frustrated you because I do love a good debate now and then. I don’t mind people questioning me, as long as they know that on my wall, I am going to push back when I feel like they might have gone too far. Yes, I will admit that I am a sensitive person and sometimes this gets me into trouble when I should let more things slide.
At the same time, I am sensitive when I feel there’s any kind of shaming among fellow climate advocates. 11 years ago, a fellow climate advocate tried to shame me for flying to San Francisco to at attend the American Geophysical Union Conference to learn what I could from the world’s top climate scientists about climate change. A few months later I flew to Washington D.C. and New York City to look into grad schools to be a better climate advocate. This person did not realize that I had sometimes gone through many years of not flying to do these actions to further myself as a climate advocate. This person did not make a good case for himself because he said that he refused to fly or travel to see his grandchildren. Thus, he had not seen them in years. It is sad if we become too virtuous in our climate actions that we harm relationships with our families and love ones.
My wife and I met in our 40s. We would have loved to have children, but it just did not work out. However, I still had more than one climate advocate shame me at even the thought of having children. That was very painful for me to be shamed that way. Thus, I am sensitive to the potential of shaming.
My thought is that if one wants to go vegan or vegetarian to “save the planet,” go for it! Even more, I encourage them if they can afford to have their friends and family over now and then and cook the most tasty vegan/vegetarian food they can . Make that food so good that they will be dying for the recipes. One of my all time favorite stories is about Linda McCartney (Paul’s wife). In the 1990s before she passed away, a couple of her vegetarian cookbooks were published. She had some people come up to her to say, ‘You know that people are stealing your recipes and claiming them as their own.’ Her response: ‘Good! Now I can retire!’
As advocates we should be doing what we can and having fun doing it that people will want to steal our ideas and actions.
Having said that, I can and should do better. Last week, the weather got unseasonably cold in Portland OR, down to the 20s. That’s cold for here, but laughable if you are from upstate NY and many places in the U.S. As a result of this cold, our apartment complex asked us to keep our heat on all night, open our kitchen & bathroom cabinets underneath the sinks, and let the water drip all night so that our pipes would not freeze. We dutifully did this to protect our pipes, but this was the antithesis of everything I try to do as a climate advocate. Even more, I am going to dread the heating bill when it comes. Then I remembered that I was given a weatherization kit from a local community organization 5 years ago that had been gathering dust. I broke out the kit, but I am not good at ‘fix it/carpentry/home repair’ stuff. Thus, I tucked it back in the bag and sheepishly put it back in the corner. Even worse, I had recently borrowed an electric drill from a friend to try to buff the UV haze off one of my car headlights, which I was able to fix. Thus, I do have potential here. I think my solution is that I am going to have to invite a fellow climate advocate friend over, the same one whom I borrowed the drill, to finally weatherize my apartment.
The point I am trying to get to is that the airlines do give us the best advice on all of this: ‘In case of an emergency, put your oxygen mask on first. THEN assist your children or those needing help around you.’
Thus, if a climate advocate has the means, yes, please do buy an EV, get solar panels, an electric heat pump, etc. However, their job is not done. THEN they have to help their neighbors to get these products also by publicly lobbying and advocating them to be as affordable as possible. They should do these things in a spirt of fun and engage their neighbors when they have questions about it so that their neighbors will then want to ‘Keep up with the Jones’ in the best way.
I always enjoy our conversations and I learn so much from you. I hope I get a chance to meet you and (your partner, who am I also Facebook friends) someday.”
For me, a good conversation is about learning from others, testing previous held ideas, gaining new knowledge, shedding incorrect assumptions, standing firm on principles, and finding common ground so that everyone feels like they gained from the experience. While I felt strongly that David veered into carbon shaming me with his comments, I still felt like David and Claire challenged and inspired me to be a better climate organizer.
Now I just have to reach out to my friend to see if he will help me with my weatherization for my apartment. Stay tuned!
Looking to read a good book for what you can do for the problem and solutions to climate change? I highly recommend climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann’s 2021 book (soon to be a paperback edition coming out on May 10, 2022), The New Climate War: The fight to take back our planet.
As you read this book, you will be able to dig deeper into Dr. Mann’s message that ‘We need urgency and agency to solve the climate crisis.’
My Admiration for climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann goes back many years
For over a decade, I have been reading Dr. Mann’s books and following his appearances the media. As a seasonal park ranger in Everglades National Park, Florida in the 2000s, I took an interest in organizing and giving public presentations in climate change as far back as 2008. To prepare for my own climate change presentations in 2010, I read Dr. Mann’s book, that he co-wrote with University of Pennsylvania Professor of Geosciences Lee R. Kump, Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming, The illustrated guide to the findings of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). I mentioned his famous Hockey Stick Graph in the very my very first powerpoint that I created to share with friends in 2020, “Let’s Have Fun Getting Serious about Resolving Climate Change.”
In February 2011, I joined my local Toastmasters public speaking support group in my hometown of St. Louis MO to be a better public speaker for my climate change advocacy. About one third of this group were climate change deniers or doubtful of the science of climate change. On February 16th, I gave my “icebreaker” speech where I shared that I joined Toastmasters to be a more effective climate change communicator. Afterwards, one of the climate denier club members immediately challenged me with a question. She wanted me to address in a speech this question: ‘What is the exact evidence that scientists know that humans are causing global warming?’
Her question seemed like a fun challenge for me to learn what is this key bit of evidence that we can point that humans, not natural causes, are the primary cause for present day climate change. The best source I could find then was was the text and graphs from Dr. Mann’s book, Dire Predictions on pages 34-35, with the heading, “Couldn’t the increase in atmospheric CO2 be the result of natural cycles?”
With so many climate deniers and doubters in this Toastmaster audience, plus climate change considered to be a dour subject by others undecided members, I knew this was going to be a heavy and awkward experience to give this speech. It felt like it was going to be as about awkward as farting or passing gas at a cocktail party. Thus, I decided to acknowledge the obvious and call my speech I AM GOING TO DROP A STINK BOMB ON YOU!
Unlike many other speeches, I was not voted Best Speaker for this speech when I gave it on April 13, 2011. However, I was grateful this climate denier Toastmaster challenged me with that question. With reading Dr. Mann’s book, it helped cement in my mind how we knew a key bit of evidence that points to humans as the major influence on present day climate change.
As my interest in communicating and organizing in climate change became more of a passion in 2011, a friend in Washington D.C. urged me to attend the AGU (American Geophysical Union) Conference in San Francisco CA in December 2011. Many of the top climate scientists and science communicators would be giving presentations on the science of climate change and science of communicating about climate change. Thus, I made arrangements to crash on a friend’s couch in San Francisco so I had a place to stay while attending the conference. It turned out to be very valuable advice for my friend to push me to attend AGU. I attended so many outstanding climate change presentations and had a chance to meet so many renowned climate scientists and communicators.
During the first morning of AGU, I ran into a friend, Scott Mandia, professor of Earth and space sciences and assistant chair of the Physical Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College, New York. He encouraged me to follow him around to hang out for a few minutes before we headed to attend a lecture. As we walked into one of the conference rooms, I saw Professor Mandia walk right up to Dr. Michael E. Mann. I was stunned to see this well known climate scientist in person. Scott introduced me to Dr. Mann. I was tongue tied and star struck to be introduced to him on the spot. Dr. Mann was minutes away from giving his presentation, so I did not want to be a any kind of distraction. I enjoyed his talk. I wish I would have brought my copy of his Dire Predictions book for him to sign after his talk.
In email exchange over a year ago, Dr. Mann responded that he did remember meeting me a number of years ago and he enjoyed it! Very kind of him to say that. I felt more like an interloper at AGU just trying to soak up all the information on climate that I could. I was not presenting a published paper, a ground breaking study, or findings from research, nor was I known in the climate community. I had just started giving my climate change evening program at Crater Lake National Park in August 2011. Just two weeks earlier, I gave a speech to my Toastmasters group about individual climate change solutions, called ‘It is Easy to Be Green’. I was voted as Best Speaker by my fellow Toastmasters for that speech. None of these personal accomplishments were going to turn heads at AGU, nor should they compared to excellent science presentations from the distinguished scientists at this conference, such as Dr. Mann. It is an honor that Dr. Mann might just remember me from our 2011 very brief introduction.
Just a few month later, in March 2012, I blogged a review of his 2012 book, Dr. Michael E. Mann’s Hockey Stick Book is a ‘Very Gripping Read.’ In the blog, I contrasted Dr. Mann with “the polar opposite of the Dos Equis `Most Interesting Man in the World’ beer ads.” It seemed funny when I wrote that 10 years ago. However, the more I see Dr. Mann on TV and hear him in recorded podcast and radio interviews, I think that Dr. Mann has a very compelling personality, with a great sense of humor who would be an enjoyable presence at any kind of gathering. I was so inspired by his 2012 book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, that I wrote a second blog about Dr. Mann one month later for Easter 2012, False Witnesses whose Testimonials Did Not Agree. In both blogs, I really connected with Dr. Mann’s “six stages of denial” that climate deniers cling to avoid accepting the reality of climate change.
I was big fan of Dr. Mann’s 2017 book, The Madhouse Effect, with illustrations by the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Tom Toles, to push back against climate denial. Unfortunately, I was not able to review the book due a busy 2017. That February, my wife and I moved from St. Louis MO to Portland OR. In March 2017, I gave a climate change speaking tour across my home state of Missouri. I then worked my summer job as a seasonal park ranger at Crater National Park from May to October. Most of 2017 was also spent planning and leading a climate change speaking tour across Oregon in the last week of October to the first week of November.
In November 2020, Comedy Central’s Tosh.o invited me to appear again as “The Climate Change Comedian” after my successful appearance on the TV show in August 2016. This time, as the comedy would take center stage on this show, I still wanted to try to slip in a climate change message if possible. With the pandemic, I had not given a climate change presentation in months and I was feeling very rusty. Thus, I emailed Dr. Mann for his advice for climate change messaging for this TV appearance, and this was his response:
“Hi Brian… Sounds like a great opportunity indeed. These days, my messaging is focused on just two words: urgency and agency.
Yes, bad things are happening, we can see them playing out in real time now. But we can prevent the worst from happening. Assuming the election goes our way, there will be leader ship once again in Washington DC. And we have ready climate plans on the table from both Congressional Democrats and the Biden campaign. We need to hit the ground running, and in his perspective first hundred days, Biden and a hopefully Democratic Congress need to pass a climate plan that put a price on carbon, incentivizes clean energy, enforces regulations, and blocks support for new fossil fuel infrastructure.
That’s sort of my elevator pitch!“
That was an amazing gift to exchange emails with one of the world’s top climate scientists, Dr. Mann. After his email, I wrote up my own answer to prepare to a climate change elevator pitch for this Tosh.o appearance. I practiced it over and ever to have it memorized to try to say it naturally during the TV taping. Because of the COVID pandemic and the short notice to film, this time I was filmed at home over Zoom, not flown to Los Angeles like the previous taping. Thus, it was nice not to have to leave home. As I shared with Dr. Mann over email afterwards, very disappointing that I was not able to squeeze in any message on climate change. This was his very gracious response:
“HI Brian, Happy to have been of any help. Sorry they didn’t use that material. I’ve had a number of frustrating experiences before where a lot of stuff (and what I considered was the best stuff), got left on the cutting room floor. It’s one the real challenges in the world of media interviews. Good on you for the effort though, keep it up. It will ultimately pay off!”
It was around this time that I heard from Dr. Mann that his newest book, The New Climate War, would be be release in January 2021. I was really looking forward to reading and reviewing in early 2021. However, I was very busy from January to June 2021 leading the effort for Oregon Senate to pass a Climate Resolution on April 7th that almost passed the Oregon House in June. For the last two years during the pandemic, I was not motivated to write or blog due to a bad depression I felt at that time with the social isolation.
The comedic Adam McKay film “Don’t Look Up,” which I saw on Christmas evening 2021, finally inspired me to start writing and blogging again. I eagerly awaited for Netflix to start showing the movie on December 24th partially because of Dr. Mann’s glowing review. “Don’t Look Up” is about scientists warning their projection that a huge “planet killing” comet will hit the Earth in 6 months unless appropriate action is taken to deflect or destroy the comet. The film stands as a metaphor for climate change. Pardon the pun, but the movie had a deep impact on me. I ended up seeing it twice. I ended up writing a ridiculously long blog about the movie where I quoted Dr. Mann several times.
After writing several blogs in early 2022, I felt motivated to read Dr. Mann’s book and give it a full review.
My Thoughts on Dr. Mann’s 2021 book The New Climate War
Let me say that when I finally read Dr. Mann’s book in early 2022, I really enjoyed reading it. As a climate organizer for over 10 years, I found myself relating with many things that Dr. Mann wrote in this book. I ended up taking over 64 pages of notes from statements Dr. Mann wrote about throughout this book.
In the introduction, Dr. Mann makes it very clear why he calls this book, The New Climate War. On page 3, he makes the case that the past climate deniers (the fossil fuel industry, far right-wing commentators, very conservative Republican members of Congress, etc) “can no longer insist with a straight face, that nothing is happening. Outright denial of the physical evidence of climate change simply isn’t credible anymore. So they have shifted to a softer form of denialism while keeping the oil flowing and fossil fuels burning, engaged in a multipronged offense based on deception, distraction, and delay. This is the new climate war, and the planet is losing.” (his emphasis)
Because I am a climate organizer, Dr. Mann states a position that is music to my ears: “The enemy (mentioned in the last paragraph) has masterfully executed a deflection campaign…aimed at shifting responsibility from corporations to individuals. Personal actions, from going vegan to avoiding flying, are increasingly touted as the primary solution to the climate crisis. Though these actions are worth taking, a fixation on voluntary action alone takes the pressure off of the push for governmental policies to hold polluters accountable.”
Amen, Dr. Michael Mann! Thank you so much for writing this and giving major focus in your book that individual solutions are not enough to solve the climate crisis. I talk more about this further on in this blog about my pet peeve of all the conversations I have had with fellow climate activists lecturing me about individual solutions, such as buying an electric car, going vegan, not flying, not driving, not buying anything, etc. Yes, I try to do many individual actions myself, but I am under no delusions that my individual actions will reduce the threat of climate change on its own merits.
As a matter of fact, I saw writer, climate activist, and founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben address this situation when he gave a lecture in Portland Oregon in May 2019 to promote his book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out. During that lecture, an audience member pressed McKibben why he was not pushing harder for a vegan diet, no flying, and other individual solutions. McKibben responded that he never felt like he was under any delusions that putting solar on his home, changing his diet, and not flying was going to solve the climate crisis. Twice I have seen Bill Mckibben speak in person (more on that later on in this blog). Both times he emphasized creating a climate movement large enough and strong enough to defeat the fossil fuel interests. Thus, I really applaud Dr. Mann’s emphasis on collective action, rather than just individual actions, to address climate change.
Even more, a couple of times in The New Climate War, Dr. Mann cites a study, which is by David Hagmann, Emily Ho, and George Loewenstein, “Nudgling Out Support for a Carbon Tax,”Nature Climate Change 9, no. 6 (2019): 484-489, that, in Dr. Mann’s words, “actually shows that emphasis on small personal actions can actually undermine support for the substantive climate change policies needed.” With all the attention in the climate movement on individual solutions, this finding should be shouted from the rooftops.
Dr. Mann has given a lot of thought to the word “war” to describe the situation that we are facing to counter act the forces of denial or inactivists, as he would now call them. In the introduction, Dr. Mann directly addresses how he has scientific “colleagues who have expressed discomfort in framing our predicament as a ‘war.’ But, as I tell them, the surest way to lose a war is to refuse to recognize you’re in one in the first place. Whether we like it or not, and though clearly not of our own choosing, that’s precisely where we find our ourselves when it comes to the (fossil fuel) industry-funded effort to block action on climate”
Dr. Mann then devotes Chapter 1 to the “Architects and Misinformation and Misdirection”, such as Frederick Seitz and S. Fred Singer. They were contrarian scientists who came out of defended the tobacco industry in the 1950s from the claims that smoking cigarettes caused cancer to then attack Rachel Carson’s warnings of the danger of DDT, the science behind the hole in the ozone, the dangers of acid rain, the extreme danger of wide scale nuclear, etc. All of this history is also covered more extensively in the Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s 2010 book Merchants of Doubt. However, it is good to see Dr. Mann’s perception of this history of science denial.
Even though Dr. Mann is a highly respected climate scientist well familiar with the fine minute technical details of science, I must say I really like his matter-of-fact, plain English writing style in his books. This probably comes from years of experience writing books about climate change to the general public, plus probably having good editors. However, Dr. Mann knows how to write about science that is engaging and easily understood for the person on the street, like me. This includes how he effectively uses humor and sarcasm to make his point. Such as, when he writes on page 16, “Among those contrarian scientists was the very same S. Fred Singer we encountered in the context of acid rain denial. Get used to that name.”
Chapter 2 then focuses how the science denial wars then shift into the climate wars to deny the scientific consensus on human caused climate change. Dr. Mann starts with his own story how he was lured away from studying physics into the field of climate science in the early 1990s. It just a couple of years after Dr. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, had testified to Congress in June 1988 that “It is time to stop waffling…(T)he evidence (of global warming) is pretty strong.” As a 20 year old living in St. Louis MO at that time getting ready to start college, I will never forget reading about Dr. Hansen’s testimony and seeing it on TV. We were having an extreme heatwave and drought that summer, with the Mississippi River at record low levels, Dr. Hansen’s words seemed like a eerie warning from what I was seeing around me then.
Going into the 1990s, climate science awareness was emerging ever stronger in the public sphere. In 1995 Dr. Benjamin Santer and his IPCC coauthors, based upon the existing knowledge of climate literature, concluded that “the balance of evidence suggests an appreciable (then changed to the word “discernible” in that final IPCC report to please the oil-rich Saudis) human influence on climate.” Barely after the ink had dried on this IPCC plenary in February 1996, Santer was publicly attacked by S. Fred Singer in the journal Nature. Yes, Dr. Mann, like a bad horror movie where the same villain keeps resurrecting like a zombie, we can see S. Fred Singer causing more havoc. Chapter 2 focuses on the other oily (if I can use that term) bad actors defending the fossil fuel interests in the 1990s and beyond.
One nightmare character mentioned in Chapter 2 that never seems to go away is chemist Arthur B. Robinson. In 1998, he joined forces with Frederick Seitz to create the “Oregon Petition,” which had thirty-one thousand signatures of so-called “scientists” to gin up a fake widespread opposition to the scientific consensus of climate change. Dr. Mann stops mentioning Robinson on page 32 to move onto the brief history of other well known climate deniers.
Ironically, I had a brush with Arthur B. Robinson in 2021. He was elected to the Oregon Senate in 2020. In December 2020 to June 2021, I organized an effort with Oregon Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers to almost get a climate resolution, known as Senate Joint Memorial 5 or SJM 5, supporting federal carbon pricing, to try to pass in the Oregon Legislature. To get SJM 5 through the Senate, it first had to go through the Senate Energy and Environment Committee. On March 11, 2021, this committee ended up voting in favor of SJM 5 by a vote of 4 to 1, including one rural Republican Senator supporting this climate resolution. The one committee vote that opposed SJM 5, none other than state Senator Arthur B. Robinson. He actually held up the committee vote for a few minutes so he could share his scientific opinion that humans can’t cause climate change. During the Senate vote on April 7, 2021, Senator Robinson had to again hold up the vote for a brief speech to share his views how human caused climate change is not real. His Senate colleagues, including many of his fellow Republicans, just ignored his remarks. SJM 5 ended up sailing through the Oregon Senate by a vote of 23 to 7 with all the Democratic Senators, plus 6 Republican Senators voting for it (which was half of the GOP Senate caucus). Thus, I can personally attest to Dr. Mann that some of these denier characters reported in his book and elsewhere never seem to fully go away.
The later part of this chapter is a summary of Dr. Mann’s defense of his “Hockey Stick Graph” from the numerous attacks of climate deniers and the distraction of deniers to create the giant nothing-burger 2009 Climategate email hack. Again, the actual scandal was the hack of private emails among climate scientists, not the content of their emails. Dr. Mann gives a full history of this struggle in his excellent 2012 book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.
Chapter 3 really struck a chord with me with Dr. Mann sharing the story behind the “Crying Indian” ad campaign that aired in the 1970s. I still vividly remember those TV ads showing trash along the side of the road and waterways. Towards the end of the ad, there is a Native American seeing the trash with crying tear of sorrow in one eye, and then the tag line, “People start pollution. People can stop it.” I was just a little child seeing those ads, but it convinced me for a lifetime to never throw litter on the side of our roads.
Dr. Mann points out that ad was nothing more than a charade and a deflection campaing. The character in the ad “Iron Eyes Cody,” was actually an Italian-American actor, not an American Indian. That ad campaign successfully deflected the burden of litter from corporations that produced packaging to consumers.
The litter problem, we were led to believe, wasn’t pollution-generating corporate practices. It was you and me. And the 1970s efforts to pass bottle recycling bills to shift responsibility to beverage producers for packaging waste, then failed. Today, decades later, plastic pollution is so widespread on our planet that it can now be found in the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench 36,000 feet below. Thus, Chapter 3 is all about deflection campaigns, such as the NRA’s “Gun’s don’t kill people, people kill people”, the tobacco industry blaming flammable furniture, etc. This chapter is setting the table for Chapter 4 how the fossil fuel industry deflects from its responsibility for its leading role for causing climate change to shifting the blame that it’s your/our fault alone.
Dr. Mann correctly devotes pages huge issue of deflection by the fossil fuel industry because we have been so easily deceived by this industry. The New Climate War came out at the beginning of 2021. However, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 causing Americans to worry about a spike in gasoline prices, we are now seeing another deflection campaign by the oil and gas industry to push for more domestic drilling for oil and to ease government regulations. Many Americans still don’t know that oil is a global commodity with the price determined on the global market and the U.S. is already the world’s #1 producer of oil. However, the oil and gas industry wants to convince Americans that ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ will somehow magically lead to lower gasoline prices, climate be damned.
Getting back to ‘It’s YOUR fault’ theme of Chapter 4, Dr. Mann informs us that it was the oil company BP that came up with the concept of the “personal carbon footprint.” This campaign didn’t arise in a vacuum, but rather on the success of the Crying Indian campaign and so many other previously success deflection campaigns. The oil industry wants us as individuals to focus how much oil we are personally using by calculating our personal carbon footprints rather than any kind of collective governmental policy action that could hurt their profits. Dr. Mann quotes environmental author Sami Grover, “Contrary to popular belief, fossil fuel companies are actually all too happy to talk about the environment. They just want to keep the conversation around individual responsibility, not systematic change or corporate culpability.”
Sadly, it does not stop there. The oil industry, prominent media like The New York Times, and even many climate advocates have incorrectly solely focused on individual solutions, such as going vegetarian/vegan, not flying, not driving or driving less, etc. Again, Sami Grover: “Ask your average citizen what they can do to stop global warming and they will say, ‘go vegetarian’ or ‘turn off the lights,’ long before they talk about lobbying their elected officials.”
That quote really connected with me because I traveled to Washington D.C. eight times in four years (2015-2019) to lobby Congressional offices to act on climate. Plus, I have carpooled with climate advocates to travel to the Oregon state Capitol in Salem numerous times to urged elected officials to pass strong climate policy. Yet, so many fellow climate advocates I encounter in person and on social media don’t seem to understand the importance of voting and lobbying elected officials to prioritize climate policies. Sadly, many climate advocates have been egged on by the climate deniers, or as Dr. Mann calls them now the inactivists, and even the Russians on social media, to just shame fellow climate advocates for flying, eating meat, etc. I really do appreciate the space the Dr. Mann devoted in Chapter 4 on the harmful nature of shaming in the climate movement.
As I also mention in the next section, I have had my fill of shaming by so called climate advocates for for personal decisions such flying, having kids, sometimes eating meat, not buying an electric car yet, etc. The shaming has been so irritating for me that it reminds me of a documentary I saw in 2009 called Lord Save Us from Your Follows by writer & director Dan Merchant. This film asks if evangelical Christians are actually turning Americans away from religion with their heavy preaching of moral values. Some climate advocates may also need to question their tactics with shaming. Dr. Mann cites climate-messaging expert Max Boycoff of the University of Colorado for noting that “flight shaming” for example “is one of the more unproductive ways to have a conversation. Boycoff thinks that all shaming does is make people feel bad, it’s “blaming other people while not actually talking about the structures that give rise to the need or desire to take those trips.”
As a climate organizer looking to struggling to find a way to make collective and systematic change, I loved what Dr. Mann wrote at the end of Chapter 4, “We should all engage in climate-friendly individual actions. They make us feel better and they set a good example for others. But don’t become complacent, thinking your duty is done when you recycle your bottles or ride your bicycle to work. We cannot solve this problem without deep systemic change, and that necessitates government action. In turn, that requires using our voices, demanding change, supporting climate-focused organizations, and voting for and supporting politicians who will back climate-friendly policies––which includes putting a price on pollution––the topic of the next chapter.”
For the past 10 years, I volunteered with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which primarily advocates for a federal price on carbon. I strongly support a carbon price because most people don’t have time to research whether products they are buying were manufactured and transported using a lot of fossil fuels or not. A policy like carbon fee and dividend puts a tax on the pollution at the source, the oil well, natural gas well, or coal mine, and then that fee is carried over into the cost of the product. Thus, hopefully an apple produced locally using an electric tractor, would be cheaper than an apple shipped from Chile. Thus, I was thrilled to see Dr. Mann devote an entire chapter to this book to carbon pricing.
Unfortunately, Dr. Mann points out on page 108 that carbon pricing “Carbon pricing gets attacked by both left and right wing politics.”
As a Democratic leaning voter, I was particularly dismayed that the Green New Deal (GND), first promoted by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2019, advocates against a price on carbon. Even worse, “A letter signed by 626 groups, including Greenpeace and 350.org, was delivered to every member of Congress in early 2019 laying out support for a GND, while stating that the groups ‘will vigorously oppose any legislation that…promotes corporate schemes that place profits over community burdens and benefits, including market-based mechanisms…such as carbon and emissions trading and offsets.” (emphasis added)
Dr. Mann then touched upon how “the Sierra Club helped defeat a 2016 climate tax initiative in Washington (state) because its leaders felt it didn’t satisfy principles of social justice.” That felt like a heartbreak for me since I contacted climate friends in Washington state to urge them to support this ballot initiative. Dr. Mann then warns that “there is a fairly aggressive effort underway by some on the environmental left to turn support for the GND in its current form (including opposition to carbon pricing) into a purity test.”
Dr. Mann makes a good point about carbon pricing, “Despite the divisiveness that has risen around the role of carbon pricing, there is nothing intrinsically partisan about it.” Unfortunately, “It is only relatively recently, as efforts to implement carbon pricing have actually started to move forward––that we’ve seen support for carbon pricing start to erode on both sides of the political spectrum.”
I applaud Dr. Mann for calling out climate and energy policy writer & podcaster David Roberts for being “misguided” in his opposition to carbon pricing. Sadly, Roberts opposition to carbon pricing has steadily continued since the publication of The New Climate War at the beginning of 2021. On January 24, 2022, Roberts gleefully shared a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change by political scientists Matto Mildenberger (UC-Santa Barbara), Erick Lachapelle (University of Montreal), Kathryn Harrison (University of British Columbia), and Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen (University of Bern). The paper looked at public opinion in the places where carbon fee-and-dividend policies have been implemented, Switzerland and Canada. The headline of Roberts’ blog and podcast was Do dividends make carbon taxes more popular? Apparently not.
Roberts was all too happy to report from the findings of this paper that ‘Refunds don’t change opinions much (for supporting carbon pricing after they are implemented), many recipients don’t know they exist, and additional information about refunds often doesn’t help (increase their support).’ As a strong supporter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend policy, I was skeptical of this new paper and Roberts’ eagerness to showcase it to confirm his opposition to carbon pricing policies.
Fortunately, I was not the only one annoyed by this January 24th blog and podcast of David Roberts. Gerald Butts, who was principal secretary to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from 2015 to 2019 and Trudeau’s closest personal advisor, and Catherine McKenna, who was the minister of environment and climate change during the same period, noticed the January 24th piece. “They objected to (Roberts’) conclusion that dividends did not make the carbon tax more popular in Canada.”
Roberts then generously had them on his February 16th podcast to set the record straight. According to Roberts, “We talked about how the carbon tax was conceived, what enabled it to secure majority support (yes, they say, refunds were important), and where the politics of carbon pricing stand as we move into the 2020s. Not only were my spirits lifted — it’s nice to know there’s a sane country out there somewhere — I learned an enormous amount. I think you will too.”
It was great to see Roberts, who I really do admire for his opinions on climate policy, change his tune, at least for this climate podcast and blog, on carbon pricing. Roberts is a proud climate curmudgeon who is skeptical that government and society can enact the needed policies to reduce the threat of the climate crisis. However, with his spirits lifted in his conversation with Gerald Butts and Catherine McKenna, hopefully he will stay hopeful for the future, especially with carbon pricing policies.
Anyway, along the lines of that spirit of hope, Dr. Mann reports that on page 117 that “Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that Republican voters under forty favor a fee and dividend model by a whopping 6 to 1 margin.”
Sadly, Dr. Mann informs us on the next page that “Ironically not only is there an increasing tendency among progressives to oppose seeking a middle ground when it comes to climate policy, but we’ve arrived in a “bizarro” world where the climate-change talking points employed on the political left are sometimes virtually indistinguishable from those on the political right.” One example of this that he gives is former Democratic Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. She came out on record during the 2020 Presidential primaries against a price on carbon with a stand weirdly in agreement with Putin’s Russia and the Trump Administration.
Since I consider myself a pragmatic climate advocate who strongly supports carbon pricing, it excites me that Dr. Mann states his position towards the end of this chapter that “Carbon pricing is one of the most powerful tools we have for (the systematic changes needed to address the climate crisis). Taking that off the table (as some on the far left and the climate inactivists would love to do) would constitute unilateral disarmament in the climate wars.”
In Chapters 6 and 7, Dr. Mann then shifts gears to point out the ways the climate inactivists put their thumbs on the scale for false solutions while sabotaging support for renewable energy. One example, among many distractions of the inactivists is the crocodile tears that birds are killed by wind turbines, even though the Audubon Society, which actual mission is to protect birds, supports wind turbines. Chapter 7 goes into the non-solution solutions promoted by the inactivists such as natural gas, unclean coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), geoengineering, just planting trees, nuclear energy, “adaptation” and “resilience.”
In Chapter 8, I applaud Dr. Mann strongly criticizing the climate “doomists” who believe it is too late to act on climate. These individuals and groups exaggerate the threat climate change, which ultimately does a disservice to everyone wanting a healthy planet to live. As he titles this chapter, “The Truth is Bad Enough.” At the start of this chapter, he makes a strong point that “doomism today poses a greater threat to climate action than outright denial.”
Climate advocates will often refer to climate change as driving a car too fast in a fog when you don’t know where we could fall off a cliff. Dr. Mann likes to push back though to assert that “There is no cliff that we fall off of at a 1.5°C (2.7°F) warming 2°C (3.6°F) warming. A far better analogy is hat we’re walking out onto a minefield, and the further we go, the greater the risk. Conversely, the sooner we cease our forward lurk, the better off we are.”
I have thought frequently about Dr. Mann’s minefield analogy. I think it synergizes well with statements of the late climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider, who is a hero of Dr. Mann and mine. Dr. Stephen Schneider was the first scientist I turned to in 1998 read his books on global warming to learn about this issue. Dr. Schneider used to say that if we keep burning fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases the planet may respond with “nasty consequences” or “nasty surprises.” Thus, Dr. Mann’s warnings about climate change remind me of the warnings that Stephen Schneider was trying to alert the general public over 20 years ago.
Sadly, Dr. Stephen Schneider passed away in 2010. If he was still alive, he probably would be shocked to see so many extreme weather events influenced by climate change such as the 2020 Australian bush fires. This was an extreme weather event made worse by climate change that forced Dr. Michael Mann to cut his Australian sabbatical short and return to the United States. With this in mind, Dr. Mann gives us this sobering message:
“So yes, it’s fair to say that dangerous climate change has already arrived and it’s simply a matter, at this point, of how bad we’re willing to let it get. While climate-change deniers, delayers, and deflectors love to point to scientific uncertainty as justification for inaction, uncertainty is not our friend here. It is cause to take even more concerted action…The consequences of doing nothing grows by the day. The time to act is now.”
Even more, “It is our decision-making henceforth that will determine how much additional warming and climate change we get.” Again, Dr. Mann is clearly telling us that it’s up to us with our actions to determine how much of a threat climate change will be in the future. With this in mind, it’s important that we don’t get distracted by the deniers or delayists but also not the doomists either. As Dr. Mann writes: “It is appropriate to criticize those who downplay the threat (of climate change). But there is also danger in overstating the threat in a way that presents the problem as unsolvable.”
Dr. Mann then provides a great quote by clean-tech author Ketan Josh, “Doomism is the new denialism. Doomism is the new fossil fuel profit protectionism Helplessness is the new message.”
Dr. Mann warns that “Climate doomism can be paralyzing. As one observer noted, ‘[climate] doomism has been used as a tool to turn people off action and to pervert election results.'”
I could write many paragraphs agreeing with Dr. Mann’s strong pushback against the “doomist” messaging that sadly sways a number of potential climate advocates from taking significant climate action. It always makes me sad and leaves me feeling deflated when friends and some well known individuals voice their opinion that there’s not much we can do to avoid a bleak future with climate change. I will never buy into that. At the same time, it’s so important that we collectively and individually take all the climate actions that we can to avoid stepping out further into the climate minefield. Thus, Dr. Mann does provide inspiration and hope for me to fight on at the end of this chapter when he writes:
“We do not face a scenario of near-term societal collapse or human extinction. The only assurance of such scenarios would be our abject failure to act. If there were not still a chance of prevailing in the climate battle, I would not be devoting my life to communicating the science and its implications to the public and policy makers. I know we can still avert catastrophe. And I speak with some authority on the matter. As a scientist who is still engaged in climate research, my views are informed by hard numbers and facts. In the final chapter of the of (this) book, we confront the remaining front in the new climate war – ourselves, our own self-doubt that we have it within ourselves as a species to meet the challenge at hand.”
Indeed, the final chapter of The New Climate War is titled “Meeting the Challenge.” Dr. Mann begins the chapter by writing:
“Despite the challenges detailed in this book, I am cautiously optimistic ––that that is to say, neither Pollyannaish, nor dour, but objectively hopeful––about the prospects for tackling the climate crisis in the years ahead.”
There’s so much more I would like to comment, but I want to give others a space to read this chapter and the book to develop their own opinions and responses. Like I wrote previously in this review blog, this book really connected with me on many levels. Thus, it has been hard to write a brief review with so many items that I want to comment about.
Bottomline: I highly recommend the 2021 hardback version of the book. At the same time, I look forward to the paperback edition coming out in May 10, 2022 to see if Dr. Mann has included any updated thoughts.
My one suggestion to Dr. Mann: ‘Give the Do-ers very clear marching orders’
In The New Climate War, Dr. Mann proclaims on page 45 that ‘The most hard-core (climate) deniers are in the process of going extinct (though there is still a remnant population of them). They are now being replaced by other breeds of deceivers and dissemblers, namely downplayers, deflectors dividers, delayers, and doomers.” (his emphasis)
That would make for a great group of Seven Dwarfs for the next Adam McKay (writer/director of the film Don’t Look Up) like climate change Hollywood satire! Seriously, though on the flip side, I would like to add another D to Dr. Mann’s list. Unlike the other Ds, this is a good D. This is a D of what I call the folks like me who want to be the Do-ers. In other words, folks like me who want to Do Something Now for climate action.
These would be the folks who are paying close attention to what Dr. Mann is writing about in this book and other publications, his public speeches and media interviews, etc. The segment of the population who are paying attention to the latest IPCC reports, published scientific findings on the climate, and credible media reports on the climate. As a result, they want to Do Something Now for climate action. Sadly, the other seven Ds that Dr. Mann wrote about in his book do take up most of the oxygen in the room. Yes, I do get why he focused on them since we do need to understand our opponents in The New Climate War.
The good news is that there are a lot of us Do-ers or Do Something Now folks for climate action. The most recent Yale Global Warming’s Six America’s Survey from September 2021, published in January 2022 shows that 33% of Americans are alarmed about climate change. That’s one in three Americans! This survey defines Alarmed as “convinced global warming is happening, human-caused, an urgent threat, and they strongly support climate policies.”
When you add in that 25% of Americans are concerned about climate change. This survey defines Concerned as the people who “think human-caused global warming is happening, is a serious threat, and support climate policies. However, they tend to believe that climate impacts are still distant in time and space, thus climate change remains a lower priority issue.”
When you combine the Alarmed and Concerned segments of the American population, that’s 58%, a clear majority of Americans who think human-caused global warming is happening, is a serious threat, and support climate policies. On the other hand, only 9% of Americans are Dismissive of climate change, meaning they “believe global warming is not happening, human-caused, or a threat, and most endorse conspiracy theories (e.g., ‘global warming is a hoax).’ Sadly, it’s the Dismissives, especially those who are members of Congress, fossil fuel executives, and right wing media figures, who still can garner way too much attention in the public sphere with their outlandish statements, outsized media influence, and piles of lobbying money to sway Republicans and the Senator Joe Manchins in Congress. Dr. Mann refers to the climate deniers as inactivists, which he defines as “The forces of inaction – that is fossil fuel interests and those who do their bidding – (who) have a single goal of inaction” as the forces we must overcome in this new new Climate War.”
Yes, in order to win a war, especially The New Climate War, you must successfully define and learn the tactics how to prevail against your opposition. At the same time, the do-ers, climate warriors, and alarmists do need clear precise marching orders to defeat our opponents and reduce the threat of the climate crisis. That’s exactly what I did when I saw writer, climate activist, and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben give a public presentation at St. Louis University in November 2012. During the question and answer time with the audience, I was the first one to walk up to the microphone and ask him directly: “What’s our marching orders, Bill?”
His response: “Contact your local college or university as a student, professor, or alumni and ask them to divest their endowment from fossil fuels.”
That was clear enough and I did just that. Four months later in February 2013, I did write to the President of my alma mater, William Jewell College, to ask him to consider divesting William Jewell’s endowment from fossil fuels. I followed it up with a letter to the editor to the William Jewell student newspaper urge the students, faculty, and administration to divest the college’s endowment from fossil fuels. I didn’t stop there. As a 1992 alumni, I made connections to arrange for the college President to call me that summer to have a conversation about divestment. Was I successful? No. However, I blogged about my efforts to hopefully inspire others to copy my efforts. Even more, following those marching orders from Bill McKibben gave me confidence to do more for climate action.
Dr. Mann does have a great succinct message in this book regarding climate action that “There is clearly a sense of urgency. But there is also recognition of agency – a sense that action is possible, that our future is, at least to an extent, still in our hands.”
If you recall above, that’s also the theme, urgency and agency, in the email response that Dr. Mann sent me in November 2020. Again, his very generous advice when I was getting ready to appear on a national TV comedy show to possibly discuss climate again. In The New Climate War, Dr. Mann does give a lot of great advice and insights for fighting this war, such as staying objectively hopeful that we do have the tools and ability to reduce the threat of the climate crisis and disregard the Doomsayers. He urges us to support and respect the climate youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Vilaseñor, and Jerome Foster (who I had the privilege to meet and attend lobby meeting with at a Congressional office for climate action at a Citizens’ Climate Lobby conference in Washington D.C. in November 2018).
Even more, Dr. Mann advises us to Educate, Educate, Educate our friends when a false claim about climate change moves outside of the denalist echo chamber and tries to infest well meaning folks that we know. It’s important that we arm ourselves with helpful credible sources like skepticalscience.com to be able to rebut to help the confused middle so they can join us battle. Finally, Dr. Mann hits hard on this crucial idea that “Changing the system requires systematic change.”
I can’t applaud enough for Dr. Mann emphasizing this thought throughout his book. As a matter of fact, that has been my biggest frustration with the climate movement, the lack of organizing together on systematic solutions. My pet peeve is all the conversations with fellow climate activists lecturing me about individual solutions. I had a block a climate activist on Facebook who would not stop harping on me that my wife and I should not have kids. This is a very sensitive subject for me because my wife and I got married in 2015 when I was 47 years old and she was 40 years old. We would have loved to have children of our own, but it was not meant to me. This activist would not stop browbeating me about this. He nearly had me crying as I tried to explain the situation. I finally had to block this person to end the conversation for once and for all. Thus, for anyone reading this, please be sensitive when bringing up the subject of world population and having kids. I respect anyone who decides not to have kids due to bringing them into the world in the midst of the climate crisis. At the same time, for others like me, not having children is a very touchy subject since it was not meant to be for my wife and me.
I have met folks who just thought that living in an eco-village, eating a vegan/vegetarian diet, not driving, or flying was doing their part to solve climate change. I do admire and appreciate their actions. At the same time, it’s not enough. As Dr. Mann stresses in this book systematic change is needed. I proudly drive 20 year old manual transmission green Honda Civic. It was the most fuel efficient car I could afford when I bought it new in 2002 and it still runs great today at over 300,000 miles. My wife and I fully know that this car won’t last forever. We get really excited when we see a Tesla or any kind of electric car when we go out for a drive. When my car does eventually seem to be on its last legs, we plan on replacing it with an electric car. We test drove a Tesla in December 2015, so it has been a dream for my wife and I to get an electric car for years. Yet, whenever I post about my car on social media when it hits a major milestone such as 300,000 miles or 20 years old, some of my climate friends will post “You need to get an electric car!” Yes, my wife and I know this!
I could go on and on about the tunnel vision about individual solutions. Yes, they are important, but they are not the cure all. I will never forget a statistic mentioned towards the beginning of the January 10th, 2020 Climate One Podcast, INCONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION: THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT YOU DON’T KNOW YOU HAVE by host Greg Dalton: “The small choices we make everyday can have a big collective impact on climate. But experts say individual actions can only get us about 30 or 40 percent of the way to safety. The rest falls on governments and companies.”
Dr. Mann does a superb job of stressing that individual actions are not going to cut it towards reducing the climate crisis. Page 264 he writes: “The answer is that there is no path of escape from climate-change catastrophe that doesn’t involve policies aimed at societal decarbonization…We won’t get those policies without politicians in office who are willing to do our bidding over the bidding of powerful polluters. That means we must put pressure to bear on politicians and polluting interests. We do this through the strength of our voices and the power of our votes.” (My emphasis)
Right on, Brother Mann! Preach! Preach! Having said that, I would invite Dr. Mann to go much further. I think he needs to be even more clear and direct in his marching orders of what climate advocates need to do right now. A good example of this was one of the promotional interviews with the cast of the “Don’t Look Up” film in December 2021. Around the 13 minute mark of this YouTube video, comedic actor Jonah Hill asks: ‘What can one person do to take climate action?’ Leonoardo DiCaprio’s response: ‘The #1 thing is vote in elections for people who take climate change seriously.’
Having said that, I would really encourage Dr. Mann to be very direct with his marching orders in future writings, media interviews and public talks. Literally, I can’t stress this enough as a climate organizer, PEOPLE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO TO TAKE CLIMATE ACTION. Sadly, according to the Yale Global Warming’s Six America’s Survey, this includes many of the Alarmed segment of the U.S population. “Most (Alarmed) do not know what they or others can do to solve the problem (of climate change).”
I heard Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz say directly in his keynote address at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) Conference in Washington D.C. in June 2017, now on YouTube. He noted at the 24:45 minute mark that the number one question of the Alarmed and Concerned, which is currently 58% of the U.S. population is ‘Ok! I get it! Climate change is real, bad, scientists agree, and we need to do something, but what can I do?’ Sadly, we have millions of Americans in these groups that want to do something, but they don’t know what to do. Dr. Mann and I both know that we ultimately have to change the government policies. This then consequently involves larges numbers of the Alarmed contacting and engaging with their elected officials, especially their members of Congress. Sadly, large percentages of the Alarmed and Concerned are still not contacting their members of Congress. When the Yale Global Warming’s Six Americas asked the Alarmed and Concerned why aren’t they contacting their members of Congress. The number one response was no one asked them to contact them! Dr. Leiserowitz then jokingly yelled at the CCL audience of committed climate activists: “JUST ASK!”
Even more, Dr. Jennifer Carman, a postdoctoral associate with the Yale Program, spoke about this when she was the guest speaker for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby March 2022 Monthly Meeting. She highlighted that of the Alarmed group, recent findings show that just 34% are politically active, 46% are willing to take action, and 20% are inactive at this time. She stated that “We found from our research that one of the big barriers that prevents people is that no one has asked them (to take action).”
I know from Dr. Mann’s public statements and an email exchange with me that he is hesitant of crossing “the line of being policy prescriptive rather than just policy informative.” That’s fair. Dr. Mann is one of the most respected climate change scientists who is willing to engage the media and the public on climate science. As he talked about in The New Climate War and his previous books, speaking publicly about climate science was not something he envisioned for his career. Specifically, he was forced to “go public” when he was unfairly attacked by climate deniers and denying elected officials going back many decades now. He has proudly embraced his public role to defend himself and climate science. I applaud this. Dr. Mann is one of my heroes. His books and public appearances has had left a big impression on me. Even more, he has been personally generous to me with his time and advice.
Having said that, I do want to push back a bit against the hesitation of Dr. Mann and other climate scientists who don’t want to be policy prescriptive or put on a spot to advocate for specific solutions. Many climate scientists feel like it’s “not my job” to go beyond working on the science and publishing the results. Sadly, as I wrote about above, we are not making the progress that we need because many Americans who alarmed about climate change don’t know what to do, what to say, who to contact or what or what solutions to advocate. Sadly, too many of the most committed climate advocates are caught into side show distractions about just going vegan, preaching about over population, or even giving dangerous doomerism or nihilistic messages that ‘It’s too late!’ Just like the deniers, the climate advocates caught up in bad messaging can also take up the oxygen in the room, leaving the public confused, which inadvertently, helps the deniers and inactivists that Dr. Mann and I want to defeat in this New Climate War.
Thus, I would really encourage Dr. Mann and other climate scientists to come up with very clear marching orders and specific advice on what the millions of us climate do-ers can jump in and immediately do. We are standing by eagerly wanting to help! As I blogged about over 10 years ago, a climate advocate friend of mine had just returned from a presentation by Project Ocean at a conference. That speaker stressed the point that when people hear they have cancer, they do not research the molecular biology of cells. They want the solutions now on how they can fight cancer successfully. ‘Is it exercise, diet, meditation, prayer, medication, surgery, sense of humor, or anything else Doctor?’ The huge planetary problems associated with climate change can be very scary for your audience to comprehend. What is your solutions for them?
I had this happen to myself recently when I felt a very severe pain in my left arm in late December 2021. Ironically, I had basically the same injury in December 2015 that I blogged about then. Like any pain, I denied it was happening for a few days and even weeks. I then started putting a pack of ice on my arm hoping that would do the trick. It did not. I finally went to see my doctor on January 12th this year. With any family doctor/general physician, I knew in this specialized age of medicine that my doctor was not going to be able to heal me on the spot. She diagnosed the problem as a rotator cuff strain. However, she didn’t then say, ‘Sorry it’s not my job to fix it.’ She did what any good doctor would do, she assigned me to a specialist. In my case a physical therapist, who could help me with daily exercises to regain my mobility in my left arm, reduce the pain, and bring me to a road of recovery. After several months of physical therapy, I can report that I am completely healed and basically back to normal.
Another way to think of this is something I heard from a very influential climate scientist, the late Dr. Stephen Schneider, a who is hero of Dr. Mann and I. In 1998 when I needed to learn something fast about global warming to answer visitor questions as a naturalist guide in Everglades National Park, I went to a Miami bookstore and bought Dr. Stephen Schneider’s book, Laboratory Earth: The Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose. I then became a fan and follower of Dr. Schneider’s public statements and warnings about climate change. In his TV, documentary, and recorded podcast interviews, I found him to be a master of using amazing metaphors and analogies to explain to non-scientists the complex science of climate change in a way that the public could truly understand. In my opinion, no scientist or communicator before or since can touch the outstanding communication style of Dr. Stephen Schneider.
Dr. Schneider had a fantastic metaphor, ‘Would you argue with you doctor over a heart condition?’ in a 2006 HBO climate change documentary, Too Hot Not To Handle. This analogy is still stuck in my mind sixteen years later. I blogged about this back in 2015.
Here is the full quote from Dr. Schneider: “Some people say ‘When you are sure about climate change, then we will do something about it.’ Suppose your doctor says ‘Well, I am very concerned about your heart condition. I think you should be on a low cholesterol diet and exercise.’ Would anybody say to their doctor ‘If you can’t tell me precisely when am I going to have the heart attack and how severe it will be.’ then why should I change my lifestyle?’
That is how absurd it is that when the political world tells us in the climate world: ‘tell us exactly how bad it is going to be and when and when you are sure, come back and talk to us.’ That is not the way it works in any other form of life. Not in business. Not in health. Not in security. We have pretty good ideas about what could happen. We do not have the detailed picture and we are not going to for several decades. What we are doing is taking a risk with the life support system of the earth and humans have to decide if we want to slow that down.”
This is a brilliant quote to respond to the vast climate denial that was happening in 2006 and is still lingering around today in 2022. Again, on the flip side, there are also millions of climate alarmed citizens and even climate do-ers, who would hear these warnings from Dr. Schneider, like I did back then in 1998 and 2006, and Dr. Mann today, and would respond, “Ok, Doc, I get it! tell me what I should do right now now to reduce the threat of climate change.”
If I could have Dr. Mann and other climate scientists sit down to watch one video of my frustrations with how we communicate how climate change to this day, it would be this short clip from the 1992 Spike Lee film Malcom X. In this scene, a sympathetic young white woman expresses admiration for Malcolm X and his fight for racial equality. She directly asks him what she can do. Sadly, his response was “Nothing.”
Director Spike Lee included this scene in his film because Malcolm X wrote about this encounter in his autobiography. Upon later reflection, Malcolm X seemed to regret that he wished he could have had a better answer for her in that moment.
Too often, I have felt the same way in my eleven plus years of being involved in the climate movement and asking climate organizers to mentor me so I could become an effective full time climate organizer. I blogged about this twice of very deep personal frustration five years ago. Often it has felt like climate scientists don’t have that clear answer when the public asks them: “What can I do?” On page 222, Dr. Mann admitted to learning the hard way in his public presentations that he gave for years that he “focused only on the on the science and the impacts, because I am a scientist. I would then only pay lip service to ‘climate solutions,’ with the obligatory final slide.” Afterwards, audience members frequently gave him this feedback, “That was a great presentation. But it left me so depressed.”
As he reflected on this audience feedback, he thought his presentations were deficient. He needed to also include “reasons for hope” in his public lectures. I applaud Dr. Mann’s candor to adjust his public presentations to include hope to try to inspire his audience to take climate action. From 2010 to 2019, I gave over 200 climate change public presentations in 10 U.S. states, Washington D.C. and Ottawa Canada. I tried to learn and evolve to give my audiences very specific solutions they could do on the spot (signing letters to members of Congress) and to take with them after they got home. It’s so important that we are improving our messages that our audiences have hope and know exactly what they can do to act on climate.
An audience eager for Dr. Michael Mann and David Wallace-Wells to focus on climate change solutions
From pages 205-217, Dr. Mann is quite critical of author David Wallace-Wells’ July 2017, “The Uninhabitable Earth”New York Magazine article and then subsequent 2019 book by the same title. He gave a searing opinion about Wallace-Wells’ New York Magazine article writing, “It was to climate doom porn what Shakespeare is to modern literature. Yes, Wallace-Walls article and then best-selling book did have a profound impact on the larger conversation on climate. I totally agree with Dr. Mann that the article did “present an overly bleak view of our climate future.” The 2017 article didn’t connect with me. Back in 2008, I had seen the National Geographic climate change documentary Six°Degrees Could Change The World and read the book it was based on, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by journalist Mark Lynas. I thought that 2008 National Geographic documentary and Mark Lynas’ book had already informed me what could happen if humans don’t act to reduce the threat of climate change. Thus, I found David Wallace-Wells’ 2017 New York Magazine article did not connect with me at all.
Even more, I had already 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 Climatecommunication.org 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.
In 2017, Dr. Mann expressed his concern about the 2017 David Wallace Wells article in a Facebook post writing, “The evidence that climate change is a serious problem that we must contend with now is overwhelming on its own. There is no need to overstate the evidence, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness. I’m afraid this latest article does that.” Dr. Mann’s strong criticism 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 inspired me to find the YouTube video from this event.
Why mention all of this? At the 1:05 (one hour and five minute) mark on this video during the question and answer period, a participant asks the audience: “A show of hands. How many people here are frustrated and want to hear about solutions?”
It’s off camera, but the participant remarks that a number of people raised their hand wanting to hear about solutions. This prompted the host Robert Lee Hotz to point out that the symposium with Dr. Mann and David Wallace-Wells was about climate change communications. This audience member then quotes Kurt Vonnegut that “In American history, in the battle of forces between good and evil, greed and compassion, there’s only one thing that has made a difference and that’s organizing.”
This audience member then asks Dr. Mann and David Wallace Wells, “What have you come across in your writings that has excited you about some new ways to organize that could solve ‘the mother of all challenges,’ which is to recruit a lot more people to do a lot more courageous tasks (to solve the climate crisis?”
Although this audience member was very long-winded and irritating to watch as he hogged the microphone to plug his app and organizing group, I still thought his question was spot on though as a long term climate organizer with similar frustrations.
Before he got to the point of his question, he defined the ‘mother of all challenges’ as “If the major grassroots organizations are going to have any success in the very near future to be able to recruit the vast larger numbers of people that they need to do the much bigger tasks from willing to get arrested at a pipeline to be willing to knock on 200 doors on a weekend to get the right person elected. We’re going to need some way to solve that problem, which I call ‘The mother of all challenges.’ (Which is) what can we do to get a lot more people to wiling to join groups to do a lot bigger things than to just show up at a protest, which really does not do much or just call your members of Congress?”
David Wallace-Wells then responded that “What I find interesting is that most of the people who have asked about what they can do in the aftermath of my (New York Magazine) piece were really focused on personal consumption choices and…”
The audience member then interrupted Wallace-Wells to say, “I call that the lifestyle delusion.”
David Wallace-Wells felt a little defensive and replied, “I am actually totally with you and I feel like what I actually say is that organizing is actually the thing to do…It’s good to live in a responsible way, but political organizing is overwhelmingly the thing that is going to solve the problem if we are going to solve the problem.”
The audience member then interrupted to ask: “Then that begs the question: How can we organize in a lot more cleverly and a much more bigger way?”
In my opinion, Wallace-Wells struggled to answer that question when he responded, “To me, it feels like, first of all, the climate is doing a lot of the work for us…with the extreme weather, with the hurricanes and the wildfires, that I do think the public is really waking up to climate change in a much more profound way than they ever have before. And I think it is important to keep in mind, given what I was saying earlier about the incredible speed in which we have created this problem with that the fact that the public is even aware at all, on some level should be a cause for hope rather than a cause for despair…”
Dr. Mann: “I would underscore some of (David Wallace-Wells) points that if you take an issue like gun control, upwards of 90% of the American public supports common sense gun legislation. Yet, we have a gerrymandered Congress which is not willing to do anything about the problem. And, so public acceptance and even public concern in the political system that we operate in today is not always sufficient. It is necessary, but not necessarily sufficient for political change.”
I thought this was an interesting exchange and brief conversation. However, like many of us in the climate movement that want to do something, I wanted to hear more. To me, this brief conversation at this public discussion with Dr. Mann and author David Wallace-Wells shows that there is a segment of the public that is very hungry to hear more about climate solutions and how we can organize politically to try to solve the climate crisis.
In a future book by Dr. Mann or other climate scientists, I would like to hear more specific climate solutions and marching orders on what we can do. Let me add, that it’s ok if Dr. Mann does not have all the answers or does not feels comfortable suggesting solution as an impartial climate scientist just trying to provide non-biased scientific answers. 11 years ago, I heard a scientist with the National Park Service, Patrick Gonzalez, say at a government climate conference that “it took millions of actions by people to get us into the climate crisis, and it will take millions of actions to get us out of it.”
The key question is which solutions are needed to solve the climate crisis?
After all, it was an overwhelming consensus of climate scientists over many decades who established through science that climate change is real, bad, happening right now, it’s caused by us humans, and we can limit the damage if we choose. In 2018, the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released a summary report that we must cut our global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and down to net zero by 2050. By how? What are the best scientific solutions to get us to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?
For the millions of of climate do-ers who want a road map how we globally get to net zero by 2050 based on the best science, which is the collective solution. To quote the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, “You had us at hello,” Dr. Mann, with your published papers, books, public presentations, and media appearances on climate change. Just advise or point us in a direction with very clear marching orders on what we should do next for climate action.
In September 2018, a friend on Facebook asked me “When you have time I would love to see some everyday things we can do to help the earth.” Thus, I responded with this blog in December 2018, For Climate Action: 8 Everyday Actions you can do to help the Earth. No, I just did not give my friend a list of individual solutions for her to feel better. My top solutions were: 1. Vote in every election for candidates who support climate action. 2. Regularly contact your members of Congress 3. Organize 4. Talk about climate change to your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. 5. Weatherize your home 6. Install solar 7. Switch to an electric car, if you can afford it. 8. Be hopeful
Oddly, my friend hoped I would tell her to bring her reusable bags when she goes grocery shopping. Yes, that is helpful for the planet to not use single use paper and plastic bags when one is grocery shopping. Yes, do that! And, we need folks to take many additional actions to reduce the threat of climate change.
My advice for Dr. Michael Mann for messaging for climate action
If Dr. Mann is open to it, maybe we could even write a joint guest opinion in a newspaper sometime on ways that climate do-ers can take action now.
Conservationist writer and activist Edward Abbey once wrote: “The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders.”
In 2022, I would say that the idea that climate change is real, it’s human caused, it’s bad, scientists agree, and we can limit it if we chose needs no defense. It only needs more people taking action.
Therefore, if I could advice Dr. Michael Mann on a concise message for climate action, it would be:
“Yes, we have urgency to try to reduce the threat of climate change now. At the same time, we must step up our personal agency to vote, organize, and support strong climate candidates in the November 2022 mid term elections. Then, after we elect them, we must strongly lobby them to prioritize effective climate legislation.”
A Sudden phone from My Dad about having an emergency high risk surgery
Late in the evening on October 23, 2019, I received a phone call that I will never forget. I live with my wife Tanya in Portland OR, but I got a phone call from my younger sister in St. Louis MO that my Dad was at the hospital for emergency abdominal surgery for an aneurysm . His doctor felt that my Dad had to have immediate surgery to relieve this blockage, otherwise he might not be alive much longer.
My sisters, their husbands, and my Mom came to the hospital to be with him before he was wheeled into surgery. My Dad been fighting stage four bladder cancer since 2013. He had been in and out of hospitals during the past month struggling with health issues related to his cancer. The doctor was not certain that my Dad would survive this surgery, so my Mom and sisters were there to possibly say goodbye. While they were gathered around him minutes before he was scheduled for surgery, he had one request before being wheeled into the operating room. He wanted to call me on the phone, so my sister called me so he could talk with me.
I was speechless to receive this phone call. I had a lot of anger towards my Dad during the course of my life. I always appreciated that he was an excellent provider for our family, working 2 jobs for over 40 years to support his family. My parents paid for my college education and they would let me live with them between my seasonal park ranger jobs as an adult. Yet, I had felt a lot of hurt from my Dad having an unpredictable volatile temper as a child that did leave some really bad emotional scars. As adults, our politics had a deep divide and sometimes we had screaming arguments about it.
As I shared in the 2015 Climate Mama blog, we had bitter confrontation in my late 20s. He did not like that I was working as a seasonal park ranger for years after I graduated from college in 1992. He wanted me working a steady office or management job, which was not how I envisioned my life. I loved him as my Dad, yet our relationship had always felted strained to me. I felt a lot of frustration towards him because it always felt like he did not understand me and get who I was as a person.
My Dad started the conversation saying that the doctor said he must be operated on to dissolve this aneurysm. Without the surgery, my Dad may not have long to live. The doctor also said that he had no idea if the surgery would be a success. My Dad told me: “The doctor said he feels like (the operation) will be like shooting an arrow straight into the air. He has no idea where it will land.”
With that in mind, my Dad wanted to let me know how proud he was of my climate change work and he wanted me to keep doing that. He acknowledged that things had not always been smooth for us, but that he was thinking of me and he loved me. I was speechless except to thank him for all that he did for me and tell him that I loved him. I told him how much I enjoyed when my mom and him came to visit Tanya and me the previous May. I shared that think of him whenever I hear and see the freight trains pass by our apartment in Portland, since he loves trains so much. I encouraged him to get better so they could come visit Tanya and me again. If he came back, I promised to show him more sights around Portland and he could see the trains by our apartment. He liked that idea and I wished him all the best to make it through the surgery before we wrapped up the call.
The Bible tells the story of the Prodigal Son who is forgiven by his father for running away and living a dangerous life. However, I felt like I was experiencing a story of a Prodigal Father who knew he had hurt me in my life and he wanted my forgiveness before it was too late.
That evening, I did something I never do, I kept my iPhone on all night in case my Mom or sister called with any news. I just didn’t know what would happen. I tried to prepare my mind for any outcome, but I just didn’t know. The phone never rang again that night or into the morning. It was another case of ‘no news was good news.’ The next day my Mom called to say that my Dad made it through surgery. It was a success. We dodged a bullet. I still booked flight to St. Louis to go visit them for several days after experiencing this close call and to support my Dad with his recovery. He was very happy to see me when I visited him at the hospital.
For years, I have meant to write this blog to show gratitude to my dad for his support
The news about my Dad was sobering for the next several months. He was not going to be able to walk again, confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. In late December 2020, it was determined that there was nothing else the doctors could do to treat my Dad’s bladder cancer. His doctor thought he might have just months, maybe weeks to live. He was put on hospice care. Tanya and I flew back to St. Louis the second week of December to be with our families. We wondered if we would be soon be flying back to St. Louis for a memorial service for my Dad.
In spite of the fact that my Dad would never walk again and his cancer not curable, he was in good spirits going into 2020. Then the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020. The rehabilitation place where he was living was shut down to outside visitors indefinitely. Except for waving at him through a window and phone calls, my Mom and sisters could not visit my Dad for months. Since I live in Portland OR and was unable to travel with the pandemic, I was not sure if I would see him alive again. Finally, in May 2020, my Mom was able to bring my Dad back to their home with hospice nurses there during the day to care for my Dad.
Tanya and I did not feel safe traveling in 2020 due to the pandemic, so I was not sure if I would see my Dad alive again. During the first half of 2021, Tanya and I were able to get both doses of the vaccine and my parents got both doses of the vaccine. We finally felt it was safe enough to visit them at the end of June and the first two weeks of July in 2021. We had a big family dinner with Tanya’s parents and my parents on Sunday, July 10th, the day before our flight back to Portland. At the end of that visit, I was unsure if I would see my Dad alive again since he was still considered to be on hospice care.
Tanya and I got our booster shots in early December 2021 and then flew back to St. Louis in the 3rd week of December to visit Tanya’s parents and my parents. Just like all of my previous visits, my Dad was in good spirits. My Mom, Dad, Tanya, and I even played cards like we did during July 2021 visit. When I last saw him on December 17, 2021 before flying back to Portland, I wondered if I would see him alive again. Technically, my Dad is still considered to be in hospice care because his condition is still the same. The doctors can’t treat his bladder cancer. At the same time, he keeps chugging along. The universe seems to whisper in my ear though that this good fortune won’t last forever.
My Dad seems to be on “borrowed time,” as the expression goes. However, he has been borrowing time for over two years now. His Dad, my Grandpa Roy Ettling, lived to be 94 years old. Thus, my Dad seems to have some kind of genetic knack to keep going. At the same time, it is been tugging at me for many years to write this blog to my Dad while he is still alive and has a sharp mind. For many years, especially for Father’s Day or his birthday in June, I wanted to write a blog of gratitude to my Dad for being so supportive of my climate change work.
Until I felt inspired to start blogging again this month, I had not felt inspired to write a blog since March 2019. Since then, I had been so busy with my climate organizing. Then, since March 2020, I felt so unmotivated and too depressed to do any blogging with the COVID 19 pandemic. Even though the pandemic is still raging strong with the omicron variant now, I am not going to let all that bad news from keeping me to write this blog.
My Gratitude for my Dad for his support of my climate change organizing
21 years ago, Bill Moyers interviewed George Lucas about how Lucas came up with the Star Wars mythology. In this interview, George Lucas explains how it was his father’s dream for his son to work in and eventually inherit the family office equipment store in Modesto, California.
However, George had no interest in taking over his father’s business. He decided in college that he wanted to be a filmmaker. When George decided to go to the University of Southern California film school and pursue his dream, his dad felt crushed that George was not going to take over the family business.
George Sr. felt young George was making a huge mistake because he had built up this successful business for his son to eventually take over. It was a big source of friction between them until George Sr. saw son George’s huge success with the Star Wars films.
George said his dad was very proud of his achievements as a filmmaker. George told Bill Moyers “the only thing you have to do, in the end, if you have to accomplishment one thing in life, is to make your parents proud of you. If you are healthy and you can take care of yourself, and you are a good person…one who contributes to society and does not take away….that is all your parents really want in the end.”
I loved this story because my Dad and I are both big fans of the original Star Wars movies. As a kid, one of my best memories of him was that he went out of his way to buy tickets to surprise us so our entire family could see the much anticipated Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, on opening day on May 21, 1980. This film is still one of my favorite movies of all time. (Spoiler Alert) It became a cultural icon when Darth Vader announced to Luke Skywalker: “I am your father!”
I will never forget this gift from my Dad because there was an audible gasp from the movie audience when Darth Vader said that. At that moment, no one wanted to believe that plot twist. It took years for me to accept it. Not even the actor James Earl Jones, who played the voice of Darth Vader, believed it, when he recorded that line of dialog for the film.
Since Darth Vader was the villain in those Star Wars films until Luke redeems him, George Lucas has said that the original Star Wars trilogy films is ultimately a space soap opera about a father and son relationship. As mentioned above, George Lucas struggled with the relationship with his father. I certainly struggled in the relationship with my Dad.
When I decided to become a seasonal park ranger bouncing around national parks, it disappointed him for years. He asked me several times, “When are you going to get a real job?” To compound my Dad’s disappointment, I made it my life’s mission to write, teach and give public presentations about the impacts of climate change, which I witnessed first hand and up close, through my work as a park ranger. For my dad, it was initially beyond his comprehension that humans could damage our planet. As I became more aware of climate change and began my work as a climate change activist, my Dad displayed open hostility at my life choice. He tried telling me that: “climate change was not real, that humans cannot change the climate, and that this was liberal nonsense.”
However, like George Lucas, I found my passion in life and nothing was going to stop me. There was no looking back. In the spring of 2010, I put together my first climate change powerpoint presentation to share with friends. In August 2011, I delivered my first climate change evening program as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park.
In August 2012, I attended a training in San Francisco along with nearly 1,000 other people led by Al Gore to become a Climate Reality Project Leader to give presentations on climate change. Since that training, I have given over 200 climate change presentations across the United States and even Ottawa, Canada. Some personal highlights are as a guest presenter for NASA in Hampton, Virginia in 2012, a guest speaker at Grand Canyon National Park in 2013, a presenter for the Oregon Wild Conference in Portland, Oregon in 2014, and a guest speaker at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada Conference in Ottawa Canada in November 2016.
I have attempted every avenue I know to get out the message about taking action on climate change, including writing this blog since 2011, writing opinion editorials in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Oregonian starting in 2013, doing local radio interviews, and in 2014, making funny short videos with my wife (then girlfriend) Tanya and my mom Fran Ettling.
My dad also played a role in our videos, as my cameraperson. After filming our third video in January 2015, my dad seemed to get antsy behind the camera and he told me he wanted to be in front of the camera with me. I decided to take him up on his suggestion, and to see where this would lead..
In February 2015, my dad and I filmed our first climate video together. I interviewed him about how he had changed his mind about climate change. He explained to me that it was me, his son, who had changed his mind. I had helped him understand and see the weight of the evidence before us. Over the years, I watched a shift in my dad’s thinking and I gained a new respect and admiration for him. He evolved from being hostile about my climate activism to being my biggest cheerleader. Yet, as I was making this video with my dad, I kept thinking how crazy this idea would have been 10 years before.
These short YouTube videos that I did with my parents and Tanya caught the attention of Comedy Central’s Tosh.o TV show. A year later, a producer of the show called me to invite my Mom and I to fly to Los Angeles to do a comedy segment with the show’s host, Daniel Tosh. Our comedy segment first aired Comedy Central on August 2, 2016, Climate Change Comedian. The cool thing about this segment is that a very short clip of my Dad was included, so my Dad had a brief moment on TV using comedy to promote climate change awareness.
My parents’ support of my climate change communication efforts did not stop there. Around that same time, my Mom came home to tell me a story. They were at a party of one of their friends. The host of the party remarked, ‘I think that climate change is a bunch of nonsense.’
My Mom responded, “That’s interesting. Can I show you a video?”
My Mom then showed the YouTube video of my Dad and I talking about how I changed his thinking on climate change. My Mom said that the host of the party was silent and did not say another word about climate change for the rest of the party.
A Science Communicator shifts her Dad’s thinking about Climate Change
Around this same time I made the YouTube video with my Dad, the cover story of the March 2015 issue of National Geographic, was The War on Science by Joel Achenbach. This article includes a story about Liz Neeley who helps to train scientists to be better communicators. As it turns out, Liz’s father is a climate change doubter. He gets most of his climate change information from conservative media. In frustration she finally confronted him: “Do you believe them or me?”
She told him she believes the scientists who research climate change and knows many of them personally. “If you think I’m wrong,” she said, “then you’re telling me that you don’t trust me.” Her father’s views shifted; and in the end it wasn’t the facts that finally convinced him, but rather his relationship with his daughter.
Science Denial expert Dr. John Cook’s Dad shifted his opinion on climate change
One of the leading experts on science denial is John Cook from Brisbane, Australia. As the founder of skepticalscience.com in 2007, he started this website as a way to put together scientific peer-reviewed information on climate change in layman’s terms to counter the most common denial myths on global warming. He was motivated to do this by “some ‘vigorous discussions’ with a few in-law family members (primarily his father-in-law) who happened to be global warming skeptics.” His own father was also a skeptic who would ‘run out of the room’ when the subject came up.
I have closely followed John’s work to counter climate science denial since since I first heard of him and skepticscience.com in 2011. I even met John at a house party during the AGU (American Geophysical Union) Conference in San Francisco, CA in December 2011. I used his 2011 “The Debunking Handbook” that he co-wrote with Stephan Lewandowsky, as a guide with much success when I gave climate change speeches from 2012-2017 to my local St. Louis Toastmasters group, which contained my climate change doubters. (This handbook was revised in 2020 to reflect updated knowledge about debunking misinformation).
In spite of John’s world renowned expertise on combating science denial, his own conservative father would not budge in his refusal to accept the science of climate change. In Dr. Katharine Hayhoe’s 2021 book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, she shared the story how John Cook installed solar on his house. However, when he mentioned the benefits of solar to his dad, John said, “He was initially resistant, probably because I was the one saying it and it seemed like a green-y thing to do.”
Then one day, John’s dad crunched the numbers and he thought it was “a financial no-brainer to get solar power.” Saving money is one of his core values, so he had sixteen solar panels installed on this roof. Soon, he started getting checks from his electric company from the power the solar panels were creating for the local power grid. Every time he received one of these checks, he would call John to tell him about it. John’s dad estimated he was saving over twelve hundred dollars a year. Dr. Hayhoe wrote:
“Having solar panels wasn’t just consistent with his values – they were turning him into an even betterversion of himself, thriftier and even more conservative (in the true sense of the word). They enhanced rather than challenged his identity.”
A few years later over dinner, John’s dad told him unexpectedly, during a conservation, “Of course humans are causing global warming.”
John was dumbfounded, asking him, “What changed your mind?”
John was even more surprised when his dad responded, “What are you talking about? I’ve always thought this.”
Oddly, John’s dad had “denied the science for years, and now he was denying that he’d ever denied it.”
With his background as a cognitive psychologist, John thinks that his dad changed his behavior to be more climate friendly first out of a value to save money then it caused a change in attitude towards climate science. Katharine Hayhoe and John Cook believe that “His dad’s perception of who he was had been altered, and at such a fundamental level that he literally couldn’t recall that he’d changed.”
In Conclusion: We should never give up on our Dads (or Moms) accepting climate science
During the Bill Moyers interview, George Lucas talked about how parents can be redeemed by their children. This was part of what he demonstrated through his Darth Vader character. My own dad and Liz Neeley’s dad, all initially found it hard to comprehend that humans could put our future and that of our planet in peril through the burning of fossil fuels. They changed their views and opened themselves up to hearing the reality about climate change because of their love and respect for their children. Or, in the case of John Cook’s dad, he changed his mind on climate science with the money he had saved installing solar panels on his home.
So for those of you whose parents or other loved ones may still be reluctant to see, hear and understand the facts and realities about climate change, don’t give up! If Darth Vader, one of the biggest movie villains of all time can be redeemed by his children Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa, then there is certainly hope that we all may still be able to redeem our own reluctant parents.
I hope my Dad gets a chance to read this blog. I just want him to know how much I love him and how much I appreciate how supportive he has been for all of my climate organizing.
In the first half of 2021, I achieved one of my biggest successes in my 11 years as a climate organizer. As a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), I led the efforts to engage with Oregon legislators and CCL volunteers around the state for the Oregon Legislature to almost pass a state wide climate change resolution. This CCL resolution nearly succeeded because of years working to understand the state legislative process for climate action, while consistently using the CCL core values when engaging with the Oregon Legislators.
Lobbying as a Renew Oregon Volunteer to urge Oregon Legislatures to pass a carbon pricing bill 2018-2020
In July 2018, Sonny Metha, Field Director at Renew Oregon at that time, invited me to join the weekly Clean Energy Jobs Grassroots call. These calls were part of the ongoing organizing by Renew Oregon, a coalition of businesses, non-profits, climate & environmental community organizations, and individual Oregonians, like me, working together to get the Oregon Legislature to pass effective climate change legislation. Renew Oregon focused on urging the Oregon Legislature to pass a state level carbon pricing bill, whcih was a cap and invest bill. This bill became known as the Clean Energy Jobs Bill or HB 2020 during the 2019 Oregon Legislative session.
Soon after I started volunteering for Renew Oregon, I became hooked on Oregon politics, organizing for climate action at the state level, and lobbying the Oregon Legislature. I loved every action I took to be involved with Renew Oregon’s efforts. I wrote letters to the editor and guest opinions in Oregon newspapers, contacting my state legislators by email and letters to support the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, lobbying my state legislators at their offices at the Salem Capitol and meeting with them in district, attending legislative hearings about the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, and giving oral testimony at legislative hearings.
My own state Representative at that time was Diego Hernandez . He liked to post constituent letters on his office bulletin board. I wrote so many letters to him that pointed to his bulletin board during a February 2019 lobby meeting. He wanted to let me know that he had kept all my letters and they dominated his bulletin board.
With my involvement with CCL and The Climate Reality Project, I helped recruit numerous friends and volunteers from these groups to attend the massive Renew Oregon Lobby Day rallies in Salem in February 2019 and 2020.
Even more, I organized two events in Portland to support the Clean Energy Jobs Bill. The first one that I held in Milwaukie Oregon in September 2019 had over 80 people in attendance. The second event I held in January 2020 in Portland had around 100 people in attendance. The speakers at the second event was Oregon Senator Michael Dembrow and Representative Karin Power, who were the legislative leaders of the cap and invest bills. At each of these events, I encouraged participants to sign postcards to their legislators urging them to support the cap and invest bills. On my next trip to the Oregon Capitol, I then delivered over 50 constituent postcards that I would then divide up and personally deliver to the various offices of the Representatives and Senators. I lobbied so frequently at the Capitol that I got to develop a good rapport with a number of the legislators.
All of these actions build up to a pinnacle of excitement. I was in the Oregon House of Representatives gallery, along with so many of other Renew Oregon volunteers, to see The Clean Energy Jobs Bill pass by the Oregon House on a vote of 36 to 24 on June 17, 2019. Sadly, this all came crashing down on June 20, 2019. The Oregon Senate Republicans fled the state to deny the 2/3rds floor voting quorum for the Senate vote on the cap and invest bill. They stayed out of state until June 28th. Senate Democrats agreed to kill the climate bill in order to pass all their other remaining bills before the session ended on June 30th. It felt all my climate organizing in Oregon over the past year had gone down the drain. Through much of July 2019, I did not feel like getting off the couch to do anything. I felt so disheartened by the outcome.
Sadly, the cycle repeated itself during the 2020 Oregon Legislative session. Renew Oregon organized with Oregon Democratic Legislators to try to pass another cap and invest bill. This time, Oregon House and Senate Republicans fled the state to deny quorum for floor votes in either chamber in March 2020. This tactic worked again to run out the clock to kill the climate legislation before the 2020 session ended on March 6th. There was a small silver lining that Oregon Governor Kate Brown did sign strong climate executive orders on March 10, 2020. I attended the Governor’s signing ceremony at the Oregon state Capitol and I wrote a CCL blog about it afterwards, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signs strong climate executive order.
While Governor Kate Brown’s climate executive orders were helpful, I felt very depressed that all the hard work and organizing to pass a climate bill in Oregon proved futile with Republican legislative walkouts. The 2020 legislative defeat felt worse due to the beginning of the COVID pandemic. All climate organizing shut down for months since legislators were then strictly focused on the pandemic and the economic fallout. There was nothing to do but sit at home for several months to adhere to social distancing and to avoid catching COVID 19.
Leading the Effort to try to get the Oregon Legislature to work on a Climate Resolution
However, with my experience learning about the legislative process, I saw a way forward. During the summer of 2020, I started meeting by Zoom and phone with Oregon Legislators that I had met during my lobbying for the cap and invest bills in 2019 and 2020. As a Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteer, I urged them to endorse the federal carbon pricing bill supported by CCL, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA).
As I organized CCL volunteers across Oregon, we successfully urged over 30 Oregon legislators to endorse the EICDA by early 2021. As we met with the state legislators, they really liked the bipartisan market-based solution of the EICDA. Even more the CCL values of respect, appreciation and gratitude seemed to make very easy for many of these legislators to say yes to endorsing the EICDA.
September 17, 2020, I met Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell to ask her to endorse the EICDA. In addition to her endorsement, Tiffiny asked if she could introduce a statewide resolution supporting the bill. I was very excited that Rep. Mitchell was willing to devote time and energy to a possible resolution. She then instructed Oregon Legislative Counsel to draft a legislative resolution that was ready in December 2020.
I was very excited when the draft resolution language was complete in mid December 2020. To be honest, I was very disappointed with the response of the Oregon CCL Leadership. After I shared the news about the resolution, this was the response I received:
“This IS exciting! I have to say though, it would be a lot more exciting to me if it were proposed as a bipartisan resolution. I almost think that an only-D introduction and then vote of support could be harmful to our cause. (I could be convinced otherwise, but that’s where I am now)”
The response felt like huge letdown because I was thrilled that the Democratic legislators would want to even consider trying to pass a resolution for us. I tried to convey this in my response:
“Like Congress, the Oregon state Legislature is going to be swamped with legislative priorities such as COVID relief, economic assistance, racial justice & police reform, etc. Thus, we want to make this as easy as we can for them to pass this quickly while they are giving their lion’s share of attention to the huge issues I mentioned hammering the state and their constituents right now.”
My plan of action was to get the resolution started in the Oregon Legislature. Then we should try to see if we could get Republican co-sponsors and support. Over the next month, I was feeling very angry because one of the Oregon CCL Leaders kept saying: ‘If we don’t have any Republican support, I don’t think we should do this resolution.’
Fortunately, the national CCL staff backed up what I my efforts for the Oregon Resolution. In a group email that included Oregon CCL leaders, a staff person wrote: “Bipartisanship is always good but not a deal breaker. We’ll take what we can get! Oregon would be the first state to pass an EICDA resolution.”
Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell did not run for another term in the November 2020 election. Thus, she asked her friend Senator Michael Dembrow to be the Chief Sponsor. Senator Dembrow then asked me to come up with additional Legislative co-sponsors for SJM 5. Working with CCL volunteers across Oregon, I got 9 Oregon Democratic Legislators to agree to be co-sponsors, including 4 Senators and 5 Representatives.
The resolution was introduced on the Senate floor February 4, 2021, when it officially became known as Senate Joint Memorial 5 or SJM 5. The title specifically “Urges Congress to enact bipartisan climate change legislation.” Towards the end of the resolution text, it states: “we respectfully urge the Congress of the United States to pass, and the President to sign, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.”
On February 10th, SJM 5 was assigned to the Senate Energy and Environment Committee for consideration. SJM 5 would be in good hands, since 3 out of 5 members of the committee had already endorsed the EICDA. Senator Dembrow’s staff then contacted me to organize 5 volunteers to give oral testimony supporting SJM 5 for a committee hearing scheduled on February 25th. Due to the committee hearings and work sessions for other bills and resolutions under consideration, the 5 volunteers I assembled finally had a chance to give their oral testimony on March 4, 2011.
Gaining bipartisan supportto pass the Oregon Senate
With the successful introduction of SJM 5 in the Oregon Legislature, state coordinator Daniela Brod and other fellow Portland chapter members wanted to get Republican legislators on board, too. In November, they met with GOP House Minority Leader Christine Drazan to talk to her about climate action and putting a price on carbon. To their delight, she was very enthusiastic about the EICDA.
In her oral testimony before the Senate Energy & Environment Committee on February 25th, Republican Representative Drazan stated:
“The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is not perfect, but it is an opportunity and we shouldn’t squander it. It is an opportunity for Congress to stop playing small ball on climate.”
Immediately after her testimony, a GOP member of the committee, Senator Lynn Findley, enthusiastically responded, “This is a great thing (and) a process that I fully support.”
On March 11th, Republican Senator Findley joined the 3 Democratic Senators on the Energy & Environment Committee to pass SJM 5 out of committee with a recommendation “to be adopted” by the full Oregon Senate..
For the rest of March and into April, I organized closely with CCL volunteers across Oregon to lobby nearly all the Oregon Senators, Democrats and Republicans, to support SJM 5. We had high confidence that we had the vote of GOP Senator Lynn Findley. However, we did not want to take any vote for granted, Democrat or Republican. Daniela and Oregon CCL volunteer Elizabeth Graser-Lindsey successfully got a meeting with GOP state Senator Bill Kennemer in early April 2021. On April 6th, he agreed to co-sponsor SJM 5 the day before the Senate vote.
SJM 5 passed the Oregon Senate on April 7th 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. Senator Michael Dembrow gave an amazing floor speech to urge his fellow Senators to support SJM 5. For his floor speech, Senator Dembrow wore an Oregon Climate Reality Green Ring pin that I gave him one year earlier. It was a gift to thank him for speaking in the Climate Event I organized on January 21, 2020.
Of the 23 Senators who voted yes, I directly lobbied only 3 of them by email, phone calls, and personal texts. From engaging with friends across Oregon to ask them to contact their Senators, I indirectly succeeded with 17 Senators voting in favor of SJM 5. I played no role in 3 Senators voting in favor of SJM 5, including the affirmative votes of two GOP Senators. Thus, this was a team effort with the legislators, CCL volunteers and friends across Oregon, but I did play a major part in getting many of the Senate votes and legislative co-sponsors.
Falling short in the Oregon House
On April 8th, SJM 5 was introduced in the Oregon House. It was then referred to the House Rules Committee. To build support for SJM 5, I worked closely with Oregon CCL Leadership as well as CCL volunteers across Oregon engaged with their representatives. As a result, 30 House members, including 7 Republicans, endorsed SJM 5. The Oregon House has 60 members. Thus, half the chamber were co-sponsors of SJM 5.
For the first half of 2021, it was a full time effort for me to build as much legislative support as possible for SJM 5. Of the 39 legislator co-sponsors for SJM 5, I was directly involved in meetings, phone calls, and emails with these legislators or their staffs to persuade 17 to sponsor SJM 5, including three Republicans. From engaging with friends across Oregon to ask them to contact their legislators, I indirectly succeeded in getting 16 legislators to endorse SJM 5. 6 legislators signed up to be co-sponsors, including 5 Republicans, without any interaction from me.
The Oregon House proved to be a tougher beast for us to navigate. We did not have a champion to guide SJM 5 through the Oregon House, like we had with Chief Sponsor Senator Dembrow to guide it through the Senate. Even though House Minority Leader Christine Drazan gave strong supportive oral testimony on SJM 5 to the Senate Energy and Environment Committee on February 25th, she did not seem interested in guiding it through the Oregon House. She seemed hesitant to co-sponsor to put her name officially on the resolution. I could sense that she needed some support within her GOP House caucus for SJM 5 before she was willing to publicly support it.
On March 12th, I was able to get a meeting with former Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and his GOP Rep. David Brock Smith. It took a little coaxing in this meeting, but Rep. David Brock Smith did say yes to co-sponsoring SJM 5. This was actually our first GOP House co-sponsor. Then, when Christine Drazan was starting to see that some of her caucus members were starting to sign on to co-sponsor SJM 5, she co-sponsored it. Thus, I actually got the first Republican House co-sponsor for SJM 5. This was a team effort since other Portland CCL volunteers had a meeting with Rep. David Brock Smith the previous autumn. They laid the groundwork for my successful meeting with David Brock Smith.
Sadly, on Wednesday, June 9th, a state Representative called me to share the bad news with me. He informed me that House Democratic Leadership was not going to allow SJM 5 to have a vote in the Rules Committee or on the House floor before the 2021 Legislative session ended on Saturday, June 26th. Ironically, they considered SJM 5 to be ‘too bipartisan.’ They were worried that if they allowed SJM 5 to pass, it could give Republicans in the legislature cover to tell their constituents that they were acting on climate by supporting SJM 5 while opposing climate policy bills supported by the Democrats. Sadly, the bitter rancor over the cap-and-trade bills from the previous legislative sessions had spilled over to doom SJM 5 from passing the Oregon House.
My Final Thoughts and advice to organize for a state legislature to pass a carbon pricing resolution
As the Lead Organizer of SJM 5, the big lesson we learned was that we needed a stronger effort to build relationships to persuade the vital gatekeepers, such as the Speaker of the House and the House Majority Leader, that it was in their best interests to support passage of SJM 5. Getting bipartisan support was not enough.
There is another takeaway besides fully understanding the legislative process and trying to successfully engage the vital gatekeepers. It is crucial not to forget the CCL core values of respect, appreciation, gratitude, and motivated listening to the legislative priorities and complicated politics facing the key legislators that can stop or move a bill to passage. If they don’t feel like we are fully listening and supporting them, the chances are they will be less inclined to pass a CCL high priority bill.
Undoubtably, there can be hard feelings with CCL volunteers if a House Speaker, Majority Leader, or Senate President decides to kill a CCL high priority bill. It must be stressed not to take those decisions personally. Instead, it should be emphasized to try to positively maintain those relationships for the constructive next step.
For CCL members who feel a little intimidated or unsure how to approach Congressional offices, engaging with your state legislators can be a wonderful way to learn retail politics that can be used to then lobby your members of Congress. When I lobbied state legislators, especially legislators where I was not a constituent, I was amazed how much easier it was to access them and develop relationships with them.
Again, many state legislators work closely with members of Congress. Thus, developing positive relationships with state legislators so that they feel comfortable endorsing the EICDA or other CCL high priority bills can make a difference in shifting members of Congress to support CCL priorities.
When SJM 5 passed the Oregon Senate on April 7th, this was the first legislative resolution to pass through a state legislative chamber supporting the EICDA. I hope my action to lead Oregon CCL volunteers to nearly pass a state resolution in 2021 will inspire someone. My dream is that my efforts can provide a template for CCL volunteers in other U.S. states or even internationally to pass carbon pricing resolution through both chambers of a legislature in 2022 or beyond. Hopefully, passing a state carbon pricing resolution will then influence our members of Congress to pass federal carbon pricing legislation.
“Only poets can approach this task (describing the threat of climate change) until we come up with the right metaphor.” — Donald A. Brown, Associate Professor, Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law, Penn State University.
If you have not seen the Netflix film “Don’t Look Up,” I highly recommend that you watch it. Judging by the number of viewings on Netflix, you might have seen already. As of January 11th, ‘Don’t Look Up’ has become Netflix’s second biggest most watched film of all time, according to the Hollywood news website Deadline. Even though, it had 152.29 million hours watched globally in the week December 27-January 2 alone on Netflix, that does not mean that everyone loved it. Rotten Tomatoes, which is a composite of many movie reviews, gave it a score of 54%, which is not that great, kind of a meh score. On Rotten Tomatoes tomatometer scoring, it says: “When less than 60% of reviews for a movie or TV show are positive, a green splat is displayed to indicate its Rotten status.” Audiences on Rotten Tomatoes had a better response 78%.
Dr. Michael E. Mann’s title really hit home for me because I had tried to use humor for over the past 10 years to try to educate and inspire people to act on climate. In early December 2009 when I was temporarily living in Ashland Oregon, a friend and I were arguing over what I should do with my life. I finally yelled: “Fine! Do you know what I would like to do? If I could do anything, I would like to be the climate change comedian!”
My friend Naomi just about fell out of her chair laughing and responded: “That’s great! When you get home, I want you to immediately grab that website domain and start working on being ‘The Climate Change Comedian.'”
I went home and immediately grabbed that website domain. Several months later, a family friend helped me set up the climatechangecomedian.com website, which I maintained to this day. During the early months of 2010, I created my first climate change powerpoint called, Let’s Have Fun Getting Serious About Climate Change. It was not that funny of a powerpoint, but I did find a couple of good quotes why using humor is important for educating people about science:
‘Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and Three-fourths Theater.‘ – novelist Gail Godwin
“Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy, and literature than any number of dull arguments.” – science fiction writer Isaac Asimov
“When humor goes, there goes civilization.” – humorist Erma Bombeck
“If I had no sense if humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.” – Mohandas Gandhi
Nobody ever laughed at that last quote when I gave this presentation to friends, even though I thought it was very funny when I first saw it. I am a big fan of Gandhi and all he was able to accomplish. This quote shows me that he did not take himself or life too seriously. Nobody in the audience seemed to get that logic though. This was my start to try to do comedy. The key word is try.
As I started marketing myself as The Climate Change Comedian, I had a friend take pictures of me with my inflatable Earth Ball in April 2010.
Outside of showing my powerpoint to friends, I didn’t know what to do with the title Climate Change Comedian. However, to do something on climate, I worked for the St. Louis Science Center for their temporary climate change exhibit in the spring of 2011. When I was working as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park in the summer of 2011, I started giving a 40 minute evening campfire powerpoint talk on the impacts of climate change at Crater Lake. The title of the talk was called The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, which I was able to record for YouTube in September 2012.
I wove some humor into this ranger talk and the audience really seemed to connect with it. My humor was effective enough that Eric Knackmuhs, an Associate Instructor and Ph.D. Student at Indiana University, contacted me in November 2013 that he had found that YouTube video. He contacted me to let me know that he gave a presentation to other rangers, Using Humor to Introduce Controversial Topics, at the National Association of Interpreters Annual Convention in Reno, Nevada in November, 2013. Soon after Eric emailed me, we chatted on the phone because I was curious to find out what he thought I was doing well to connect with my audience. I wrote about this conversation in a February 2014 blog, Using Humor Effectively to Communicate Climate Change.
Besides giving this climate change ranger evening program at Crater Lake from 2011 to 2017, I was involved during the winters in my local St. Louis Toastmasters public speaking group around that same time. I gave around 20 speeches, 8 of which I was voted by my fellow speakers as “The Best Speaker” for out of the four speeches presented by members at their meetings. Nearly all of those speeches were about climate change. I inserted humor where I could in those speeches. Many of those Toastmaster speeches I recorded for YouTube.
My national TV appearances for climate change comedy
This ended up being the coolest experience of my life to on national TV using humor to promote climate change. Most of it was absurd because Tosh.o is an absurd and raunchy TV show. However, I was able to slip in some facts on climate change in between the crazy humor of Daniel Tosh. Before the show, he told me that he did accept the science of climate change and allow him to be funny, unless I wanted to come across on TV as weird. I took in his advice and I had a blast filming our TV segment. My mom appeared at the end of this comedy bit and Tanya got to witness the taping in the TV studio. Thus, it turned out to be an unforgettable family experience. Tanya, my mom and me were very nervous after the taping how my segment would be edited. However, we were very happy and relieved when it aired on national TV in August 2016.
I never thought I could top that experience in my life, nor did I want to out due it. Actually, I was invited back to Tosh.o in November 2020 to appear as part of a panel commenting about the 2020 Presidential election, in a segment spoofing CNN called “Danderson Cooper 361.” All I can say is that, just like they frequently say in Hollywood, ‘The sequel was not as good as the original.’ I was hoping to squeeze in some information about climate change, but none of it made it onto the segment. It felt similar to the Don’t Look Up film where Dr. Randall Mindy character (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Ph.D student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) appear on the TV show The Daily Rip. Those fictional TV hosts (played by actors Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry) aren’t interested at all in hearing the scientists warn that a comet would hit the Earth in 6 months, being being entertaining. Nothing against Daniel Tosh, but the same thing happened here. He did ask me some climate related questions in the pre-recorded interview, but it was all edited out.
The best part of preparting for this national TV appearance was I did exchange emails with climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann of Penn State University to ask his advice on what to say. This was his response:
“These days, my messaging is focused on just two words: urgency and agency. Yes, bad things are happening, we can see them playing out in real time now. But we can prevent the worst from happening. Assuming the election goes our way, there will be leader ship once again in Washington DC. And we have ready climate plans on the table from both Congressional Democrats and the Biden campaign. We need to hit the ground running, and in his perspective first hundred days, Biden and a hopefully Democratic Congress need to pass a climate plan that put a price on carbon, incentivizes clean energy, enforces regulations, and blocks support for new fossil fuel infrastructure.
That’s sort of my elevator pitch!”
That was an amazing gift to exchange emails with one of the world’s top climate scientists, Dr. Michael E. Mann. Ironically, Leonardo DiCaprio said he based his scientist role in Don’t Look Back, Dr. Randall Mindy, in part on climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann. After Dr. Mann’s email, I wrote up my own answer to prepare to a climate change elevator pitch for this Tosh.o appearance. I practiced it over and ever to have it memorized to try to say it naturally during the TV taping. Because of the COVID pandemic and the short notice to film, this time I was filmed at home over Zoom, not flown to Los Angeles like the previous taping. Thus, it was nice not to have to leave home. As I shared with Dr. Mann over email afterwards, very disappointing that I was not able to squeeze in any message on climate change. This was his very gracious response:
HI Brian, Happy to have been of any help. Sorry they didn’t use that material. I’ve had a number of frustrating experiences before where a lot of stuff (and what I considered was the best stuff), got left on the cutting room floor. It’s one the real challenges in the world of media interviews. Good on you for the effort though, keep it up. It will ultimately pay off!
Hopefully, you can see from my story that I have some experience with climate change comedy, good and bad, especially trying to convey this message on national TV. Thus, I am very appreciative of Don’t Look Up writer/director Adam McKay using humor and the allegory of a comet hitting the earth to bring attention to the issue of climate change.
Frankly, since the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016 and the arrival of the COVID pandemic in early 2020, I have not felt funny in years nor I have had much interest these past few years in climate change comedy. Last September 2021 two international climate organizers emailed me about joining them for a Zoom event on climate comedy to respond to the November 2021 COP26 Climate Talks in Glasgow, Scotland. I was happy they wanted to use comedy and humor to promote climate action to help organize to pressure countries for effective climate negotiations at the Glasgow conference. However, I had to be honest with these organizers that I was flattered that they wanted to include me, but I had to decline. I didn’t feel like I had much of a sense of humor since the start of the pandemic. For the past several years, I just felt out of gas and ho hum.
The struggle for scientists, the news media and pop culture to alert the public about climate change
“Words fail us about how to characterize the magnitude of the harm that is being done in the name of ideology. It is too absurd on its face to think that any reasonable observer can seriously conclude that climate change science is a hoax or that the consensus view that humans are causing climate change has been debunked. In fact we are looking for the right metaphors to simply describe the sheer harmfulness of what has been happening. We would appreciate ideas on this issue. Only poets can approach this task until we come up with the right metaphor.”
It’s been a daunting problem for scientists to communicate about the climate crisis because it’s been referred to for years as “A wicked ‘Problem from Hell.'” Scientists, advocates, and policy makers have had a difficult time for years trying to communicate to the public about the urgency to address climate change because the problem is 1. Long term – over decades if not centuries 2. Global – all countries of the world emit greenhouse gases with the U.S, China, Russia, Brazil, European Union, etc. as the biggest emitters. 3. Invisible – typically hard to see greenhouse gases unless you are looking directly at a smokestack or urban smog. 4. Everywhere – the enemies range from the 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions to also most people on the Earth relying on the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil & natural gas) to provide energy for their homes, cars, businesses, farms, etc. 5. Vested enormous special Interests deliberately misleading the segments of the American and global public to oppose collective action to solve climate change.
Some scientists, like Dr. Edward Maibach, the Director of The Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, focused their research helping scientists and communicators, like me, to more effective in their messaging on climate change. I met Dr. Maibach twice. The first time was when I attended his talk at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Conference in San Francisco, CA in December 2011. Then I met with him in his office at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA in February 2012. He directly told me then in a tone bordering on frustration about his work that ‘I just want scientists to speak more effectively to the public about climate change!’
Exactly, 10 years ago, I blogged about Dr. Maibach’s sticky formula for effective public communication: “Simple clear messages, repeated often, by a variety of trusted sources.”
Through his research polling the American public, Dr. Maibach also promoted this Five messages about global warming – identified through audience research – that you may wish to convey:
• It’s real.
• It’s us. (people are causing it)
• Experts agree: human-caused climate change is happening
• It’s bad for us.
• People can limit it, if we choose.
It was not just Dr. Maibach trying to get scientists to be more effective in their communications with the general public. Dr. Randy Olson, a Harvard Ph.D educated scientist and a former tenured professor of marine biology at the University of New Hampshire who resigned to become a filmmaker, wrote a book in 2008 called Don’t be Such A Scientist. I heard much buzz from scientists and fellow climate change communicators talking about this book when I attended AGU scientific conference in 2011. The theme of the book is the challenge scientists face in when communicating science to the general public that feels distracted by information overload. This was also a theme of Don’t Look Up that was portrayed very well by the actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, and Rob Morgan who played the scientists in the film.
Besides scientists struggling to communicate about climate change, pandemics and other scientific issues, the problem has been exponentially worse by the mainstream media that does not seem to know how to report on climate change. In a July 24, 2018 tweet, MSNBC TV host Chris Hayes famously called climate change a “palpable ratings killer.” In July 2021, climate & energy writer Molly Taft wrote in Gizmodo, Why TV Is So Bad at Covering Climate Change. This piece starts with climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University tweeting that she was bumped off of a scheduled interview CNN with Fareed Zakaria to talk about the record-breaking heat wave gripping the West “due to billionaire (Richard Branson) going to space.” Ugh!
Dr. Hayhoe didn’t hold back with her opinion in the tweet thread: “That’s one of the big problems with climate communication, that its impacts accumulate over days, years, and decades. So there is always “breaking news” to displace it in our day to day conversations and media coverage both.
As a society it’s as if we have a collective cat brain: fixated on the latest shiny toy that’s waving in front of our eyes while in the meantime our tail is on fire.”
All of us climate advocates feel your pain, Dr. Hayhoe! Another reason why I liked Don’t Look Up was the way it made fun of TV infotainment shows with it’s fictional show The Daily Rip and their spoof of shadow and superficial TV hosts, played brilliantly by actors Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett.
Overall, scientists and the media have done a dismal job communicating climate change to the general public. Hollywood and popular culture has been silent for the most part also. Outside of 2004’s Day After Tomorrow, which I had no interest in seeing since it was panned by scientists and film critics, I can’t think of any obvious pop culture attempts at climate change that wowed me or a large audience.
(Warning: spoiler in this paragraph and if you click on this YouTube video below) I don’t remember any great popular songs about climate change either. Having said that, the song “Just Look Up” by Ariana Grande & Kid Cudi in the Don’t Look Up film just blew me away. I am seriously thinking about downloading this song for my iTunes. To be completely honest, I had never heard of Ariana Grande before this film. Since then, I just learned she is is one of the world’s best-selling music artists. I was very impressed with her comedic performance in the film when she interacted with actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. The song “Just Look Up” in the film is beautiful and hilarious at the same time.
(Warning! Spoiler alerts in the next three paragraphs if you have not seen the film already) I loved how Ariana Grande dressed as a comet for a stage performance during the film. Even more, she was hung from wires with a ridiculously long train on her dress with a moving star scape background behind her to look like a comet. The lyrics to the song and the way that Ariana sung them with full force still has me has my wife and I laughing out loud in appreciation almost a month later. As a climate organizer, I can’t think of a funnier song that made me feel heard with these lyrics:
“Look up, what he’s really trying to say Is get your head out of your ass Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists We really fucked it up, fucked it up this time…
Just look up Turn off that shit-box News ‘Cause you’re about to die soon everybody”
That song alone has now made me an Ariana Grande fan.
Personal Favorite Films that inspired me to be a climate organizer
Having aired my personal frustration about the media and popular culture not being able to convey the gravity of climate change. I do want to say that there are Hollywood films that did inspire me to become a climate organizer.
10 years ago, I blogged how the film Titanic inspired me to be a Climate Change Communicator when I first saw it in a movie theatre just a week after it had opened on December 19, 1997. The 1912 British passenger liner Titanic sinking on its maiden voyage due to hitting an iceberg was 100% caused by human error. It was completely avoidable, if the ship’s captain and crew had taken the proper precautions. As I wrote in that blog,
“What was striking to me then in 1998 and to this day was the hubris and arrogance of White Star Lines and the ship’s designer, Harland and Wolff. They thought they had outsmarted nature with their watertight compartments on board and other engineering advances. They then foolishly believed their innovations would enable the ship to be “unsinkable.” Well, we all know how that turned out once the ship hit that iceberg.”
Ironically, I first starting learning about climate change back in 1998 as a naturalist guide in Everglades National Park. Park visitors were asking me about global warming when I was narrating the boat tours then. Back then, I learned that sea level rise had risen 8 inches in the Everglades 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. This scared me in 1998. It was like witnessing the Titanic had already hit the iceberg from the ship’s crow’s nest and the boat was already starting to take on water. Sadly, back in 1998, we knew that Everglades was already starting to take on water. The ocean was very slowly starting to creep in on this world class treasure.
In the back of my mind, I always wondered if anyone else had noticed dangerous parallels with the Titanic sinking and the modern day threat of climate change. It turned out that Titanic director James Cameron noticed the similarities. In April 2012, to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the National Geographic TV Channel aired a two hour special Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron.
This is how James Cameron connected the Titanic sinking to the current threat of climate change:
“Part of the Titanic parable is of arrogance, of hubris, of the sense that we’re too big to fail. Well, where have we heard that one before?…
Within that human system on board that ship, if you want to make it a microcosm of the world, you have different classes, you’ve got first class, second class, third class. In our world right now you’ve got developed nations, undeveloped nations.You’ve got the starving millions who are going to be the ones most affected by the next iceberg that we hit, which is going to be climate change. We can see that iceberg ahead of us right now, but we can’t turn.”
I am a big James Cameron fan, also because of his 2010 film Avatar, which really impacted me. That film is set in the 22nd century on the fictional planet of Pandora. It is about a greedy mining corporation from Earth have transported human colonists to try to strip Pandora’s natural resources and displace the Na’vi – a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. In their lust for the planet’s natural resources, the humans push too far in their destruction of nature and attacking the Na’vi and nature strikes back. To me, it felt like James Cameron had made great allegorical film about human hubris in trying to dominate nature and nature having the final say. Besides me, others might not see these films as metaphors about climate change, but I could certainly see some parallels.
Besides these hugely successful films, it was the 2006 documentary film about Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth that had an enormous impact on me. I was a huge fan of Al Gore ever since I read his 1992 book Earth in the Balance. I read this book in January 1993 during my first winter working as a seasonal employee at the front desk of the Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park, Florida. I had spent the previous summer working as a summer employee at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. I had really fallen in love with nature, the national parks, the great outdoors, and our planet. Al Gore’s book really connected with me how he wrote about the negative impacts we humans were doing to the Earth in the early 1990s. Even though I had not voted for the Clinton/Gore Presidential ticket the previous November, this book made me feel very pleased that he was our Vice President with his deep caring for our planet. This book started me on a path for voting for the Clinton/Gore ticket in 1996 and I eagerly awaited him running for President in 2000. I just hoped he would win so he could steer the United States and the world on a more sustainable path if he was elected President.
Needless to say, I was deeply crushed when Al Gore lost the 2000 election. It’s still tough for me to talk about to this day. I personally knew friends in the Miami Sierra Club who voted for Presidential third party candidate Ralph Nader instead. Al Gore lost Florida by only 537 votes to Republican candidate George W. Bush. Ralph Nader received over 97,000 votes in Florida. As Al Gore said in An Inconvenient Truth, “Well, that was a hard blow. But, what are you going to do? You make the best of it.”
In my case, I hoped Al Gore would run for President again in 2004. He didn’t, but I eagerly anticipated his upcoming flim in 2006 when I heard that An Inconvenient Truth was coming to theaters. I had heard about climate change for years, but I had never seen a presentation on climate change so clear and easy to understand before like I had seen Al Gore do in the documentary. The film managed to be a summer hit making over $24 million in the U.S. and $25 million overseas. To my delight, An Inconvenient Truth was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Documentary, winning both at the 2007 Oscars. After first learning about climate change while working in Everglades National Park 1998, I was so happy that Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth was finally bringing a much needed spotlight to this problem to the general public. More publicity for climate action happened when Al Gore was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”
With An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, and extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina which did severe damage to New Orleans in 2005, I was hoping that some event would awaken the American public to truly take action on climate change. It was always frustrating for me that the public would never seem to mobilize for climate action. To be honest, I didn’t even know what to do for climate action after seeing the film, except I bought the DVD to watch it multiple times to absorb the information. I continued reading scientific books on climate change to educate myself on the subject to try to become more knowledgeable to talk about it.
Seeds were being planted though. Al Gore took all the profits he received from An Inconvenient Truth film and companion book, as well as the $1 million award from his Nobel Peace Prize to build the Alliance for Climate Protection, an organization founded and chaired by Gore to build grassroots momentum to solve the climate crisis. The Alliance for Climate Protection later became known as the Climate Reality Project. Their mission is to “recruit, train, and mobilize people to become powerful activists, providing the skills, campaigns, and resources to push for aggressive climate action.”
Even more, Climate Reality’s “signature activist program, the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, has trained over 42,000 change makers worldwide since 2006.” I was one of those individuals trained by Al Gore to become a Climate Reality Leader. Along with over 800 others from across the U.S. and other parts of the world, I attended a Climate Reality Training led by Al Gore in San Francisco, CA in August 2012. Since then I attended 7 more Al Gore led Climate Reality Training held in other cities in the United States where I mentored others attending the Climate Reality Training for the first time. I blogged about this experience in 2016, Want to be effective? Consider becoming a Climate Reality Project Leader.
For years, I said that attending a Climate Reality Training felt like jet fuel for me. Over the past decade, the trainings to give over 200 climate change talks in over 10 U.S. states and Ottawa Canada, co-leading the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up group from 2011 to 2017, give radio interviews, write 19 opinions editorials that were published in newspapers in St. Louis and Oregon, co-found the southern Oregon Citizens’ Climate Lobby group, give climate change speaking tours across Missouri and Oregon, organizing public climate events in St. Louis and Portland OR etc. All this led to being in the audience and very briefly being seen on screen when Al Gore was filmed for the 2017 film An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Even more, a small picture of myself giving a climate change presentation was included in the 2017 companion book, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.
With all I have been able to accomplish as a Climate Reality Leader and Climate Change Organizer, maybe a film like An Inconvenient Truth did have a big difference for me and the thousands of Climate Reality Leaders trained by Al Gore or who just saw the film as far back as 2006. However, scientists keep telling us that we are not moving fast enough to reduce the threat of climate change.
“During the (2020) lockdown around the world, during the pandemic, clean energy took off. The International Energy Agency estimates that 90 percent of new electricity installed around the world in 2020 will have been clean energy. Ninety percent. So the world is changing. It just isn’t changing fast enough. We need more hands rolling that giant boulder. It’s already rolling downhill slowly. And we need it rolling faster.”
Thus, we have to find ways to inspire the general public to step up their game for climate action. The latest news from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication’s Global Warming’s Six Americas, September 2021, where they survey Americans’ opinion on climate change is that 33% of Americans are alarmed about climate change. Since the 6 Americas survey began in 2008, the alarmed “have grown rapidly to become the largest segment of the U.S. population today.” Trend of this ongoing polling shows that “Americans’ understanding of global warming’s reality and risks, and support for climate action is growing.”
According to 6 Americas researchers, the growth of the segment of Americans who are alarmed about climate change “is encouraging because progress on climate change requires strong, coordinated, and sustained action, and the Alarmed are the most likely to demand and support these actions by leaders.Yet, this potential ‘issue public’ still needs to be organized and mobilized to demand action at all levels of American society.”
We still have a ways to go to realize inspire, mobilize, and energize the American public towards climate action. Scientists, the media, and popular culture has fallen short on the urgency to act on climate change now. This was why I was excited in December 2021 when I had heard that writer/director Adam McKay had taken on the task of creating a major movie release centered on a metaphor about climate change using comedy with an all star cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry and others.
If someone could pull off this high wire act, I had confidence that Adam McKay could do it. I was a big fan of his previous two films using comedy to focus on the 2008 financial collapse, The Big Short, and the biography based on the life of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Vice.
My perspective from watching “Don’t Look Up”
I really do appreciate writer/director Adam McKay’s film “Don’t Look Up.” It feels good that others are taking up humor and comedy to bring attention to the issue of climate change. As soon as I heard buzz about Don’t Look Up in December and heard it was going to be released on December 24th, Christmas Eve, I knew my wife and I would be watching it as part of our Christmas celebration. It’s a film that made quite a deep impression that my wife and I are still talking about weeks later.
To be honest, I enjoyed Don’t Look Up, but I still found it to be a heavy movie experience the first time I watched it. I had listened to climate writer David Robert’s Volts podcast on December 10th, Don’t Look Up: the first good movie about climate change. I knew from his review that this film was going to be “fantastic” and “It’s hilarious, and if you’ve spent years banging your head against a wall trying to get people to pay attention to climate change, you will find a great deal of catharsis in the laughter.”
Watching it felt like one of those amusement park log flume rides where you are riding inside of a log like compartment, flowing on the water, trying to enjoy the ride, but having that knot in your stomach the whole time that you will be dumped down a big hill into the water at the end. It’s different than a rollercoaster where you face the biggest hill in the beginning then you get the feeling of flying, going up and down, sideways, before the rollercoaster car slows down to return you to the unloading zone. Between the lines on David Roberts’ blog and elsewhere, it was implied that Don’t Look Up would not have a happy ending. Thus, I did feel a sense of heaviness watching it.
Compounding the heaviness is that no one wants to listen to the scientists during the film. Not the media, the government, big business, or the general public. Sound familiar?
As a climate organizer, I will repeat what other writers, scientists, and organizers have said: I felt heard watching this film. As far back as 1998, when I was a naturalist guide in Everglades National Park. There was times when I was talking about the human destruction of the Everglades and my feeble knowledge of climate change with it’s impact on the Everglades back then. Tourists traveling to Everglades National Park are typically checking Everglades off their list in between going to the beach, visiting Disney World, partying at Miami Beach, and seeing the Florida Keys. Some boat tours that I narrated had Floridians, Americans, and Europeans who did not give a shit about the human caused destruction of the Everglades. At the same time, they were asking me, ‘Where’s the wildlife?’ A number of them didn’t want to hear that the pollution and human drainage of the Everglades to divert water to the cities and farms caused populations of wading birds to drop over 90%, as well as huge losses of the fish and alligator populations. Thus, I could relate to the scientists in the film trying to warn humanity that a comet was going to slam into the Earth in 6 months, but no one seems to care.
The acting by the entire cast was amazing by Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry and others. This was the best casting Hollywood could get for this movie and everyone was on the top of their game. They were all a joy to watch. I especially thought that Jonah Hill, playing the Chief of Staff and President Susan Orleans’ son Jason Orleans, steals the movie with his quirky insults and wit.
(Warning! spoiler in this paragraph! ) Having said that, I didn’t get the Cate Blanchett character the first time I watched it. Nor could I understand why the Jennifer Lawrence character is obsessed when the military Army General charges her and others for snacks that are free at the White House. The first time viewing the film, I didn’t get those film aspects. I needed to ponder those things days after seeing the film. I was determined to watch the film again a week later to appreciate what was happening.
The comedy of this film comes at you quick since it is mocking many targets. Watching the first time, I felt like I was being hit not just by a comet, but by an asteroid field. It was hard to keep track of everything. Don’t try! Watch it again several days later and you will catch so much more that you were not able to notice the first time. The film’s subject is heavy with a huge comet is headed towards Earth but most of the characters are too dense to care. About halfway through the movie, I asked my wife , “Are you enjoying this movie?”
She can be a tough critic watching when she is watching some films with me, but this time she enthusiastically said, “Yes!” Thus, this is a good date night film with your partner and a good film to watch with family and friends to discuss afterwards. Weeks later, we are still laughing about items we remember in the film.
Even though I was not able to understand all the characters or plot devises the first time I watched it, I still see it as a great film. Many great films take more than one viewing to truly appreciate their message and story. That could also be the case for you if you didn’t quite understand Don’t Look Up. Give it a chance to watch it a second time.
My second viewing of Don’t Look up. (Warning! Many spoilers here!)
The second I watched Don’t Look Up was just sitting by my laptop by myself to try to fully absorb the messaging of the film. I took notes and I ended up with 24 pages of things I liked and connected with me. I felt like I was able to catch and appreciate so many of the jokes and humor on the second viewing. I already knew the somberness of the ending. Thus, I didn’t have the knot in my stomach knowing that film would not have a happy Hollywood ending where everything turned out ok.
Actually, to take notes, catch as many details as I could, and truly try to listen to all of the dialogue, I would stop the button. Thus, it took me many hours over a couple of days to watch the film completely in that manner.
For other serious climate advocates, I recommend doing the same thing, realizing that would be very time consuming. However, it would be very rewarding to do this to see all the small items that appear on the scene for a brief moment and the jokes one might missed watching the movie the first time. For instance, did you catch the astronomer Carl Sagan figurine placed suddenly on the character Kate Dibiasky’s (played by Jennifer Lawrence) desk just one minute into the film?
Many people did. This included climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann remarking on this in his January 18, 2021 discussion with film Adam McKay.
Just one minute later in the film, you can very briefly see a drawing of Darwin and Galileo on the bulletin board in the astronomy lab with the post-it-note sticking to it a handwritten quote “Throw my telescope in the air sometimes singing ayyyo Galileo!” (It’s in reference to a 2010 pop hit song Dynamite by Taio Cruz, where the actual lyric was “I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, Saying ‘Ayo! Gotta let go!'”) Looks like the geeky science humor that you might see in any science lab. Yet, the movie seems to be saying that it takes science and the scientific process seriously.
Then 13 minutes into the film, there’s a quick camera shot focusing in on part of a painting in the fictional White House. The scientists (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) are in a waiting area for a meeting with the President of the United States to brief her on the comet heading towards Earth. The painting in a close up shot is of a Native American going into battle in the 1800s probably fighting again the U.S. Army. I thought it was a subtle reference how the Native Americans were overrun by the white colonists and U.S. government. I interpreted this as how the Native Americans screwed then with the settlement of the U.S. and the people in the film were about to be screwed by a comet hitting planet Earth.
There was so many other details like this that caught my eye very quickly in my first viewing, but the details were really able to jump out at me when I watched the film again.
With details like this, I think that Don’t Look Up will still be talked about decades from now, if we humans are still around then with the threat of climate change, nuclear war, Russian or Chinese cyber wars, etc. I have no idea where the film will land in the pantheon of great films. However, with all the amazing small details and quick jokes serving as a reference to climate change, I would suggest that a group of climate advocates get together to watch the film over several hours. Attendees could then yell “Stop!” when there’s something they want to discuss. In his 1991 essay, ‘Citizen Kane’ a masterpiece at 50, film critic Roger Ebert wrote how in 1991 how he showed Citizen Kane at the University of Colorado “joined by several hundred students, faculty and townspeople. We sat in the dark, and audience members called out “stop!” when there was something they wanted to discuss. Scene by scene and sometimes shot by shot, we looked at the performances, the photography, the special effects.”
I am not saying that Don’t Look Up is as good as Citizen Kane or other Hollywood great films but compared to other Hollywood dramatic, action, and satirical films about climate change, Don’t Look Up is so much better than other Hollywood attempts to at a climate change themed movie. Citizen Kane is Citizen Kane. It’s a fantastic film that I highly recommend, if you get a chance to see it. However, I do think that Don’t Look Up is the Citizen Kane of any Hollywood scripted climate change attempted movie so far.
More items that jumped out at me while watching Don’t Look Up. (Warning! Many spoilers here!)
When I was watching Don’t Look Up for the first time, I didn’t understand why the General Themes character (played by actor Paul Guilfoyle) charged the scientists (played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Rob Morgen) for snacks when they were waiting for hours to a meeting with the President of the United States. It made no sense to me.
Then, I heard there was several interpretations for this, which I now totally understand. First, I heard writer/director Adam McKay say in a podcast interview that the General charging the scientists for snacks does not mean anything. He was just toying with the audience. However, the Kate Dibiasky character (played by Jennifer Lawrence) does seem distracted by General Theme’s action for the rest of the film. It showed that even the scientists could get distracted when the moment called for her to stay focused to educate the public about the dangerous pending comet. It’s funny that I was not the only one pondering about this after seeing the film. There are multiple articles about this on the internet with others asking the same thing. In kevin Erdmann’s article for Screenrant, Don’t Look Up: Why The General Charges For Free Snacks he called it a “a humorous commentary on a much bigger societal issue.”
Erdman believed that “the general charging for free food is certainly in line with the film’s core message about the rich and powerful taking whatever they want simply because they can, regardless of the consequences or impact on the greater good.” He went on to say that, “charging for free food is seemingly insignificant, but it serves as a microcosm of the grander issues and commentary at play about rampant greed.”
Thus, with these different perspectives, It’s really up to you why General Themes charged for the snacks.
The first time I saw Don’t Look Up, I was really creeped out by the female TV host Brie Evantee (played by Cate Blanchett) on the fictional TV show The Daily Rip. I just found the character to be repulsive in her phoniness. The character had platinum blonde hair, super shiny pearly white teeth with a fake smile to go with it and a super chipper personality to perform for her morning TV show with no shred of authenticity. Brie was more interested in hitting on Dr. Mindy than hearing his breaking news that a planet-killing comet was headed directly for Earth. I just didn’t like this character at all the first time I saw Don’t Look Up.
It was a few days later that I started understanding this character. She is a female compilation of sleazy TV news anchors Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, etc. who lost their jobs during the #MeToo Movement that blew up in 2017 because they seemed more interested in scoring with the opposite sex than being reporting the news. She also seemed like so many blonde bubbly TV hosts, especially on Fox News, that all look like eye candy and seem about as geniune as cotton candy. Cate Blanchett is a terrific actor. I have enjoyed her work in previous films. She did a great job of inhabiting this role and kudos to Adam McKay for creating a character that I was still trying to figure out days after seeing the film.
The character that just made my skin crawl was the big tech billionaire Peter Isherwell (played brilliantly by actor Mark Rylance). He had no redeeming qualities and I found him to be so fascinating by his lack of humanity. He never gave eye contact to another character. He was so in love with his own creative tech world. He was all about making money for his corporation, even if it had a chance of destroying planet Earth. Hats off to actor Mark Rylance and writer/director Adam McKay for creating a weird high tech giant with a that clearly seemed to be a composite of Mark Zuckerberg, the late Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Tim Cook of Apple Computers, Jeff Bezos, etc. Netflix Diaries created this meme about Peter Isherwell posted on Twitter on December 27, 2021:
I briefly worked for Tesla in 2018. I never met Elon Musk. I was just entry level staff. My job was was to try to convince customers at Home Depots in Portland Oregon to schedule an appointment with Tesla solar advisors come to their homes to sell them on installing Tesla solar panels on their home’s roof. The frustrating part of working for Elon Musk is that he would say weird things in the news that would trigger a drop in the value of Tesla stock. We would then wonder if we would have jobs if the price dropped too much. I remember thinking when I worked at Tesla: ‘I wish he would keep his big mouth shut!’
Don’t Look Up also (correctly) poked fun of moderate climate advocates like mecaught in wishful thinking
Many other things I could mention, but one thing did jump out at me that I do want to highlight. For the movie critics that didn’t like Don’t Look Up, some them complained that actors like Chris Evans “show up for literally no reason at all” in the film. I beg to differ.
(Warning! Another spoiler) Chris Evans plays actor Devin Peters. As the comet is headed towards Earth, actor Devin Peters is on the TV show The Daily Rip and doing interviews with the press for his new action film Total Devastation. Ironically, Total Devastation is scheduled to open in theaters the same day that the comet is projected by scientists to hit the Earth. During his interview with a TV entertainment reporter, asks about his button with the Don’t Look Up and Just Look Up arrows. Devin Peter’s response:
“I think as a country we just need to stop arguing and virtue signaling. Just get along.”
The reporter then commends him saying, “This is so refreshing. I think we are all tired of the politics.”
Having seen myself in the film as one of those folks striving to appeal to both sides, I wished I could have access to the script to weave in the story somehow the people in the climate movement whom I find frustrating. I call them ‘The Climate Individualists.’ I think of them as the folks who say: ‘I am fighting climate change by going vegan, putting solar panels on my roof, driving an electric car, riding my bike as transportation, not having kids, living off the grid in an eco village, growing my own food, not flying in an airplane, reducing my personal carbon footprint, not shopping for new clothes, buy local, etc. You should too. If everyone does this, we will stop climate change.’
Those are all virtuous, well-meaning solutions that will help reduce the burning of greenhouse gases which causes climate change. I applaud these efforts. I try to do as many of these solutions as I can to reduce my carbon footprint. However, it’s simply not enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Individual actions let government, corporate polluters, factory farms, large scale clear cut logging companies, coal extraction companies, oil companies, etc. off the hook. It’s magical, wishful thinking to believe that individual solutions alone will fix climate change. As I wrote earlier on this blog post, 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions.
In the middle of this op-ed, Dr. Mann writes: “a fixation on voluntary action alone takes the pressure off of the push for governmental policies to hold corporate polluters accountable. In fact, one recent study suggests that the emphasis on smaller personal actions can actually undermine support for the substantive climate policies needed.”
For effective action, we must be contacting our members of Congress to enact policies such as carbon taxes so that the large corporations, such as those 100 companies, and businesses in general will reduce their emissions. As Dr. Mann states in this op-ed, “We need corporate action, not virtue signaling.”
It can’t be stressed enough. INDIVIDUAL ACTIONS ALONE WILL NOT SOLVE CLIMATE CHANGE. Dr. Mann ends this op-ed writing: “There is still time to avert the worst impacts of climate change, but not without immediate, collective action.”
I am happy that Adam McKay poked fun of moderate climate advocates like me who has tried to appeal to progressives and conservatives. I think that the plot and story is great of Don’t Look Up the way that it is. At the same time, if I had a chance to nudge him when he was writing his script, I would have also included a spiritual minded character preaching that we are all sinners and the comet is God’s punishment for our pollution and harming the environment. Thus, if we atone for our sins by praying, going vegan, having less or no kids, putting solar on our roofs, buying electric cars, weatherizing our homes, riding our bikes instead of driving cars, join him in living in an eco village off the grid, etc, but not worry about what corporations or the government is doing. If we all live in a simple virtuous way in our individual lives that pollutes less and pleases God, that will cause the comet to alter its course. Just an idea for a future movie, if anyone wants to grab it. (Hint! Hint!)
Seriously, if you read this blog, Adam McKay (especially if you read this very long blog up to this point, God bless you!), I love this film just the way it is!
Having said that, my personal pet peeve is that it’s not enough to do individual actions on climate change. It is vital to contact elected officials, such as your members of Congress, to urge them to make polices addressing the climate crisis the highest priority. I venture to say that Leonard DiCaprio would agree with me on this one.
In a promotional roundtable interview with the cast of Don’t Look Up, Jonah Hill asks: ‘What can one person do to take climate action?‘ Leonardo DiCaprio’s response: ‘The #1 thing is vote in elections for people who take the climate crisis seriously and want to take action.’
Leonardo then went on to say, “And there has always been a conversation about what you can do in your personal life and that has a lot of validity, but there are powers that be that are going to create massive change. And that comes from the private sector. It comes from government and we need to put pressure on the powers that be in the best we can in our own possible way.”
Jonah Hill then tries to clarify: “So awareness in the minutia of your voting towards these climate issues?”
Leonardo DiCaprio: “Absolutely!”
Don’t Look Up has a fantastic conclusion (Spoiler Alert!)
For some movies, they can be great to watch most of the way through, but then they screw up the ending. Don’t Look Up delivers perfectly at the end. It’s not a typical Hollywood ending. Actually, the ending hurts to watch and nearly brought tears to my eyes. This is because it is conveying an important message what happens when we don’t take science seriously.
I knew from climate writer David Roberts Volts blog from December 10th, Don’t Look Up: the first good movie about climate change that Leonardo DiCaprio’s “final words in the movie, as he is surrounded at the dinner table by family and friends: ‘We really did have everything, didn’t we?'”
Like David Roberts, I can’t stop thinking about those final words. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character says it with a lot of love for his family, the blessings he saw in his life all around him, and the fantastic experience of living on Earth with the ability to have everything. It is a beautifully delivered line by Leonardo DiCaprio. Even more, the true story is that the line was DiCaprio’s idea. It was not in the script, according to writer/director Adam McKay.
If Don’t Look Back stands the test of time as a great film, that line will be quoted and remembered as one of the great closing movie lines in history.
After this heavy ending, writer/director Adam McKay also included two post credit “endings” that are more on the humorous side. I don’t want to give away too much, except that the super rich try to move to another planet. Ironically, it does not end up well for them. I loved those extra scenes, so you don’t want to leave as soon as the credits starts.
Because I have been alarmed about climate change for decades, Thank you Adam McKay and the entire team who made Don’t Look Up for this very impactful film experience.
Looking for a good book to start off 2022 to learn about the science and solutions to climate change? Then I recommend the new book released towards the end 2021, From Knowledge to Power: The Comprehensive Handbook for Climate Science and Advocacy by Dr. John Perona. With a Ph.D in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale and LL.M (masters degree) in Natural Resources Law from Northwestern College at Lewis & Clark University and currently on the faculties of Portland State University, John has the understanding and expertise to give you a better depth of knowledge to Earth’s climate system and range of solutions to reduce the threat.
The first half of his book focuses on how Earth’s climate system works. He then writes how it became out of balance with humans releasing large amount of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas) to provide energy for our homes, cars, businesses, etc. John devotes Chapter 3 to climate models and carbon budgets so we have grasp of these concepts that are frequently used by climate scientists. This leads a sobering Chapter 4 on the negative impacts on climate change on sea level rise, weather, forests, endangered species, and us humans with our food & water, health and economy. In the international Paris Agreement of 2015, nearly all the countries in the world agreed that greenhouse emissions should be reduced to avoid an average global temperature rise above 1.5°C (Celsius) by 2100. Basically, if we collectively choose to continue with business as usual to muddle around to just keep burning fossil fuels and clearing forests, the future climate modeling provides a very clear warning. The models project nasty consequences that could threaten our civilization and future to live on Earth. That is, if we allow the average global temperature rise to go beyond 2°C or much greater by 2100.
John does not use this analogy in this book. However, the experiment that humanity is currently conducting on Planet Earth reminds of the Chiffon Margarine TV commercials that I saw as a child in the 1970s. If you old enough to remember (yes, I am dating myself), the ads always ended with thunder and lightning in the background. The actor Dena Dietrich saying with anger: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”
Sadly, with climate change, we are fooling with Mother Nature and already experiencing some negative impacts.
With the 1.1°C increase in global temperature since the start of the industrial revolution around 1850 due to the ever increasing human caused greenhouse gas emissions , climate scientists are now using methods of attribution science to tease out the human contribution to specific recent weather events. John shares a table chart with the examples of the 2020 Australian heat wave (contribution to devastating bushfires), 2019 Tropical storm Imelda (Texas), 2019 European heat wave (results for France) and 2017 Hurricane Harvey rainfall (Texas). Scientists using attribution science have determined that the magnitude and severity of these events could not have happened without human caused global warming.
At the same time, John points out in his Interlude chapter that “The US energy transition (to cleaner energy that emits little or no fossil fuels) is taking place with similar efforts going on all over the world.” The problem John then notes is that “Worldwide, however, (greenhouse gas) emissions are still increasing, and the modest progress so far is not enough to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at levels consistent with either 1.5°C or 2.0°C worlds.”
John thinks that the trends indicate that we are potentially headed towards a future primarily using clean energy. The unanswered question for John and climate scientists is: Can we make this global transition to a clean energy future fast enough in the time frame needed to avoid going above a 2° degree warming with the resulting dangerous consequences that could then ensue?
Thus, individually and collectively we need to step up our game to take action to help usher in this clean energy future. John’s thoughts on the climate energy transition reminded me of a March 2021 Washington Post interview, with climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. During the interview, the reporter asked Dr. Hayhoethis question: ‘What’s your thinking for what’s possible in fighting climate change?’ Her response:
“If we implemented all currently available efficiency measures, that would cut U.S. carbon emissions 50 percent. That’s efficiency — not even clean energy. And during the lockdown around the world, during the pandemic, clean energy took off. The International Energy Agency estimates that 90 percent of new electricity installed around the world in 2020 will have been clean energy. Ninety percent. So the world is changing. It just isn’t changing fast enough. We need more hands rolling that giant boulder. It’s already rolling downhill slowly. And we need it rolling faster.
Thus, it is very helpful that Dr. Perona spends that second have of his book, the last 6 out of the 10 chapters in the book, analyzing the major climate solution tools available to us right now. Chapter 5 is a beneficial chapter on Climate Advocacy giving a brief description of the climate advocacy organizations, such as The Sunrise Movement, 350.org, The Climate Reality Project, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). Even more, he includes a graphic table of where these groups fall on the political spectrum. Personally, this chapter was helpful for me because I have been involved with CCL, The Climate Reality Project and other climate groups for almost 10 years. As a climate organizer for over 10 years, I advised new and fellow climate advocates to get involved with a climate advocacy group. I feel like advocates who are involved with a group are much more effective than if they simply act alone. Thus, I applaud John for having this chapter.
Even more, I was very excited he devoted Chapter 7 to Carbon Pricing. Currently, John and I know each other from our involvement with the Portland chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). CCL primarily advocates for a federal carbon price to tax fossil fuels at the source (the coal mine, oil/natural gas well, or the U.S. border). It’s a policy known as carbon fee and dividend. Even more, CCL empowers volunteers across the U.S. to lobby their members of Congress to support a bill before Congress presently known as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA). I am a strong supporter of this bill. I have attended some lobby meetings with John in Washington D.C. and Portland Oregon with the staffs of our Oregon members of Congress to urge them to support the EICDA. Besides giving information on the EICDA and carbon fee & dividend, John writes in this chapter about the other policy option for pricing carbon, which is cap & trade. He provides analysis of two US current cap & trade systems, the one in California known currently as Senate Bill (SB 32) and Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Chapter 8 focuses on Carbon-Free Power such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and nuclear. John also dives into polices for renewable energy, like renewable and clean energy standards, advocacy for influencing state electricity policy, modernizing the electricity grid, and distributed solar power. Chapter 9 highlights Carbon-Free Lifestyles, such as polices to reduce industry emissions, electric vehicles, and urban climate plans. Chapter 10 covers Carbon Removal & Solar Geoengineering, such as forest restoration, using agriculture and grasslands to drawdown carbon dioxide from the air, carbon capture & storage, solar geoengineering, etc.
I did attend the book launch for John’s book on November 30, 2021. During his remarks for talking about this book John stated: ‘This book is very comprehensive, as the title suggests.’
John was not kidding. The book does read like a college textbook, which makes sense since John is a college professor and a scientist. I can easily see this book being used as a college textbook. Even more, when promoting this book on my social media recently, a friend of mine responded that she plans “to use it to inform the online courses I am creating.”
This book is dense. It was not the easiest book I had read. It took me several days to read through it, during a vacation no less. At the same time, John is extremely intelligent and really knows his stuff on climate change. As you read this book, it jumps out at you that John has really devoted himself for many years to having a deep understanding of the science and solutions to climate change. Climate change science and the solutions are complicated. Thankfully, John treats this subject with the seriousness that it deserves if you really want to gain knowledge and look for ideas for advocacy. It’s dense and comprehensive because it needs to be. I found this book to be very helpful and so will you.
As I mentioned above, I have known John Perona for years through the Portland Oregon Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). However, I first met him when I mentored him and 16 others at the Climate Reality Training, led by former Vice President Al Gore, in Houston, Texas in August, 2016. When I moved to Portland in February 2017, I ran into John at various CCL events. In January 30, 2018, John was scheduled to give a presentation on carbon fee and dividend in Newport Oregon. Weeks before, I asked John if I could tag along to hear his talk. One week before, John called me to tell me that he was not feeling well and he asked me to speak in his place. I was happy to help him. He generously gave me his slide deck for this presentation. I changed it up to fit with my style of public speaking and understanding of carbon fee and dividend. The talk went very well, thanks to John helping me prepare.
During the winter of 2017-18, I attended a series of public lectures that John delivered to the environmental advocacy community in Portland, Oregon. The meeting room was packed for these public events for local climate advocates to attend and learn from John. As noted earlier, John and I have lobbied the staff of our Oregon members of Congress in lobby meetings at their offices in Portland Oregon and Washington D.C. Along with other CCL volunteers who attended these meetings, we urged these members of Congress to support carbon fee and dividend, specifically the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 2307). Our most recent lobby meeting February 26, 2020 at Senator Ron Wyden’s Portland Office. John assigned me to be the note taker to try to capture the information we received from the Congressional staff to learn their position. These meetings are confidential to retain the trust of the Congressional staff. However, I can report that I could barely keep up with John’s conversation with Wyden’s Energy and tax policy advisor. Both of them spoke very quickly about the fine and complex details of energy tax policy. It was great to be a fly on the wall, but horrible to be a note taker. Again, John really knows his stuff.
In 2021, I was the lead organizer for an effort to lobby the Oregon Legislature to pass a resolution, known as Senate Joint Memorial 5 or SJM 5, supporting CCL’s Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. In February 2021, a Senate staffer informed me to organize a group of five volunteers to provide oral testimony to the Senate Energy and Environment committee at a February 25th hearing to urge the Senators to pass SJM 5. I asked John to testify and he said yes. Since this was happening during the pandemic, all public testimony for these legislative hearings was given strictly online. Thus, no one had to drive over an hour to the Oregon Capitol from Portland or drive even further from elsewhere to give their oral testimony. The frustrating part was that this legislative committee twice bumped the group I had assembled off their committee meeting schedule over a week due to other bills and resolutions they were considering. John and my other friends that I had assembled were very flexible and patient as the Oregon Senate Energy and Environment Committee. Along with the others, John gave an excellent oral testimony to this legislative committee on March 4th. This committee voted 4 to 1, with one of the Republican Senators joining with the 3 Democratic Senators, to vote SJM 5 out of the committee on March 11th with a recommendation to pass on the Oregon Senate floor. On April 7th, the full Oregon Senate voted to pass SJM 5 by a vote of 23 to 5, with 6 Republican Senators joining with all the Democratic Senators present that day to support it. Sadly, we were not able to persuade the House Democratic Leadership to hold a vote on SJM 5, so it was not able to pass the Oregon Legislature in 2021.
Having said that, I will always be grateful to Dr. John Perona for his help on SJM 5, all of his efforts to educate the Portland community about climate change, his climate lobbying efforts for Congressional offices, and his friendship & support to me with all of my climate advocacy. Since I had the privilege to get to know John over the years, I can say with full confidence that it will be worth your time and effort to read his book, From Knowledge to Power.
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” – Elie Wiesel. Author, Holocaust survivor, and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Sometimes it is easy to choose right from wrong when it comes to climate action and choosing to stand with those organizing to make a difference for climate action. Now as we head towards 2022 is the time to take that stand. Hesitation, indifference, and apathy are not acceptable.
A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling Facebook, when I saw a friend post a picture of a gas pump she had taken on a recent trip she took to Las Vegas, Nevada. The gas pump as a sticker with an image of President Joe Biden pointing with the written caption saying: “I did that.” The sticker is conveniently placed so that Joe Biden is pointing towards the price of gas. My friend, Shelly, that typed on Facebook a caption above the picture that said: “Let’s go Brandon.”
Normally, I keep scrolling and I ignore much of the posts similar to this that I see on Facebook that friends have posted. However, this posting hit a nerve with me because years ago my friend Shelly had attended one of my climate change talks back in 2013. Even more, she said very supportive things about my climate organizing as far back as 2010.
In one 2010 Facebook message she wrote to me: “you think you could convince my parents that there really is such a thing as “global warming”? They are in complete denial.” Shelly and I knew each other from when we were kids in the late 1970s and early 1980s growing up at the same church in Oakville, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis that this located at the southern tip of south St. Louis County. We had lost touch but then we got reacquainted when I became active on Facebook in 2009. In between my summer job working as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, I spent my winters in my hometown of St. Louis visiting my parents and family. When I was in St. Louis, we messaged frequently about trying to meet up for coffee, but we could never work out our schedules to make it happen.
I did invite her to attend a Missouri Sierra Club Community Forum on Coal and Clean Energy at Cliff Cave Library, March 27, 2013 where I had been invited to be a speaker. Shelly sent me a message the day before that she planned to attend. Even more, she wrote that she planned to bring her 14 year old son. He asked Shelly if he could come, since he had just read a book about water pollution and he was very concerned. I responded:
“That is fabulous that your 14 year old son wants to come and he. I won’t turn him away. As a matter of fact, I wish I could have gone to a meeting like this when I was 14 years old. I am excited to meet your son and see you again after many years tonight at Cliff Cave Library.”
Shelly and her son Conner did make it to this event. Afterwards, she sent me this Facebook message:
“Wanted to drop u a quick line. My son, Connor, the one u met at the library, has decided on a college and major. He has chosen Missouri S&T and environmental engineering. He says he wants to do what he can and find new ways to get what is wanted without any loss to the animals or land. Thats 3 years from now anyway. We will c.”
In my response, I wrote that it was great to see her at this event and to meet her son Conner. I encouraged her to stay in touch. Her reply:
“Will do. And, btw, u were instrumental with his eye opening and increased concern with climate and environment and what WE have done to it and what WE can do to repair it. U R awesome Brian. U r forever my inspiration that one person CAN make a difference.”
I was inspired that I may have influenced Shelly and her son Conner by encouraging them to attend and the information they received from this Sierra Club Beyond Coal event. With the hundreds of climate change talks I had given in St. Louis and across the U.S. over the past 10 years, I hope I have inspired many people to take climate action. However, I felt that the 2016 election of Donald Trump as President was a giant step backwards reducing the threat of climate change. It felt like all of my climate change efforts had gone down the drain.
At the same time, I didn’t let Trump’s election in 2016 slow me down one bit. When I decided after the summer of 2017 that I didn’t want to be a seasonal park ranger at anymore, I wrote this blog in January 2018, For climate action, never forget: you own our national parks. As a former federal employee and a private citizen, I wrote this to push back against what I perceived as the anti-environmental efforts of the Trump Administration. The Trump Presidency felt like a very dark time to me because of his sexism, racism, divisiveness, caustic tweets, love of international autocrats, attempts to roll back access to healthcare, and worst of all, his hostility to climate policies. I was never going to give up hope and I didn’t want others I knew, especially in the climate movement to give up hope either. Thus, I created this meme that I frequently posted on my social media:
In the last year of the Trump Presidency, I was horrified by his refusal to listen to the science and provide the necessary leadership to reduce the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, I was not surprised when the British medical journal The Lancet published a report in February 2021 that Trump’s Policies Resulted In The Unnecessary Deaths Of Hundreds Of Thousands Of Americans. Even more, the insurrection by an angry and violent mob of Trump supporters that I saw live on TV on January 6th broke my heart and has left me fearful for the future of American democracy. Recent articles like TRUMP’S NEXT COUP HAS ALREADY BEGUN by Barton Gellman in The Atlantic are sounding the alarm that “January 6 was practice. Donald Trump’s GOP is much better positioned to subvert the next election.”
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I was very relieved when the major news networks announced that Joe Biden won the votes in Pennsylvania on Saturday, November 7th and declared he won the election to become President of the United States. My wife and I were so excited that we drove to a local food cart near our home in Portland, Oregon to order a Phily cheesesteak sandwich in honor of the Philadelphia suburbs voting in large enough numbers to carry the state for Joe Biden. My wife Tanya and I were so happy that he won, but the sandwich was disgusting. We didn’t feel like eating for the rest of the day.
On issues such as climate change, women’s rights, racial equity, tackling the COVID pandemic, healthcare, voting rights, gun contraol, immigration, and so many other issues, it felt like a new day that America. That we might be able to achieve progress on the issues facing the U.S. On climate change, it felt like there would be a fighting chance that we might be able to achieve the United Nations IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) advised goals for global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach ‘net zero’ around 2050. With a Joe Biden Presidency, there was a chance he could provide leadership to aim for these IPCC global targets which could help planet Earth by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” A global increase of temperatures of 2°C and even preferably 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels could help reduce the nastiest consequences of climate change harming human civilization.
Even more, Joe Biden was basically all that stood in the way of a functioning U.S. democracy and Donald Trump. For years, many academic and political experts have been sounding the alarm that Since day one, Donald Trump has been an autocrat in the making. Thus, I felt like there was a lot at stake with the Joe Biden Presidency.
With this in mind, I felt very mystified and disappointed when my friend Shelly recently posted on Facebook, “Let’s Go Brandon” when she spoke glowingly of my climate organizing over the years. Thus, I felt I needed to write a response to her post:
Hey Shelly, “For almost 2 years, we have been living in a global pandemic with folks having to stay home and do social distancing to do what they could to avoid catching and spreading a deadly disease, COVID-19. This pandemic led to supply chain disruptions and now the economy roaring back that has led to inflation and high gas prices. Do you really believe that high gas prices is the fault of President Joe Biden?
Did you know that the burning of fossil fuels lead to almost 9 million deaths each year from the resulting air pollution?
Sadly, the true damage to our health is not factored in when we fill up on cheap gas at the gas station. Even more, I am surprised at you using the slogan “Let’s go Brandon!”
Do you support the previous President who would not accept the result of a free and fair election and then he instigated his followers to storm the Capitol on January 6th in an attempt to end our democracy?
If this is true, then I am shocked because you came to see my climate change talk in 2013, even bringing your son to meet me to possibly also work on climate organizing.
If you really do stand by your post, then I don’t think I could be friends with you any longer. Please let me know that this post was a joke, a mistake and you don’t really stand by it.”
My comments triggered a nasty response by her friend Frank who accused me of not being open minded to listen to the other side. He then had inflammatory comments about liberals, government spending, climate denial talking points, etc. He seemed very set in his opinions and he seemed like he was itching to have an online heated debate with me. It just seemed best to ignore Frank to not give his opinions any oxygen and go down a rabbit hole political argument with him, which was not going to change his mind. I didn’t waste my time responding. Oddly, his comments were deleted by either Frank or Shelly.
Shelly soon wrote a quick reply: “Brian Ettling , first of all I LOVE all that u do and what u stand for. I did not place the sticker there I just thought it was funny. I truly wish there was an answer to all of these tribulations that are before us. Connor still references the eye-opening education u provided to both of us. Time well spent.”
Her comment still left a lot of questions for me though, so I then wrote this response:
“Hey Shelly…Thank you for your response. I am still confused by what you wrote though. You wrote: “first of all I LOVE all that u do and what u stand for…Connor still references the eye-opening education u provided to both of us. Time well spent.” Yet, your post caption reads “Let’s go Brandon.” Your friends are latching onto that. Even more, they are restoring to name calling referring to me as ‘a snowflake, a LBGTQRSTXYZ member,’ etc. Thus, you should think about posting things like this.
What exactly do you mean by “Let’s go Brandon”? Please explain. You say you respect my work as a climate organizer and your son is still quoting my presentation. However, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 was a gigantic setback for me and everyone fighting to reduce the threat of climate change. “Let’s Go Brandon” has become the catchphrase for ‘F*#k Joe Biden.’ For me, Joe Biden is a moderate pragmatic leader who wants to do what he can to reduce the threat of climate change and he is all that’s left standing in the way of an autocratic leader (Trump) who does not respect the rule of law, women’s rights, voting rights, the 1st amendment, and free & fair elections. We are literally running out of time with climate change and we can’t afford to have another term of Trump or a Trump wannabe leader.
Yes, I realize that you did not place the sticker there and on the surface I can see how that would be funny. Yes, these issues that we are dealing are very complicated.
As I tried to explain in my post, the inflationary pressures and high gas prices have very little to do with Joe Biden. Gas prices are low or high because they are a global commodity. The pandemic has led to supply chain breakdowns and high demand for oil/gasoline as the economy has been revved hot lately. Even more, as I have organized for climate action these past 12 years, I have learned that our dependence on burning gasoline is killing millions of people each year due to the resulting air pollution. 20 years ago, then President George W. Bush said we are addicted to oil. Cheap gas prices or not, we have got to find a way to get off this addiction to have a livable planet. Yes, these issues are complicated, but we do need to dig deeper and more creatively to solve them. Thus, I am still confused why you titled your post “Let’s Go Brandon” when that expression goes against what I am trying to do as a climate organizer. Please explain.”
Shelly never responded to my comments. However, three of her friends did respond with a “Let’s Go Brandon!” to make sure she knew they liked her post. Even more, her friend Frank still seemed triggered by my comments. He tagged me in his comments calling me ‘a snowflake, a LBGTQRSTXYZ member’ etc. Oddly, someone (either Shelly or Frank) deleted those comments, but Frank was not finished. He tagged me on another comment, which is still on Shelly’s wall that says: “Brian Ettling, FJB.” Just in case, I didn’t know what FJB meant, he included this image for me to see:
It’s times to choose sides: Climate Action or “Let’s Go Brandon!”
As I have tried to make very clear in this blog, it’s time to choose sides. Do you want climate action or do you want to support an autocratic leader (Donald Trump) who will try to do all he can block policies to reduce the threat of climate change?
Make no mistake that I do firmly believe that this is very clear binary choice between Joe Biden (a man that can be pushed to do more to act on climate) vs. a dangerous autocrat like Donald Trump who will do everything we can to prevent progress on climate policies.
Yes, I will admit that Joe Biden could be doing more to enact climate policies and work with Congress to pass legislation to address the climate crisis. Many climate activists feel frustration with President Joe Biden. Today, I saw a tweet from 16 yo Climate Justice Activist & Author, Alexandria Villaseñor. She was retweeting an article by 18-year old Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg says it’s ‘strange’ Joe Biden is considered a climate leader.
Alexandria retweeted that article with her comment: “I don’t think it’s strange, but it’s wrong. We haven’t stopped Line 3 or passed BBB, we’ve sold miles of space for new oil/gas leases while people die from heat domes & super storms.Wake up. Joe Biden is not a climate leader. He’s sold our generation out.”
It then looks like she got pushback direst messages from supporters of Joe Biden because she then tweeted:
“The apologists have found my dm’s. Show solidarity, they say. He’s doing his best, they say. But, there is SO much he could be doing, that he’s not. How much hotter will the world get? how many more new emissions will be created by this administration? That’s what matters.”
I am not giving up hope yet on Joe Biden taking significant action to reduce the threat of climate change, but I understand her frustration. WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME TO TAKE THE SIGNIFICANT ACTION NEEDED TO ADDRESS THE CLIMATE CRISIS.
Since U.S. Senator Joe Manchin recently announced that he would not support Biden’s Build Back Better bill, many climate advocates and policy experts are worried that the collapse of Biden’s Build Back Better is a major blow to the climate fight. This recent Guardian article warns: “It would be almost impossible for the US to comply with its greenhouse gas reduction pledges without the $1.75tn package that Manchin refuses to support.”
Simply getting mad at President Joe Biden, Senator Joe Manchin, or the entire gridlocked American legislative process won’t solve the issue of climate change. We don’t have time for handwringing. We have got to act and act fast! We have to create the political will to enact policies that can take the largest greenhouse gas reductions possible. Period. As my Grandma would say: ‘We ain’t got time to mess around.’
Thus, many climate advocates and political experts see 2022 as the last, best year for Democrats to pass effective climate legislation before everything goes dark for 10 years, if not longer. We have got to push hard to get President Biden, Senator Joe Manchin and Congress to pass some kind of Build Back Better in 2022. Period.
To quote the French left, “The hour calls for optimism; we’ll save pessimism for better times.” (“L’heure est à l’optimisme, laissons le pessimisme pour des temps meilleurs.”)
And, as I like to say:
There’s the mythical story of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt meeting a group of activists, possibly led by A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. During the meeting, the advocates laid out their bold action plan for change that they wanted president to do with his bully pulpit and his executive power. FDR listened and considered their demands they presented. He then retorted, “You’ve convinced me. I agree with what you’ve said. Now go out and make me do it.”
Whether or not it’s true the story points to historical evidence that “Politicians fear the disruptive power of a mobilized base, even when it helps them succeed.”
Thus, those of us alarmed about the threat of climate change and want policies enacted for a livable and sustainable planet must mobilize and push President Biden, Senator Joe Manchin, and Congress to pass meaningful climate legislation. No excuses.
As we do all we can to pass climate legislation in 2022, all of us climate advocates must also do all we can to elect Democrats in November 2022. We can’t let any frustration with President Joe Biden, Senator Joe Manchin, and Congress prevent us from advancing impactful climate legislation and policies. After Senator Joe Manchin announced he was a no vote on Build Back Better on December 19th, this is what former Republican Congressman David Jolly tweeted:
Even more, a similar point was made recently in a promotional interview for the new “Don’t Look Up” Netflix film. At one point comedic actor Jonah Hill asks: “One thing I do want to say as I learn more about (climate change) is from someone like me who is not on the ground, super aware. It’s like when you are making any big changes, Everest just looks so massive and how do I even take one little step. It’s so daunting. It might be nice for people to hear how gnarly it is and how important it is. Like, what’s a minute step they can take that’s not so overwhelming and doesn’t take an enormous amount of privilege to make that change?”
Without hesitation, Leonardo DiCaprio’s responded: “The number one thing they can do is to vote for people who take science seriously, the climate crisis seriously, that want to take action. That’s the number one thing that people can do. And there’s always been a conversation about what you can do in your personal life and I think that does have a lot of validity. But, there are powers that be that are really going to make massive change and that comes from the private sector and comes from the government. And, we need to put pressure on the powers that be the best we possibly can in our own personal way.
Jonah Hill reflected back: “So awareness in your, in the minutia of voting towards these climate issues?”
Leonardo DiCaprio: “Absolutely. That is the number one thing.”
Take it from Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the most vocal and well known climate advocates as well as one of the top movie actors on planet Earth. He advises that voting for candidates who are committed to climate action is one of the best things you can do to act on climate. I would add on top of that to support these climate friendly candidates by canvassing (knocking on doors to support their campaign) and fundraising/contributing to their campaigns will increase their chances of getting elected. From my personal experience, actively participating in the campaigns of candidates committed to climate action will help them prioritize to meet with you to lobby them if they get elected. Throwing your energy into their campaign can also inspire them to prioritize their political capitol into specific climate policies important to you.
Yes, it’s important to see the new Adam McKay “Don’t Look Up” film on Netlix or at the theatre to see a metaphorical example of what could happen if we don’t take climate change seriously. Furthermore, read David Wallace Well’s 2019 book, The Uninhabitable Earth, for the very horrific picture he paints using his understanding of the scientific climate modeling of what the Earth may become if we do nothing or very little to reduce the threat of climate change.
As a climate organizer for over 10 years now, the knowledge of how dangerous the world could become with a runaway, extreme climate change is something I have had awareness of since I began this journey. One of the early sources I found was the 2008 National Geographic documentary, “Six Degrees Could Change the World” and the 2008 book that it was based on Six Degrees: Our Future On a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas. Those resources, along with many others, gave me the motivation that we don’t want to cause a change to our planet with huge amounts of fossil fuel pollution that could lead the collapse of human civilization and possibly doom the survival of the humans.
Thus, we need our friends like Shelly to understand this reality. If they admire climate organizers like me and feel blessed to live on planet Earth, they might want to reconsider using phrases like “Let’s Go Brandon.” The former President (Trump) and those pushing this slogan want to block any action on climate change, regardless to the catastrophic future it could lead to on planet Earth.