Author Archives: bettling

For Climate Action, be kind to people knocking at your door 

Photo of Brian Ettling taken on March 31, 2024.

This blog is an updated version writing about my U.S. Census Enumerator experience on Facebook on October 13, 2020. Friends gave me many supportive and positive comments. They encouraged me to publish what I wrote. Thus, I wrote an essay the next day for Medium, “Thoughts from a recent 2020 U.S. Census worker.”

In the summer of 2020, I worked as a U.S. Census Bureau Enumerator in the Portland OR area. It was quite an interesting adventure.

I took this job as my patriotic duty to help complete this once in a decade U.S Constitutional requirement to count all persons living in the U.S. to determine total population. This helps us have a better understanding of the demographics of our nation and then Congressional representation. Even more, the once a decade U.S. Census count determines local funding for schools, roads, hospitals, senior centers, parks, etc.

It is a requirement by law that all U.S. households participate in providing an accurate count of persons living in their household. However, very rarely to never is any person held criminally responsible for refusing to cooperate with the U.S. Census. Therefore, participation in the U.S. is ultimately voluntary.

My job from August 1st to October 1st was knocking on the doors of residents to complete Census interviews for those folks who did not complete their Census questionnaire mailed to their households in the spring of 2020. I could only politely ask for their help and cooperation. This made for an interesting job because I had no idea how I was going to be received once I knocked on someone’s door.

Many people were extremely helpful when I knocked at their doors, some even let me inside their homes. Others were extremely hostile and angry beyond any other behavior I had witnessed in my life.

This was an eye-opening experience for me because my previous job working for the U.S. government was when I was a seasonal park ranger at Everglades and Crater Lake National Parks from 1996–2017. In those jobs, most people were extremely thrilled and happy to see a park ranger. I felt like a Disney mascot at Disney World. I received so much love and adoration as a park ranger that it did seem a little artificial to me, even though I absolutely loved that job. It was the best job I ever had. However, I always felt like though that being a park ranger in a national park where most people tell you all day about how much they love you is not how the real world operates. Therefore, I wanted to get other job experiences outside of that when I left the seasonal park ranger life in 2017.

Photo of Park Ranger Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park on taken on June 9, 2015.

The rude and very nasty response I received from several individuals when I was very meekly requesting their help to complete a constitutionally Census beyond floored me. I never had a job where I had so many doors slammed in my face and individuals saying very nasty and ugly things to me. It stung bad and there were many times where I would go back to inside my car to cry my eyes out.

I will admit that I am a very sensitive person, so the rejections really weighed on my soul. People can say ‘It’s them no you,’ ‘don’t let it bother you,’ and ‘that’s the way people are.’ However, it still does not take the sting away.

I wished that more people could see that I am a human being, just like them. I am just trying to complete a job. That talking in a rude manner does hurt. I imagine that many of those folks were church going individuals too. I remember Mother Teresa once saying that ‘In every situation, we should think of an encounter with another person as Jesus meeting Jesus.’

I had amazing apartment managers who went out of their way to help me. Other apartment managers would be very hostile and non-cooperative. I never said it, but I wanted to say to some of these resistant apartment managers: ‘I live in this community and my wife and I sometimes talk about moving to another apartment complex. Right now, your attitude is showing me that I would never want to live in this housing complex. As a potential renter, you are not selling me on your property.’

Another reason took this job because I love living in Portland OR and I care about my community, especially in NE Portland. I want the federal dollars going to schools, roads, hospitals, senior centers and parks flowing to my area. Thus, it hurt when people refused to cooperate. I would try to explain that a good Census count helps us locally with funding for their kids’ schools, local hospitals when they need it in an emergency, our roads, senior centers, parks, etc. I felt sad in those moments when people refused to hear it when I tried to explain this to them.

Even more, the demographics of the United States and the Portland OR area are changing. We are moving towards a minority majority country. I believe strongly that Black Lives Matter, immigrants are to be celebrated, refugees are to be welcomed, migrant and undocumented workers are to be appreciated to the valuable work they contribute to society, and they should be treated as citizens. I wanted to count as many people of color, immigrants, women, seniors, children, and non-citizens as possible to get the most accurate population count for the 2020 Census.

Brian Ettling working as a U.S. Census Enumerator on September 23, 2020.

You would be surprised how many immigrants, refugees, and undocumented residents were very helpful and supportive of my work. Yet, it made me sad when people of color were distrustful of me. I didn’t blame them at all because of the systematic racism and oppression in our country. I always tried to approach anyone I met with an open heart full of love. At the same time, I often wondered if the U.S. Census would have had more success with some people of color if an individual from their community who looked like them was engaging them. I pondered though if some of the people who were leery of me might have still been leery of a Census employee from their own community, thinking that Census employee is just a sell out to the system. It’s tough to say. The bottom line is that sometimes we can become so suspicious of people we don’t know that we end up losing out to getting to know good people who genuinely do want to help us and look out for our best interests.

It’s a good challenge for all of us to be open to get to know and engage with people who don’t look, sound, or believe like we do. Love others, no matter who they are.

I wish more Americans thought through what it means to truly be a patriotic American. It’s not just waving the American flag, standing for the national anthem or The Pledge of Allegiance. It’s not just voting for your favorite political party every 2 to 4 years. It’s not just proclaiming your love for America out loud love to friends, on bumper stickers, t-shirts, etc. It’s not just listening to your favorite American political pundit to tell you how to think how America.

If you love America, it’s about voting in every election and supporting free and fair elections. It’s about rolling up your sleeve to get involved in political campaigns for candidates and issues that you care about. It’s about participating in your child’s school board meetings to make sure your child and all the children in your community are getting the best education. It’s making sure the local fire, police, social services departments have all the resources they need to serve our communities. At the same time, it’s holding public officials and police fully accountable when they trample upon the rights and freedoms of people of color, women, seniors, children, immigrants, and the most vulnerable of our society.

Loving America also means assisting and helping public servants like temporary U.S. Census employees, not slamming the doors on them, giving them hostile comments, or even threatening them with guns.

Yes, public employees might show up at your door when you are eating dinner with your family, intensely working remotely at home with your job, putting your baby down for a nap, making dinner, trying to get home repairs done, etc. Yes, it’s frustrating when they ask for your help when you are in the middle of something else. We get that. We feel terrible encountering you in an awkward moment. At the same time though, sometimes we have hundreds of cases, and we can’t necessarily return at a more convenient time for you.

For some of those individuals who did treat me in a very negative way, I never had any doubt that if I had been seriously injured or any reason in front of their home, they would have come running out to help me until the paramedics came. They would have dropped everything, including family dinner, making dinner, putting the baby down for a nap, a pressing task at their job, an important home repair, etc. to help a person in need.

Completing that Census interview would have taken just a few minutes, and they could have easily gotten back to that precious family time, making dinner, keeping their boss happy, getting their child to lay down for a nap, etc. Refusing to help a Census worker only meant that our computer system was going to log an unsuccessful attempt to interview a household resident. It meant we there then going to have to return to that residence probably another inconvenient time for that resident.

If you took the time to read all of this, my challenge for you today and always is to love everyone. Yes, it is easy to love your family members, friends, celebrities, and people working in jobs that you admire, such as park rangers. All religion whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. all talk about loving one another and welcoming the stranger.

If you are not religious but are patriotic, you can’t say you love America and then treat government workers in a demeaning way. If anything, this COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 taught us who the essential workers are. They are people such as grocery store clerks, truck drivers, EMTS paramedics, teachers, police, doctor’s office staff, etc. We have got to treat them like gold. They are risking their lives everyday so we can have the food and services that we want and need. Please be kind to people who are just trying to make a living. Even more, call out others around you when you see that they are not being kind.

Even if you are not American reading this, we are one human inter-related family. Our DNA is all basically the same. Do a DNA test and you will discover that we are all cousins going somewhere back up the human family tree lineage. We should be kind to each other no matter who a person is and where they live on the planet.

Author Ian MacLaren wrote: ‘Be kind because everyone you meet is facing a hard battle.’

I love the Thomas Kinkade quote: ‘There is no greater wisdom than kindness.”

From now until November, I will be knocking on people’s doors urging them to vote for candidates for the upcoming Presidential election. I know many people hate it when people knock on their doors asking them to support political candidates. However, political campaign experts will tell you that the best way to reach voters is door to door, face to face contact with voters. When a political campaign advocate like me knocks on your door, we are saying that we are not taking your vote for granted. We care enough to reach out to you, listen to you, and earn your vote.

Please be kind to political canvassers that might come to your door this year. One of them just might be me.

Thank you so much for reading this and allowing me to share these thoughts with you.

Photo of Brian Ettling taken on August 6, 2023.

Yes, we have a Climate AND a Democracy Emergency 

Photo of Brian Ettling taken on November 15, 2023.

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

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

My familiarity with Dr. Margaret Klein Salamon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writer Director Adam McKay writes the Foreword to this book

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Preface and Introduction to Facing the Climate Emergency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, her Conclusion: All-In for Life

Step One: The Climate Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step Three: Reimagine Your Life Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step Four: Enter Emergency Mode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEP FIVE: Join the Movement and Disrupt Normalcy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: All-In For Life

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

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

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

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

Brian Ettling on April 27, 2023

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

I love the quote by Bill McKibben that Margaret would probably agree: “Very few people on earth ever get to say: ‘I am doing, right now, the most important thing I could possibly be doing.’ If you’ll join this fight, that’s what you’ll get to say.”

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

Well said, Margaret Klein Salamon!

My Criticism of Facing the Climate Emergency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret’s criticism of Al Gore

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

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

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

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

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

Al Gore and Brian Ettling on May 7, 2015.

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

As a refresher, here they are:

Are you ready to change the way you live?

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

Go to

You can reduce your carbon emissions.

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

Buy energy efficient appliances + lightbulbs.

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


If you can, buy a hybrid car.

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

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

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

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

Plant Trees. Lots of Trees.

Speak up in your community.

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

join international efforts to stop global warming.

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

Raise fuel economy standards; require lower emissions from automobiles.

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

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

Encourage everyone you know to see this movie.

Learn as much as you can about the climate crisis.

Then put your knowledge into action.

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

Margaret’s criticism of carbon pricing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love the quote by author and educator Anna Lappé,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Margaret!

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

Smashing my childhood dream led me to climate action

Brian Ettling shooting pool at the Crater Lake National Park employee community center in the summer of 2005.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I set aside childish ways.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11, the Bible.

Discovering my love of pool as a child

I will never forget our family Labor Day weekend vacation to the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri in 1981. I was 13 years old at the time and my younger sister, Mary Frances was ten years old. The weather seemed to be overcast and a bit chilly, too cold to go swimming and kind of a blah day to go exploring anywhere. My dad said to my younger sister and me, “I am going to teach you how to play pool (billiards) today.” 

I grew up with my parents having a 1909 A.E. Schmidt antique pool table in the basement. My dad loved shooting pool with his male friends in the basement when my parents would have company over at their parties. My mom and the ladies would be upstairs chatting about life and preparing food while the men enjoyed their game of pool. Up until that Labor Day vacation trip, the pool table was taboo for my younger sister and I to touch. It was “not a toy” as my dad would frequently say to us kids to anything in the house that was not a toy. 

He seemed deathly afraid that us rambunctious kids would rip the fine shopworn green felt on the table, making the table useless to play and expensive to repair. Up until that point, we dared not to receive his wrath by even touching the family pool table. 

My dad had a mercurial and unpredictable temper growing up from working 68 hours a week among two jobs and not seeming to know how to act around children. To be honest, I did not like being around him as a child. Frankly, I liked him better when he was not home and working. However, on this Sunday morning at this pool room at Lake of the Ozarks lodge, my dad was very loving, kind, and dream to be around introducing us to pool. He was very patient teaching us how to hold our pool sticks, put chalk on our pool cues, explaining the rules of the various pool games, and giving us tips on the more difficult shots. 

I recall my mom was not there. She was off doing something else with my older sister and her mom, my maternal grandmother, that morning. However, my mom was full of happiness and pride that my dad was teaching my younger sister and I pool. My parents obtained the family pool table when they moved to their first home in St. Louis in 1964. The previous owners did not know how they were going to move the table, so they offered my parents a deal to throw in the pool table with the house. Over the years, the pool table became part of the family used at every family and social gathering in the home. 

My mom had sweet memories of her dad, my maternal grandfather, shooting pool with my dad, as well as my mom and dad’s uncles. My mom loved how the men would bond shooting pool in the basement. Both my mom and dad wanted their kids to learn pool to keep this tradition going in the family. My mom wanted her kids using the pool table. 

When my parents moved to a bigger home in the suburbs of south St. Louis County in 1973, they were in total agreement that the pool table was coming with us to our new home, no matter the cost or logistics, hell or high water.

My dad contacted A.E. Schmidt Company to move disassemble the pool table move to the new home. My dad frequently told the story how the table was moved. Before moving into the new home, it rained heavy for weeks and the grass sod had not sprouted yet. When the truck moved to the side of the house to unload the table, my dad thought that moving truck would never get unstuck from the mud. He marveled at the two huge burly guys moving the slate makes the solid surface of the table down the basement steps. Between the size of the men and the heaviness of the slate, my dad could see the new basement steps buckling a bit and creaking with discomfort as they very slowly and carefully hauled the table slate down the steps. 

A.E. Schmidt appraised the pool table for my dad as being worth several thousand dollars, worth more than a new fancy car at that time. The previous owners had way undervalued the value of the table when they included it in the purchase of my parents’ previous home. It was a beautiful pool table that my parents hoped would stay in the family for generations. My dad was not going to have sloppy knuckleheaded kids mess up this family treasure. 

As my dad taught my sister and I how to play pool at that table in the Lake of the Ozarks, I was hooked for life. I loved pool. It was as if I had found the game that I had always meant to play. After we played for several hours on this table, I asked my dad if I could start playing pool on our table at home. He gave an enthusiastic yes and my mom was very pleased to hear this. 

Playing pool in the basement became the center of my life during my teenage years. I admired the look of that emerald green felt that was worn in spots and had a few nicks from my dad and his friends playing pool. I was enthralled by the sharp sound of the cracking of the balls against each other and the rumble of the balls rolling across the table like very tiny bowling balls. I relished teaching myself the trick shots and practicing for hours. My dad built a stereo when he was in high school, and I would play rock music or put on records while shooting pool. Certain songs would put me in a good rhythm to successfully make several shots in a row. 

That pool table saved my parents money because I never developed an interest in video games. They did not agonize about buying an expensive Atari or other video games for me for Christmas or birthdays. My neighborhood and school friends liked to come over to shoot pool. Thus, my parents did not worry much about where I was hanging out. On the flip side, I took mastering pool very intensely and I would frequently curse loudly in the basement when missing shots. My parents would often admonish me for my loud foul language in the basement. 

Sometimes I was bullied in school or felt awkward trying to fit in with my school peers. Thus, the basement pool table was always a comforting friend that accepted me the way I was. On ABC TV’s Wide World of Sports or the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, I would see the top pool players in the world such as Minnesota Fats or Willie Mosconi. I wanted to be them when I grew up and dreamed of being them each time I played pool. As a kid, I was 100% determined I would be the best pool player in the world. No one was going to stop me. 

Receiving my own pool stick as a gift and then destroying it

After my dad taught me to play pool on a family vacation at a hotel recreation room pool table in the Lake of the Ozarks in September 1981, the pool table became a central part of my teenage years. I was probably a B student in high school instead of an A student because of all the hours I spent playing pool. 

My mom’s brother, Uncle Art, would pass through St. Louis periodically to visit our family. He traveled on the road in his RV as a magician with his wife, my Aunt Immy. They liked playing pool, especially Aunt Immy. My dad blissfully told the story how she beat him at pool in the early 1970s. Apparently, not that many women played pool in the early 1970s so my dad proclaimed that Immy was the first woman to beat him at pool. I made it one of my life’s missions to keep practicing so I could beat my aunt and uncle at pool during one of their visits. 

In the mid 1980s, I invited Uncle Art and Aunt Immy to play me in pool on the family table during one of their visits. They were both hesitant because they often heard how much I practiced at pool. They had not played in years and were scared I would win. They half heartily played a few games with me, and I beat them. They gave up playing saying that I was ‘too good at playing them in pool.’ They then walked back upstairs to visit with my mom and grandmother. 

Uncle Art seemed to regret he was reluctant to play pool with me. One year in late December a package came from him instructing me not to open it until Christmas. He gave me my own fancy pool cue for with its own case for me to carry to pool halls. It unscrewed in the middle, just like you see professional pool players use, so it could fit in its black canvass case. It was one of the best Christmas gifts in my life and I cherished it. It had fancy artistic engravings in the wood towards the bottom or thicker end of the pool cue. Someone had crafted this pool cue with care. I treated it with respect. No one could touch my pool cue without asking me very politely. 

I graduated from high school in 1987, but I was unsure what to do with my life. I was stuck in this dream of wanting to be a professional pool player. I never entered a pool tournament and I felt like I was only a moderate player. I feared leaving home and the basement to attend college because I loved shooting pool on the family pool table so much. 

I even took a gap year before starting college trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was so uncertain. One day, I was shooting pool with my older sister’s boyfriend, Ben. He kept trouncing me at pool game after game. I became more frustrated and seething inside that I could not beat him. Years early, I watched a concert film, The Kids Are Alright by the rock band The Who where they destroyed all their musical instruments after they finished their performance. I didn’t agree with smashing their instruments, but it intrigued me. 

On the summer day in 1988 after losing in pool all day by Ben, I quietly went to another part of the basement. Without saying a word, I took my fancy pool cue and smashed it against the concrete floor. Ben was speechless and did not know what to say. I never said a word to my parents, but they were very surprised to learn that I smashed my fancy pool cue. They were a bit sad what I did with my uncle’s gift. 

However, I had to do it. Smashing that pool cue helped me move on from my dream of just hiding in my parents’ basement playing pool and fantasizing about being a professional pool player. I decided not to play pool after that. I focused on starting William Jewell College in Kansas City, Missouri in September 1988. I chose to major in Business Administration so I could try to make a living after I graduated college. I played pool a few times in college. One of the women’s dorms at my college had a pool table that I got to try once or twice. 

Looking back, if I had brought my pool cue to college, it would have been a distraction. I would have scoured the area for pool halls and places to shoot pool because I had an addiction to playing pool. Not having that pool cue in college helped me concentrate on my studies. I was not distracted at playing pool than when I was in high school. 

While attending college, I discovered I had a dream to work in the national parks. Upon my college graduation in May 1992, I took a train to Oregon to work at Crater Lake National Park for the summer. I fell in love with Crater Lake. I worked there 25 years in the summers. 

The concession dorm where I lived for my first three summers at Crater Lake had a pool table. I made some friends at the dorm, and we spent hours playing pool on that table. I really loved the hiking and the scenery at Crater Lake. Even more, the pool table at the concession dorm helped my not miss my parents’ wonderful pool table one bit. 

Crater Lake was only a summer job, so I spent my winters working in Everglades National Park, Florida for 16 years. The concessionaire at Flamingo had a recreational pub to hang out, buy alcoholic drinks and a decent pool table. However, I never went inside because I did not like the cigarette smoke, excessive drinking by some of the employees, and very loud music. I became more interested in canoeing, hiking, and birdwatching to see the color birds in the Everglades. 

Crater Lake National Park had a Community Center in the middle of the housing for the permanent ranger staff. Inside the community center was a pool table with a cobalt blue felt, the same color enchanting color as Crater Lake. During the summer of 2005, my housemates and I enjoyed shooting pool on that table. My housemate David Grimes took some of the best natural photos of me shooting pool. Playing pool became a way for me to bond with park friends. However, overriding joy was living, working, and hiking in the national parks. 

Brian Ettling shooting pool at the Crater Lake National Park employee community center in the summer of 2005.

While working in the national parks, I found my true passion to organize for climate action in 2010. Over the years I gave around 300 climate change talks in 12 U.S. states, Washington D.C, and Ottawa Canada. I wrote numerous newspaper editorial opinions and letter to the editor for climate action. I have appeared in several radio interviews, podcasts, and even was a guest on Comedy Central’s Tosh.o TV show twice as the Climate Change Comedian

I traveled to Washington D.C. 9 times to lobby with Congressional offices to pass strong climate legislation. I even persuaded a member of Congress to co-sponsor a climate bill. 

Since moving to Portland, Oregon in 2017, I made countless trips to the Oregon state Capitol in Salem to give oral testimony and lobby state legislators to pass effective climate bills. I led the efforts to get a bipartisan climate resolution passed in the Oregon Senate in 2021. It had 30 co-sponsors, in the Oregon House, including 7 Republicans, before it died in June 2021. 

I traveled across Missouri twice to give climate change presentations in 2017 and 2018. I led a tour across Oregon in October 2017 giving climate change talks in the eastern, central and southern parts of Oregon. 

I feel like it was really my true purpose in life in advocate for climate action. There was no looking back for me. 

In 2009, my parents moved to a new house in St. Louis County. They moved the pool table and refinished it with a green felt. It was pure joy to shoot pool with my dad on that table that Christmas. My niece Rachel was almost years old. My dad and I taught her to shoot pool on this table. Sadly, my dad’s struggle with cancer no longer allowed him to play pool in 2013. In 2021, my dad had to move into an assisted living facility due to declining health. 

Brian Ettling playing pool with his niece Rachel Hunt in April 2010.

My mom sold the house in 2022. It was painful for her to have to give up the 1909 A.E. Schmidt pool table that was in the family for almost 50 years. My parents and I always intended for me to inherit the pool table. 

My mom did not know how to break the news to me that she would include the pool table with the sale. However, my wife and I live in a small apartment in Portland, Oregon. I traveled a lot with my climate organizing. It was simply not possible for me to inherit and own this pool table. It was sad that our family would have to let go of this pool table. 

I told my mom to look on the bright side that our family got to borrow that pool table for almost 50 years. The table came with the first home that they owned and it left the family with the last home that they owned. The new owner of the home was a single mom with two teenage sons, who were probably going to love that pool table. Who knows, maybe one of them will practice for hours on that table to become the best pool player in the world that I was never able to be.  

I will always cherish my dad teaching me how to play pool and have wonderful memories shooting pool in my parents’ pool table growing up. I never regretted smashing my pool cue in the summer of 1988 to help me become the climate and democracy advocate that I am today. Sometimes we really do need to make a clean break from our past find our life’s true purpose. 

My courage for climate action came from skydiving

Brian Ettling tandem skydiving near Eugene, Oregon on August, 31, 2007.

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

This summer job was in addition to my winter job in Everglades National Park, Florida where I worked as an interpretative park ranger narrating the boat tours, led guided canoe trips into the Ten Thousand Islands, provided ranger guided bike tours of Everglades City, and gave evening programs on the birds of Everglades National Park. I was really enjoying my work as a ranger at this time, but I wanted to challenge myself in a new way at this time.

Skydiving in south Florida in April 2007 for the first time

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

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

I would be completing a tandem skydive, attached to a professional who does this for a living. After I paid the hefty fee, the other customers and I were shown a 20-minute video to prepare for our tandem sky dive. The narrator on the video explained how he designed the tandem skydiving equipment for maximum safety. Oddly, he had a very long hair and beard, and piercing eyes that spoke right into the camera and right into you. He was wearing a suit and tie. His hair and beard were so long that they covered up his shirt and suit collars and his tie knot. The narrator looked like a cult leader, not a businessman selling people on skydiving. I was very nervous to complete this life goal. My mind was committed, but my body thought it was a terrible idea to want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Thus, I was scared this narrator was going to say towards the end of this video, ‘And if you find that you enjoyed your skydive, I hope you will join us to live in our community forever.’

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

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

Brian Ettling seconds before his tandem skydive near Eugene, Oregon on August, 31, 2007.

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

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

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

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

My second skydive in Oregon while losing my mentor Steve Robinson

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

My friends and I skydived in Creswell, Oregon, just south of Eugene. It was odd to be looking down directly on Interstate 5 as I skydived, which looked like a small ribbon of a highway. The cars and full-sized trucks looked like tiny ants as they moved down the highway in either direction. The landing zone was right next to a field of corn. My friends and I enjoyed purchasing some corn from that field immediately after our skydive.

In 2007, along with the skydiving experience, I had a terrific summer as an interpretative ranger at Crater Lake. Yes, this was a peak life experience to go skydiving twice in 2007. I reached a life goal and felt like I was on top of the world.

Sadly, the thrill of this occasion ended when tragedy struck within days of my second skydive. I received the news that my mentor, friend, and fellow park ranger at Crater Lake and Everglades National Park, Steve Robinson, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Steve lived his life to the fullest and enjoyed every day of his life. He inspired me to life my life the same way. Days later, when I visited Steve in the hospital, he was completely emersed in his battle with this deadly and aggressive cancer. My sky dive seemed so frivolous compared to his fight with cancer.

It felt like that skydive was the last fun thing I did before Steve passed away on October 1, 2007. For the next year, I was in a fog mourning the death of my friend. To help me recover, friends who were also close to Steve invited me to visit them on the Big Island of Hawaii in October 2008. During my visit, my friends shared that Native Hawaiians consider the Big Island as a place of healing. With their words and spending time in this tropical paradise, I found permission to enjoy life again. I achieved new life goals of surfing, parasailing, snorkeling, and seeing native Hawaiian birds, Even more, with this trip, I reached my goal of seeing all 50 U.S. states.

My body and probably Steve were relieved that I moved onto new adventures to enjoy life, besides jumping out of perfectly good airplanes.

Brian Ettling tandem skydiving near Eugene, Oregon on August, 31, 2007.

Skydiving twice and the loss of my mentor pushed me to be a climate organizer

My mentor Steve worked as a seasonal park ranger in Everglades National Park and Crater Lake National Park for 25 years. I never met anyone who loved the outdoors and the natural environment as much as Steve. With his salt and pepper long hair tied back into a single Indian braid and his long his bushy grayish beard that flowed down to almost his shirt collar, Steve looked like a cross between Moses from the Bible and Dr. Suess’ The Lorax.

Steve cared deeply about protecting the Everglades and restoring this precious ecosystem to its full glory. Park visitors, his fellow rangers and me would hang onto every word he said. I wanted to be like Steve and spend the rest of my life working the national parks educating park visitor to care for the Everglades and our planet. I wanted to tell entertaining and inspiring stories like Steve did to inspire visitors to be good stewards of the Everglades and our planet.

In his ranger talks and his conversations, Steve liked to use a quote that was originated with Joe Podger but he attributed it to his iconic hero and mother of Everglades National Park, Marjory Stoneman Douglas. The quote was,

“The Everglades is a test. If we pass the test, we get to keep the planet.”

When I arrived in Shark Valley in Everglades National Park in November 2007, I could not sleep at night, and I fell into a very bad depression. My Supervisor in Everglades City from 2004 to 2007, Sue Reece, offered me a new challenge to work in Shark Valley for the winter. However, after I arrived in Shark Valley, I felt very isolated and lonely. I missed my friends in Everglades City. I wanted to leave the Everglades, but I did not know where I wanted to go.

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

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

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

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

Photo of Rock Reef Pass in Everglades National Park, Florida.

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

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

I was comfortable spending my winters in the Everglades. Thus, it was scary for me to step outside of this comfort zone to try something different, especially climate change organizing. The mantra I kept telling myself was: “If I could skydive twice to overcome the daunting fear of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, then I could achieve anything that I gave full intention.”

My skydiving adventure led me to achievements in climate action

In November 2009, I argued with my friend Naomi in Ashland, Oregon about what I should with my life with this climate change life mission. She kept pushing me harder. Finally, I snapped, “Fine! If I could do anything, I would like to be ‘The Climate Change Comedian!” 

Naomi was a tough audience, but she nearly fell out of her fell out of her chair laughing. She responded: ‘That’s perfect! I want you to go home and grab that website domain name now,’

In December 2009, I returned to my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri to spend the winter. During that winter, Naomi advised me to fully develop my website and create my own climate change PowerPoint that I would use for my presentations. Early in 2010, I developed my first climate change PowerPoint, “Let’s Have Fun Getting Serious about Climate Change.” I showed that PowerPoint to friends and family in the St. Louis. A family friend helped me launch my website that is still active to this day.

In the back of my mind when I took these leaps to take on the title of “The Climate Change Comedian,” create my own website, and develop my own PowerPoint to show family and friends, I kept saying to myself, “Because I had the courage to skydive twice, I can do this new action!” 

As I climate change organizer and wannabe comedian, I kept taking new actions outside of my comfort zone. I joined South County Toastmasters in January 2011 because I decided that becoming a Toastmaster would enable me to be a better climate change communicator. In March 2011, I applied and was offered a job at the St. Louis Science Center at their temporary Climate Change exhibit. I wanted this job to immerse myself in this exhibit to learn about climate change and chat about climate change with the museum visitors daily.

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

While working at this exhibit, I met a local businessman Larry Lazar. We decided to co-found the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up in December 2011 (now known as Climate Meetup-St. Louis).

This Meet Up group is where I met Tanya Couture. She attended our events beginning in January 2012. We started dating in February 2013. We got married on November 1, 2015. As I joke in my climate talks, ‘Join the climate movement, you might meet the person of your dreams!’

In August 2011, I gave my first climate change ranger evening program at Crater Lake National Park, called The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I performed this ranger talk at Crater Lake for the next five summers, up until 2017. Over the past 13 years, I ended up giving over 200 climate change talks in 12 U.S. states, Washington D.C, and Ottawa, Canada.

One of those speeches was at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium at Grand Canyon National Park to an audience of over 200 park visitors and park staff in May 2013. Due to my ranger connections of working in the national parks for 25 years, my friend Pete invited me to give this talk.

Because of the courage I gained sky diving twice and wanting to emulate my mentor Steve Robinson, I pursued every opportunity to get out the message about taking climate action. This included writing a 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, my mom Fran Ettling, and my dad LeRoy Ettling

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. It’s called “The Climate Change Comedian – Web Redemption.”

My audacity I obtained from skydiving twice sparked me to travel to Washington D.C. 9 times from 2015 to 2023 to attend Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) conferences and lobby days. I lobbied numerous Congressional Offices, and briefly chatted with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri. While participating the June 2019 CCL Lobby Day on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C, I helped lead the efforts to persuade Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson to sign on as a co-sponsor on CCL’s Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. 

The thrill of adventure I received from skydiving coupled with my passion to take climate action, led me to attend a Climate Reality Training led by Al Gore in San Francisco, CA in August 2012. At that training, I proudly became a Climate Reality Leader. Since then, the Climate Reality Project invited me to be a mentor for 8 Climate Reality Trainings from 2013 to 2020. At four of those trainings, Climate Reality selected me to be a breakout speaker on how to give Climate Reality Presentations and how to find an audience to give climate change talks.

Brian Ettling and Maddie Adkins speaking at the Climate Reality Project Training in Bellevue, WA on June 29, 2017.

The fearlessness I got from skydiving in 2007 motivated me to lead 3 CCL state speaking tours:

1. Missouri: March 27-31, 2017

2. Oregon: October 24-November 4, 2017.

3. Missouri: October 8-17, 2018

The confidence I absorbed from skydiving in 2007 and wanting to follow my mentor Steve Robinson’s example of speaking out to protect our planet led me to be a breakout speaker for 4 national CCL conferences in 2017, 2019, 2020, and 2021. 

As a breakout speaker for the national conferences, I spoke on topics such as Protecting and Conserving Endangered Species in the Face of Climate Change, Mastering Town HallsEngaging Colleges on Climate Change, and Securing Local Elected Officials’ Endorsements

The boldness I recalled jumping out of a perfectly good airplane on a tandem skydive in 2007 influenced me in 2021 to be the lead organizer for the efforts of Oregon CCL to convince the Oregon Senate to pass a state resolution known as Senate Joint Resolution 5 or SJM 5. This Oregon resolution urged Congress to pass the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. SJM 5 passed the Oregon Senate on April 7, 2021 by a vote of 23 to 5, with 6 Republican Senators voting in favor of it. SJM 5 fell short of getting passed in the Oregon House. However, it did attract 30 House co-sponsors, which is half of the chamber, and included 7 Republican co-sponsors. 

The effort for SJM 5 grew out of my 2020 efforts to successfully persuade 30 Oregon legislators, including the then House Speaker and now current Governor, to endorse the EICDA.

I could go on to talk about the sense of accomplishment I felt from skydiving in 2007 and wanting to share about my love for the earth like my mentor Steve Robinson impacted me to  

– Write numerous published letters to the editor about CCL published over the years, including my most recent one in the Oregonian on December 1, 2023. 

– Give oral testimony 9 times to Oregon Legislative committees since 2019 to urge Oregon Legislators to support climate legislation. 

Final Thoughts 

Could I have achieved all this without skydiving? Maybe. Possibility. Nearly everyone I met in the climate movement probably has not gone skydiving. They have taken very effective actions without ever jumping out of a perfectly good airplane and then having faith that a parachute and a tandem skydive professional would guide them safely to the ground. I just know for me that skydiving twice gave me a big boost in self-esteem to go more boldly into the world. 

I hope if you read to the end of this blog that you don’t feel like you must skydive to live your best life or to make a difference to act on climate. However, I still hope I can inspire you to find a way to find your own adventure and path to live your life to the fullest and to try to make a difference while you are alive, especially to reduce the threat of climate change. 

While he was alive, my mentor Steve Robinson treated everyday as a gift, and he strived to live his life to the fullest. He was fully present in every interaction in nature and conversation with another person. He taught me so much about making the most of each day and life experience. 

Writer, professor Joseph Campbell, who was an expert in comparative mythology and comparative religion, had this to say from his 1987 interview and book, Joseph Campbell and Power of Myth with Bill Moyers

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”

Whether or not you skydive or find that ultimate experience of being alive, my wish is that it will somehow lead you to want to take greater care of our environment and planet.

Photo of Brian Ettling by his home in Portland, Oregon, taken on April 27, 2023.


For Climate Action, say hello to my Little Green Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Climate Action, persuading my dad about climate change

LeRoy Ettling and his son Brian Ettling. Photo taken on March 31, 2014.

(Note: This is an updated version of two of my previous writings. First, my guest blog from my friend Harriet Shugarman‘s website climatemama.comMy 2015 guest blog for that website was Talking to Your Parents about Climate Change: A Personal Story. Second, a blog I wrote for my website on January 28, 2022, Talking to Your Dad about Climate Change: My Personal Story)

24 years ago, journalist Bill Moyers interviewed movie director George Lucas about how Lucas came up with the Star Wars movies. In this interview, George Lucas explained how it was actually his father’s dream for George 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’s 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. When I was a kid, almost 12 years old, let me share one of my best memories of my Dad. 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. The actor James Earl Jones, who played the voice of Darth Vader, thought the character was lying, when he first read the script for the film.

On the car ride home from the movie theater, I felt sick to my stomach. I could not comprehend that the good guys in the Star Wars film had been defeated. I will never forget my Dad lovingly explain the theatrical concept of a cliffhanger. He gleefully recognized it from the 1950s serial B films that he enjoyed as a boy. He assured me that the Star Wars characters would be alright. George Lucas was just setting us up to see the next Star Wars film in three years. That was one of my favorite childhood conversations with my Dad that these characters and I would be ok.

Since Darth Vader was the villain in those Star Wars films until Luke redeems him, George Lucas 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 graduated from college in 1992, I decided to become a seasonal park ranger bouncing around national parks. This disappointed my dad 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 in the Florida Everglades and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. 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 this is a bunch of 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 this website and 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.

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 Leader to give presentations on climate change. Since that training, I have given over 270 climate change presentations in 12 U.S. states, Washington D.C. and Ottawa, Canada. Some personal highlights are when I was a guest presenter for NASA in Hampton, Virginia in 2012, a guest speaker at Grand Canyon National Park in 2013, and a presenter for the Oregon Wild Conference in Portland, Oregon in 2014.

I attempted every avenue I know to get out the message about taking action on climate change, including writing a 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. It’s called “The Climate Change Comedian – Web Redemption.” 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 in 2016, my Mom came home to tell me a story. They attended a party at the home 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.

In December 2023, Tanya and I flew to St. Louis to be with our families for the holidays. During this visit, my Dad went out of his way to tell me how proud he is of me and what I have accomplished with my life. I am so happy I made him proud because he used to be my worst critic.

I think George Lucas is correct. Our parents may seem like Darth Vader, but deep down, they really are proud of us.

LeRoy Ettling and his son Brian Ettling. Photo taken on March 31, 2014.

For Climate Action, the best advice my mother gave me.

Brian Ettling with his mom Fran Ettling. Photo taken on his wedding day to Tanya Couture in St. Louis, Missouri on November 1, 2015.

‘All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother’ – attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

What should I do with my life? This is a question I have pondered my entire life. I am 55 years old, and I still struggle to answer that question.

This question was on the forefront of my mind when I graduated from high school in 1987. I attended Oakville High School, located in a suburb in the southern part of the St. Louis, Missouri. My senior year of high was extremely busy with going to school full time, including two college level classes. I worked part time as a cashier at a self-serve gas station. I played clarinet in my high school symphonic band and alto saxophone in the jazz band. I participated with my high school speech and debate program in extemporaneous speech contests, plus I was involved in the chess club. I don’t remember getting much sleep my senior year.

On top of that, I needed to pick a college to attend, and I had military and college recruiters frequently contact me. It was overwhelming to me. In the spring of 1987, I felt so stressed out that I decided to delay starting college for a year so I could catch up on life. Even more, I needed more time to try to determine where to go to college and what I wanted to study in college.

By the summer of 1987, I looked forwarded to a family vacation to see the western part of the United States. My parents had a Marriage Encounter convention to attend in Denver, Colorado. The convention took place on the campus of University of Colorado Denver. While my parents attended the convention, there was not much for younger sister, Mary Frances, and for me to do. I probably entertained myself by reading books and watch TV. I would soon be 19 years old in July and my sister was about three years younger than me. We always got along well, and we might have played card games while waiting for my parents to finish this weekend convention.

Like my parents, my sister and I stayed in dorm rooms on the college campus. I remember walking up and down the stairs from our room to the cafeteria for meals with a big window looking out into the world. The window had a great view of the front range of the Rocky Mountains that towered over the city of Denver. We don’t have high jagged peaks like that in Missouri, so I stared at those mountains a lot. I took photos to try to capture my first views of a mountain sunset. I wanted to see the mountains up close so bad that I wanted was counting down the days and minutes when we would go see them after the convention.

Photo by Brian Ettling of the sunset on front range on the Rocky Mountains taken in Denver, Colorado in the summer of 1987.

On the Sunday afternoon when the convention was over, we drove from Denver to Estes Park, Colorado to spend the night. Estes Park is the gateway community to Rocky Mountain National Park. It is located right next to the park entrance. On that Monday morning, my parents decided we would meet up with a retired couple who attended the convention, and they would take all of us to see Rocky Mountain National Park inside their massive RV. I looked forwarded to this drive because the RV was a higher clearance vehicle. We would be sitting higher than my parents’ blue wooded paneled station wagon. I was excited because this RV would give us a more bird’s eye view of Rocky Mountain national park.

Just one small problem. We woke up on that Monday morning to rain, dreary overcast skies with no views of the Rocky Mountains. After anticipating this day for months to see the Rocky Mountains, I felt crushed. The retired couple and my parents decided that we would still drive up to the visitor center at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road. The thought was, ‘You never know. It might just clear up at some point today.’

It never did clear up. It rained for the entire time. It was not an enjoyable day to see or experience the outdoors. The older couple, especially the woman, kept commenting over and over again about the blah weather by shaking her head and repeating, ‘I am so sorry. I am so sorry. What a shame.’

Her heart was in the right place since she felt how badly I wanted to see the mountains. However, she kept repeatedly saying that. I just wanted to yell at her to knock it off. I might have even told her to not keep saying that at one point. By the time we got to the Alpine Visitor Center, near the highest point on Trail Ridge Road, it seemed like a wasted day.

I asked my parents if the four of us could return tomorrow, since our itinerary on this trip was loose, and they agreed. The next day, we went up Trail Ridge Road again. This time, it was mostly cloudy and we had much better views of the mountains. We drove up to Alpine Visitor Center. For the first time in my life, I saw patches of snow on the ground in the middle of summer. It felt frigid and windy up there! I wore my summer wind breaker jacket and jean jacket over my summer shirts to try to stay warm.

From the visitor center, we hiked uphill on the Alpine Ridge Trail. The trail is around a half mile round trip and climbs over 162 feet from the visitor center to the top. At the summit, a wooden sign stated, “12,005 feet above sea level and higher than Oregon’s famed Mt. Hood.”

Brian Ettling at the top of the Alpine Ridge Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Photo taken in the summer of 1987.

I had never been to Oregon, but the sign still sounded impressive. We came from St. Louis, which is around 500 feet above sea level. Our family wondered what Oregonians thought of that sign. The sign seemed to mock Oregonians and Mt. Hood. Apparently, Oregonians didn’t like it. Years later, the sign was replaced to now read “Elevation 12,005 feet above sea level.”

I had to get my photo by this sign, wearing my fancy brown cowboy hat, cowboy boots, blue jean jacket and blue jeans. I looked like a wannabe cowboy from the St. Louis suburbs trying to blend in the west. Heck, growing up in the 1970s and 80s watching the TV show Dallas and listening to Willie Nelson on the radio, I thought that’s how people dressed out west.

I was ecstatic to have his panoramic view of the mountains from the Alpine Ridge Visitor Center. My excitement clearly showed because my mom leaned over and commented to me, “I think you should get a job working in a national park.”

I was floored when she said this. Up until that moment, I did not know that one could work in a national park, let alone me. I did not think I had the experience to work in a national park. At that time, my only jobs had been working at a Dairy Queen and as a cashier at a self-serve gas station. My mom assured me that I could work in a national park if I set my mind to it. I wondered then if my mom said because she wanted me out of the house and making my own way in the world.

When I recently shared this story with my mom, she remembered the story differently. She recalled giving me that advice not at Rocky Mountain National Park. Later during this same vacation out west, we stopped at the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I was astonished to the Grand Canyon for the first time. My mom insists that is when she recollected giving me that advice.

In between traveling from Rocky Mountain National Park to the Grand Canyon, our family made a big loop on this road trip. We drove through Wyoming to spend a couple of days in Salt Lake City, Utah. We spent a day in Las Vegas and visited Hoover Damn. During this route, we drove through Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks in Utah. We were all amazed at the dramatic scenery in visiting these national parks. Even more, my mom saw clearly how delighted I was there and going for short hikes to explore these parks. By the time we got to the Grand Canyon, it makes sense that my mom may have given me her advice to work in a national park there.

Brian Ettling at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Photo taken in the summer of 1987.

In fact, I was so jubilant to see these national parks and this fabulous western scenery that I kept losing my sunglasses. I lost track, but I misplaced two to three pairs of sunglasses on this trip, to the chagrin of my mom and dad.

Regardless of where my mom gave me that advice to work in a national park, it stuck in my mind like super glue. During my four years attending William Jewell College in Kansas City, Missouri from 1988 to 1992, I kept thinking about my mom’s advice. Every year in college, I saw a recruiter from A Christian Ministries in the National Parks (ACMNP). The recruiters encouraged college students to apply through them for summer concession jobs to work in the national parks and then volunteer to lead interdenominational church services on the weekends.

Every year in college, I applied to work for ACMNP. Every summer they offered me a job working in a national park. Every year, I had some excuse to turn them down. I didn’t want to miss a family vacation, the national park was too far away, the park job needed me to stay until Labor Day and my college started before Labor Day.

Months before I graduated from college in 1992, I decided to work in a national park for the summer. I chose Crater Lake National Park in Oregon because I had never been there. To my surprise, they offered me a job in the gift store. The beauty of the deep blue lake and the surrounding mountains, hiking on the mountain peak trails, the friends I made, and the enjoyment I had working in the gift store were all an ideal fit for me in the summer of 1992.

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

I ended up working 25 years in the summers at Crater Lake. For over 20 years, I was a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake. For several summers, I worked as a ranger collecting fees at the entrance stations. From 2006-2017, I worked as a naturalist/interpretative ranger at Crater Lake narrating the boat tours, leading guided hikes, and giving evening campfire programs.

In the winters, I ended up working 16 years in Everglades National Park from 1992 to 2008. I loved every minute of working in the national parks and giving ranger talks. My love of the national parks led to an interest in taking action to reduce the threat of climate change. However, I was uncertain what to do with this new passion for my life. In November 2009, a friend Naomi Eklund challenged me directly with the question “What do you really want to do with your life?”

I responded, “Fine! If I could do anything, I would like to be the climate change comedian!”

Naomi nearly fell out of her chair laughing. She responded, “That’s great! I want you to go home to grab that website domain name right now!” I then went home and did just that. A family friend helped me then build my website in April 2010.

I then had to figure out what I was going to do with this title and website to start marketing myself as The Climate Change Comedian. During the winter of 2014, I started creating goofy YouTube videos with my wife (then girlfriend) Tanya and my mom, Fran Ettling to promote me as The Climate Change Comedian.

I wrote the script for these videos. My Mom was hilarious playing the overbearing mother. I attempted to be funny in these videos, and my mom would say this tag line that I created, “You are not that funny!”

Friends and people that I barely knew would remark after watching these videos, “Your mom is so funny!” They did not seem to realize at all that I wrote these lines for my mom to say.

These short YouTube videos that I did with my parents and Tanya caught the attention of Comedy Central’s Tosh.o TV show. In April 2016, a producer of the show called me to invite my Mom and I to fly to Los Angeles, California to do a comedy segment with the show’s host, Daniel Tosh. Our comedy segment first aired Comedy Central on August 2, 2016, it was called “The Climate Change Comedian – Web Redemption.”

Tanya, my mom, and I had a blast taking that quick all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles to appear on a video sketch for the TV Show Tosh.o. The TV appearance paid handsomely. My Mom’s check was so big that she used it to pay for an expensive dental bill. We still receive random residual checks from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or the full name Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). They send us checks each time this episode of Tosh.o airs on TV in the United States or even other parts of the world.

I am so thrilled that my Mom got to participate with me in my climate organizing and to even get paid to be on television with me. My Mom and Dad worked hard and paid for so many things in my life. It felt like a blessing to me to help my Mom get this paid gig and receive occasional residual checks. Even more, after the August 2016 episodes aired on Tosh.o, my mom would go up to young men and women in their early twenties (the target audience for Tosh.o) and say to them, ‘Have you seen the TV show Tosho.o? I was on that show recently!’

The young people were surprised and impressed when my mom mentioned this to them. A few people, including her dentist, even recognized my mom on TV. That amazed me because my mom only had a brief 10 second appearance on the TV show! It seemed like more people spotted my mom on this TV appearance than me. I was so happy for her that she got to shine to be on national TV doing a moment of comedy at the age of 76 years old.

I think this path for me to become a climate organizer and The Climate Change Comedian started when my mom advised me back in 1987 to work in the national parks.

By 2017, I quit working in the national parks to become a climate change organizer, which I am still trying to do today. The national parks led to my passion for climate and now democracy organizing to try to make a difference in the world.

In recent years, my mom has encouraged me to write a book about my life. She even gave me a book a few years ago, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. I have not read the book yet. For me, my highest priority is to write as much as I can right now so I have enough material to put together a book. I still planning on reading this book my mom gave me as I strive to create an autobiography or memoir about my life.

Who knows what I would have done with my life or would be doing today if my mom had not given me the best advice in my life to go work in a national park. It got me out of the house to see the outdoors and try to make a difference in world. Heck, I might not even be writing this blog on this website here today.

Thank you Mom!

Brian Ettling and his mom Fran Ettling in front of the British Columbia Parliament Building in Victoria, Canada on August 26, 2022.

For Climate Action, read Michael Mann’s Our Fragile Moment

Photo of Brian Ettling’s hardback copy of Our Fragile Moment by Michael Mann.

Deeply ingrained in all of us is a curiosity how we came to exist on this livable planet Earth. In addition, we want to know how we can continue to thrive on Earth with the daunting threat of climate change. Even more, with a certain amount climate change already baked into the Earth’s biosphere, we worry if it is too late and should we listen to the voices of doom. Climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann does an excellent job of answering these questions in his latest 2023 book, Our Fragile Moment: How Lessons from Earth’s Past Can Help Us to Survive the Climate Crisis.

Climate scientist Dr. Michael E Mann’s influence on me

For the past 13 years, I organized for climate action and I found Dr. Mann’s books to be informative to help me learn the basics of climate science, the threat it poses to us, and how we should respond. When I lived in St. Louis in 2011, I joined a local Toastmasters group to become a better climate change communicator. Immediately after I shared this intention with the group, some of the climate deniers demanded an answer to their question, “How do you know that humans are responsible for climate change?”

I grabbed Dr. Mann’s 2008 book of my bookshelf, Dire Predictions – Understanding Global Warming: The illustrated guide to the findings of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) to create speech to address their question. I specifically went to pages 34 and 35, “Couldn’t the increase in atmospheric CO2 be the result of natural cycles?” I attempted to show how the decreasing ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12 pointing “conclusively to fossil fuels as the main cause of the rise of atmospheric CO2.” In other words, science robustly shows us the increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gases by humans burning fossil fuels caused the current climate change.

This explanation went over the heads of this audience, but it enabled me understand a vital fingerprint evidence how we know the present global warming is human caused and not natural. Regardless of how I presented this topic on climate change, I knew it would be contentious with this audience with around 30% climate deniers. It was obvious this topic would be so toxic to some of these Toastmasters that I even called this speech, “I am going to drop a stink bomb on you!” I had fun preparing and giving this speech. Dr. Mann’s books have guided me on my climate journey over the years.

In 2012, I reviewed and blogged about Dr. Mann’s book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars as a ‘Very Gripping Read.’ Just two months later, that same book inspired me to write a follow up blog about climate deniers, False Witnesses whose Testimonials Did Not Agree.

In 2017, I enjoyed reading the book Dr. Mann co-wrote with Pulitzer Prize–winning political cartoonist Tom Toles, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.

In 2022, I wrote a blog reviewing Dr. Mann’s 2021 book The New Climate War: The fight to take back our planet. On a personal note, Dr. Mann was gracious with his time responding to my emails about the best ways to communicate about climate science. He provided climate messaging tips before my November 10, 2020 appearance on Comedy Central’s Tosh.o. Sadly, I did not have a chance to share his messaging on the air, but I was very grateful that he took time to advise me. In addition, I very briefly met him at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference in San Francisco in December 2011. In was a chance encounter introduction, but he told me in an email that he remembered me.

Image used by permission by Dr. Michael Mann for my 2022 blog review, “Dr. Michael E. Mann says: ‘We need urgency & agency to solve the Climate Crisis‘”

With my deep admiration of Dr. Mann over the years, I was eager to read his newest book Our Fragile Moment when it was released in October 2023. In fact, I went to my favorite independent bookstore, Powell’s books, in downtown Portland, Oregon twice hoping to buy a copy of the book. Dr. Mann was scheduled to speak about his new book there on October 4th, but he had to cancel. When I finally received a copy of his book in later October, I enjoyed reading it.

Wargames, Dinosaurs, Sting, climate deniers, and my thoughts on Our Fragle Moment

Dr. Mann’s book is a fascinating focus on distinct geological moments in Earth’s history, such as
• Snowball Earth and the Faint Young Sun,
• The Great Dying or Permain-Triassic (P-T for short) extinction around 250 million years ago,
• The extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago – known as the transition from the Cretaceous period to the Paleocene period (K-Pg boundary).
• Hothouse Earth or Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) around 55 million years ago.
• The lesson of the Ice Ages from the Eocene-Oligocene transition from 34 million years ago to the current interglacial epoch known as the Holocene, starting around 12,000 years ago.
• The Holocene – the current interglacial period from 12,000 years ago to present.

In studying each of these distinct geologic events in Earth’s history, Dr. Mann explores the lessons from these events how they can apply and not pertain to present day climate change.

In reading Michael Mann’s books over the years, I like his cultural references. In the first chapter of his 2012 book, Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, he referred to the 1983 film WarGames starring Matthew Broderick. The movie is about a teenage video gamer and computer hacker who accidentally breaks into the computer system of the U.S. Defense Department and almost causes a full-scale nuclear war. We are both in our 50s, with Dr. Mann just a few years older than me. It was an entertaining film when I saw it in 1983. Michael was a teenager at the time hanging out with his buddies writing computer programs to solve challenging problems. The film inspired an adolescent Michael Mann to attempt a self-learning tic-tac-toe computer program.

At the same time, WarGames had a clear message about the futility of global nuclear war. The film had a very stark impact on me that humans can destroy ourselves with our technology if we are not careful. The idea that we could annihilate ourselves and our civilization stuck with me decades later as I learned about climate change. Younger generations may not know about WarGames, but I certainly relate to the cultural references in Dr. Mann’s books.

In Our Fragile Earth, Dr. Mann uses another 1983 reference from one of my favorite rock music albums of that time, Synchronicity, by the Police. He starts off chapter 4, “Mighty Brontosaurus” with a quote from the song lyrics from one of the songs off the album, “Walking in Your Footsteps.” The song was written by Gordon Sumner (AKA Sting), the lead singer, bass guitar, and primary songwriter for The Police. This was the quote that Dr. Mann used from the song:

“Hey mighty brontosaurus
Don’t you have a lesson for us
You thought your rule would always last
There were no lessons in your past
You were built three stories high
They say you would not hurt a fly
If we explode the atom bomb
Would they say that we were dumb?”

Dr. Mann wrote, “Do the dinosaurs, victims of a famous sixty-six-million-year-old mass extinction event, have a lesson for us? That rhetorical question was posed by the rock band The Police in their 1983 song ‘Walking in your Footsteps,’ which came out during my junior year in high school. What I and most listeners weren’t aware of then was that this evocative track off the album Synchronicity was actually a parable about the Cold War, nuclear holocaust and––though The Police themselves may not have intended it as such––catastrophic climate change.”

Chapter 4 analyzes what we can learn about the K-Pg boundary (the asteroid event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs) in relation to present day climate change. This chapter was a key interest in me and will be an interest to others reading the book because of the popular fascination with dinosaurs and the asteroid event that caused their demise. Even more, Dr. Mann weaves a great story about the scientific debate about nuclear war in the 1980s and how that spilled into the ongoing scientific debate over the severity the climate crisis.

Dr. Mann referenced WarGames in Chapter 4 of seeing this movie with his high school friends at a movie theater in Hyannis, Massachusetts. A central character in the film is a NORAD computer, named Joshua. NORAD stands for North American Aerospace Defense Command. As Joshua “learns” in the film, there can be no winner in either tic-tac-toe or a full-scale thermonuclear war. The computer even comments about this lesson, “the only winning move is not to play.”

That same year WarGames was released, the ABC television network aired the film The Day After. This TV movie was about the aftermaths of a full-scale exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union on residents of Lawrence, Kansas with the collapse of civilizational infrastructure. To this day, it is the most-watched TV film of all time. I distinctly remember watching the film at home. That film profoundly impacted me, as well as millions of other Americans about the catastrophic damage of a nuclear war. President Ronald Reagan watched an advanced screening of the film. He wrote in his diary afterwards that it left him “greatly depressed” and motivated him to prioritize efforts to secure an arms control agreement with Russia.

Enter scientist Carl Sagan, a hero of Dr. Mann and mine. Both of us grew up watching his 1980-81 PBS series The Cosmos: A Personal Voyage about the scientific understanding on the origin of life and our place in the universe. Carl Sagan had a distinct way of speaking. As a kid, I entertained family and friends with my own impersonation of Carl Sagan saying, ‘Billions and Billions.’ That was a catch phrase popularized by TV host and comedian Johnny Carson poking fun at Carl Sagan, who was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Around the same time of WarGames and The Day After, Sagan and his collaborators researched the possible climate impacts of a global nuclear war. To the dismay of other scientists who thought Sagan became too public and political at that time, Sagan was vocally outspoken about the threat of a widescale nuclear war leading to a “nuclear winter” causing a planetary extinction event to life on Earth, like the death of the dinosaurs 65 million years earlier.

According to Dr. Mann, the models used by Carl Sagan and his collaborators in their nuclear winter work was “The same sort of model, in fact, used by James Hansen in 1981 to study future global warming scenarios.” Dr. James Hansen was then Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Using those models, Mann noted Hansen predicted back then that continued fossil fuel burning could lead to “potential effects on climate in the 21st century.” Dr. Mann points each of Hansen’s climate change predictions, “has since come to pass.”

Another hero of Dr. Mann and mine is climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider of Stanford University. Schneider was a role model and mentor for Michael Mann. When I became a park ranger narrating boat tours in Everglades National Park in 1998, park visitors asked me about global warming, which I knew nothing. Park visitors expect rangers to know everything. To answer their questions, the first book I found in the nearest Miami bookstore was Laboratory Earth: the Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose, by Stephen Schneider. Sadly, Carl Sagan and Stephen Schneider argued bitterly over the concept of nuclear winter in the 1980s.

Photo of Brian Ettling’s copy of Laboratory Earth: the Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose, by Stephen Schneider.

In Our Fragile Moment, Michael Mann wrote that the fight over the severity and the modeling of a nuclear winter “caused a rift between Sagan and Schneider that never healed.” Dr. Mann shared this story as a cautionary tale because it provided “a huge opening for Cold War hawks looking to discredit what they saw as the real threat–Sagan and his open advocacy for nuclear disarmament.” Even worse, those same Cold War hawks who mocked nuclear winter were basically the same ideological driven scientists who then went on to attack climate science. Dr. Mann named several contrarian Cold War scientists, such as S. Fred Singer, Frederick Seitz, and Robert Jastrow. They proceeded to impugn the scientific knowledge on the threat of climate change. Their deceptive efforts were highlighted in Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt.

It is another sad reminder that the search for scientific understanding to advise us to avoid nuclear war, dangerous climate change, and even understanding exactly how the dinosaurs went extinct can get muddled by misinformation, political attacks on scientists, and even bitter disputes between reputable and distinguished scientists. As Dr. Mann reminds in this chapter, “True scientific skepticism––as opposed to politically motivated denialism––is, after all, part of what Carl Sagan called the ‘self-correcting machinery’ of science.”

So, what can the K-Pg extinction event teach us about climate change? Dr. Mann writes of seeing “the charred remains Bastrop County Complex fire, the most destructive wildfire in Texas history. The fire began on September 4, 2011, following a summer of unprecedented heat and drought. It burned for fifty-five days, engulfing 32,000 acres.” He was visiting Texas in October 2012 to speak at a conference in Austin, Texas.

Sadly, like the dinosaurs, some things can permanently disappear on Planet Earth. Even worse, us humans can wipe out plant and animal species, even entire ecosystems, on our world because of our actions. He wrote, “The loblolly pine forest that was destroyed was an example of what is known as a relict forest–– a forest won’t grow back in today’s hotter and drier climate. It was a sobering example of tipping points and the phenomenon of hysteresis––a reminder that some things are lost forever. There is no going back.”

Dr. Mann concludes that chapter with this lesson of optimism for us from the K-Pg extinction: “There was nothing the dinosaurs could have done about their plight. They had no means to deflect the asteroid. They lacked agency. We do not. We are threatened with a catastrophe of our own making. And the primary challenge we face isn’t’ the immutable laws of astrophysics. It’s political will.”

Looking into Earth’s geological past should not cause us to fall into climate “doomerism”

If there’s a key audience Dr. Mann wants to reach in this book, I think it is readers who are potentially swayed by what he calls climate “doomers” or “doomists.” His previous book, released in 2021, was The New Climate War. I wrote a blog review of that book in 2022. In that book, Dr. Mann strongly criticized 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 for us to live. As he titles a chapter in that book, “The Truth is Bad Enough.” In that chapter, Dr. Mann makes a strong point that “doomism today poses a greater threat to climate action than outright denial.”

In his newest book Our Fragile Moment, Dr. Mann continues that thought by pointing to areas where “doomers” exaggerate evidence in previous extreme geological events on Earth. The “doomers” point to a past extreme geological event on our planet, such as Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) around 55 million years ago, to try to make their case we are “too late” or “doomed” to runaway ruinous climate change that will destroy all of humanity and our civilization. One example the doomers give are the “methane bombs” during the PETM. Their thinking is that the Earth warmed up so much during this “Hothouse Earth” period 55 million years ago that triggered huge amounts of methane releases buried under the ocean.

I have always been skeptical of the climate doomists, like Guy McPherson who believes ‘In the near future, all humans will die’ because of climate change. However, In October 2011, I read the National Geographic article “World Without Ice” by Robert Kunzig where he focused on the PETM. As a new climate organizer at that time, that article scared me that human caused climate change could trigger extreme conditions on Earth, similar to the PETM. He mentioned the alarming hypothesis of a mass methane hydrate release if humans keep warming the Earth with fossil fuel emissions.

Brian Ettling’s copy of “World Without Ice,” by Robert Kunzig in the October 2011 edition of National Geographic.

In Chapter 5 “Hothouse Earth” of Our Fragile Moment, Dr. Mann debunks the hypothesis of a methane bomb. He stated that during the PETM, “there was no catastrophic release of methane hydrates. Despite ongoing accounts even in the mainstream media that imply otherwise, there was no PETM ‘methane bomb.’ The methane hydrate feedback during the PETM appears to have been at most ten percent of the total carbon release.”

He went on to write that “There are caveats, of course. The rate of warming today is more than ten times greater than the PETM warming, and there is evidence that the destabilization of methane hydrates might be greater in a scenario of more-rapid warming…There is no evidence, however, that this is happening currently.”

However, we cannot dismiss methane as part of the climate change threat. As Dr Mann informs us the next paragraph,

“That does not mean that methane isn’t a problem today. It is. But it is not a climate feedback. Rather it is human-caused climate driver…We are witnessing a rise in methane concentrations due to natural gas extraction, livestock, and farming. The methane emissions appear to be from us, not some feedback cycle. Given that the rise in methane is responsible for about twenty-five percent of the warming is recent decades, reducing human methane emissions must be part of any comprehensive plan for addressing the climate crisis.”

Dr. Mann likes to use one of my favorite insights from his friend, mentor, and our hero the great climate scientist and communicator Stephen Schneider. He observed that the climate change debated is too often framed as “the end of the world” vs. “good for you.” Dr. Schneider considered those to be the “lowest probability outcomes. The truth is probably between those results. Schneider liked to advise that “the truth is bad enough.”

Thus, Dr. Mann sees a low chance of runaway methane driven warming or even a mass extinction as lessons we can take away from studying the PETM. But, he cautions us:

“Now the bad news: Even if PETM-level warmth is out of reach, a policy of total climate inaction could warm up the planet to the point where substantial regions would become uninhabitably hot for human beings––a hotter, more crowded planet with less food and drinkable water. It doesn’t take a Venusian runaway greenhouse to yield a dystopian future. We would be losers in that scenario.”

Final Thoughts

Over the past 13 years, I enjoyed reading Dr. Michael Mann’s books. As a climate change communicator, organizer, writer, and public speaker, I found his books to be useful and instructive. I like his writing style. He writes in plain language for non-scientist business majors like me to understand the science. Any layperson could read this.

I recently finished the 2023 autobiography My Effin’ Life, by Geddy Lee, the lead singer, bass player, and keyboardist for the rock band Rush. My wife gave me the book for Christmas, and I loved reading it over the holidays. Oddly, the book had several words I had to look up in the dictionary. Geddy is a high school dropout. However, he and his Rush bandmates, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart, liked to read books to kill the extra time on their road tours from 1974 to 2015. Neil Peart was such a bookworm that his bandmates called him “The Professor” or “Pratt” for short. The group wrote songs based on the prolific books read by their drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart. No doubt that Geddy Lee picked up a huge vocabulary by reading a lot and hanging out with Pratt.

On the other hand, Dr. Mann has a knack for writing climate books for the public where he does not lose the reader (me) in complicated words and intricate scientific concepts. He can hook his readers into climate science by referencing popular culture, such as the rock band The Police, movies like WarGames, and quoting Clint Eastwood in his books. Granted, his cultural touchstones are perfect for Generation X (his and my generation). Who knows if other generations would get his references, but they are perfect for me!

Again, at the beginning of Chapter 4, I loved Michael Mann’s quote from song lyrics from Sting, “Walking in my Footsteps,” from The Police album, Synchronicity. That was captivating for me to want to learn more about the extinction of the dinosaurs (K-Pg boundary) around 66 million years ago. Even more, Dr. Mann was effective at relating how the sudden loss of the “Mighty Brontosaurus” does and does not relate to modern day climate change.

My only suggestion to Dr. Michael Mann is the same critique I shared in my 2022 blog review of The New Climate War. I would like to see Dr. Mann or another climate scientist write a book about how we can use our understanding of climate science to reach the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In 2018, the IPCC released a summary report that we must cut our global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and down to net zero by 2050. But how? What are the best scientific solutions to get us to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?

At the very least, I would like to see Dr. Mann in a future book or writing to point us to the solutions that we should be doing. Or, to be respectful of his position to not be prescriptive as a scientist, who can he point us to that can show us the modeling, range of solutions, or needed collective actions to get us globally to net zero by 2050?

Having said that, I believe other climate organizers, besides me, climate “doomers” or “doomists” and even climate skeptics should read this book to learn what Earth’s geologic past can teach us and not teach us how to respond best to the climate crisis.

These were the key lessons that I learned from Michael Mann’s Our Fragile Moment:

  1. We need agency and urgency to solve the climate crisis.
  2. Uncertainty is not our friend, especially with scientific uncertainty about climate change.
  3. We can reduce the threat of climate change, but the window is closing fast.
  4. The geologic past is not always prologue to future nasty surprises with climate change.

I hope Dr. Mann will continue writing books because I enjoy reading them. Writing a book can be a massive undertaking. If Michael Mann decides to write another book, I will look forward to reading it.

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

Seeing Mt. Shuksan inspires me to Act on Climate 

Photo by Brian Ettling. Photo of Mt. Shuksan by Picture Lake taken on June 1, 2009.

“The mountains are calling. Therefore, I must go.”
– Naturalist and conservationist John Muir

Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1970s and 1980s, I dreamed of seeing the snowcapped mountains in the western United States. Missouri has no towering snowcapped mountains, just the rolling mountains of the Ozarks. Ironically, St. Louis was the world headquarters for Anheuser Busch Beer, the largest beer company in United States. That was before it was bought out by InBev, a Belgium company in 2008. One of their flagship brands was Busch Beer. The slogan of Busch Beer was “Head for the Mountains.” As a child in St. Louis, that’s what I wanted to do. Forget the beer! I wanted to leave my hometown and head to the snowcapped mountains.

While in high school, I wanted to decorate my bedroom wall with a new poster. I asked my mom to take me to the nearby shopping mall so I could buy a poster of a majestic looking snow-capped mountain. The poster I picked was a broad sided jagged mountain with several glaciers resting on it and pockets of snow clinging to it. The mountain dominated the background of the poster. In the foreground was tall majestic bright green pine trees. A small lake was in the lower front reflecting like a perfect mirror the trees and the mountain. I stared endlessly at that poster after I hung it on my wall. I had no idea where that mountain was, but I was determined to see that mountain someday.

After I graduated from William Jewell College in May 1992, I took two different Amtrak trains Kansas City, MO to reach southern Oregon. I had a summer job at Crater Lake National Park in the gift store. I loved working and hiking at Crater Lake with the beautiful bright blue color of the lake with the snowy mountains that surrounded it. I ended up working at Crater Lake for 25 years during the summers. Crater Lake sparked a curiosity in me to see other national parks.

Brian Ettling’s first summer at Crater Lake National Park. Photo taken on November 3, 1992

While working at the Crater Lake gift store, I thumbed through the books about other national parks hoping to visit them sometime. One day while glancing through them, I noticed a photo of Mt. Shuksan in North Cascades National Park, in Washington state. I immediately recognized Mt. Shuksan as the same mountain I had on a poster in high school. Now that I knew where that mountain was located, I was even more determined to see it someday.

My visits with friends in Salem, Oregon and Grapeview, Washington in late May 2009

In 2009, Crater Lake offered me an opportunity to work a long season from mid-March to the end of September. I would lead ranger guided snowshoe hikes for school groups from mid-March to Mid-May for the Classroom at Crater Lake program. From the second week of June until the end of September, I would then work as a seasonal interpretative ranger leading the ranger programs in the park, such as the boat tours, trolley tours, guided hikes, etc.

The catch was that because I would work a long season doing those ranger jobs, Crater Lake had to lay me off for two weeks at the last week of May and the first week of June. This prevented the park from exceeding the number of hours and weeks I could work as a seasonal employee for the federal government during a fiscal year. For this two-week vacation, I decided to visit the national parks in Washington state. This would be my chance to finally see Mt. Shuksan!

Before traveling to Washington, I spent Memorial weekend with my friends Gary and Melissa Martin and their daughter Shelby in Salem, Oregon. While visiting them, I mentioned I had never seen Silver Falls State Park, which is less than an hour drive east of Salem. It was Memorial weekend, so the park was crowded with local residents and visitors from elsewhere. We hiked the Trail of the Ten Falls. This is a loop trail over 7 miles long, with four water falls one can hike behind. The waterfalls are stunning, ranging from 27 to 178 feet. This is a state park so beautiful that it should be a national park.

Photo by Brian Ettling of South falls at Silver Falls State Park, Oregon on May 24, 2009.

After staying with Gary and Melissa, I drove north to see my best friend, Scott Manthey, and his wife Nikki who live in Grapeview, WA. Their home is on top of a hill surrounding by other middle-class homes. On a clear day, they see Mt. Rainer to the east of them. The bottom of the hill has an inlet connecting to the southwestern end of Puget Sound. Scott and I had fun swapping music from our iTunes. Much of it was music we enjoyed listening to in high school in the 1980s.

Traveling to see Olympic National Park in late May 2009

From Scott and Nikki’s house, I started my Washington state national parks adventure. I camped for two nights at the Heart o’ the Hills Campground, just outside of Port Angeles and just inside of Olympic National Park. I figured it would be cold in late May and early June in Washington state, so I bought a cold weather sleeping bag at a nearby Wal-Mart. It turned out the I had sunny and warm weather for nearly all that trip. The next day, I returned that sleeping bag and stuck to my thinner summer sleeping bag for this vacation. I was basically by myself at this campground. The only people I saw was when I ate at a Thai restaurant in town that evening.

Later in the afternoon that day, I drove up to Hurricane Ridge to get a view of the Olympic Mountains. It was a clear day with lots of winter snow still on the mountains, which are all under 8,000 feet tall. Yet, they get hammered with snow during the winter since they reside close to the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Olympics have a magnificent beauty with their snowy cragged tops. They look like the Greek Gods should be living there, not the Olympus Range in Greece, where ancient Greek mythology claim they live.

Brian Ettling’s photo of Hurricane Ridge at Olympic National Park on May 27, 2009.

The next day, I squeezed in as much as I could to see Olympic National Park. I stopped at Elwha Valley to see Madison Water Falls and get more views of the Olympic Mountains looking up from the deep valley. I drove two hours to see the Hoh Rain Forest. I was spellbound seeing the tall and impressive Douglas Red Firs and Western Cedar providing a dark cathedral canopy for the lush ferns and forest floor plants thriving in a welcoming place of natural peacefulness.

On the drive back to Port Angeles, I traveled down a long road to see the Sol Doc Valley in the park and hike to see the roaring Sol Duc Falls. When I reached it, the waterfall looked a large concentration white water that went into a chasm next to the overlook and under the bridge that it was hard to see it all as the water pounded further down this creek in this dark forest. My final stop as daylight was almost gone was going for a half a mile hike to see Marymere Falls. It had an impressive 200 feet drop into the mossy, fern-laden ravine.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan for the first time on May 29, 2009

The next day I drove an hour and a half from the Heart O’ the Hills Campground to the seaside town of Port Townsend, the most northeastern point of the Olympic Peninsula. I then drove my car onto a crowded ferry to be shuttled across Puget Sound. As the ferry went across the open water, it seemed like the Olympics rose in height with their white snow tops to give me one final view from the west. To the east, the distant white ghost of Mt. Baker still brilliant from its winter snow started to appear more visible through the morning haze.

The ferry dropped me off at Whidbey Island. I then drove north. I was surprised by the immense scenery driving on the high bridges above Deception Pass. I stopped my car for a while to admire and photograph the bridges, the spring flowers, and the distant Olympic Mountains. I walked on the bridges with heavy traffic driving by. I wanted to get a look at how the bridges separate the ocean waters of Strait of Juan de Fuca (to the west) to Skagit Bay (to the east).

I then east drove to Sedro-Woolley to say hello to a ranger I knew at the North Cascades Visitor Center. From there, I drove straight north on Hwy 9. Just south the town of Acme, Washington around 2:30 pm, I slammed on the brakes. To the east, I could see these majestic jagged snowcapped mountains of the Twin Sisters Range. I was getting excited because the weather might be clear enough to drive up to see Mt. Shuksan.

Photo by Brian Ettling of Twin Sisters Range just east of Acme, Washington on May 29, 2009.

I eagerly drove my car north to Maple Falls, Washington, which is just a few miles south of the Canadian border. I then headed east on Highway 540. Just outside of Glacier, Washington, I found a Forest Service Campground, the Douglas Fir Campground, nearly empty where I quickly pitched my tent for the night. I then drove up this very windy highway with some of the sharpest hairpin turns and switchbacks to the top to the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

At 5:50 pm, the sky was bright blue with no clouds in the sky. I rounded the bend entering the Mt. Baker Ski Area, also known as Heather Meadows. No cars were in sight. Ski season was over. The only sound was the light whistle of the wind. I was completely alone. My first sight of Mt. Shuksan stunned me. It was the most beautiful natural wonder I had seen in my life.

The heavy winter snowpack clung deeply to mountain. The late afternoon sun shining on the mountain made it nearly glow with illumination. The real sight of Mt. Shuksan was much more splendid to see in person. The deep dark rocks of the mountain that jutted out in between the to a pointy triangular top gave the mountain a towering appearance.

Naturalist and conservationist John Muir, who is known as “The Father the National Parks” wrote over 100 years ago, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home.”

It felt like Mt. Shuksan said to me, ‘Welcome home, Brian! It took you long enough to get here. You had that poster on your bedroom wall over 22 years ago.’

Photo by Brian Ettling of his first view of Mt. Shuksan at the Mt. Baker Ski Area on May 29, 2009.

I could not stop staring at the mountain and taking photographs of it from every vantage point I could find at the Mt. Baker Ski Area. I ended up taking over 60 photos of the mountain that day. This ski area still had lots of snow covering the ground everywhere. It looked like a winter wonderland with Mt. Shuksan as the most iconic feature.

This was too beautiful a sight to share with myself. I called my mom and two female friends that I fancied at the time to share with them where I was and described to them what I saw.

The only thing looking odd was the reflection pond from my poster was missing. I then realized the pond was right in front of me. It was just buried under the winter snow and ice. A bit of the water was visible as the spring weather was melting back the frozen pond. Not seeing the reflection pond like my poster had me curious to return at some point to see Mt. Shuksan again.

The mountain ranges surrounding Mt. Shuksan wore impressive winter snowpacks. I marveled and took lots of photos of those mountains. I could see why North Cascades National Park was referred to as “The American Alps.” I never saw the Alps in Europe. However, these mountains were perfect to behold in my eyes.

Photo by Brian Ettling. View of a range of the Cascade Mountains from the Mt. Baker Ski taken on May 29, 2009.

Traveling across and back North Cascades National Park on May 31, and June 1, 2009

Around 7:30 pm I left the Mt. Baker Ski Area and started driving the switchbacks down the mountain. It was late May with still plenty of daylight, but I did not want to get back to my campsite in the dark. It was a 30-minute drive back to my campsite. I still found a way to visit the roaring and steep Nooksack Falls just after 8 pm with remaining daylight, located a few minutes’ drive from my campsite. I slept well that night with my dream come true of seeing Mt. Shuksan.

The next day, I drove south on Hwy 9 back to Sedro-Woodley. Near Acme, I had to slam on the brakes again and pullover to the side of the road to give another good view of the Twin Sisters Range. It was another clear sunny day to admire views of snow capped mountains.

At Sedro-Woodley, I headed east to drive on Hwy 20, which cuts through the bulk of North Cascades National Park. With many high snowy, jagged topped mountains, I thought this was one of the most spectacular national parks I had seen. By this point in my life as a seasonal park ranger, I had seen most of the U.S. national parks.

I spent the middle of the day hiking on Thunder knob Trail. It is 3.6 miles round trip and climbs 425 feet in elevation to a vantage point with scenic views of Diablo Lake and nearby snowy rocky top mountains. It surprised me to see visitors walking their dogs on this trail. I was on vacation, but I was still in my park ranger mode. I engaged visitors in a friendly way to let them know dogs are typically not allowed on national park trails. They smiled at me and kept walking their dogs. When I returned to the trailhead, I noticed they were correct and I was wrong. The trailhead sign said, “Pets are allowed but must be on a leash.” Actually, I was the idiot!

Photo by Brian Ettling of Diablo Lake and Davis Peak from the Diablo Lake overlook in North Cascades National Park. Taken on May 31, 2009.

I camped that night at park Colonial Creek Campground, located directly across the road from the Thunderknob Trailhead. It was Saturday evening Memorial Weekend. The campground was crowded with loud families, but I was very happy to get a campsite for the night. The next day I drove east on the North Cascades Highway with another day of perfect weather to see magnificent snowcapped mountains lined up along the sides of the highway. I stopped frequently to take photos and admire these splendid mountains.

At one of the pull outs, I encountered some friendly Grey Jays. Years ago,a fellow Crater Lake Park Ranger told me that if one reaches out their hand, a Grey Jay (also known as a Canada Jay) might land on it. For the first time in my life, I extended my hands. A friendly Grey Jay landed on my hand! It felt magical. Of course, it was probably fed by another tourist in the past and was simply looking for a food handout from me. From all my years of working in the national parks, I was not going to give this bird food. Thus, the bird soon flew away from my hand.

I would have never done this trick at Crater Lake National Park in uniform because it would have encouraged other visitors to interact with the animals and feed them. Nor would I have done this out of uniform because other park ranger would have probably scolded me for engaging with the wildlife. However, this was fun to interact with this Grey Jay away from Crater Lake and at a location where there were no other park visitors around at the moment.

I made it to Winthrop, Washington late afternoon. It’s a lovely old west themed town that thrives on tourists staying there on their way to the outdoors. The gift shops and restaurants are scrunched together like a set from an old western film. It has a fun mountain town themed vibe to get a cup of coffee, eat dinner or buy some artistic souvenirs. I found a comfortable motel to spend the night. It was my first shower after a week of camping. I felt bad for the people who encountered me the previous days.

The next day, I could go anywhere, but I decided to travel back through North Cascades National Park on another warm sunny day. Mt. Shuksan was calling me to visit again. As I approached Glacier, Washington, there was excellent visibility to see Mt. Baker. Thus, it looked to be another day with an outstanding view of Mt. Shuksan if I could make it up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area late in the afternoon. I found another campsite at the Douglas Fir campground near Glacier, Washington. I headed up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area by the early June summer evening.

A photo by Brian Ettling of Mt. Baker taken near Glacier, Washington on June 1, 2009.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan for the second and third time in early June 2009

This time, Mt. Shuksan looked more amazing. Picture Lake had no ice or snow on it. No wind was blowing. The mountain had a perfect mirror reflection, even better than I remembered from my childhood poster. Two other photographers were there to capture that perfect image of Mt. Shuksan with the mirror image of it reflected in Picture Lake. I once read that Mt. Shuksan is the most photographed mountain in the world. I saw why from this moment.

I got the ideal photo of Mt. Shuksan with my digital camera. Years later, my father-in-law helped me frame a large image of my photo. That picture of Mt. Shuksan is my Facebook banner photo since I joined Facebook in 2009. It is the most stunning image I have seen in my life. It is the first photo on this blog.

The next day, I rented a pair of snowshoes in Glacier, Washington to explore around on snowshoes in the Mt. Baker Ski Area. I hiked in the snowshoes up to Artist Point to get fantastic views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. Both mountains were absolutely shining in their winter snow white on clear early June day. Not a cloud was in the sky. Just the sun shining strongly with the bright light bouncing off the snow at the ski area to give me snow blindness late that afternoon. My eyes really stung from the intense daylight that day.

Yes, my eyes hurt so bad afternoon from the snow blindness. At the same time, I was surrounded by magnificent snowcapped mountains in every direction while I happily traversed around on snowshoes. It was one of the best days of my life! I was so lucky to be alive to experience the Mt. Baker Ski Area and all the mountains around me covered in deep winter snow. Except for a few other people, I had this area to myself. I loved taking numerous photos to capture the awesome beauty that day. I was very proud of my digital photos looking at them afterwards and today. At the same time, the photos could not capture my pure joy of being there that day.

Brian Ettling with Mt. Baker behind him at Artist Point in the Mt. Baker Ski area on June 2, 2009.

Visiting Mt. Rainier National Park in early June 2009

The next day, I left to explore Mt. Rainier National Park to camp there for two nights. During my stay at Mt. Rainier, the sky became overcast. I could still see Mt. Rainier because the clouds were high above the mountain. The overcast weather spoke clearly to me that I was very lucky to have clear weather for nearly the entire trip to this two week visit to Washington state. I had a terrific time hiking at Mt. Rainier to get views of this mountain in early May.

This was the era before smart phones and selfie sticks. It was the days when you would ask a stranger to take your photo at a scenic location. Well, I asked a stranger to take photos of me with my digital camera with Mt. Rainer in the background. This older gentleman did not listen to my instructions closely. He took good photos of me, but he did not know how to get Mt. Rainier in the background of my photos. Thank goodness, nine years later, I had an iPhone, and I could use it to take selfies of me with iconic scenery such as Mt. Rainier centered in the background.

When I strolled by the Paradise Inn, I had a good look at a Cascade Red Fox. It was standing there in the snow watching the visitors walk past him. This fox looked tame like a person fed it recently. It hoped someone else would give it some food. It stayed in the same spot for a long time allowing me to take numerous photos of it with my camera. It almost acted like it was posing for the cameras, like a fashion model, as if this was another tactic to get a free meal.

Photo by Brian Ettling of a Cascade Red Fox near Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainer National Park on June 4, 2009.

The next day was clear with an ideal blue sky and the mountain was totally visible. I choose to hike that morning on the Rampart Ridge Trail, which starts at the lower elevation Longmire Visitor Center. As I neared the top of the loop, I had terrific views of Mt. Rainier. There were still patches on snow on the trail now and then, which made it more challenging to follow. It created a sense of fun to locate the trail when it was obscured by the snow now and then.

Returning to the Longmire Visitor Center in late afternoon, I got sunscreen in my eyes somehow. Ir was stinging and causing a lot of discomfort. As I was headed to the men’s room to use the sink to wash the sunscreen out of my eyes, I ran into someone I knew. Her name is Jennifer. She used to work seasonally on the trail crew at Crater Lake. She was quite friendly when she saw me. I always thought she was very attractive, but out of my league.

Jennifer had a sharp wit. She was a master of using a wide variety of manly tools. I had neither of those skills. She was captivating with her long straight blonde hair, enchanting smile, great buff figure from working on outdoor trails, and a very charming personality. We did not know each other well, but we enjoyed saying hello to each other when she worked at Crater Lake. She was someone you would want as a friend and would be honored to date.

Sadly, when I saw Jennifer, my eyes were super irritated with sunscreen. We said hello to each other and tried to strike up a conversation about what each doing these days. However, my eyes kept constantly blinking at her since they were feeling miserable in that moment. I looked like a complete loser with my eyes rapidly blinking at her. I was unable to look at her because it was hard for me to see and keep my eyes open. It was a very awkward moment. I had to cut the conversation short to run to the bathroom to flush out my eyes in the sink. When my eyes returned to normally, I went back outside to try to chat with her again. However, she was gone. She was probably onto her next trail work assignment for the day.

Fortunately, when I saw Jennifer months or years later, I was able to explain what happened. She laughed. Jennifer always looked for the positive and the goofiness in everything. She responded that she figured that I had something wrong with my eyes in the moment. She did not take it personally that I was constantly blinking at her. Whew! That was a relief.

Brian Ettling hiking above Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park on June 4, 2009.

After visiting Mt. Rainier for a couple of days, I stayed a couple of nights with Scott and Nikki in Grapeview again. Then I visited again with my friends Gary and Melissa Martin and their daughter Shelby in Salem, Oregon. I was so eager to show my friends my digital photos from my trip seeing the mountains of Washington.

That weekend, I returned to Crater Lake for the summer to start work on Monday, June 8th.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan together with my wife Tanya for the first time on September 2, 2018

I never forgot about Mt. Shuksan. My wife, Tanya, and I moved to Portland, Oregon in February 2017. I showed her my favorite mountain on Labor Day weekend 2018. She did not say much about Mt. Shuksan. She is not as chatty as me. She did give me the impression that she enjoyed seeing the mountain because she took lots of photos. She has been open to traveling to see the mountain again when opportunities happened.

When we saw the mountain together for the first time on September 2, 2018, a thin ban of clouds wrapped just underneath the summit and shrouded the top of the southern part of the mountain. The clouds blended into the mountain well on this partly cloudy day. I was a tad disappointed that the ban of clouds hid a bit more of the top. I wanted Tanya to see the mountain unobstructed by clouds, like the first time I saw it. However, she was fine seeing the mountain as it was that day and slightly annoyed with me with my frustration of wanting perfection.

The Mt. Baker Ski Area looked different in September 2018 than what I remembered in the beginning of June 2009. All the winter snow that I saw in June on the ground and clinging to the mountain was not there. Just the glaciers were clinging to the mountain. The summer green grass and exposed ground made a nice contrast to the blue sky and dark rocky mountain. The deep winter snow that I saw in June 2009 with all its bright whiteness made for dramatic scenery and stellar photography.

I said to Tanya that I hope we can go to the Mt. Baker Ski Area sometime in early June so she could see what I first experienced seeing the mountain for the first time. Again, she enjoyed what she saw that day. She did not want to hear about what I thought she was missing.

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling at Picture Lake to see Mt. Shuksan on September 2, 2018.

Having said that, it was still spectacular to see Mt. Shuksan at the beginning of September and finally have the chance to show it to Tanya. The good news is that the clouds on the mountain dissipated by early evening. Thus, Tanya and I were able to see totally clear views of the mountain. Tanya got to see firsthand why this is my favorite place on planet Earth. She seemed to deeply appreciate this location and our time together there.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan with Tanya and her parents on August 11, 2019

Tanya’s parents, who live in St. Louis, heard me talk about Mt. Shuksan so much that they wanted to see my happy place. In early August 2018, my in-laws came to visit us in Portland in early August 2019. They then went to a folk-dance camp in near Tacoma, Washington for a week. After that week was over, they decided they would meet us at the Douglas Fir Campground near Glacier, Washington. This was the same campground I stayed when visiting the Mt. Baker Ski Area for the first time in 2009. Tanya and I stayed there on Labor Day Weekend 2018 when she saw Mt. Shuksan for the first time.

Tanya and I left Portland two days before meeting up with them. We drove up central Washington to spend the night in Winthrop, Washington. We then spent the day driving through North Cascades National Park so she could experience that national park for the first time. It was overcast driving through the park that day with the clouds covering the tops of the mountains. Still, some of the mountains on the east side of the park were completely visible to see.

As we drove through the park, we took lots of photos and did the short hike on the Thunder Knob Trail. The wind blew briskly that day, so the air had a bit of coolness to it. We hiked on this trail to see the light bluish green turquoise hue of the waters of the manmade Diablo Lake. This body of water straddles between the steep forested lower elevation mountains you see on the North Cascades Highway as it winds through the national park.

All four of us were happy to meet up at Glacier, Washington Forest Service Campground late in the afternoon on August 11, 2019. It was still very overcast, and Mother Nature decided not to burn off or push away the clouds that day. As we drove into the town of Glacier, we could not see Mt. Baker off in the distance behind the front range of mountains. The overcast clouds hung so low to block mountain views. From my experience visiting the area, my gut feeling was that if Mt. Baker was not visible, Mt. Shuksan would not be either.

My father-in-law, Rex, was like a kid on Christmas morning, eager to make the 40-minute drive to see Mt. Shuksan from the campground. It was almost 5 pm in the afternoon. I was not in a rush to see the mountain since the overcast skies indicated Mt. Shuksan was probably not visible. In addition, the three restaurants in Glacier seemed to shut down by 8 pm. I advised to eat dinner first, then drive up to see if the mountain was visible. Rex was still singularly focused on viewing the mountain and was resistant to my advice to wait until after dinner to see it.

Fortunately, Tanya and my mother-in-law, Nancy, were on my side. Rex was outvoted and Nancy made it clear to him that he was not going to win this argument. Thus, we had a lovely dinner at the Italian Restaurant in Glacier. We then made the 40-minute drive up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area, arriving around 8:15 pm. It was summer, so there was still plenty of daylight. However, my suspicion was correct. The upper half of Mt. Shuksan was covered in clouds. It was still great to see the lower half of the mountain with glaciers and patches of snow showing among the dark mountain face. However, it was not as fabulous to see as a clear day unobstructed by clouds.

Photo by Brian Ettling of Mt. Shuksan at Picture Lake on August 11, 2019.

The next day, Tanya and I drove from Glacier, WA back home to Portland, OR. It was a bright sunny day with a perfect blue sky. We did not have a chance to see Mt. Shuksan that day. We were good with that since we saw the mountain on previous visits. Tanya and I were anxious for her parents to see it. They had the time to drive up to the Mt. Baker Ski area on August 12th and they did get to see amazing clear views of the mountain.

Rex and Nancy had a fulfilling day hiking by the Heather Meadows Visitor Center. Rex took lots of photos of the mountain and wildflowers on the Bagley Lakes Trail. Nancy shared that she enjoyed the hikes, the views, and wildflowers in Heather Meadows. Tanya and I were thrilled they got to explore the Mt. Baker Ski Area on a clear day and see is one of our favorite places.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan with Tanya on Labor Day, September 2, 2019

For Labor Day weekend 2019, Tanya and I had fun visiting Vancouver, Canada. I played clarinet in my high school symphonic band in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1980s. In 1986, our band instructor arranged for our band to visit Vancouver, British Columbia to play at the Expo World’s Fair. This was my first time seeing the Pacific Northwest and I knew then I wanted to live there someday. The city looked magical with a density of high rise buildings nestled up to a wide harbor and towering snowcapped mountains rising above the other side of the water.

I always wanted to return to see Vancouver, British Columbia. Portland, Oregon is about a 6 hour drive to Vancouver, BC. Living in Portland gave Tanya and I an opportunity to drive up there on a long 3-day weekend, such as Labor Day weekend. We had fun walking all around the city on Sunday, September 1st. The city was even more delightful than I had remembered as we took in the most scenic spots. We wore ourselves out that day walking in Stanley Park, driving in the park to see the Lion’s Gate Bridge, going to the top of the Vancouver Lookout building to get a bird’s eye view of the city, and wandering around to find the old Expo 86 location.

Labor Day was the day for us to drive back from Vancouver, British Columbia to Portland. However, we woke up to a clear day in Vancouver. With weather that optimal, we had to take a short drive out of the way to see Mt. Shuksan. We drove east of Vancouver to the Sumas, Washington international border crossing. Sumas is located an hour drive from the Mt. Baker Ski Area. The U.S. customs officer questioned us why were re-entering the U.S. through Sumas and not Blaine, WA, where we left the U.S. to go to Vancouver, BC two days prior.

My answer: “Because we want to see Mt. Shuksan.”

The U.S. Border Officer did not say another word and let us back in the U.S.

Tanya and I made it to Mt. Baker Ski Area in early afternoon to see at Mt. Shuksan at Picture Lake around 11:30 am. It was a glorious a mostly clear summer day with a small cloud rising over the backside of the mountain. We then drove to the end of the road at Artist Point to get splendid views of Mt. Baker and clear views of Mt. Shuksan.

A photo by Tanya Couture of Mt. Shuksan on the Artist Point Trail on September 2, 2019

At 2 pm, we left Artist Point to start the drive back to Portland. We made it back home after 9 pm that evening. We were exhausted from the drive, but high on seeing my friends, Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker, again.

Meeting up with my friend Mark Deeter in Seattle, WA in late July 2021

In mid-June 2021, I received a Facebook message from my friend, Mark Deeter. I worked with Mark in the Everglades in 1993 and Death Valley National Park in 1994. Mark lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. He wrote he planned to travel to Seattle, WA at the end of July on a business trip and he hoped to meet up with me. I had not seen Mark in almost 30 years, so I wanted to catch up with him. On July 12th, I purchased my train tickets to rendezvous with him in Seattle.

Mark would be off work July 27th and 28th, so we then started brainstorming for what we could do on his days off work. Mark likes to scuba dive, so he was thinking about doing that when he came to Seattle. I had never heard of scuba diving near Seattle. I told Mark that I don’t like to scuba dive. I don’t like the thought of being completely submerged underwater. I explained that if he wanted to scuba dive, I would be happy to watch him do it, but I would not be scuba diving.

Mark then suggested renting an airplane instead of diving, since he is a licensed small aircraft pilot. I responded that “We could rent an airplane if you can reserve one. I would love to see WA state from the air. Keep in mind that there are forest fires in the northwest right now, so it might be hazy when you come out here.”

I was not sure about flying in a small airplane. I enjoy flying. However, if the weather is clear, my favorite activity is day hiking in a national park or wilderness area. For whatever reason, Mark did not bring up the idea of flying again.

I traveled by train in Seattle on July 26th. I love riding in trains, and I have been on that scenic train ride several times from Portland to Seattle. That particular day, it was clear with good visibility to see Mt. Rainier. I snapped a good photo of it just south of Tacoma.

Mt. Rainier taken from an Amtrak Train south of Tacoma, WA on July 26, 2021 by Brian Ettling.

When I met up with Mark in Seattle that evening, we had not figured out what we planned to do yet during our two days together. I had very clear ideas. I wanted to spend one day driving up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area to see Mt. Shuksan and spend the other day hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park. Mark and I enjoyed hiking and exploring the national parks when we worked together in the Everglades and Death Valley. Thus, Mark was open to my ideas.

On July 27th, we woke up mid-morning from the cheap motel he stayed at in Bellevue, WA with the intention to go to the Mt. Baker Ski Area. We ate breakfast at a place that caught my attention that we drove by the day before, Chace’s Pancake Corral. I thought the banana pancake breakfast was delicious. I ended up having that breakfast all three days of my trip.

Mark then drove us to a nearby REI where he bought a new backpack. He then drove us in his rental car towards the Mt. Baker Ski Area. I knew the exact and most scenic route to take to reach our destination. It was less than a 3-hour drive from Bellevue to the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan with my friend Mark Deeter on July 27, 2021

When we reached northern Washington town of Burlington on I-5, the GPS wanted to route us a different way. It was after 1 pm and I did not have time to think about that then. Mark and I stopped at a Subway to use the bathroom, stretch our legs, and buy lunch sandwiches for the road. However, I routed us to take state Hwy 9 north of Sedro-Woolley to Maple Falls and then take state Hwy 542 to arrive at the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Around 1:40 pm, we reached the scenic pull off on Hwy 9 near Acme, WA. Just like I saw 12 years earlier, to the east, I saw the majestic jagged snowcapped mountains of the Twin Sisters Range with snowcapped Mt. Baker peaking out just to left of those front range peaks. Mark marveled at seeing this view. We felt lucky to snap pictures of this scene on this marvelous summer day.

Photo by Brian Ettling of Twin Sisters Range just east of Acme, Washington on July 27, 2021.

That jubilation only lasted for about a minute. When Mark drove a few hundred feet up the road, he slammed on the brakes. A giant barrier blocked the road announcing, “Road closed for construction.” No wonder the GPS would not guide us up Hwy 9! Mark and I backtracked and found other roads to take us to Glacier, Washington and onward to the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Mark drove on backroads on Whatcom Lake, which lies directly west of Acme. Whatcom Lake looked like a mini-Lake Tahoe with fancy big homes and highbrow boats on the water. We ended up in the outskirts of Bellingham, WA. We finally connected with state Hwy 542 to drive east towards Maple Falls, Glacier, and then the Mt. Baker Ski Area. We got a peak of Mt. Baker by Maple Falls after 3 pm, so we knew this was a good day to try to see Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker.

I was anxious to get to our destination. However, Mark spotted the sign for Nooksack Falls, so we had to stop there. These are stunning waterfalls to see, so I did not blame Mark for wanting to stop there to check them out. After the brief waterfalls stop, we were back in the car to head to the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

We finally reached Picture Lake with fantastic views of Mt. Shuksan after 4 pm. We now had time and were relaxed enough to eat our Subway lunches while admiring the view of Mt. Shuksan. It was great to get a selfie with Mark there on my iPhone. This was the only selfie with him during this trip. We then got back in Mark’s rental car to drive to Artist Point.

Brian Ettling and Mark Deeter at Picture Lake to see Mt. Shuksan on July 27, 2021.

When we reached the Heather Meadows Visitor Center just a mile up the road, we discovered another barrier. The road to Artist Point was still closed for the season. There were still patches of snow on the road past that point that made it unsafe to drive.

Mark and I decided we were not going to miss Artist Point with the views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. The only option was to hike the Wild Goose Trail, which is over a mile long with an elevation gain of 800 feet to reach Artist Point. Oddly, I intended to go hiking on this trip, but I did not pack my hiking boots or trekking pools. I just had my comfortable blue tennis shoes that I use for walking in urban areas. The soles have no grooved trend on the bottom to grip elevated rocky, soft dirt, or muddy hiking trails. These shoes were very light weight though, which made me feel like a nimble mountain goat.

Hiking up the Wild Goose Trail quickly, I made it to Artist Point around 5:40 pm. I had to wait a while for Mark. He was not used to hiking, especially on a trail let with a higher elevation that was steep in spots. As always, the scenery at Artist Point was beyond words. It was late in the afternoon. The sun’s position put Mt. Baker in poor lighting. The best lighting for Mt. Baker is in the mornings where the sun in the east would cause the snow on the mountain to glow brightly.

On the other hand, the late afternoon sun had Mt. Shuksan perfectly lit. The dark mountain rocks and the glaciers with the patches of snow on top all shined brightly this time of day. As usual when I visit Picture Lake and Artist Point, I cannot take enough photos of Mt. Shuksan.

Mark was ecstatic to be at Artist Point among all this mountain scenery. We nearly had the area to ourselves, except for a few other pleasant tourists admiring the view from this location. Coming from Cincinnati, Mark was astonished to still see snow on the ground this time of year. He asked a friendly older couple to film us having a snowball fight. I immediately said “No!” and put an end to that idea. I worked at Crater Lake National Park as a park ranger for 25 years. It was not unusual for me to see snow on the ground at the end of July. I just wanted to take in the sacred beauty all around me and not play with snowballs at that moment.

We then started down the Wild Goose Trail back to where Mark’s rental car was parked at the Heather Meadows Visitor Center parking lot. It was Tuesday, mid-week, going into the evening. We encountered very few people that day at Picture Lake or Heather Meadows. The quietness of that area with the sometimes whisper of a summer breeze all felt so peaceful. This was another sublime experience to soak in the scenery at the Mt. Baker Ski Area. I was happy my friend Mark could join me. He felt bad he could not keep up with me hiking. On the other hand, Mark was as happy as a school kid starting summer vacation visiting that location. Both Mark and I are in our 50s but we felt as joyful as children to be there that day.

Photo by Brian Ettling of Mt. Shuksan on the Artist Point Trail on July 27, 2021.

Around 8 pm, we departed the Mt. Baker Ski Area to drive down the mountain. We still had daylight to guide us, but it was dark when we reached Bellingham around 9:30 pm. We were eager to have a late dinner, so we stopped at the Applebee’s located next to I-5. We did not leave Applebee’s until around 10:30 pm for the hour and a half drive back to our motel in Bellevue. After we reached our motel room after midnight, Mark immediately went to bed. I stayed up for a bit feeling elated from seeing my favorite mountain, Mt. Shuksan, that day.

Seeing the Sunrise Area at Mt. Rainier National Park on July 28, 2021

Mark was moving slow the next day after all the driving and sightseeing we did traveling to the Mt. Baker Ski Area the previous day. Mark was curious for what I had in mind for this day as he was waking up. I had my sights set for going to Mount Rainier National Park to do more hiking and marvel at this mountain. In the 1990s, Mark worked at Grand Teton, Everglades, and Death Valley National Parks. Thus, Mark was agreeable to drive to Mt. Rainier.

For the second day in a row, Mark and I had breakfast at the Chace’s Pancake Corral. Like the day before, I filled myself up on the banana pancakes. Mark and I then drove south to Enumclaw, where we stopped at the Safeway to get food items to pack for an eventual lunch. We then drove to Mt. Rainier National Park, reaching the park boundary sign by 2:15 pm. Without knowing our destination, we ended up at the Sunrise area in the northeast area at Mt. Rainier National Park at 3 pm. Mt. Rainier looks massive at Sunrise.

It is called Sunrise, because as the name suggests, is also one of the first places in the park to capture morning’s early light. Thus, it’s best to go there in the early morning to have the morning sun behind you in the east shine brightly on Mt. Rainier as you look west towards the mountain. Mark and I arrived later in the afternoon eastern part of the mountain faced away from the sun, making it harder to photograph.

The scenery at Sunrise was incredible. It was a love at first sight for me. I brought Tanya there in October 2021 before it closed for the winter. We returned two times since then, including my birthday in July 2023. After Mark and I arrived, he decided we would hike the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail, which was 5.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 900 feet. I was totally up for this adventure, but I was not sure about Mark. He admitted to me he had not hiked much in years, plus he hiked much slower than me the day before at the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Photo by Brian Ettling at the Sunrise area in Mt. Rainier National Park on July 28, 2021.

We ate our late sack lunch/dinner at 5 pm halfway along the trail. I reached the fire lookout tower at 6 pm. Mark was a half a mile behind me when I reached the Lookout Tower. I was there for around 15 minutes enjoying the view of Mt. Rainier and eating a granola bar before heading back down the trail. I ran into Mark on the way down the trail as he was making his way to the lookout tower. While I waited for him at the base of Mount Fremont, I saw a herd of mountain goats in that grassy valley. I pointed them out to Mark when he finally caught up to me.

We then hiked back to the Sunrise parking area around 8:40 pm. It was dusk with the sun getting ready to set anytime. As we drove away from the parking lot to head down the mountain, we saw a young male Black-tailed Deer that photographed .

We arrived in our motel room in Bellevue around 10 pm. The next day, I took the train home from Seattle to Portland. I will always be grateful to Mark for this great adventure to see the Mt. Baker Ski Area for my fifth time and discovering the Sunrise Area at Mt. Rainier for the first time.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan with Tanya and her Danish relatives on September 13, 2023

In September 2023, my wife, her parents, 8 of my mother-in-law’s Danish relatives, my in-laws’ best friends from St. Louis, and I met in Seattle so all 14 of us could see Glacier National Park, Montana. I shared details of this trip in a separate blog I wrote weeks after the trip, “Seeing Climate Change when I visited Glacier National Park.”

Towards the end of the trip, our group went to the Mt. Baker Ski Area to see Mt. Shuksan. I love seeing family and friends’ reaction when they see my favorite mountain for the first time.

We arrived at Picture Lake at 6 pm on September 13th. The late summer sun was low in the sky. As the sun was getting ready to set soon, it shined on just the upper half of Mt. Shuksan. As we gazed at the mountain, the sun’s path or a cloud moving out of the way, caused more direct light to appear on the mountain. The setting sun gave the mountain an amber hue. The orangish reddish glow on the mountain looked like it was heating up and going to catch fire any minute. Then the sun set and the dusk colors on the mountains slowly faded away.

Photo by Brian Ettling of Mt. Shuksan at Picture Lake on September 13, 2023.

As we were losing daylight, I entertained the group for a few minutes by inviting a Grey Jay to land on my hand. As the group was hanging close to the vehicles waiting for some of the hard core photographers in the group to wrap up their photos, I noticed a group of Grey Jays fly in to check us out. I then stretched out my hand to see if one would land on me. One Grey Jay did land on me. However, it got impatient expecting free food (which I did not have), so it bit my thumb. Sharp beaks these buggers have! It was painful for a moment and Tanya caught the bite on film. The Danish relatives thought it was funny. I was glad to bring more joy at that moment.

The next day, all 14 of us went to Artist Point to walk on the trails and get radiant views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. Not a cloud was in the sky that day. With the sun shining brightly on these mountains, these wonders of nature looked like they wanted to show off how pretty they were on that day. Like any movie star wanting to be photographed, those of us who love to take pictures obliged these gorgeous mountains by taking countless photographs of them.

After lunch, half of the group returned to the giant rental house where we stayed in close to Glacier, Washington. The other half, including Tanya and me, hiked the Bagley Lakes Trail by the Heather Meadows Visitor Center. This loop trail is in a valley and follows the creek between the Bagley Lakes. Can’t see Mt. Shuksan or Mt. Baker from this trail, but it provided lovely views of a running creek with some colorful waterfalls along the way.

We finished this trail around 3 pm. It was time to start driving down the mountain so all 14 of us could have dinner together at our rental house. Before leaving the Mt. Baker Ski Area, Tanya and I made one last stop at Picture Lake to get final views of Mt. Shuksan.

The afternoon sun at 3:30 pm showcased the mountain in an exquisite way. If this was my final view of the mountain until a future visit, I left Picture Lake a very happy man indeed.

I now have lost track of the number of times I have seen Mt. Shuksan. I just need any excuse to go back there. So, now I am asking you: Would you join me on a trip to see Mt. Shuksan?

Brian Ettling and Tanya Couture at Picture Lake getting their last view of Mt. Shuksan on September 14, 2023.

Mt. Shuksan inspires me to act on climate change and protect our planet

When I was a seasonal interpretative ranger in Everglades National Park from 2003 to 2008, I often shared this John Muir quote in my ranger talks, “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread. Places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul alike.”

Over 1.3 million acres of Everglades National Park is designated as a wilderness area. The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The purpose of this federal law is to preserve and protect the natural ecosystems and wild areas, provide opportunities for solitude, and retrospective or primitive recreation.

I used that John Muir quote and the definition of wilderness from the Wilderness Act of 1964 as a park ranger to stress that most of Everglades National Park was wilderness. Many of us don’t think the Everglades as wilderness. We tend to think of the old growth forests and the western jagged mountain ranges as wilderness. I wanted to expand their idea of wilderness and share the federal definition of wilderness for their understanding.

I am happiest in nature. Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, I loved hiking as a child in nearby Bee Tree and Cliff Cave Parks along the Mississippi River. My passion for nature led me to work as a park ranger for summers at 25 years at Crater Lake National Park and winters 16 years in Everglades National Park. I never tired of hiking the mountain peak trails at Crater Lake. In the Everglades, I relished the amazing canoe trips and bird watching hikes.

Brian Ettling leading a ranger led canoe trip in Everglades National Park. Photo taken around 2004-2007.

Working in the national parks allowed me to visit other national parks. I made friends with rangers at Crater Lake and the Everglades who moved on to work in other national parks. Thus, I stayed with friends in Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. One ranger friend invited me to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon twice. Another ranger friend, Pete Peterson, invited me to give a climate change presentation at Grand Canyon National Park.

Besides staying and visiting the national parks I listed in the previous paragraph, I had a life dream of seeing Glacier National Park. I finally saw it on a family vacation in September 2023. All these places make my heart sing and give me a spirit of renewal. I feel most alive in these places. Tanya and I have been married for over 8 years and together for over 10 years. She loves hiking, nature, and photography. Thus, it is fabulous to visit these places with her.

I love all the national parks I visited. I would jump love to visit any of them again. However, my favorite place is the Mt. Baker Ski Area to see Mt. Shuksan, as well as seeing Mt. Baker.

As I blogged previously, I started giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park in 1998. Back then, visitors asked me about this global warming thing which I knew nothing. I then started reading about the impacts of climate change on the Everglades and it scared me. By 2008, I quit my winter seasonal ranger job in Everglades National Park to start organizing for climate action. I then discovered that climate change impacted Crater Lake National Park. I started giving my climate change evening program there in 2011. In 2017, I stopped working my summer job at Crater Lake to try to transition to be a full-time climate advocate.

Even though I stopped working in the national parks, I still delight visiting those nearby. In 2017, Tanya and I loved visiting Mt. Rainier National Park together for the first time. We stopped by there on the way to visit friends in Washington state that weekend. The next day, Tanya dropped me off at a Climate Reality Training where I was a breakout speaker. It was a beautiful clear idea summer day in June with the sun shining very brightly overhead. In our excitement to see the mountain, we forgot to wear sunscreen. We planned to be there for a couple of hours.

Brian Ettling at Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park on June 24, 2017.

When I arrived at the Climate Reality Training the next day, my face was beat red like a lobster. My face hurt so bad that I had to keep applying aloe vera jell to my face. Fortunately, the redness of my face seemed to go down several notches by the time I spoke at the conference several days later. Even with that bad sunburn incident, Tanya and I returned to visit Mt. Rainier National Park several more times, especially to see it for my birthday in July.

In October 2021, Tanya and I visited Olympic National Park to see a ranger friend Steve and his family. In August 2022, Tanya and I, plus her parents, explored different areas of Olympic National Park while we visited my mother-in-law’s cousins in Sequim, Washington. As I wrote early on this blog, we had a big family trip to see Glacier National Park in September 2023. During this trip, we drove through North Cascades National Park to go visit the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Since I stopped seasonally working as a ranger at Crater Lake in September 2017, I travel now to national parks for inspiration, relaxation, and renewal from my full-time climate organizing. Sadly, the national parks continue to remind me that they are negatively impacted by climate change. When I visited Glacier National Park in September 2023, I was saddened I could not see any glaciers in Glacier National Park. I wrote two blogs about that experience, including “Glacier National Park’s fading glaciers calls for Climate Action.” More recently, I read documented evidence the snowpack and glaciers have receded on Mt. Baker in recent years.

From working in the national parks years ago to traveling to them to vacation now, I can’t escape from the reality that climate change is negatively impacting our national parks.

All these natural places inspire me to be a climate advocate. They continue to motivate me to protect the natural world from climate change harming these sacred places.

In October 2023, I wrote a blog, “For Climate Action, advice from a former park ranger.” In that blog, I shared about a pocket-sized card that I would give to park visitors at the conclusion of my Watchman Peak Sunset Hike. It was called “Ranger Brian’s Wisdom.” The card contained the combined advice of my mentor, park ranger Steve Robinson, and me.

If I could boil down the message from “Ranger Brian’s Wisdom” to this blog, I would say,

‘Find your Own Sacred Place –
For me, that’s the Mt. Baker Ski Area, with the views of Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker.
Keep visiting your sacred place for inspiration and renewal
as I keep going back to the Mt. Baker Ski Area when the opportunity presents itself.
Then do what you can daily to take climate action to protect your sacred places and all humanity from the threat of climate change.’

Brian Ettling at Picture Lake with Mt. Shuksan on September 14, 2023.

Who knows how my life would have been different, if I had not put the poster of Mt. Shuksan on my bedroom wall when I was in high school in St. Louis, MO in the 1980s.

For Climate Action, let’s protect our democracy, Part 8 

Photo of Brian Ettling by his home in Portland, Oregon, taken on April 27, 2023.

“If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing.
If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clip board, get some signatures,
and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”
– President Barack Obama in his farewell address on January 10, 2017

This is the toughest blog for me to write. In fact, I devoted 2023 to blogging and writing about my life story. I felt it was vital for me to write this blog, but I dreaded writing it. For the past 23 years, I have not felt that environmentalists, climate advocates, progressives and Democratic leaning voters were smart about electing Presidential, state level, and local candidates who would protect our environment, planet, and our democracy.

This was a painful blog to write, but I felt I must share my story. Hopefully, someone can learn from my disappointment and letdown I experienced from environmental and climate Democratic voters who allowed awful candidates for President and other elected offices win.

This was such a tough blog to write. I had so much to say that I broke up it into 8 parts:

Part 1, My 1980s childhood in Missouri to witnessing 2000 Presidential Election in Florida
Part 2, My story as a park ranger and rediscovering Al Gore 2001 to 2007
Part 3, Loss of a friend, Leaving Everglades, and finding my passion for climate action 2007-08
Part 4, Healing from grief and Taking Climate Action in Oregon and Missouri 2009-2016
Part 5: My frustration and heartbreak with the 2016 Presidential Election
Part 6: Donald Trump’s Disgraceful Presidency and my climate action 2017-2020
Part 7: Working as a U.S. Census Enumerator and living through Presidential Election of 2020

Part 8, the aftermath of the 2020 Presidential Election: U.S. democracy under attack

A rightwing inclusion into the Oregon state Capitol just weeks before January 6th attack

Things felt weird in December 2020 when Donald Trump did not want to admit he lost the election. A bad sign was when protestors breached the Oregon state Capitol on December 21th.

According to OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting), “The Oregon State Police declared an unlawful assembly as a growing number of protesters pushed their way through the Capitol doors… chanting, ‘let us in’ and ‘arrest Kate Brown.’ Police officers donned gas masks as they squared off with protesters, some of whom carried firearms and bear spray, and many of whom were not wearing masks (the COVID pandemic was raging at that time).

Among the protesters were members of Patriot Prayer, a far-right group based in Vancouver, Washington, that attracts white supremacists and has engaged in violence.

Oregon State Police reported that officers were sprayed with ‘some kind of chemical agent’ twice while trying to repel people from the Capitol building. Officers had arrested three people as of early afternoon, including a 41-year-old man who state police said sprayed bear mace at police. Those arrests did not dissuade demonstrators, some of whom shattered glass doors into the Capitol while demanding to be let inside. Some members of the crowd harassed or assaulted journalists reporting on the event.”

This disturbed me since I lobbied and attended hearings at the Oregon State Capitol numerous times. I posted on Facebook, “This just really makes me sad. For my friend(s) living in red states upset about people not taking the pandemic seriously, this is what is happening in the blue state of Oregon. Far right protesters trying to disrupt an emergency legislative session trying to provide emergency relief for tenants, landlords and residents need assistance after last summer’s wildfires. I blame this on Trump and far right media. Both have encouraged and inspired this kind of behavior.

In my climate organizing, I have met so many wonderful Oregon legislators who truly want to make a difference on issues such as healthcare, homelessness, education, helping small businesses and climate change. Many have gone out of their way to meet with me, attend functions that I have organized, respond to my emails, and do their best to say yes to my requests.

They are good people wanting to be public servants and make a difference for our community, state, and nation. This mentality of wanting to storm the castle because you don’t want to wear a mask or abide by the advice of the medical community to adhere to social distance measures, needs to stop. Someone is going to get hurt or killed if we continue down this path. We have to do a better job calling out and standing up to far-right extremism. This is not the America that we love.”

Later that day, OPB quoted then House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, “We will be examining the footage around the doors. Someone let in unauthorized personnel. That’s serious.”

One month later, in June 2021, a YouTube video surfaced that was recorded on December 16th where Oregon Rep. Mike Nearman told a group of citizens, he would let them into the building if they texted him. That video caused the Oregon House to expel Rep. Nearman just one week later. All the Democratic and Republican House members voted to expel him by a vote of 59 to 1. The only Representative to vote against it was Nearman.

Why did I share this side story about Mike Nearman? He paid a price for opening the door for violent protestors to enter the Oregon Capitol Building. He was expelled from the Legislature and plead guilty to official first-degree misconduct in circuit court in July 2021. He had to pay a fine, perform community service, and adhere to an 18 month ban from the Capitol.

A photo by Brian Ettling of Oregon Representative Mike Nearman speaking to a group of Timber Unity supporters at the Oregon Capitol on June 27, 2019.

Meanwhile on the federal level, some Democratic lawmakers alleged several of their Republican colleagues conspired with January 6th Capitol attackers. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) observed some of her fellow GOP lawmakers giving unusual tours on January 5th which amounted to “a reconnaissance of the next day.” As of this writing on December 2023, no Republican members of Congress have been held accountable for actions that may have enabled the Insurrection.

When I posted about the December 21st far right incursion into the Oregon State Capitol, a friend from Missouri responded to my Facebook post, “This is incredibly troubling. I’m really hoping some of this crazy acting out will settle down without someone in the (Trump) White House encouraging it. We’ll see. I’m expecting some drama in the coming weeks leading to the inauguration, especially January 6th. Let’s hope we get through it, and the nation can figure out ways to restore sanity to our civil discourse.”

My thoughts on January 6th attack on U.S. Capitol instigated by President Donald Trump

Apparently, President Donald Trump did not get the memo for a calm and peaceful transfer of power. On January 3, 2021, The Washington Post reported a recording that was also independently obtained by ABC News from the day before of a phone call between President Donald Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In that phone call recording, Trump demands Raffensperger to ‘find’ him enough votes to win in Georgia.

Trump said, “The people of Georgia are angry. The people of the country are angry, and there’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated,” Trump said on the call. “All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have… Fellas, I need 11,000 votes, give me a break.”

This was another stunning new low of the corrupt, unlawful, bullying tactics that Donald Trump would use to stay in power. This seemed even more clear cut to me than Watergate of interfering in the democratic process. I thought he was legally finished after hearing that recording.

The January 6th insurrection and violence at the U.S. Capitol was clearly stoked by Donald Trump’s actions for months. I was at home in Portland, Oregon that day writing when I saw strange alerts about an attack on the U.S. Capitol. As I turned on the TV to see what was happening, I had not felt so nauseous and heartbroken for the USA since the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

I wrote on Facebook during the insurrection, “As an American, I am feeling very sad right now. Donald Trump can’t face reality that he lost his re-election, so he instigated his followers to breech the U.S. Capitol security where Congress was supposed to finalize the Electoral College results. It’s just shocking to see so many people who claim to be patriotic. Yet, (they) don’t believe in the rule of law, democracy, and honoring the results of a free & fair election.”

During that day, the news broke that a woman, later identified as Ashli Babbitt, was shot dead by Capitol Police as she attempted to climb through a broken door to enter the U.S. House of Representatives inside the Capitol Building.

I then posted: “Donald Trump’s political career is finished. No way he is the GOP nominee in 2024. He burned too many bridges now. This woman died because of his arrogance and mental issues that he can’t accept a free and fair election. The blood is on his hands. It is such a tragedy that this woman listened to Trump, right wing media, and her peers to be to participate with this unlawful mob today.”

Later that day on January 6th, I posted an old photo of me from November 2018 taken in front of the U.S. Capitol smiling with my Earthball. I then wrote, “My stomach felt like it was kicked in today. I have had the privilege of traveling to Washington D.C. and lobbying Congressional Offices for climate action 8 times in the past 4 years. It is one of my biggest thrills whenever I get to lobby Congress for #ClimateAction. If you ever get a chance to lobby Congress, I highly recommend it. This is a sacred place of our American democracy. It made me sick to see this unruly and unlawful mob desecrate this sacred and hollow ground. These are also sacred grounds to peacefully protest to speak truth to power in a way that respects and honors members of Congress and their staff while they try to do their jobs.”

Photo of Brian Ettling taken in from of the U.S. Capitol Building on November 13, 2018.

As an American who loves our democracy and U.S. Capitol Building, I felt assaulted by Donald Trump and his supporters by the violent insurrection on January 6th. It shook my faith that the America had a stable and solid democracy. As I watched live on TV, it looked like the American equivalent to the 1933 Reichstag Fire in Berlin that Adolf Hilter and the Nazis used to consolidate power in Germany that eventually led to World War II.

Fortunately, the U.S. Capitol Police and the U.S National Guard were able to reassert control over the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Congress was able to complete its duties to certify the 2020 Presidential election. Joe Biden would still be inaugurated as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President on January 20, 2021. I drove Tanya to work on Inauguration Day. After I dropped her off at work, I noticed a magnificent sunrise that morning. I drove to our local duck pond to get photos of the dawn sky with the silhouette of Mt. Hood in the background.

I then posted photos on Facebook with this caption, “Good morning from Portland OR! It’s a beautiful new day locally and for all of America!”

Photo by Brian Ettling of a sunrise with the silhouette of Mt. Hood. It was taken in northeast Portland, Oregon on January 20, 2021.

It was a new beginning for the U.S. that day. The good news is my wife Tanya and I live in Portland, Oregon, so Donald Trump would no longer be President at 9 am Pacific time, which was noon Eastern time. The 20th Amendment of the Constitution stipulates President and Vice President’s term ends at noon on the 20th day of January. I normally don’t watch TV, but it was on all day to absorb in our household that Joe Biden was the new President of the United States.

America survived Donald Trump and his extreme followers. Just barely. Even before January 6th, experts on democracy were calling Donald Trump’s attempts in November and December 2020 to overturn and steal the election as a ‘Dress Rehearsal’ Coup. An article for the New York Intelligencer on December 27, 2020 was titled, “Is Trump’s Coup a ‘Dress Rehearsal?’”

Among the experts quoted for this article were Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the co-authors of the book, How Democracies Die. Levitsky commented, “I worry that this whole post-election process has been the dress rehearsal.”

Levitsky cited Vladimir Lenin’s quote that the Russian Revolution of 1905 as the “dress rehearsal” for the October Revolution of 1917, which put the Bolsheviks in power. He pointed out that not only have Republicans found that “their base won’t punish this sort of behavior, they’ll likely applaud it.” He added, “none of this stuff can be unlearned.”

With Trump’s actions during his Presidency, plus his post-election attempts to nullify the 2020 election, Levitsky, Ziblatt, along with other political scientists and experts on democracy, already had their hair on fire. The January 6th Insurrection probably had them spilling their coffee.

Lisa Simpson said it well in this widely circulated meme I found (don’t know who originated it) and posted on social media on August 16, 2023:

Like many Americans, the January 6th Insurrection made me away that U.S. democracy is in a very precarious state. It’s survival really does depend upon our actions.

Organizing an Oregon legislative resolution for climate action

In 2019 and 2020, I developed good rapport with several Oregon Legislators as I lobbied them to try to pass the cap and invest bills to tackle climate change. I continued to engage with Oregon Legislators in the summer and fall of 2020. With those summer and autumn lobby meetings, I led the efforts with Oregon CCL volunteers for over 30 Oregon legislators to endorse the CCL federal bill, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA).

During one of these meetings, Oregon Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell asked if she could introduce a state resolution endorsing the EICDA. Representative Mitchell did not run for re-election. Thus, Senator Michael Dembrow proudly introduced the resolution on the Oregon Senate floor on February 4, 2021, when it officially became known as Senate Joint Memorial 5 or SJM 5.

SJM 5 passed the Oregon Senate on April 7th by a vote of 23 to 5, with 6 Republican Senators, half of the Oregon GOP Senate caucus, joined all the Democratic Senators present to vote to support it. Unfortunately, SJM 5 fell short of receiving a floor vote in the Oregon House in June 2021. It was exciting was that 30 House members, including 7 Republicans, signed on to co-sponsor it. The Oregon House has 60 members. Half the chamber was SJM 5 co-sponsors.

A screenshot Oregon Legislative website (OLIS) of the Oregon Senate vote for SJM on April 7, 2021. The Senators highlighted in green (17 Democrats & 6 Republicans) voted to pass SJM 5.

The worst part of this defeat was Oregon CCL leadership becoming very angry when the OR House Democratic Leadership refused to give SJM 5 a floor vote. After I experienced two dreadful GOP walkouts that defeated the 2019 and 2020 cap and invest bills, I never believed SJM 5 would pass until I saw it with my own eyes. The Oregonian published an opinion editorial (op-ed) from Oregon CCL leadership and I disagreed with the tone. Former Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell advised us not to publish it since it seemed to attack OR House Democratic Leadership.

I pleaded with the Oregonian and Oregon CCL leadership to re-edit the op-ed to be more gracious, but they ignored my input. Oregon CCL then organized a protest at the Capitol that I did not want to participate. It looked pointless. OR House Leadership conveyed to me in a clear message that SJM 5 would not receive a vote. The reactions of the CCL Leadership Team after SJM 5 died left me feeling disenchanted with CCL and the climate movement.

In autumn of 2021, I began writing a blog which turned into over 82 pages. It looked like a possible book with the title, Why I Quit the Climate Movement. However, that title and those writings felt too pessimistic. I set those writings aside in 2022 to work on political campaigns for state legislators. I focused on trying to elect local Democratic candidates who would protect our democracy. The violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 was still fresh on my mind. It frightened me that we came close to losing our democracy.

Canvassing for Oregon Democratic candidates in 2022

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 her campaign, and knock on doors in Oregon Senate District 26. Raz was running to represent the Senate District on the east and 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.

Self photo of Brian Ettling canvassing for East County Rising endorsed candidates in Gresham, Oregon (part of the Portland metro area) on September 21, 2022.

Sadly, Raz Mason did not win her Oregon Senate campaign. However, nearly all the candidates that I canvassed for ECR won their campaigns.

Like many Americans, I was relieved that Democrats nationwide did well in the 2022 mid term election. The Democrats were able to flip a seat to get full control of the U.S. Senate. The Republican “red wave” that was supposed to happen turned out to be a ripple with the U.S. House flipping to just a 4-seat majority for the Republicans.

Besides me, looks like many Democratic and independent voters were concerned about the future of democracy in the U.S. That was one of the top issues, as well as anger over the Supreme Court overturning abortion rights.

In 2023, I am focusing my efforts on writing blogs that I want to eventually turn into a memoir. As I wrote in the opening paragraphs of this blog, my working title for a book is From Park Ranger to Climate Activist: My Peaks and Valleys on this Journey. I hope someone would be interested in reading my life stories as a park ranger to climate organizer.

Besides focusing on my writing, I accepted an invitation to speak at my old South County Toastmasters group in St. Louis on April 19th. In June, I had a productive trip to Washington D.C. attending the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference and Lobby Day at the U.S. Capitol to have lobby meetings with Congressional offices. I even chatted with a member of Congress who knows me, Rep. Andrea Salinas of Oregon. As she was briskly walking from a committee meeting to her office, I quickly talked with Congresswoman Salinas to urge her to support a specific climate bill. On July 31st, I was featured on the Climate 4 Fun podcast.

We must save our democracy by strongly participating in the 2024 Presidential Election

For over 7 years now, historians and political scientists have rung the alarm bell about Donald Trump as a dangerous as a wannabe strong man authoritarian and autocratic dictator. One of the first experts I noticed speaking out was Timothy Snyder, the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University. In 2017, he wrote a book called On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. I first noticed Dr. Snyder on TV when he was interviewed by Trevor Noah for The Daily Show on May 15, 2017.

During that interview, Snyder’s central point was that “Germans and the Soviets and other people who saw democracies collapse were just as smart as we were if not smarter. So, it may be time to learn from them what we can do to defend democracy. That’s the book.”

I finally got around to read the book in December 2022. I thought it was a very helpful pocket-sized guidebook to stand up to tyranny. On February 8, 2023, Timothy Snyder gave a 32 minute TED talk interview “Is Democracy Doomed? The Global Fight for Our Future.”

I thought that Dr. Snyder had a very remarkable ending to this interview that ties closely to my thoughts that we can’t effectively tackle climate change without a thriving democracy. He said:

“I try really hard to make sure I am listening to my kids, because in a way, all this is all about them. Like the big collapse that could happen where democracy and climate and all these things get intertwined. I mean, one of the premises of my book…is that we will either be free and secure or we will die under tyranny. That freedom and security go together. I think that freedom, democracy, security actually go together.

If we’re going to get out from under climate change, it’s going to be as free people. And if we end up in tyrannies, those things are going to tend to accelerate climate change and profit from it so there’s a negative intertwining over here and a positive one over here.

I think that’s something that we can stress with kids. Not say, ‘Oh, you’re going to be in this terrible future where you’re going to have to choose between security and freedom.’ … I think we have to teach,

Look, if we get the freedom and the democracy part right, we can get the climate part right. And if we get the climate part right, that’s going to help us get the democracy part right.”

In 2023, I did a lot of blogging to capture my life’s story from a park ranger to a climate change organizer. In between writing my personal story, I kept stumbling across the danger that Donald Trump poses to American democracy. Such as these articles, “Don’t Say You Haven’t Been Warned About Trump and 2024” by Susan B. Glasser in the New Yorker on May 11, 2023.

Trump plans to massively expand executive power if elected, report says,”
PBS Newshour, July 19, 2023.

Authoritarianism Expert Warns Why It’s Critical To Listen To Trump’s Words Right Now,”
by Lee Moran. HuffPost on July 20, 2023.

Trump and his allies Forge Plans to Increase Presidential Power in 2023,”
by Jonathan Swan, Charlie Savage, and Maggie Haberman. NY Times, July 17, 2023.

New charges against Trump focus on lies. Scholars see an authoritarian playbook,”
by Odette Yousef. NPR August 7, 2023.

Presidential centers from Hoover to Bush and Obama unite to warn of fragile state of US democracy,” by Gary Fields Associated Press News, September 7, 2023.

In July 2023, I watched YouTube videos featuring Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who researches authoritarianism, democracy protection, and propaganda at New York University. I remember the best advice she gave for standing up to rising authoritarians such as Donald Trump. She recommended mass protests to get ‘the elites on your side.’ Historian Heather Cox Richardson advises the best way to stop Trump and the authoritarian movement in the U.S. is to “take up oxygen.” In other words, speak out that our fellow citizens know there is a threat to our democracy.

The advice of historians Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Timothy Snyder, Heather Cox Richardson and others convinced me that we need a big march supporting democracy on Washington D.C. with sister marches in other cities across the U.S. This would be modeled after the Women’s March in January 2017, the March for Science and the People’s Climate March in April 2017, as well as the March for Our Lives in March 2018. My aim was to have this march on January 6, 2024 to take back that day from the far right extremists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

On August 6th, I posted a photo of me holding an American flag seeing if anyone would want to help me organize a March for Our Democracy. I only received a lukewarm response from friends and my post did not seem to gain traction.

On August 6th, I posted a photo of me holding an American flag seeing if anyone would want to help me organize a March for Our Democracy. I only received a lukewarm response from friends and my post did not seem to gain traction.

For the rest of August and the first week of September, before I left on a 10 vacation with Tanya and her parents and other extended family to see Glacier National Park, I called up friends who are climate organizers to share my idea for a January 6th democracy march. I did not receive much of a response. One fellow climate organizer, Jill Macintyre Witt, suggested a different day since the Trump supporters might think of it as their day to march, which could cause chaos having a March for Democracy that day. I thought that was helpful feedback. I was not necessarily attached to the specific day. I just thought it was important to have a national march to promote the importance of democracy with the current threat from the Trump movement.

I gave up on the idea in September when it felt like it was going nowhere. However, that was always a dream of mine to organize a large national march in Washington D.C. After the heartbreaking loss when Al Gore did not become President in 2000, partly because of Ralph Nader syphoning off votes in Florida, I wanted to organize a national march. I first got the thought in January 2001, around the time George W. Bush was inaugurated as President.

My decades long dream to have an effective March of Washington D.C.

In October 1995, I was intrigued seeing on the TV news about the Million Man March to promote African American unity and family values. Even more, I was inspired to organize my own march after seeing on TV the Million Mom March on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2000, to call for an end to gun violence. At that time, I worked as a naturalist guide in Flamingo, Florida. My friends and co-workers in Flamingo, Sundae Horn and Rob Temple, went to Washington D.C. to attend that march. Afterwards, Sundae told me how family friendly it was with people of all ages, especially moms pushing strollers. Rob commented that when he looked around at the diverse sea of people at the march it looked like “people that you would want as your neighbors.”

Thus, in January 2001, I had a vision for a Million Green Voter March. I hoped Al Gore and Ralph Nader would attend to bring some healing in the environmental movement after the bitterness of the 2000 election. I longed to see environmentalists come together. When we are divided, conservative Republicans with dismal environmental records, like George W. Bush win.

I asked Sundae if she knew anything about who organized the march and how long it took her to organize it. Sundae replied that the lead organizer stated publicly that it took her 9 months to organize the march, “because a mom would know.”

In 2000, I read the book Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods by Julia Butterfly Hill. I marveled at her story. On December 10, 1997, she climbed 180 up to the canopy of a Redwood Tree named Luna. This tree stands on a ridge above the town of Stafford in northern California. Julia lived near the top of Luna for 738 days (over 2 years and one week) as a protest to protect that grove of Redwoods trees from the imminent threaten of getting clear cut by Pacific Lumber logging company, part of the Maxxum Corporation.

Screenshot of Brian Ettling hardback cop of Julia Butterfly Hill’s Legacy of Luna, a book he has owned since it was first published in 2000.

I remember seeing her story on TV in December 1999 when she came down from the tree successfully negotiating permanent protection for Luna and the surrounding trees from logging. I remember seeing her TV crying her eyes out as touched the ground for the first time in two years and had won her hard-fought battle to protect those trees. Since I was an environmentalist living in the Everglades, I hoped to meet her. I wanted to invite her to help me organize or at least speak my Green Voter March.

I donated to her organize Circle of Life and wrote a letter hoping to chat with her about my idea. Sadly, I just received a message from someone on staff at Circle of Life saying that ‘Julia said, “thanks” and she advises you to start small.’

I was very disappointed with her response. Even worse, I did not have any other contacts at that time to advise me how to put together a Million Green Voter march. Since it took about 9 months for the Million Mom March to happen, I thought I would plan it for September 2001. The march did not happen because I did not have any one to partner with to make it happen.

Even worse, the 9-11 terrorist attack happened in September 2001. It seemed like Osama Bid Laden really set the environmental movement back. The attention of America and the world then shifted to responding to that terrorist attack and the invasion Afghanistan and Iraq in the following years. The Million Green Voter March was not meant to be.

Who knows if I can still organize a March for Our Democracy. I want to do something big to protect our democracy in 2024. I might end up doing something big. If not, I will still be proud to canvass for local Democratic candidates in Oregon who want to uphold our democracy.

After the depressing Presidential election defeats of 2000, 2004, and 2016, I am determined to be involved in election campaigns to 2024 to uphold our democracy. I tried totally stepping away from politics in 2008. In 2012, I thought I could just make a difference by giving climate change ranger talks at Crater Lake National Park. I came to realize former Vice President Al Gore is spot on that ‘We can’t fix the climate crisis without first working on the democracy crisis.’

We simply can’t ignore or have a lack of imagination about this threat to our democracy. On October 23, 2023, Historian Heather Cox Richardson made a sobering comment in an interview she gave at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. She said:

“If former president Donald Trump or a trump-like figure is elected president or takes the presidency in 2024, we will lose American democracy for our lifetimes.”

Working on the democracy crisis, as well as lobbying for climate action, is what I will do until the Presidential election of November 5, 2024. Others, including you reading this, will need to step up to vote, organize, and support Democratic candidates in 2024 who will uphold our democracy. I am counting on you!

Please contact me if you are interested in partnering with me.

I will leave you with this internet quote meme that I recently found from Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg about the importance of protecting science and democracy.