Writing a personal letter to your members of Congress is one of the easiest climate actions you can do. For several months now, I have been writing to my Representative and my U.S. Senators about once a week.
Sadly, my understanding is that very few us of us write to members of Congress on issues that we deeply care about, such as climate change. I experienced this first hand when I have met with staff of Republican members of Congress in lobby meetings at their Washington D.C. offices. Candidly, the staff has told me: ‘We like you. We like what you are doing. However, we are just not hearing from our constituents on climate change.’
When of the biggest ‘ah-ha’ moments I had as a climate advocate was when Nathaniel Stinnett, the founder and executive director of the Environmental Voter Project, spoke on the June 2018 Citizens’ Climate Lobby Monthly Conference Call. Stinnett showed a graph (pictured below) which clearly explained why members of Congress have made climate action a very low priority up to now. When American likely voters are polled about their top concerns, climate change and the environment appeared at the bottom of the list compared to top concerns such as national security & terrorism, economy & jobs, immigration, health care, crime & public safety, etc.
According to Stinnett: “It is really important to understand is that when so few voters prioritize climate change. It impacts policy making on all sides of the political spectrum. Democrats or Republicans are not going to pay attention to an issue that voters don’t care about.”
Members of Congress are trying to triage hundreds of issues tugging at them everyday. They are like cats focusing on shiny objects. Therefore, you must regularly contact them, such as writing a personal letter, to make climate change a priority. Otherwise, other constituents are going to grab their attention on other issues.
Even worse, if you are not in consistent contact with them urging climate action, your opposition is. You better believe your opponents are in contact with your elected officials insisting that climate action is a hoax and will take away their jobs. Your adversaries have no problem making this message clear when they contact to your elected officials: they will vote against them in the next election if the elected official acts on climate.
Thus, it is vital that you to regularly write and contact your members of Congress. I love this quote by activist Maggie Kuhn: “Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.”
I do encourage you to watch this inspiring and very helpful TED talk on how to write to your elected officials by Omar Admad, the former Mayor of San Carlos, California.
Because of the importance of writing to our elected officials, I now post on my Facebook and Twitter page whenever I write my members of Congress on climate change. I want to try to inspire others to do the same. Sadly, I get very few responses when I post this on social media. My hope though is that enough people will see my posts about my letter writing and it will plant a seed for them to do the same. On February 18th, when I posted about this, my Facebook friend Jennifer Grant responded:
“At the risk of sounding foolish… this is where I know I miss the mark on this journey. When I know what I’m sending and requesting, I always do it. I don’t know where to go to understand it better (the what to send and say). That said, I have reached out a number of times and have always received a response and even met with a few. They are listening… I just want an easy resource to know when and what to send and say.”
Below are my tips for Jennifer and you for writing a letter to your member of Congress:
1. If you feel comfortable and are confident that your hand writing is legible, I would write a handwritten letter. I have heard that gets the attention of the staff of members of Congress. First, it is unusual: Who writes hand written letters anymore in the age of e-mails or typing on your laptop and hitting print? It shows the staff that you really took time to write them about an issue that matters to you.
2. Find something you genuinely admire about your member of Congress. When I lived in St. Louis Missouri, my member of Congress in the House of Representatives was GOP Rep. Ann Wagner. She set a high priority for herself to get legislation passed to stop sex traffficking. Rep. Wagner & her office work their hearts out on that issue, so they always appreciated hearing gratitude on that subject when I contacted them.
Since I moved to Portland Oregon in 2017, my current members of Congress in Oregon, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Sen. Jeff Merkley, and Sen. Ron Wyden. Lately, I have thanked them for supporting the Green New Deal to promote climate action.
3. Mention in a sentence or two how climate change has personally impacted you. I always say ‘For 25 years, I was a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Sadly, I saw the negative impacts on climate change on this international treasure with a diminishing snowpack and more intense wildfire season.’
HR 763 now has 15 co-sponsors, including one GOP, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, with more GOP co-sponsors expected to come along soon. I then talk about how this bill is effective: reducing U.S. Greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by in 12 years. It’s good for the economy: adding 2.1 million in the next 10 years, thanks to growth in the clean energy economy. It’s good for people: poor air quality caused by burning fossil fuels causes an estimated 114,000 U.S deaths each year and sickens thousands more. Additionally, the carbon dividend will put money in people’s pockets to spend as they see fit, helping low and middle income Americans. It’s bipartisan: both Republicans and Democrats are on board. A majority of Americans support Congress taking climate action, including more than half of Republican millennial voters. Solving climate change is too important of an issue to get caught in partisan politics. Fifth, the fees collected on carbon emissions will be allocated to Americans to spend in any way that they choose. The government will not keep any of the fees collected, so the size of the government will not grow.
5. I conclude by thanking them for listening to my concerns and I ask them to please respond to my letter.
6. I then sign off by saying “With much gratitude, Brian Ettling”
It takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to write each hand written letter, address it, and put a stamp on it. Please send your letter to the local district office of your members of Congress, not their Washington D.C. Offices. If you send it to D.C. It will take weeks before they will see it because it has to be screened for anthrax.
Let me know how it goes and if you have any more questions. Here’s information on the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act (HR 763):
Several months ago, my friend Naomi asked me on social media: “When you have time I would love to see some everyday things we can do to help the earth.”
Naomi posed this question to me after I announced on September 7th on Facebook of my upcoming climate change speaking events across my home state of Missouri October 9-17. I did take the time to answer her question immediately. I even responded to Naomi: “Thank you for posing this question to me. You just helped me write my next blog.”
My October tour across Missouri went amazing. I even blogged about it afterwards. However, I got distracted and busy with life, but now I am going to write out for you here:
My 8 Everyday Actions you can do to help the Earth:
1. Vote.in every single election, even in the most local races. Nathaniel Stinnett, the founder and executive director of the Environmental Voter Project (EVP) gave a very eye opening talk on the June 2018 Citizens’ Climate Lobby monthly call. Nathaniel laid out his case how politicians track likely & committed voters. When we vote, it is public record (how we vote is private). When we consistently vote, elected officials pay more attention to us. Even more, the Environmental Voter Project identified “10.1 million Americans who are already registered to vote and prioritize environmental issues, but…who simply didn’t find the motivation to get to the polls in (the 2016 Presidential) election that was decided by 77,000 votes.”
Bottom line: we must vote in every election. Then, we must educate ourselves about candidates and the issues when we vote to make voting for the Earth a top priority for politicians.
Brian Ettling and his wife Tanya Couture voting by mail in Oregon on October 20, 2018.
2. Regularly contact your members of Congress about climate change, gun control, women’s rights, civil rights, human rights, and issues that you care about. It just takes a few minutes to write a letter, e-mail or call their Washington D.C. office at (202) 224-3121. Since 2015, I have lobbied Congressional offices in D.C. When I meet with staff of GOP members of Congress, they consistently tell me that they do not hear from constituents on climate change. That has to change.
In order for our elected leaders to make climate change a priority, we must politely demand that they must make climate change a priority. One of the core values of Citizens’ Climate Lobby is this belief: “Government will respond to the will of the people, provided we tell the government what we want. Politicians don’t create political will they respond to it!”
3. Organize If your member of Congress is not listening to you and your friends, organize. President Barak Obama said it best in his farewell address: ‘If you don’t like what your elected official is doing, grab a clipboard.’
Engage the grass tops in your community (the clergy, business leaders, local elected officials, personal friends of the member of Congress and other influencers) to bend the ear of the members of Congress on this issue. Organizing works. Organizing is how Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers got every single GOP member of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus to join that caucus. This caucus began in February 2016 with just two members, GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Ted Deutch of Florida. By the time on the November 2018 mid term election, this caucus was at 90 members, 45 GOP and 45 Democrats, exchanging ideas on climate issues.
Because of Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s efforts to engage Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act (H.R.7173) was introduced on November 28, 2018. This House bipartisan bill is currently co-sponsored by 3 Republicans, Francis Rooney (FL-19), Dave Trott (MI-11), and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-08) and 4 Democrats, Ted Deutch (D-FL-22), Charlie Crist (D-FL-13), Anna Eshoo (CA-18) and John K. Delaney (D-MD-06)
Brian Ettling speaking at the Vancouver WA library on February 15, 2018.
4. Talk about climate change to your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. Americans are not talking about it in their everyday conversations. In September 2016, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication published this report, Is There a Climate “Spiral of Silence” in America? According to the report:
“Nearly 7 in 10 Americans (68%) hear other people they know discussing global warming only “several times a year” or less often, and 1 in 4 (24%) “never” hear people they know discussing it.Fewer than 1 in 5 (18%) hear people they know discussing global warming at least once a month.” Even more sad, “About 7 in 10 Americans report that they “rarely” (36%) or “never” (32%) discuss global warming with family and friends.”
Brian Ettling speaking about climate change to a class of college students at his alma mater William Jewell College, October 9, 2018.
5. Weatherize your home for the winter months and if you use AC in the summer. There is a group in Portland Oregon called the Community Energy Project that will come to your apartment complex, teach you how to weatherize your home or apartment to save money and even give you materials to do so.
6. Install solar. If you own your home or live in a condo where you own your roof, install solar. Solar is affordable and it will help you save money in the long run. It is one of the best investments you can make with an outstanding return. Plus, it increases the value of your home. Who wouldn’t want to buy a home with a very minimal or nearly non-existent electric bill.
7. switch to an electric car, if you can afford it. I briefly worked for Tesla Motors in 2018. I was very impressed with their cars. Yes, they are more expensive to buy up front. However, their range is over 200 miles, with numerous charging stations across the U.S. Think of the pleasure of never having to go to a gas station again and the savings on those cars, such as no longer having to pay for oil changes and other maintenance required on internal combustion engines.
Brian Ettling and his wife Tanya Couture test driving at Tesla Model S on December 26, 2015
8. Be hopeful. In 2011, University of California Berkeley scientists, Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer authored this published paper, “Apocalypse Soon? Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming.” This paper showed that when people were given dire messages about climate change but were not shown solutions, they were less likely to take action. However, when people were given dire messages but given solutions where they could take action, they were more likely to take action. Thus, it is always so important to stay hopeful and positive in our conversation with others. As I have been saying for nearly 20 years now:
Naomi was not satisfied with my answer.
Her Response: “Out here we need simple through more demanding actions we can take.
Including ways at home or office or at the mall! Things that help think about bringing our green bags to buy produce or is paper or plastic really better? We need people like you who have studied this to show us how we live our commitment to a healthier earth with spending our lives washing out diapers or sorting recycling. As you know there is too much pushing us to waste. How do we make efforts that make a difference but don’t exhaust us?”
My answer :
“Here are my simple solutions: vote, regularly contact your members of Congress to support a price on carbon, engage your local grasstop leaders to persuade them to contact Congress, regularly engage your friends & family on the subject of climate change and exchange solutions how to act, weatherize your home, invest in an electric car to help usher that vehicle revolution, install solar on your home and if you cannot demand your utility gets its energy from 100% clean sources, and spread messages of hope and solutions.
Economists from across the political spectrum tell us that we need a price on carbon to help us alter our behavior. Products should be priced for their full cost of pollution to society. Yes, Citizens Climate Lobby is showing that it can be done.
Yes, do bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store. That is great! I have been doing that for over 20 years. Yes, do recycle as much as you can. I have been doing as much recycling as I can since I was a child. Yes, do buy less and use less consumption of products. I try to buy second hand as much as I can.
However, my thoughts are that we must push for systematic change and that will also inspire us to also make individual changes. As Al Gore said over the the past decade, “As important as it is to change your light bulbs, it is even more important to change the laws.”
The cool thing is that when one invests in weatherization, solar, electric vehicles, buying second hand as much as they can, consuming less, etc, you save $money$. Conservatives get that too. When we frame it for them that weatherization, solar, electric vehicles, and consuming less saves them money in the long term, my experience is that they are all ears.
The simpliest way to not exhaust people is to put a price on pollution and give people back monthly dividend checks so they can see the benefits. That is my answer.”
Naomi did not comment anymore about this topic after my last answer to her.
Thus, I hope I was able to answer for her and others: My 8 Everyday Actions you can do to help the Earth right now.
Looking for a great way to promote climate action? Speak at your old college and high school.
This is exactly what I did when I embarked on a speaking tour across his home state of Missouri from October 8 to 17, 2018. During his tour, I spoke at My alma mater William Jewell College (class of 1992), University of Missouri in Columbia MO, St. Louis Community College, Oakville High School in St. Louis (I graduated from Oakville in 1987), and St. Louis University.
I am a native St. Louis resident, born there in 1968. My wife, Tanya, and I moved to Portland, Oregon in 2017. Upon graduating from William Jewell College in 1992 with a degree in Business Administration, I became a seasonal park ranger for 25 years at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon and Everglades National Park, Florida. While working in these national parks, I discovered climate change negatively impacted these international treasures. 10 years ago, I became so alarmed I made it my life’s mission to take action on climate change. I quit working my winter job in Everglades National Park in April 2008. I still spend my summers working at Crater Lake, but I decided to move back to my home of St. Louis during the winters to start public speaking, organizing, and writing this blog about climate change.
One of my first public climate change talks, speaking at my nephew Sam’s grade school in February 2010.
During those winters in St. Louis, I made the first steps down this path as a climate change organizer. I started giving my own climate change talks and created this website in the spring of 2010. I joined South County chapter of Toastmasters International to become a better public speaker in January 2011. I worked at a climate change exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center from March to May, 2011. and I co-founded the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet Up group with local businessman Larry Lazar in October 2011. During these meetups, the St. Louis chapter leader with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) encouraged get in involved with CCL in St. Louis in 2012. In addition, I became trained as a Climate Reality Leader in San Francisco in August 2012.
Since 2012, I have given over 200 climate change talks as a seasonal park ranger, Toastmaster, Climate Reality Project Leader, and a volunteer for CCL. With all of my speaking, writing, and organizing on climate change, I caught the attention of my alma mater William Jewell College last year. In December 2017, William Jewell College formally invited me to give their Truex Economic Lecture for October 9, 2018. For my topic to address an economic solution to climate change, I chose to speak on a topic I know well: The Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax. I have given this talk around Missouri since 2014, emphasizing CCL’s carbon fee & dividend is the best market based solution to address climate change.
Brian Ettling speaking at William Jewell College, October 9, 2018.
An audience of over 220 William Jewell College students, faculty and nearby community members came to this talk. The professors of economics required their students to attend my talk to write a paper afterwards on their thoughts on carbon fee and dividend as a solution for climate change. During this talk, I encouraged the students to take action by getting involved directly with CCL or Citizens’ Climate Higher Education. I invited volunteers from the Kansas City area group of Citizens’ Climate Lobby to attend. 3 local CCL volunteers attended, included Kansas City area group leader David Mitchell. It was great to see Dave again since I was his mentor at the Climate Reality Training in Chicago in 2013. These local CCL volunteers handed out flyers and sign up sheets to encourage William Jewell students, faculty and local community members to get involved with CCL.
I was very thrilled with my talk since I was able to cover my life since graduating from William Jewell as a park ranger and climate change organizer. Old college friends came to my talk such as Valerie Adair Gallup and Lester Morris. Penny Mahon, my mentor from 2012 San Francisco Climate Reality Training, attended. The college recorded the talk and loaded on YouTube. My microphone did not work that night, so you do have to listen very closely to hear my audio on the video. However, I was still very happy with the result watching the video recently.
A Jewell professor passed along to me positive comments from the students, such as:
“I liked that he used his talk to spread awareness of climate change and I learned that people are taking action to fix things. Climate change is a big deal and its only going to get worse without change.”
“As a student at Jewell, I have learned to think critically, but more importantly differently than others. It seems that Ettling, a Jewell graduate, was making a call to action for Jewell students to take their liberal arts education and make the change that people seek to see in the world.”
“I learned a lot from this Truex Lecture, and it is my favorite one I have attended as student here at Jewell. I was inspired by what Brian had to say, and will make an attempt to impose these ideas on my elected officials, to hopefully make a change for the better, and a change for the future.”
In addition to that lecture, the William Jewell professors teaching the Ecology Class, Immigration Class, Outward Bound Leadership Class, and Philanthropy Class asked me to be a guest speaker in during their classes on October 8 & 9th. They asked me to speak about my experience as a park ranger and how this motivated me to become involved in the climate movement. A highlight for me was giving a climate change talk for the Immigration Class to talk how my understanding how global warming is making the global refugee worse.
Brian Ettling speaking at the Immigration Class at William Jewell College. October 8, 2018.
Ironically, in December 2017, around the same time that William Jewell asked me to speak on their campus, University of Missouri (MU) in Columbia MO invited me to come to their School of Natural Resources to speak on climate change. A doctoral candidate & research assistant at the MU School of Natural Resources, Lisa Groshong, heard me speak in Jefferson City MO in March 2017. She asked me to speak on the same topic that I spoke about in Jeff City: Is Climate Change Impacting Our National Parks? Over 45 MU students, faculty members and community members attended this talk at MU on October 10, 2018.
From the December 2017 invitations from William Jewell and MU, I had the beginnings of a tour across Missouri. My next step: I approached St. Louis Community College to allow me to teach a 3 hour Climate Change 101 continuing education class for the local St. Louis community residents to learn about this issue. I started teaching this class in October 2012. I taught that class every fall since then, except for 2017 when my wife and I moved to Portland.
Brian Ettling speaking to students at William Jewell College. October 9, 2018.
For this 3 hour class on Saturday, October 13th, I taught about the science and threat of climate change. I then spent a lot of time in the class focusing on solutions on what they can do. Specifically, I asked my class attendees to get involved with Citizens’ Climate Lobby. 11 people attended this class. They were so inspired by my information that everyone in the class filled out CCL constituent comment forms. On these forms, the students asked local member of Congress, GOP Rep. Ann Wagner, to take action on climate change and join the House Climate Solutions Caucus.
In organizing this tour, I was not satisfied teaching my old class at St. Louis Community College when coming back to my home town. In August 2018, I reached out to the high school I once attended, Oakville High School (class of 1987), in south St. Louis County, to ask if I could give climate change talks to the students. The school principal and the Head of the Science Department responded to my offer with much enthusiasm. The teacher who chairs the science department at Oakville High School asked me to speak 7 times for 2 days from October 15 & 16 for groups of high school students ranging in size from 100 to 200 students. I ended up speaking to around 1,000 high school students at Oakville High School. The theme of his talk was Caring for the Earth is Up to You!
Brian Ettling speaking at Oakville High School. October 16, 2018.
For this talk, I shared how I became a park ranger after graduating from college. I talked about what a typical day is like as an interpretive park ranger and the skills & education needed to obtain this park ranger job. I then explained how I saw climate change threaten the national parks where I worked, which led me to become a climate change organizer. I then asked the high school students if any of them were interested in writing on postcards asking Rep. Ann Wagner to join the Climate Solutions Caucus. Over 160 students, raised their hand and ended up writing on postcards addressed to their member of Congress.
I plan on taking these postcards from the students, plus the completed constituent comment forms from the participants of my St. Louis Community College class, to Washington D.C. in November. I will be attending CCL’s 2018 Congressional Education Day, where we will be lobbying Congressional offices at the Capitol on Tuesday, November 13th. I intend to present these postcards and letters to Rep. Ann Wagner’s staff during a lobby meeting. My hope this can help create political will For Rep. Wagner to eventually join the Climate Solutions Caucus.
Brian Ettling with his completed postcards from Oakville High School students. October 16, 2018.
In September, while still planning this trip, a friend of mine who is a climate science professor at St. Louis University (SLU), Dr. Jack Fishman, invited me to speak SLU during my trip. Dr. Fishman and I agreed I would speak at SLU on Wednesday, October 17th. For this group of SLU science major students, my topic was How to speak with someone who disagrees with you about climate change. Two local St. Louis area CCL volunteers came to show their support. They were among the 50 SLU students, faculty members and local community members who attended my talk.
To generate publicity for this tour and my speaking events, I wrote 2 letters to the editor that were published in October in St. Louis neighborhood newspapers, Oakville Call and Webster Kirkwood Times. Independent St. Louis radio station KDHX 88.1 FM did an Earthworms podcast episode with host Jean Ponzi interviewing me that was released in early October.
Furthermore, KMOX 1120 AM, the largest news & information radio station in the St. Louis area, recorded a 6 minute radio interview with me highlighting my climate change organizing and St. Louis area events.
This tour was a dream come true for me to travel across Missouri to promote climate action. I felt like I had received such a quality education from Oakville High School and William Jewell College. Thus, I wanted to repay what I had learned. Even more, I hoped to inspire a new generation of students the way that I was inspired by the teachers, professors, and guest speakers I encountered during high school and college.
Furthermore, I hope my tour it inspires you to travel across your home state to promote climate action and speak at your old high school and college. From the sweet memories of my tour, I believe it can be a very rewarding experience to return to your old high school and college inspire students to act on climate. I encourage you to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone to reduce the threat of climate change by going home.
“I believe that life should be lived so vividly and so intensely that thoughts of another life, or a longer life, are not necessary.” – Marjory Stoneman Douglas, ending sentence of her autobiography Voice of the River.
Wednesday, July 18, 2018, I turn 50 years old. This is something I am trying to come to an understanding with this new number. My 50th birthday is a celebration of life, a chance to reflect on my achievements, accomplishments and adventures in living. Yet, I am still very unprepared for the future. I am still a child in many ways that was sheltered most of my life. I still have such a lack of understanding how to relate to the world, plan for retirement, and become financially secure.
It is a milestone of a new decade of life, just like all of the previous start of the decades announced big changes for me.
The pivotal years of my birth, age 10, 20, 30, 40 and now age 50.
1968. It was a rough emotional pregnancy for my mom. My mother and father really wanted a son and I was a planned pregnancy. However, when my mother was pregnant with me, the world was in turmoil. The peak of the Vietnam War was happening. My dad was in the Army reserves. There was still a chance his unit could be called up to serve in the war. My dad got lucky. His unit was spared. Over a million American men, mostly draftees, were rotated to serve in Vietnam for up to one year the U.S military by the beginning of 1968. military by the beginning of 1968. Months before my birth, the Tet Offensive happened, which marked a turning point in the war when the American public started to serious doubt the war could be won. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in Memphis, with riots resulting in cities across the United States. My parents were very worried for their safety with potential unrest my hometown of St. Louis, MO. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated immediately after winning the California Democratic Primary. With all of this happening, it is no wonder I was born 3 weeks late. I probably did not want to come out into a very dreadful and bleak world.
1978. My first very conscious reckoning with mortality. My grandfather Arthur Johnson Sr. passed away just a few months after my 10th birthday. I will never forget the homemade 8mm movies he was filling on my birthday. I tried to reach up to touch the camera, but he was too tall for me to grab it. He was an amazing man that everyone seemed to admire. He was a Baptist Minister who was an excellent public speaker and superb one on one conversationalist. He created a wonderful natural rapport with people that everyone who knew him seemed to love and admire him. He had a deep love for life, traveling, looking his best, people, and sports. He really wanted to be like him. It was jarring shock when he died very suddenly of a heart attack in November. I still hoped he would be around for years to learn from him. It was very hard to comprehend then and to this day how someone could be gone from life so incredibly quickly. It was the first time I had to think about how my family members or I will not live forever.
1988. I started attending William Jewell College, located close to Kansas City, MO. I graduated from Oakville High School just south of St. Louis in 1987. I felt like I was no where near ready for college so I took a year off in between. During that time, I worked as a cashier in a gas station and traveled briefly to New York and Boston with my Mom. I did a road trip with a friend to Pittsburgh, starting to test my own independence just a bit. I celebrated my 20th birthday in Alaska on a family vacation. We were at the Anchorage Zoo for the exact time and date of my birthday. It was the first time I was outside the contiguous United States. I really loved the mountains and scenery in Alaska. I talked my parents into taking Amtrak trains from St. Louis to Seattle then flying from Seattle to Alaska. On the train trip from out west, we did an Amtrak train route that no longer exists going through the Columbia River Gorge that separates Oregon from Washington. I was so blown away by the mountain scenery and tall pine trees that I knew I wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest someday.
Immediately upon arriving in college in 1988, I became involved with the College Republicans. As a result of my leadership on campus with the College Republicans, I got to meet Governor John Ashcroft in January 1990.
Then Missouri Governor John Ashcroft with Brian Ettling. Photo from January 1990.
1998. In January, I started working as a naturalist guide narrating boat tours in Everglades National Park, Florida. This was my first job performing public speaking to large groups. I explained about nature they were seeing and engaged park visitors on the importance of protecting our natural environment. For the first time in my life, I started getting questions on global warming. Park visitors coming to the Everglades asked me questions about it. I knew next to nothing on that subject, and visitors expect park rangers to know everything. It was starting to plant seeds in me to start reading up on it so I could be versed in my answers. I knew I wanted to stretch myself out a little more to be adventurous with my life. On the exact time and date of my 30th birthday, I paid to swim with dolphins at a dolphin education center, Dolphins Plus, in Key Largo. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life to interact so closely with these very intelligent and playful animals.
2008. By January 2008, I knew it was going to be my last winter season working in Everglades National Park after working there off and on for 16 years. My mentor Steve Robinson, who worked in Everglades National Park for 25 years as well as Crater Lake for around 16 years, passed away from pancreatic cancer in October 2007. It was 6 weeks after his initial diagnosis of cancer. Friends of Steve jokingly called him the Lorax of the Everglades. Steve had an incredible brilliance of understanding of the Everglades Ecosystem and his eloquent way of explaining to park visitors and anyone who would listen why it should be protected. I was in a daze for a year after his death. His mortality made me re-exam my own life to push my own activism up to the next level. I wanted to carry forth Steve’s message of protecting our Earth and environment since he could no longer share that message. In 2008, I was burned out of the south Florida climate, flatness, long drive to spend the winter in south Florida. Even worse, as a single man, it seemed like I was not going to find a wife there.
By 2008, I had read a number of books on climate change. I saw the film An Inconvenient Truthand read the companion book in 2006. I knew I needed to do something on climate change, but I did not know what. I was very clear though that I was not going to find the answer by continuing to work winters in the Everglades. It was time for me to move on with my life. Thus, I said goodbye to the Everglades at the end of April 2008. I vowed never to return to Florida until I was invited back to speak on climate change and share my story. That dream came true when I was invited to Tampa, Florida in February 2016 to speak at the Florida Regional Citizens Climate Lobby Conference. My topic was the importance of storytelling when talking about climate change and I got to share my Everglades story.
When I came to work at Crater Lake National Park for the 2008 summer, I told the lead naturalist ranger, Dave Grimes, and our boss Eric Anderson, the Supervisor of Interpretation, that I wanted to do some kind of ranger program on climate change. Both were very supportive and excited about my vision. With their support, I started doing more research which led to me switching my evening program to climate change in the summer of 2011. For my 40th birthday in July, I celebrated with a big group of friends at Crater Lake at a nearby Mexican Restaurant.
That October, mutual friends of Steve Robinson, Jeanette Gilbert and John Broward, who also also knew from working as rangers at Crater Lake and Everglades, invited me to visit them on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was my first time traveling outside of North America in 19 years. In January 1989, I visited Germany with a high school friend. I really loved spending time in Europe to get a different perspective of the world. For this Hawaii trip, I really went after stretching myself out of my comfort zone. Jeanette and John took me snorkeling over a Hawaii reef. I tried and loved parasailing.
Even more, outside of my comfort zone, I tried surfing. It was one of the scariest actions I ever did because I do have a fear of being in deep water over my head, especially water where I cannot see the bottom. I do not have a great sense of balance. I am not a strong swimmer, which I quickly learned is vital for successfully surfing. I had my instructor very worried the waves were going to push me into the rocky reefs with all of my struggles trying to learn to surf. He would not give up on me. Finally, I did it. I briefly stood on the board, balancing well and surfed a small ocean wave. It was one of the most sublime and coolest experiences of my life.
I proudly have that picture of me on the surf board showcased prominently wherever I live.
Yes, I had skydived twice in 2007. However, I really did come out of that experience thinking “If I can briefly learn to surf, I can do anything if I set my my to it.”
I returned home to St. Louis that November starting a new seasonal job at Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI), closing for good the 16 year chapter of working winters in Everglades National Park. I did not know what adventures or paths were ahead for me, but I was determined to chart a new course with climate change.
2018. In January, KMOX radio host Debbie Monterrey did a profile interview with me about my climate change work for KMOX News and Information Radio, which has the largest listening audience of any radio station in St. Louis, MO area. My parents listened to KMOX since before I was born. This is a very conservative radio station, which has played Rush Limbaugh for 3 hours a day, for almost 25 years now. It felt like a big breakthrough for me to be on KMOX to promote climate change action.
in February 2016, my friend Abhaya invited me to Tampa, Florida to speak at the Florida Regional Citizens Climate Lobby Conference. This was a fulfillment of a dream for me to return to Florida for the first time in 10 years to speak on climate change. I shared my story how I first learned about climate change while working in Everglades National Park and how my time there sparked me to pursue my passion to work for the rest of my life for climate change advocacy.
March 2018, my friend Roberta invited me to speak at the Boise, Idaho Greater Pacific Northwest Regional Conference for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Roberta wanted me to speak on the importance of story telling with climate change. Besides my story telling talk, I also gave a recap of the Oregon Stewardship Tour I led in October to November 2017. These talks marked the 10th state I had given a climate change talk in the past 10 years, as well as giving a climate change talk in Ottawa, Canada in 2016 and Washington D.C. in 2017.
February and April, I spoke to my the largest audiences I could recall on climate change. February 8th & 9th, I gave talks at Covington Middle School to over 250 6th to 8th grade students over two days. On April 16th, my friend Daniela Brod and I spoke to over 800 students at St. Mary’s Academy all girls Catholic High School in Portland, Oregon. St. Mary’s Academy was probably one of my most enthusiastic audiences ever in my 10 years of giving climate change talks, which felt beyond amazing.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby Volunteers Brian Ettling and Daniela Brod
For the first time in 26 years, I did not work my summer job at Crater Lake National Park. I was determined to find a job in Portland, Oregon where I now live with my wife. For the first time, I was working for a job outside of my ranger identity and not working seasonally for the National Park Service. In February, I started a job selling solar panels for Tesla Energy. It was a very huge and painful transition for me going from being a popular ranger that the public adored at Crater Lake to a salesman in Home Depot where most people did not have the time or interest to chat with me. It was a tremendous obstacle for me to go from people approaching me all day as a ranger to having to actually approach people in Home Depot who were not keenly interest in talking to me.
Because of my support wife Tanya and a very supportive boss Mike, I did end up succeeding in the job. I exceeded the company required sales goals for March and April. By the end of May, my supervisor informed me that I was ranked 50th out of 350 employees for the number of home solar appointments booked. I hit a positive strive of booking Tesla Energy Advisors scheduled to come to customers homes in the Portland OR and Vancouver WA area to chat with them about creating a custom solar system for their home. Sadly, Tesla laid off my supervisor, the Advisor Manager, their regional boss and 9% of Tesla’s staff, mostly in the Tesla Energy Division in June. My job got transferred to Tesla Motors, located just south of downtown Portland. Sadly, that job was not a good fit for me with the hours, commute, work environment, work culture, so I decided to leave that job one week ago. Just like 2008, who knows what adventure or path lies ahead for me next.
“Life Begins at 40”
As a child, I hated it when my parents’ friends would say, “Life begins at 40.” As a child and teenager, 40 years old felt so old. However, looking back at my own life, I do believe that expression rings very true for me. I did not discover my passion for climate change until I was nearly 40. Even more, all of the actions I took for climate change happened in my 40s. My proudest life accomplishments are my climate actions, which all happened in my 40s.
Looking back on my life, I was very depressed and full of angst as a teenager, 20 something adult and into my 30s trying to figure out my purpose and passion for my life. It was not until I discovered climate change that I truly knew what I wanted to be.
If I could go back, what would say to my 40 year old self looking to make some impact on climate change?
Advice I would give to my 40 year old self
If I could go back to 2008, I would say to my younger self:
“Believe in you and keep your eye open for opportunities and people to meet because you will accomplish far more than you can even envision right now.
Things will start very slow for you, but hang on! Don’t give up.
Your friend Amelia Bruno at Crater Lake is encouraging you by now to apply for a Climate Reality Training lead by former Vice President Al Gore. I know you feel like you don’t know enough about climate change to apply, but you know more than you think. Be confident of your background. You can do it! You will eventually attend a Climate Reality Training in San Francisco in August 2012, but why not start now? You know this is your passion.
June 2008, National Park Service (NPS) Interpretation Program Manager in the Alaska Region, John Morris will give a an amazing talk at Crater Lake on climate change . Great guy! Get a copy of his climate change talk! Develop a friendship with him. See if you an network with him about attending a Earth to Sky Climate Change Training that is co-sponsored by NASA and the National Park Service to train park rangers how to engage park visitors on climate change.
September 2011, You will eventually attend the Earth-to-Sky V Training in because of your connection with John Morris. Check with John to see if you can attend an earlier training you can. If not, The Earth-to-Sky V Training in will still be a life changing event for you to learn more about the science of climate change and effectively communicating it to the public.
In November 2009, your friend Naomi will advise you to grab the title, website domain of The Climate Change Comedian. Do it! It will eventually open more doors than you know, such as putting you on national TV. You will start working on your own climate change powerpoint talk in January 2010 that will provide a template for all of your future talks. It’s ok to start earlier if you want! In March 2010, you will start sharing your climate change talk with family friends. You will share it again at Crater Lake with your ranger friends in August 2010.
April 2010, you will create this Climate Change Comedian website with the help of live long family friend John Dantico. The website will be helpful for fleshing out your Climate Change Comedian role and as a way for people to find you on the internet.
In January 2011, you will join the South County Club of Toastmasters International. You will give your first speech in February 2011. Your second speech in March 2011. Your third speech will be in May 2011. It will be the first time of many you will be voted by your fellow Toastmasters as “Best Speaker.”
Overall, from your involvement in Toastmasters from January 2011 until you move to Portland in February 2017, you will win Best Speaker from Toastmasters 8 times out of 20 speeches. You will go on to win Awards such as Competent Communicator, Advanced Communicator Bronze, and 2nd place in a club evaluation contest. Nearly all of your speeches will be about climate change. Roughly a third of the audience will be very hostile to the message of human caused climate change. However, they will still give you helpful tips to be a better speaker. Even more, they will great ideas for speeches as they try to argue with you their worldview that human caused climate change is not real.
You will start writing this blog in February 2011. I would encourage you to even start earlier than that date and write more often. Each day, try to write to crystalize your thoughts and develop, refine, and act on your plan of action.
You will reach a breakthrough in your life when you land a job at the St. Louis Science Center at their Climate Change Exhibit in March 2011. The exhibit will open months earlier in January 2011. Can you try to apply for openings for this exhibit as soon as it is available? If not, this job will still change your life drastically. It will really help educate you on the basic science of climate change, and you will begin to find ways to effectively engage grade school students to adults on this exhibit. Through this exhibit, you will meet St. Louis businessman Larry Lazar.
In August 2011, things are really happening for you as a climate activist. You started giving your climate change evening program Crater Lake National Park. You will continue giving this talk at Crater Lake until you stop working there in September 2017. With the help of Crater Lake fellow rangers Dave Grimes and Darby Robinson, you are able to film and upload it for YouTube in September 2012.
That same month you start your evening program at Crater Lake, August 2011, a friend from the Everglades, Sundae Horne, will introduce you to her friend Tom Smerling, who had just set up a website Climatebites.org just months before. Tom you I will chat by phone that August and you started contributing writings to his website in October 2011. Over the the period of the next 5 years, you contribute over 216 writings or Climatebite posts to the website which enables you to become a better climate change communicator as you collect these soundbite messages and metaphors.
Tom Smerling and Brian Ettling
December 2011, Larry and you will have your first meeting of the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up. At our meet ups, Carol and Tom Braford from Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) will start showing up. Carol keeps asking you to join her monthly meeting with CCL. She will be very persistent. Finally, you go to a CCL meeting at her house in May 2012. You immediately join CCL and make it your life’s mission to start a CCL group in Southern Oregon while you are working at Crater Lake that summer. You keep networking until you find a few somewhat interested people. The southern Oregon chapter of CCL has their first official group start meeting in January 2013.
Meeting of the Southern Oregon chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, September 2013.
September 2011, from the recommendation of John Morris, you attend the Earth to Sky V: Communicating Climate Change Conference in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. It will change your life to experience climate change talks from NASA climate scientists, such as Dr. Peter Griffith, Dr. Bob Cahalan, Dr. Gavin Schmidt, Dr. Patrick Gonzalez, and many other top speakers. You will gain ideas for climate change talks that you will still be using many years later, such as the talk from Dr. Peter Griffith explaining how understanding climate change comes down a banana vs. a piece of coal. Dr. Griffith posted his own YouTube video with this simple analogy how an influx of old carbon (coal) is adding to the new carbon (banana) in our atmosphere. This additional carbon into our air supply is upsetting a natural balance of the carbon cycle. That is what is causing climate change on a very basic, simple to explain level.
Brian Ettling with NASA climate scientist Dr. Peter Griffith
Brian Ettling with NASA scientist emeritus Dr. James Hansen. Photo taken at AGU in San Francisco in December 2011.
At the winter 2011-12 monthly meetings of the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up, a beautiful woman named Tanya shows up interested in the group because of her interest in science. You ask her out for coffee and to practice one of your climate change talks. You actually don’t start going out for coffee until December 2012 and you start dating in February 2013. You end up proposing marriage to her on Christmas Eve, 2014 and getting married on November 1, 2015. Your passion for climate change and co-founding the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet Up group with Larry Lazar will help you eventually find the wife of your dreams.
In April 2012, Yale Change Connections (YCC) publishes an article you wrote, Communicating Climate Change in a National Park. It is the first time you are published on a scholarly academic based mainstream website. YCC publishes articles, radio stories, videos, and webinars to hep the public understand how climate change is already affecting our lives. It does this by telling the stories of the individuals and organizations building a more sustainable world. You will meet Bud Ward, Editor of YCC just months before at AGU. Ironically, you approach Bud for networking to pursue my path with a career climate change communications. He will say to you on the phone, “I am not sure how I can help you. However, I do have a self serving request: Can you write an article for my website?”
August 2012, you attend your first Climate Reality Training in San Francisco, CA. It is a life changing experience to see former Vice President Al Gore for the first time and see his climate change presentation. Even more, you get a copy of his slide deck that you use in presentations for many years to come. You make many friends and strong connections with other Climate Reality Leaders. At this training, you, Larry Lazar and Dr. Lucas Sabalka end up collaborating and giving several climate change talks in the St. Louis area.
November 2012, you teach your first 3 hour climate change 101 Adult Continuing Education Class for St. Louis Community College at the Meramec Campus. 8 people will attend, including your parents and younger sister. The class participants will have lots of great questions for you. Furthermore, you will have such an enjoyable experience teaching this class that you will teach this class for St. Louis Community College many more times over the years, including October 13, 2018.
November 2012, NASA will invite you to speak at their workshop at the 2012 National Association of Interpreters (NAI) Convention in Hampton, Virginia. You will speak about what it is like to present climate change ranger programs in the national parks. This will be the first time you get an expense paid trip to travel outside of Missouri or Oregon speak on climate change.
December 2012 – You will join with St. Louis volunteers of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and CCL Communications Director Steve Valk for an editorial board meeting with the St. Louis Post-Distpatch. This meeting persuades the Post-Dispatch to write an editorial on December 27, 2012 endorsing Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend, Save the planet. Save Social Security.Save Medicaid. Tax carbon. This meeting will inspire you to eventually submit your own opinion editorials that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ends up publishing.
Brian Ettling, Carol Braford, Tom Braford, Steve Valk, and Lucas Sabalka in front of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Office Building.
May 2013 – Your friend Pete Peterson invites you to be a speaker to give your climate change ranger evening program at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium at the South Rim Village of Grand Canyon National Park. Over 200 people are in attendance for this ranger program.
August 2013, Climate Reality Project selects you to be a mentor for their 2013 Chicago Training. This will be the first of 6 times and counting that you will be a mentor for a Climate Reality Training. You end up mentoring over 17 people at this training and staying in contact with some of them years later.
Brian Ettling and Climate Reality Leaders he mentored at the August 2013 Climate Reality Training
August 2013 will also mark the first time of many times that you lobby a Congressional office for climate action. You joined the volunteers of southern Oregon Citizens Climate Lobby to lobby the staff of Rep. Greg Walden and Sen. Jeff Merkley to take action on climate change.
Brian Ettling with volunteers from the southern Oregon chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby meeting at the Medford, Oregon District Office of U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley
January 2014, You will make your first YouTube climate change humorous video with your girlfriend and future wife, Tanya Couture.
February 2014, The video with Tanya will then inspire you to make a video with your mom. These videos, along with another video you create with your Mom and Tanya and a video you create with your Dad, Mom, and Tanya will eventually catch the attention of Comedy Central’s Tosh.o.
April 2014 – Along with Larry Lazar and Dr. Fishman, you will do your first radio interview on the local St. Louis NPR radio station on their program, St. Louis on the Air, to promote climate change action. In the same week, you also also do a radio interview about climate change on Earthworms radio show: St. Louis FM 88.1 KDHX. Even more, you will get another opinion editorial published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, For Earth Day: Asking our elected officials to be climate heroes.
Larry Lazar, Brian Ettling, Don Marsh (Host of St. Louis On the Air, and Dr. Jack Fishman at the St. Louis NPR radio studio.
May 2015 – At the Climate Reality Training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, you get a chance directly speak to Al Gore. You get to address the elephant in the room. The one question everyone seems scared to ask: Asking Al Gore directly how to respond to his critics. Even more, you get a chance to shake hands with him. He directly looks you in the eye and thanks you for all of your climate change efforts. On top of all this, you get your picture taken with him. Because of the depth his answer, you receive this incredible gift: a robust response to conservative Toastmaster friends critical of Al Gore.
Brian Ettling meeting former Vice President Al Gore on May 7, 2015.
April 2016 – Comedy Central’s Tosh.o flies you, your Mom, and Tanya to Los Angeles for your Mom and you to do a comedy sketch taping with host Daniel Tosh for an episode of Tosh.o that airs in August 2016 promote your work as the Climate Change Comedian.
November 2016 – You return for a second time to lobby in Washington D.C. This time, you get to have a conversation about climate change with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri.
Brian Ettling meeting with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri.
In addition, two weeks later, Cathy Orlando invites you to speak at the Canada Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference and Lobby Day. Your wife Tanya gets to join you for this trip. You get the experience of lobbying Canadian members of Parliament for climate action. This will be your first time speaking on climate change outside of the United States. After these trips, you then blog about 8 Lessons learned from lobbying Washington D.C. & Ottawa, Canada 2016-17.
Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling in front of the Centre Block Canadian Parliament Building, November 28, 2016.
March 2017 – You no longer live in Missouri. Your wife and you moved to Portland, Oregon in February. However, you return to Missouri to give presentations on climate change in Jefferson City over over 100 people and Kirksville MO for 60 people. In addition, you help organize 3 meetings with District staff of MO members of Congress. During this tour, Ladue High School student Ian Mason is able to video tape your Jefferson City talk. Ian is then able to take that video and the interview he will recorded with you to turn it into a video presentation report for the Global Student Square website. Your mini-Missouri Citizens Climate Lobby Tour generates a couple of newspaper articles, including Jefferson City News Tribune and Kirksville Daily Express.
Your speaking tour even creates a bizarre but funny political cartoon in the Jefferson City newspaper on March 30, 2017.
Additionally, in March 2017, you will be a breakout speaker for the Day of Action at the Climate Reality Training in Denver, Colorado. At the beginning of this training, Climate Reality President & CEO Kenneth Berlin will mention you and two other Climate Reality Leaders in his opening remarks to an audience of almost 1,000 people as good examples of Climate Reality Leaders. Below is his slide when Ken will use to acknowledge you when he has you stand up in front of the entire audience.
April 2017 – You attend a town hall for Rep. Greg Walden in The Dalles, Oregon. You get to ask him a question in front of several number people about acting on climate change, specifically inviting him to join the House Climate Solutions Caucus. The audience catcalls him when he hedges on giving an answer. Afterwards, you get to shake hands with him.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (OR-02) shaking hands with Brian Ettling
June 2017 – You are a breakout speaker for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby International Conference in Washington D.C. Even more, you co-lead a breakout session with fellow Climate Reality Leader Madison Adkins at the Bellevue Climate Reality Training.
July 2017 – The companion book for the upcoming film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, has a picture of you on page 314 as part of its collage of pictures of examples “some of the 12,000 Climate Leaders giving presentations around the world.” Below is the picture they used. It was taken when I spoke at john knox presbyterian church in Florissant, MO from when I spoke there on April 26, 2015.
October to November 2017 – You are the lead presenter for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Oregon Stewardship Tour. You will end up traveling over 1,600 miles in your car over 12 days. Your tour will go to over 11 Oregon cities in eastern, central, and southern Oregon. You will end up speaking to over 180 Oregon constituents, not to mention the people who will hear you on two radio interviews you do on Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon. Your tour will also generate several newspaper articles, such as the Bend Bulletin and Klamath Herald and News. Best of all, your tour will generate a big stack of constituent comment forms to present to staff of Rep. Greg Walden when you lobby his office in Washington D.C. as part of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Education Day.
Again, Brian of 2008, be at peace. You will accomplish more than you can envision.”
Mark Twain once said “You should live life so fully that even the undertaker will be sad when you go.”
I doubt I am at the point yet where the undertaker would be sad when I am gone. However, I do feel like I have accomplished much happiness in pursuing making a difference on climate change. I know I will be eventually sad someday in the future when I am no longer able to organize, lobby, write, and take action on climate change.
In order to learn how to live, one must learn how to die
A big transition that happened somewhere from my late 30s to now is making peace with my immorality or that there may not be one. When I was a child, I was raised as a Lutheran within the Christian faith. I was obsessed about making sure I was going to heaven and living a life to make sure I had treasure in heaven, as the Bible puts it. A life so impactful to make the afterlife even more rewarding. I have always been obsessed over making a difference in the world to be judged well in the afterlife. Along the same line, I wanted to live a life so robust and fulfilling that it would inspire others and make an impact in the world.
Two friends helped me make peace over not obsessing over an afterlife but to just live the best life that I can.
One day, a friend Sheryl said something to me that was very jarring to hear with my worldview, but it was so liberating to hear. She said to be in a very calm and relaxed tone, “I have made peace with the fact that when I die someday. That’s it. There is no afterlife. I just simply die.”
I had never heard anyone say that in such a confident yet gentle and humble way. It gave me a sense of peace that there may not be an afterlife. That’s ok. Life is a gift. Enjoy the gift while you can. When it is over, it is over. I don’t have to obsess while I am alive over what is when I am gone. I remember having Sheryl repeat the thought and even explain more about her way of thinking so I could absorb it. However, I understood it immediately and it felt very liberating. I felt very blessed that Sheryl had shared that thought with me.
It was an a-ha moment for me. It was re-affiriming what I had read in 1993 the final line in the autobiography of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. She wrote: “I believe that life should be lived so vividly and so intensely that thoughts of another life, or a longer life, are not necessary.”
When I was raised as a Christian as a child into my teen years, it always bothered me within the Lutheran thought that some people were going to heaven and others weren’t, based upon God’s judgement. That judgement depended upon whether one accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and asked him to forgive their sins. If they did not do this, most Christians think non-believers are going to hell. Yet, that thought always bothered me. What about people like Marjory Stoneman Douglas who spent their whole lives trying to work for social justice, equality and a healthier environment, yet they were atheists? I could not fathom an afterlife where Marjory Stoneman Douglas was in hell. Yet, there are people who are Christians who commit very evil acts because they can or in the name of their religion. However, in Christian thought, they are going to heaven. It just made no sense for me.
Good friends like Sheryl and influential authors like Marjory Stoneman Douglas were showing me that there does not have to be an afterlife. Enjoy this moment in the here and now.
At the same time, I still struggled with what happened with my life once it is gone, especially if there is not an afterlife. A spiritual teacher, Naomi, that I regularly saw over over many years from my 30s into my 40s helped me be at peace with this thought.
She explained to me that even after I die, my life force will still carry on influencing the lives of others. I found this to be extremely comforting especially with my climate change work. Hopefully, the energy of my work with my organizing, writings, and interactions with others will still influence the world when I am no longer here. Hopefully, all of my blog writings such as this will be saved. Even if they disappear after a time, hopefully that energy I conveyed of striving to live in more harmony with our planet with continue on to influence others. Just as my mentor Steve Robinson’s energy of speaking out to take care of our planet lives on in me after he passed away in October 2007.
On this post, I enjoyed looking back at at last 10 years and 50 years of my life. I hope you have enjoyed taking this journey with me.
Now I am looking forward to my next 10 years. I sure hope to do something big in my 50s, like giving a TED Talk. If life begins at 40 and my life certainly felt like it did, I am eager to see what my 50s and beyond have for me. Let the adventure begin!
“Climate Change is like the World Naked Bike Ride. Once you see it, you cannot unsee it.” – KB Mercer, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteer from Portland, Oregon.
June 12, 2018, I was in Washington D.C. as part of Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s 2018 International Conference and Lobby Day. Over 1,200 volunteers from across the United States and other parts of the world gathered in Washington D.C. for two days previously for a conference to prepare for lobbying over 500 Congressional offices that day. CCL’s goal for every lobby meeting is to train its volunteers to effectively ask members of Congress to support CCL’s carbon fee & dividend proposal. During the conference, all of us met in practice meetings to have plans of actions for effective meetings with each of these Congressional offices.
KB Mercer was the designated leader of this meeting with staff of Rep. Earl Blumenauer. 5 CCL volunteers, including me, were assigned to this meeting to assist KB. By the time the Tuesday lobby day had arrived, KB had a detailed organized plan for everyone’s role in the meeting and exactly everything we were going to say. The only thing I was not anticipating was KB’s opening statement at the start of this lobby meeting.
It was obvious before the meeting with her touch of nervousness and steel determination that KB planned a big attention grabber. She knew beforehand she wanted to start off the meeting with humor and a metaphor that would hook the attention of this Congressional staff, even if Rep. Earl Blumenauer is known to take a very strong position to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Combating Climate Change.
Caught totally off guard, I nearly fell off my chair laughing, when she started off the meeting with her quote:
“Climate Change is like the World Naked Bike Ride. Once you see it, you cannot unsee it.”
Since October 2011, I had collected and contributed over 200 humorous and sticky messaging soundbites and metaphors to the website Climatebites.org. I must say I had never never a funnier climate change soundbite and metaphor than what KB just stated. As a side note, I tried to turn KB’s quote into a Climatebite, but I could not get past technical glitches on the website to save my a post I created to capture KB’s quote. Therefore, I decided to put it here on my blog instead.
KB’s hilarious metaphor of connecting the searing image of climate change to being unable to unsee the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) was certainly a sticky and unshakeable image. Full disclosure: I have never been to this event, which was held in Portland on June 23, 2018. According to Portland WNBR’s website, “Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is just one of nearly 100 documented Naked Bike Rides that happen all over the globe.”
Thus, it appears from KB’s observation that seeing the WNBR is an image that you will never forget. Very similar for me, climate change is an image that I just cannot unsee. From personally seeing it from sea level rise in Everglades National Park, reduced snowpack at Crater Lake National Park, and flooding in my hometown of St. Louis MO, climate change is an image that I cannot shake out of my mind. Therefore, I must act.
Because my personally experience of seeing negative impacts on climate change in our national parks and my hometown, I have volunteered with CCL since May 2012 to do what I can to have break throughs in my personal political power.
Since then, I have traveled to Washington D.C. 5 separate times to meet with numerous Congressional offices to lobby them for climate action. One of the highlights for me with my involvement with CCL is all of the friends I made over the years, such as KB Mercer. I can easily say that I have learned so much from their actions and words, including this quote KB made at the start of the Rep. Earl Blumenauer meeting that I still can’t get out of my mind!
Hopefully, your own personal climate change experiences you have witnessed or stories you have heard from others or from the media are something that you cannot unsee will inspire you to act on climate change. Even more, I hope it will inspire you to contact your member of Congress to ask them to act on climate change.
Finally, do consider joining us with Citizens’ Climate Lobby to lobby Congressional offices in Washington D.C. or a Congressional District office by your home. Our dress code for lobbying is strictly professional business clothes. Yes, please do not wear what you might dream of wearing or not wearing to a World Naked Bike Ride! However, as you can tell by KB’s creative quote, we do have a lot of fun when we lobby for climate action.
(This blog is the text of the speech from that conference. Here is a video of that speech)
Your story is vital for engaging people on climate change.
George Marshall, the British climate communicator not to be mistaken for the American World War II General, stated on the April 2015 CCL monthly international call:
“Science is not what persuades people. It’s the stories they hear from the people they trust.”
George Marshall, a British climate communications specialist and writer. Image source: climateconviction.org
What’s your story?
This is something we work on and practice at the Climate Reality Trainings. Who here has attended one of those trainings?
Like getting involved with CCL, I highly recommend attending a Climate Reality Training which are led by former Vice President Al Gore. He shares his climate change presentation and teaches you how to give it. It can help you take your climate activism to a new level.
Brian Ettling and Maddie Adkins speaking at the Climate Reality Project Bellevue WA Training, June 29, 2017.
A friend from Climate Reality, Eric Torres shared the story in 2007 that someone he mentored told him that it was not enough just to just give Al Gore’s climate change talk. He wanted to start an organization to lobby Congress on climate change. Eric advised this Climate Reality Leader to go for it. Do you know who that Climate Reality Leader was?
Brian Ettling with Citizens’ Climate Lobby Founder, Marshall Saunders
Anyway, we practice really hard on our personal story telling and these trainings so we can more effectively communicate about climate change.
I was a mentor at the Climate Reality Training in Houston Texas in August 2016. We were going around the table practicing our stories. One older woman, Jane Stackhouse from Portland OR, really started biting her lip and you could see she was getting irritated. When it was her turn to practice her story, my friend Jane yelled at me:
‘Brian, I don’t have a story! I just saw An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. I then decided to reduce my driving and ride my bike!’
I then responded: “That’s it! That’s your story! You got it!”
Climate Reality Leader Jane Stackhouse and Brian Ettling
Everyone here has a great story of giving involved in the climate movement, whether you are a mother, a truck driver, a business owner, a soldier, a student, etc.
What’s my story?
I was a seasonal park ranger in Everglades National Park, Florida and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon for the past 25 years. Around 20 years ago, I started giving ranger talks. People expect park rangers to know everything, don’t you?
Ranger Brian Ettling giving a ranger talk at Crater Lake National Park July 2015.
Visitors in the Everglades started asking me about this global warming thing. I knew nothing about it. Visitors hate it when a park ranger tells you: ‘I don’t know!’
Thus, like any teacher, I had to spend my spare time reading about it. It really scared me. I learned that sea level rose 8 inches in the 20th century, which is 4 times more it had risen in previous centuries. This century, due to melting of glacial ice in Greenland and Antarctica, sea level could easily rise over 3 feet. That would spell doom for the Everglades because the highest point on the park road is only about 3 feet above sea level. Here I was on my off days canoeing to see the alligators, crocodiles, manatees, dolphins and birds in the Everglades. It made me sad to think this precious wildlife habitat could be lost forever.
Thus, I quit my winter job in Everglades National Park in 2008, exactly 10 years ago this April, to spend my winters in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri to organize on climate change. This eventually led me to get involved with Citizens’ Climate Lobby 6 years ago this May.
What’s your story?
Think about your story, but also think about closely listening to other people’s stories.
To become a good storyteller you must also become a good listener. Listen closely to your listener’s story to find common ground. As CCL tries to teach us with lobbying: being better listeners than talkers. Being more interested than interesting.
Roberta D’Amico, organizer of this conference, and I both come from a National Park Service background. Those of us who lead ranger talks in national parks are called Park Interpreters. Basically, we are interpreting the national park, monument, battlefield, or historical site for you.
What is our goal in giving our ranger talks? We want to find a way to inspire our audience to care and protect these national treasures. We do this with an interpretive technique called universal concepts. These are concepts that all human beings have in common on a basic level.
Universal concepts include items in our talks such as love, patriotism, security, determination, courage, and victory over incredible odds, obstacles and opposition.
For the past 12 years at Crater Lake National Park, I have given a ranger talk about our park founder William Gladstone Steel. In May 1870, William, as a Kansas school boy, he read a newspaper wrapped around his lunch about the discovery of Crater Lake. His family moved to Portland, Oregon (yeah) in 1872 and he made a mental note to see Crater Lake someday.
In August 1885, He set out to see Crater Lake. He took the train down from Portland, Oregon to Medford, Oregon. It then took him three days to reach the lake. He walked 20 miles, arriving on August 15, 1885.
For Will Steel, it was love at first sight to see Crater Lake. He made it his life’s mission to make it a national park. Keep in mind in 1885, there was Yellowstone. That was it.
It took him 17 years to make this dream come true. He made numerous trips to Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress. Keep in mind in 1886 there was no Portland International Airport. He had to take many train trips across the continent to Washington D.C. He became such a fixture a the capitol that Senators and Congressmen would duck around doors and hallways to avoid him. They probably told him: ‘Will Steel. Get lost! We are not turning your little lake into a national park.’
Will Steel would not give up. At one point, he said, “I got licked so much that I learned to like it.”
Because of his steel determination, Congress finally made Crater Lake a national park on May 22, 1902.
Image Source: Brian Ettling
Think of this next time you lobby your member of Congress on climate change. It took 17 years. That is the same amount of time to raise a child. William Steel won because he loved Crater Lake so deeply.
That’s his story.
What’s your story?
This is how we are going to win on climate change: by sharing our stories. With our family, with our friends, with our neighbors, our co-workers, and with each other here tonight, sharing our personal story on climate change.
Never underestimate how valuable your personal story is.
“A man or woman could hardly ask for a better way to make a living than as a seasonal ranger or naturalist for the National Park Service.” – environmental author Edward Abbey.
For the past 25 years, I have been a seasonal park ranger at Everglades National Park, Florida and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. Let me start by saying I write the blog as a private citizen, not as an employee of the National Park Service (NPS) or federal government. The opinions I express here are strictly my own and not necessarily shared other park rangers or the NPS.
When asked, this is my answer to recent Trump Administration actions:
You own our national parks. When you go to national parks, you expect to hear the truth on slavery, Jim Crowe, women’s rights, gay rights, the importance of wildfires, Japanese internment during WWII, treatment of Native Americans, the re-introduction of wolves, and climate change.
If you go to Mt. Vernon and ask the ranger: ‘Did George Washington own slaves?’ If the ranger said, ‘Oh, that is just too controversial to talk about,’ that would be totally unacceptable.
It is the same thing with climate change. If you go to a national park and ask a ranger, ‘How is climate change impacting your park?’, you should be able to get an honest answer. Never accept it if they want to shy away from it. If they refuse to talk about it because a directive from anyone higher in their chain of command, complain immediately. Immediately write, e-mail and call that national park, your member of Congress and the Director of the Department of Interior. We cannot allow censorship in our national parks.
Even more, I have shared this thought with friends:
“Park rangers have to follow the orders of our superiors, including the Secretary of the Interior and the President of the U.S. Thus, if they tell us that we can no longer talk about climate change on the job, we have to obey them. I am not sure yet if recent actions by the Trump Administration is a directive for NPS rangers to stop talking about climate change. However, at the very least, it creates a chilling effect. This is why anyone who cares about climate change must still ask ranger about climate change. It is your right since you own our national parks.
When I wear that uniform seasonally from May to October, I am just a loyal employee. If any ranger told you with climate change or any science or historical subject, ‘We are not allowed to talk about that,’ that is not acceptable. Don’t take it out on the ranger, because they are following orders. However, do contact that park, NPS, the Department of Interior and your member of Congress to tell them that is not acceptable. Thank you for letting me share this with you.”
On a interview profile with radio host Debbie Monterrey of 1120 KMOX AM radio station that aired on January 6, 2018, Debbie asked me directly: “Just recently on the news, President Trump went to Utah and made a big announcement that was apparently popular with some politicians and not necessarily popular with others about scaling back some of Utah’s national monuments and I could not really remember a time when somebody had done that before, like ‘here is a national monument. Nope, we are taking it back.’ What is your feeling on that? Does Utah need more protected space or not?”
My response “I am speaking here today as a private citizen, not as an employee of the National Park Service. What I like to tell people is that you are basically as an American Citizen an owner of our national parks. You get to determine how big or small they are. You get to determine how well they are protected, what kinds of commercial services they get to have on them. It is ultimately your choice and your determination.
As park rangers, we are basically foot soldiers. We have to follow orders. We have to go with the park that has been given to us and what our managers, and what Congress, and ultimately the U.S. President tells us to do. So, what I would recommend for people to do is to get involved. Study up on the national parks and our natural areas, and figure out the best ways that you want them protected.”
Brian Ettling recording a KMOX profile interview with radio host, Debbie Monterrey.
Bottom line: If you love and want to protect our national parks, learn about them. Keep yourself informed about threats they are facing. Act when you see they are being threatened by contacting your member of Congress, voting, and organizing with your friends and family.
It is not to park rangers to protect our national parks and the planet, it is up to you.
I love this sign we have at the Crater Lake National Park Interpretation workroom:
But, what about your career as a park ranger?
A few days ago, my friend John Davis from Climate Reality Project, expressed his fear to me that I could jeopardize my seasonal park ranger job by speaking out publicly about climate change. I appreciated John’s deep concern because It is always a temptation to return to my job as a seasonal park ranger. I would certainly not want to harm that amazing possibility for me. However, this was my response to John:
“I don’t want to necessarily return to my job as a seasonal park ranger. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely loved being a park ranger, but I do want to move on with my life. I may change my mind in April when I need to make a decision. However, I live with my wife in Portland. I would rather work locally here. My dream is to organize, write, and lobby full time on climate change. That is my dream now.
I have done everything I have wanted to do as a park ranger. There is not any regrets or really any more boxes for me to check off. I got to do a climate change talk for 7 seasons as a park ranger and speak to thousands of people. The program is recorded on YouTube. Ryan Zinke or anyone else cannot take that away.
I saw the impacts of climate change in the national parks and now I want to be an advocate and organizer for change. I feel like I did my part. Now my advice to everyone is: YOU own our national parks. You ultimately decide how big or small they are, how well they are protected, how much they are impacted by climate change, and if the rangers can freely and honestly address the subject of climate change in their ranger talks.
As I continue to tell friends, feeling helpless or hopeless is not an option with the Trump Administration. You have to stand up and fight for what you think is right. Don’t back down. The health and future of our national parks and our planet is at stake.”
John and other Climate Reality friends seemed happy and relieved by my comments.
Expanding my life beyond being a park ranger
If you talk to most of my park ranger friends, I am a very odd duck. Most of them are living their dream being a park ranger. They are very happy in that role. They want to make a career out of it and have that good 401K plan available when they retire. Thus, they don’t want to go out on a limb and say anything risky that could harm their careers. I have nothing but respect for my friends that are doing this. Many days I am jealous of them for having a steady job and path for a solid financial retirement. However, that is just not me.
20 years ago, I lamented to a fellow ranger friend Tim after giving a ranger talk that I would really like to be an environmental activist. My friend Tim replied: ‘Then you probably should quit your job as a ranger and become one.’
At the time, Tim’s words stung because I loved being a ranger. Deep down, I knew Tim’s words were true. I was never going to be fully happy as a ranger because I like pushing the envelope. I like being a change agent and organizing for environmental action. Park rangers are foot soldiers who are loyal to the National Park Service mission “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Brian Ettling leading a ranger led canoe trip in Everglades National Park around 2006.
It is not a park ranger’s job to advocate for environmental policy or action. Rangers who lead public talks and programs are called Interpretation rangers for good reason. We are simply suppose to interpret the meaning, significance, history, wildlife and impacts happening in our national parks and connect it to visitors’ values. For example, we can tell you that climate change is a threat to our national parks. Thus, we should take action to reduce this threat on our national parks. However, it is not up to the park ranger to endorse or suggest actions. The park visitor is sovereign to agree or disagree with the park ranger’s interpretation and then decide for themselves how to respond with action.
As a park ranger, I did my best to uphold and respect this principle tenet. However, as a concerned citizen, I always knew I wanted to do more beyond this as a climate change organizer and activist in my free time and off season.
Brian Ettling appearing with TV host & comedian Daniel Tosh, on his TV show Tosh.o on August 2, 2016
My supervisor at Crater Lake has advised me against making waves. However, I do like making waves and making an impact. That is when I am happiest.
A quote inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr goes, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’
I feel I like must speak out on issues such as injustice, inequality, and climate change as a private citizen in ways I cannot speak out as a park ranger. I must do all I can to reduce the threat of climate change and I cannot feel like I can fully do that just as a park ranger. Hence, this blog.
Even more, it has been a dream and struggle of mine for years to transition from a park ranger to a full time climate organizer, writer and lobbyist. It is still my struggle trying to make a living calling this deeper calling of mine. However, it is my dream, passion and overwhelming desire to make this happen.
I want to live by the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote:
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
For climate action, never forget: you own our national parks
As a seasonal national park ranger and a private citizen, my response will always be:
You own our national parks. It is up to you and your actions to protect them.
Hopefully, this blog and my life will somehow inspire you to take actions to project our precious national parks and our planet.
Even more, may these quotes which inspired me over the years to act, inspire you:
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it” – Robert Swan, British polar explorer and environmentalist.
“Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.” – Carl Sagan, American astronomer and science communicator.
“So many of us don’t realize that we are the government. I like to call it ‘the God of they,’ as in, ‘Oh, they’ll fix it.’ No, it’s up to us.” – Photographer Clyde Butcher.
Finally, I have been saying for almost 20 years now: THINK GLOBALLY, ACT DAILY.
In the 1992 critically acclaimed film Malcom X by Spike Lee, a white college student on the campus of Columbia University approaches Malcolm X. She tells him that she supports his struggle and asks. “What can I do to help?”
“Nothing,” Malcolm says coldly, and walks away. Director Spike Lee ends the scene showing the hurt on the young woman’s face. Some days I feel the same as that college student following my passion to make a difference on climate change. It has been very tough for me to find mentors to guide me on this path.
So many people or visible hands helped and shaped my climate story
As I blogged about previously, I knew back in 2007 while working in Everglades National Park in Florida that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life making a difference climate change. I envisioned myself giving speeches, organizing, writing, doing research, etc. I put together my first climate change talk in 2010. Yes, many people have helped me along the way encouraging me with my passion and challenging me to take bolder actions.
One highlight: My friend Naomi Wolff and I were brainstorming on what I should do with my life in November 2009. The conversation got intense as she prodded me on what I really wanted to do. Finally, I blurted out: “Fine! If I could do anything, I would be The Climate Change Comedian!”
Naomi then let out a big hearty laugh and said: “You go home right now and grab that website domain.” I did and it led to his website, which I first built with my friend John friend in 2010. The website led to this blog, which I started writing in February 2011. My wife Tanya rebuilt this website and blog in 2016 and she has helped me maintain it ever since then.
When I gave myself the The Climate Change Comedian title, I had to come up with a talk. On my own and without any help, I came up with first powerpoint Let’s Have Fun Getting Serious about Resolving Climate Change. I started sharing this talk with family and friends in the spring of 2010. That winter, my sister Mary booked me to give climate talks at my niece and nephew’s schools.
My mom suggested I join Toastmasters International, which ended up being very helpful for me. I joined South County Toastmasters in January 2011. By the time, my wife Tanya and I moved from St. Louis to Portland Oregon in February 2017, I gave 20 climate change speeches to that club. My fellow club members voted for me 8 times as best speaker for those speeches and I reached the level of Advanced Communicator Bronze in January 2017. I was blessed to make lots of friends in this club, some of whom are staunch conservatives deny human caused climate change, who mentored me on how to be a better public speaker.
In February 2011, I stumbled across a temporary climate change exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center, called Climate Change: The Threat to Life and a New Energy Future. I was totally determined to work in that exhibit as a volunteer or paid staff. Fortunately, they hired me in March and I worked at the exhibit until closed in May. I absolutely loved that experience of taking extensive notes on the text all of the displays and videos.
In addition, I attended the accompanying Science Center lectures about climate change. That lead me to meet St. Louis businessman Larry Lazar. We started getting together for coffee in September 2011. That lead to us forming the St. Louis Climate Reality meet up group in October 2011, which met regularly with speakers to discuss the science and solutions to climate change.
Brian Ettling and Larry Lazar from January 2012.
For a couple years, my supervisor at that time at Crater Lake National Park, Eric Anderson, encouraged me to put together a climate change ranger talk. The lead naturalist ranger at Crater Lake, David Grimes, supported my efforts as I researched and put together this talk. Finally, I debuted this talk on August 3, 2011. Grimes videoed this talk in September 2012. I uploaded on YouTube soon afterwards.
Even more, John Morris, Interpretive Program Manager for the National Park Service (NPS ) in the Alaska Regional office, advised me to apply to attend the September 2011 Earth to Sky V: Communicating Climate Change Training, co-sponsored by NASA, National Park Service, and Fish & Wildlife Service. Thanks to John’s guidance, that conference was very enlightening for me to hear top NASA scientists describe the science of climate change. The scientists generously provide graphics, power points, images and tips to communicate about it more effectively.
At our winter 2011-12 our St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up monthly meetings, Carol Braford from Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) kept showing up. She was very persistent with inviting me to attend a CCL monthly meeting. Out of curiosity, I attend her meeting in April 2012 and immediately became involved CCL. I eventually became the co-leader of the St. Louis CCL group, co-coordinator for Missouri CCL, a guest breakout session speaker at their June 2017 International Conference in Washington D.C, and the lead presenter for the 2017 Oregon Stewardship Tour.
Brian Ettling’s talk in Lakeview, Oregon on November 1, 2017 as part of the Oregon Stewardship Tour.
Since 2007, fellow Crater Lake ranger Amelia Bruno suggested I get trained by Al Gore, since he led trainings on giving climate change talks. In August 2011, I searched the internet and found former Vice President Al Gore’s group, The Climate Reality Project. They did a feature on their website on Climate Reality Leader Carolyn Treadway, from Normal, Illinois. I then googled her, got an e-mail address and phone number for her business. I called her and sent an e-mail trying to reach out to her.
Carolyn and I did chat by phone and I expressed my eagerness to be a Climate Reality Leader. Carolyn then generously contacted the Climate Reality Project to put in a good word for me to be trained as a Climate Reality Leader. At the time, there was no upcoming trainings in 2011, but Carolyn helped put me on the radar for the organization. Thanks to Carolyn, and other Climate Leaders like Dr. Peter Joseph, Brian Bozek, I was able to attend my first Climate Reality Training in San Francisco in August 2012.
I do know from going down this path and having so many people help me that mythology expert Joseph Campbell was correct. He observed:
“When you are on the right path, invisible hands will come to your aid.”
Only these hands, were never invisible. They were all very visible. I am very appreciative of all of them and many others who encouraged me.
Brian Ettling and Maddie Adkins speaking at the Climate Reality Project Bellevue WA Training, June 29, 2017.
Looking for a climate mentor
Climate Reality Project assigned Penny Mahon to be my mentor and for 8 others at the Climate Reality Training at their August 2012 San Francisco training. I really liked Penny a lot. Very kind, gentle, a great listener, always very positive, with big warm smile. Even more, her daughter Maully Mahon, in her 20s, was at our table to be mentored by Penny. That was a great sign that she had positively influenced her daughter to attend. Even more, Maully was looking very pregnant at that time and eager to be a mom. Thus, there was a good chance there will be 3 generations of Climate Leaders in this family.
Penny did the most important thing that a Climate Reality Mentor could do: she made me and all of her other mentees feel very welcome and part of the community during the training. With Penny’s positive and warm personality, this appeared to be very natural for her. It was not a show or an act. Penny is a librarian in Prairie Village, Kansas. I have no doubt that if you walked into her public library, you would get the same exact welcoming treatment. I always tried to emulate Penny’s welcoming and friendly style when I was then a mentor for 5 Climate Reality Training from 2013 to 2017 and hopefully more in the future. I will always be grateful for her.
Penny Mahon, Brian Ettling’s mentor from the 2012 Climate Reality San Francisco Training.
Penny and I are still friends, but I did not seek her out much as a mentor after the training. I was very busy with my summer park ranger job, Toastmasters, Citizens’ Climate Lobby and giving joint Climate Reality talks with Larry Lazar. Plus, distance kept me from staying in contact with her. She also seemed to be very busy with her library job and being a new grandmother. She was the best mentor she could be for me, but I was searching for something deeper.
I contacted Climate Reality Project to see if I could have an additional mentor to help take me to the next level as a climate change organizer, writer, speaker, and leader. However, Climate Reality Project wanted me to stick with Penny, my original mentor. I understood their rational, but I was still longing for a mentor. I longed for a teacher to help me be more effective and feel more fulfilled with my climate change passion. I was going to have to keep searching.
Looking for a mentor within Citizens Climate Lobby
As soon as I became involved with Citizens’ Climate Lobby in May 2012, I met lots of highly focused people that I wanted to be around, get to know and learn from them. On that May 2012 conference call, Executive Director Mark Reynolds started the call quoting from Dr. Peter Joseph, the group leader from Marin, CA.
This amazed me because I had Peter met in San Francisco just 5 month before at a party while I was attending the AGU Fall Meeting. We just happened to attend a Union of Concerned Scientists party and we struck up a conversation. Peter mentioned that he was a Climate Reality Leader, trained by Al Gore. I knew I wanted to be a Climate Reality Leader also so I exchanged business cards with him and I made sure to keep in touch.
Mark Reynolds began this call with this Peter Joseph quote: “Action is the antidote for despair.”
Dr. Peter Joseph and Brian Ettling at the 2012 Climate Reality San Francisco Training.
I knew then that Citizens’ Climate Lobby was the climate organization I had been seeking my whole life. I immediately tried to make that Peter Joseph quote into a climate bite. As I was writing that climate writing for Climatebites.org, I found on the internet that Joan Baez was cited for that quote. I then contacted Peter to ask if it was him or Joan Baez that originated the quote. Peter then laughed and responded: “I probably gave Joan that quote.”
A couple years later, I asked Peter Joseph if he could mentor me since he was so deeply involved with CCL and Climate Reality, but he was just too busy and not interested. I encountered that same reaction a lot over the years from friends and people I really admired within CCL: just too busy and not really interested in mentoring me. I never gave up in asking folks. I still want to be much more effective as a climate leader, organizer, writer, and public speaker. I have taught myself a lot by trial and error and I have met so many supportive people over the years. Yet, I still felt like I was missing a teacher or mentor to help me reach a higher level.
My frustrations trying to find a mentor or teacher in 2017
In 2017, I did have so many personal breakthroughs. In January, over 100 people attended a St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up even I organized to listen to Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer Jay Butera. He talked to us how he orchestrated the House of Representatives bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. I traveled back to Missouri to give climate change talks in Kirksville and Jefferson City. Climate Reality invited me to be a guest speaker at a break out session at their June Bellevue Training and for their day of action at their March Denver Training. Citizens’ Climate Lobby allowed me to be a guest speaker for a breakout session at their June international conference in Washington D.C. I was on the road for 12 days in October as the lead presenter for the CCL Oregon Stewardship Tour.
Brian Ettling with Ladue High School student, Ian Mason, who interviewed Brian for Global Student Square.
In that blog, I shared one example how I approached a successful author and organizer on climate change and other social justice issues. I e-mailed him last spring to asked if he could advise me more sometime as a mentor. I shared, “I really do want to take advantage of this life opportunity to do all I can to make a difference on climate change.”
His response was a bit of a letdown. “It’ll be hard for me to take on one-on-one time. Just moving beyond your comfort zone with (climate) coaching should do the trick. If you want to organize a one or two session book group by Skype on (my book) just let me know.”
I then recounted another example that is just too painful to rehash here. I could share other stories how I have been kept at bay by people in the climate movement I really admire.
I do keep pressing forward and view setbacks and letdowns as temporary events.
The vital importance of being a mentor
In that same April 2017 blog, I relayed how astrophysicist and renowned science communicator, Dr. Carl Sagan befriended a young teenage Neil deGrasse Tyson. Carl Sagan briefly helped Neil deGrasse Tyson in such a way that it made an impression for Neil for a lifetime.
This is how Dr. Neil deGrass Tyson summed up the experience:
“I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become. He reached out to me and to countless others. Inspiring so many of us to study, teach, and do science. Science is a cooperative enterprise, spanning the generations.”
The life lesson for him:
“To this day I have this duty to respond to students who are inquiring about the universe as a career path, to respond to them in the way that Carl Sagan had responded to me.”
As much as I can, I really do try to make myself available for others who do seek me out for advice and knowledge. I always think of it as a deep honor and a high priority for students and young adults to come to me needing quotes and stories for their school projects or just advice.
I have not been perfect, but I really do try to strive and make a conscious effort to be there for those seeking my help.
Over the past 5 years, I had the privilege to be a Climate Reality mentor at 5 trainings, mentoring over 70 people. I did my best to be as welcoming and helpful as Penny to my mentees during the trainings. Afterwards, I made sure they had my contact information they could call or e-mail me anytime. Over time, some people that I trained ended up as amazing climate leaders and organizers on their own. They did not seem to need my mentoring. Others, just dropped out from acting on climate change because of work or life. That is still good because hopefully the training and my mentoring still had a positive impression on them somehow.
Brian Ettling with the Climate Reality Leaders he mentored in Bellevue WA in June 2017.
My hope in the blog is that it will speak to others in the climate movement to please be available to those seeking you out as a mentor or for advice. Don’t blow people off.
You may think I have taking many actions on climate change and I did not really need a mentor. I did so much without one. However, it still hurts deeply when people brush me off because I was sincerely seeking their help.
If we are going to be successful at reducing the threat of climate change, we must reduce our carbon emissions down to zero in this century and even draw it out of the atmosphere. Just as important: we need to groom and inspire present and future leaders who will guide us to achieve this. If they need your help, find ways to be there.
If you don’t have time to help them or don’t think you can be helpful, be honest. Even more, suggest someone who can help them. Be a matchmaker for a potential mentor and someone who wants to be mentored. Be on the lookout for students seeking teachers and teachers seeking students to help.
An old Zen Proverb says: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
My proverb: ‘When the student is ready, do what you can to help that student find that teacher.’
How you can help me find a mentor
If you are reading this and don’t think you can mentor me, no problem. Please keep your eyes and ears open to someone you think can.
If you think I have done great without a mentor and I still don’t need one, that is your opinion. You can still be supportive and helpful. Just don’t downplay my longing to find a mentor to be the most effective climate organizer, writer, public speaker, and leader that I can be.
If you think you can mentor me, e-mail me at email@example.com.
This is where I need help from a mentor or teacher:
1. This is my life’s calling to work full time on climate change. Unfortunately, it does not pay the bills or provide for a stable lifestyle. How can I find a way to get paid following this calling?
2. Should I set up my own foundation so I can pursue my passion?
3. Is there a way to pursue my passion within a climate organization or should I strike out on my own?
4. I have written a lot of blogs and for others websites over the years. Is there a way to turn my writings into a published book where I could get some royalties?
5. If it is better for me to go my own way with my own organization or foundation, do you have advice on fundraising?
6. I am starting to get requests to travel outside of my home in Portland to speak. How can I get paid for doing that?
7. Should I go to graduate school to further my education as a climate change organizer?
If you don’t any answers to these questions, I won’t hold it against you. Please share this with someone who might. Sometimes in life when we don’t know what to say to another person, we start advising them for not knowing what else to say. I am certainly guilty of that myself if you know me. Before rushing to automatically respond, just think about the best way you might be able to help me before responding. I will take prayers too!
For effective climate action, help and mentor others looking to act on climate
There was a reason why John Lennon wrote the song Help! at the height of the Beatlemania. As he talked about in interviews years later, he was crying out for help. The stress and fame of the Beatles, especially on tour, was getting to be to much for him.
I am crying out for help in this blog also. Not just for me. I want to cry out also for others really looking to make a difference on climate change, but they don’t know how to do it. They are scared of the nasty consequences that climate change could bring and happening now. Therefore, they do want to act now. Do take these folks seriously. I worry that in the climate movement we focus sometimes too much on climate deniers, the fossil fuel industry and our own feelings of helplessness and despair. Yet, we could be ignoring people who are saying: ‘Sign me up! What can I do? How can i be part of the solution?’
Please be open to help those people be effective.
When thinking about climate change, I am reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr talking about the “The fierce urgency of now.”
In a speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, he said:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.”
Like the young blonde female college student asking Malcom X, “What can I do to help?”
Don’t ignore her.
When people, including me, ask: ‘What can I do to help reduce the threat of climate change?’, be ready for an answer, support, and be that mentor. If you don’t have an answer, that’s ok. Do what you can to help them find that mentor.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
2017 was a big year for me to lobby members of Congress for climate action. I went to Washington D.C. twice to lobby four Congressional offices each time with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) at their June International lobby day conference and their November Lobby Education Day. I was not alone. The June conference had over 1,000 volunteers and staff in attendance and the November conference over 600 volunteers and staff with CCL.
In March, I lobbied the District Office of Rep. Ann Wagner in St. Louis, MO, the District office of Sen. Claire McCaskill in St. Louis, and the district office of Sen. Roy Blunt in Columbia MO. In November, I and the District Offices of Rep. Greg Walden in Bend and Medford, Oregon. In addition, I attended a town hall meeting for Rep. Greg Walden in The Dalles, Oregon in April where I was one of the first people in the audience to ask a question to the Congressman. Of course, I asked about climate change.
Rep. Greg Walden shaking hands with Brian Ettling
Many people I encounter think I am crazy and it is a waste of time to engage Republican members of Congress on climate change. Most recently, I went to a screening of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power in Ridgefield, Washington. Over 100 people attended to see this film and audience discussion at The Old Liberty Theater in Ridgefield on the night before Thanksgiving. When the question and answer portion started, as usual since I am not shy, I was one of the first people to stand up and ask a question. This time, I did not ask a question.
I stated I was a volunteer from Citizens’ Climate Lobby. I briefly explained about their carbon fee & dividend solution. I told them that the staff of members of Congress said to me that they do not hear from their constituents on climate change. The way we change that is to contact our members of Congress regularly. I then showed a clipboard of constituent comment forms I brought for them to fill out to express their concerns about climate change. I then promised I would deliver them to their local Washington member of Congress, Rep. Jamie Huerra Buetler.
Brian Ettling speaking at Rep. Greg Walden’s Town Hall meeting, April 2017.
Many in the audience started to boo me. I did not let it bother me. I continued to make my case that we must contact our members of Congress if we want climate action. Some in the audience did applaud me when I was finished. Amazingly, some of the people sitting around me who were most cynical ended up filling out the constituent comment forms. It was a good lesson that if you can state your case with conviction while listening to your listener’s concerns, you can persuade people. I left that meeting feeling sky high that I persuaded a few people to act on climate and contact their member of Congress.
Afterwards, the booing still was a head scratcher for me. Yes, it is in the American DNA back to the American Revolution if not before to distrust political leaders. Watergate and other other political scandals over the years certainly deepened and solidified the cynicism. Yet, I feel strongly that cynicism toward politicians is a cope out for inaction. I would even say that cynicism is like eating cotton candy at a carnival. It feels great in the moment. However, your stomach feels empty and even nauseous afterwards. Their is no substance to it. It can feel good in the moment to win the argument to pull the other optimistic person down to your level of pessimism. However, that victory is very hollow, short lived, and empty.
Even more, I am convinced that the status quo and the powers that be want us to feel cynical, pessimistic, and hopeless. If we feel despair, we are less likely to act and more easily controlled.
With the 13 plus meetings I had with the staff of members of Congress in 2017, I thought all of them went well. I always found the staff to be very polite, friendly, and open to listen to our concerns and solutions to climate change. Citizens’ Climate Lobby has the methodology that we go into every meeting with staff and members of Congress showing respect, appreciation and gratitude. Their one rule is that if we cannot sincerely express an appreciation, at the very least for their public service, that we should not lobby the office of that member of Congress.
CCL volunteers are making progress on climate action with members of Congress
I must say I do find CCL’s methods really do work for having productive meetings with staff and members of Congress. It puts me and others going into the meeting that we are going to be positive and treat Congressional staff like friends. We pride ourselves on being the best listeners we can be to learn exactly what their positions are on climate change, even repeat it back to them so they know they were heard. We then try to look for sweet spots of common ground where we can try to work together on climate change.
In reviewing the notes, Richter ranked the meetings with Republicans in three tiers:
Tier 1: productive meetings with offices that showed clear and genuine interest.
Tier 2: meetings were quiet but not uninterested interactions.
Tier 3: meetings were combative or totally uninterested interaction.
In 2014, the ratio of Tier 1 meetings to Tier 3 meetings – productive vs. hostile – was 3 to 1. Between then and 2017, that ratio gradually improved, with this year’s ratio being 20 to 1.
Think of it this way: 20 times as many Republican offices were clearly interested in what CCL volunteers had to say as offices who were clearly hostile to CCL’s message.
“What this tells us is that CCL’s approach of respect and appreciation with members of Congress is paying off,” said CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds. “Our engagement with congressional offices, particularly Republicans, is helping to drive the growth of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House.”
Yes, that has been the other success with the positive engaging relationship building with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the formation of the House of Representatives bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. This caucus began in February 2016 by two south-Florida representatives Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), who serve as co-chairs of the caucus. This caucus was the brainchild of CCL volunteer retired Pennsylvania businessman, Jay Butera. The House members join this caucus Noah’s Ark style – two by two, a Republican for every Democrat, so that the caucus remains balanced and truly bipartisan. This caucus is now up to 62 members, 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats, exchanging ideas on the problem and solutions to climate change.
Image source: twitter.com/citizensclimate
Want more inspiration? Watch this 4 minute YouTube video. 14 high school students from Traverse City, Michigan, traveled to Washington D.C. for the June CCL Congressional Lobby Day. They are not yet old enough to vote. Yet, they got a face to face meeting with their member of Congress, Republican Congressman Jack Bergman. They asked him directly to join the Climate Solutions Caucus and he immediately said yes.
These teenagers teach us to ever underestimate your power to change the world.
My personal progress on climate action with staff of my member of Congress
That is very encouraging on the macro level. I have also been very encouraged on my personal micro level. For the past two years, I had 4 meetings with the staff of my Missouri member of Congress. By showing respect, appreciation and gratitude, these meetings have all been very positive and productive. To maintain positive rapport with these Congressional offices, we must maintain a level of confidentiality. However I can say that each meeting has been better than the one before.
At the June meeting, the staff member told me he is very enthusiastic about everything we give him about our issue even stating, “knowledge is power.” He likes everything electronic, and he keeps a CCL disk folder on his computer with everything I sent him by e-mail. He said this member of Congress is still not there on CCL’s carbon fee & dividend or climate action. However, I was blown away that he takes our issue seriously enough to have a file about it on his computer.
CCL volunteers and Brian Ettling meeting with staff of his member of Congress.
I thought the more recent November meeting with the staff of this member of Congress was even more encouraging. He complimented me that I don’t pester with my e-mails but I reach out in an appropriate manner. I showed the recent CCL data that our meetings with GOP members of Congress has gone in a matter of 4 years from a ratio of 3 to one positive vs. hostile meetings to 20 to 1 positive vs. combative. His response: ‘We are happy we have these meetings with CCL volunteers, it is always a great time.’
Even though this is a very conservative member of Congress, this staff person did not give us an negative push back on climate action. He informed me that He said this staff and member of Congress does not hear very much about climate change outside of these CCL lobby meetings. He said ‘CCL brings really good data and has really good meetings but we don’t here about climate change outside of that.’
This staff member then gave me great advice. He told us point blank that this member of Congress needs to hear from constituents. She does pay close attention to the phone calls, letters, and e-mails when deciding upon which issues to pay attention and act. This staff person was informing us that we really to contact our members of Congress on climate change. If they don’t hear from us, they don’t think it is a priority for us. Therefore, we need to organize and act in numbers.
Photo credit: peoplesclimate.org
My big lesson learned for 2017: members of Congress are looking to you to Act on Climate
This is our marching orders from staff of a conservative GOP member of Congress: Act! Call, e-mail, and write letters regularly and frequently that you want climate action. Even more, get your friends to join you. Remember those 14 high school students from Traverse City, Michigan who convinced their member of Congress, Rep. Jack Bergman, to join the Climate Solutions Caucus.
“Action is the antidote for despair.” – Joan Baez.
If we are truly serious about reducing the threat of climate change, then we step out of our comfort zones to act, organize, and put polite pressure on our members of Congress. If you can, use CCL’s methodology of respect, appreciation and gratitude when engaging Congressional staff or members of Congress. Yes, there is a place for protesting, yelling and pounding the desk to make your point. However, it probably will not get you many dates. Yelling is mostly a turn off, especially for members of Congress. It is hard for them to hear what you are saying if you are shouting at them.
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” ― Albert Einstein.
Do what you can to act. As Marianne Williamson notes, we may that discover that “we are powerful beyond measure…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Don’t be afraid or pessimistic. Be that light into the world to reduce the threat of climate change.
So many people think I have the perfect job as a park ranger. However, my perfect job would be a full time, year round climate change lobbyist and organizer.
For the past 25 years, I have worked as a summer seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park Oregon. During that time, I also worked as a seasonal winter park ranger in Everglades National Park from 1992-2008. So many people I have encountered dream of becoming a park ranger. I don’t recall dreaming of being a park ranger as a child.
When growing up, I imagined myself becoming an author of science fiction novels, a lawyer, a missionary, making special effects for Star Wars movies, a TV newscaster, a comedian, a prophet (they always so wise and confident in the Bible or movies) , a movie actor, public speaker, truck driver (I loved to travel down highways, but my parents thought that would be a terrible idea. One day, they warned me that truckers get hemorrhoids. I am serious!l), President (I read many books on the Presidents as a child), tree surgeon (I always thought that job title sounded funny, but nobody laughed when I joked about wanting to be one) professional pool player (that’s billiards, meaning 8 ball or 9 ball. I spent so many hours in my parents’ basement as a kid practicing on their pool table to make that happen) or whatever crossed my mind at the moment.
Brian Ettling shooting pool at Crater Lake Nat. Park 2005.
My serendipitous path to become a Park Ranger
In reality, I fell into working in the national parks for not knowing what else to do with my life. In 1992, I was completing my undergraduate degree in business administration from William Jewell College just outside of Kansas City, Missouri. I really liked my business and economics classes a lot, although my favorite college classes was acting and public speaking. While I was proud to earn this business degree, jobs were not exactly beaconing at my doorstep. Even more, I did not like the idea of just working in an office cubicle one bit. I wanted to be outside and a job where I can travel. On top of that, I really wanted to be away from Missouri. I always loved mountains and I really wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest, near its majestic mountains. Before graduating college, I secured a summer job working at the gift store at crater Lake National Park.
On the night of college graduation, I took an Amtrak train from Kansas City, MO to Klamath Falls, Oregon. When I arrived at southern Oregon and Crater Lake National Park, it was everything I dreamed of and more. It felt like I had found home and I did not want to leave. I loved the glistening snowcapped mountains, the jagged volcanic rocks on the mountains, the beautiful evergreen forests, and the bright blue waters of Crater Lake.
Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park in 1992.
Realistically, Crater Lake was a seasonal job, so I was going to have to find another job for the winter quickly. Unfortunately, the only offer I got was to work housekeeping in Everglades National Park for the winter. This was about as far away from the Pacific Northwest as I could be. A total bummer, but I needed a job and to be on my own away from St. Louis.
I enjoyed the winter of 1992-93 working in the Everglades with living along a beautiful marine shoreline, canoeing in mangroves to see alligators and crocodiles, etc. However, I could not wait to return to Crater Lake National Park that May to experience the climate and hike on the mountain trails. Naturalist John Muir said, “Going to the mountains is going home,”
Brian Ettling at Everglades National Park around 2007.
I loved hiking in the park and the friends I made. I enjoyed my job working as a lead in the gift store, but I started to become intrigued to become a park ranger. I dated a woman at the time that jumped from working from the park concessionaire to becoming an entrance station fee collection ranger. She informed me the pay and the park housing is much better. I followed her to become a entrance station park ranger in 1996, and I loved wearing the uniform.
As I worked as a ranger, I got to know the interpretation/naturalist rangers who were leading the ranger programs. They awed me with their knowledge of nature and the park. All of them seemed to enjoy giving the ranger talks. I have always loved to talk and public speaking, so I really wanted one of those jobs. To get experience, I first became a naturalist guide ranger narrating the boat tours in Flamingo, Florida in 1998.
My determination to preach environmental protection as a park ranger
As a naturalist ranger, it was fun to show people the alligators, crocodiles, dolphins, manatees and birds on a daily basis. However, I absorbed as much as I could learning about the ecology of the Everglades and the restoration plan. I learned that the Everglades was one of the most endangered ecosystems on Earth. I wanted to do all I could to protect it and to stress as strongly as I could environmental protection and conservation during my ranger talks. I was as provocative as I could preaching about the Everglades restoration and protecting nature. I would conclude nearly all of my Everglades talks with this quote I loved by local Miami environmentalist Joe Podgor, “The Everglades is a test. If we pass it, we may get to keep the planet.”
Brian Ettling giving a ranger talk at Everglades National Park 2004.
I could see the ecological damage to the Everglades with my own eyes with overdevelopment and urban sprawl shrank the Everglades in half. The cities took most of the water for drainage to keep the western suburbs dry. Therefore, there was not that much fish, birds, or other wildlife to see because the human interference in nature. It bothered me and I had no problem making visitors feel uncomfortable sharing my thoughts about it. At one point, I told Tim, a seasonal interpretation ranger in the Everglades, “I want to be an environmental activist.”
I will never forget Tim’s response: “You probably should not become a park ranger. You should just become an environmental activist.”
At the time, I felt uncomfortable with Tim’s advice. However, as time passed, I saw that Tim is correct. Rangers generally don’t sermonize with an environmental lecture. Rangers share knowledge, stories, and love of nature. Hopefully, that compelling information and passion inspires the audience to stewardship. As the etched wooden sign says in the interpretation workroom at Crater Lake National Park:
If I could go back in time to chat with myself, I challenge myself to lighten up and be kinder to my audience. Thinking about this now, if young or older adult said to me, “I want to be a ranger,” my response might be: “Are you sure?”
I might press them exactly why do they want to be a ranger. I may encourage them to journal and really think about why do they want to become a ranger. Maybe, like me, they really want become an environmental activist. For the park visitors, the mission of the National Park Service, and their own career satisfaction, they may actually might be seeking something else.
I discovered my life’s passion for climate change as a park ranger
On the other hand, it was my naturalist job in the Everglades where I discovered my deep passion for climate change, especially how it impacts our national parks. Ironically, one of I the things I quickly learned when I started giving ranger talks is that people expect park rangers to know everything, don’t you?
In 1998, when I was giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park, Florida. Visitors started asking me about this global warming thing. Visitors hate when park rangers tell you, “I don’t know. ” As soon as I could, I rushed to the nearest Miami bookstore and library to read all I the scientific books I could find on climate change.
The mangrove coastline in Everglades National Park
I discovered 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 beautiful Flamingos I enjoyed seeing in the Everglades could all lose this ideal coastal habitat because of sea level rinse enhanced by climate change.
Even worse, I learned that sea level rise could be a disaster for the millions of people living in south Florida. In the last couple of years, the evidence is mounting for what is now called ‘sunny day flooding.’ This is flooding from ocean water showing up on Miami streets during the highest tides or what’s called ‘king tides’ of the year.
Sunny day flooding in Miami, FL. Photo Credit: Grist & dailykos.com
National Geographic now projects up to a 6 sea level rise by the end of this century that could displace up to 13 million Americans who live in these coastal counties.
Pursuing my passion on climate change as a private citizen advocate
I became so worried about climate change that I quit my winter job in Everglades National Park in 2008. Since then I spent my winters in hometown St. Louis to educate folks there about climate change. I created my own climate change talk that I shared with family and friends. I gave environmental talks to my nephew’s second grade class, his cub scout group, my younger niece’s girl scout group, and my older niece’s 7th grade class.
From March to May 2011, I had the amazing opportunity to work at the St. Louis Science Center at their temporary climate change exhibit, called Climate Change: The Threat to Life and a New Energy Future. It originated from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I was in my glory working that job. The exhibit had profound text and displays to educate the public about the science, the problem and the solutions to climate change. My job was basically to keep the exhibits clean and engage the visitors. Whenever the exhibit was empty, which was early and late in the day, I would take precise notes on all of the information. I had fun engaging the pubic, especially the school groups, visiting the exhibit.
Brian Ettling at St. Louis Science Center Climate Change Exhibit 2011.
I went above and beyond with that opportunity, creating short presentations for children on the importance of Arctic sea ice for polar bears and us. In my spare time, I assisted middle school to high school teachers developing lesson plans for engaging their classes with the special climate change exhibit. My mother noted she had never seen anyone so happy going to work each day. Nor had I worked a job that was a better fit for me. I still proudly have my green uniform shirts from that job. With my deep interest in climate change, I still cannot believe how that job fell into my lap.
The benefits of pursuing my passion on climate change as a seasonal park ranger
From the St. Louis Science Center job, I gained the confidence to create an evening program on climate change at Crater Lake in August 2011. I still give that talk during the summers to this day. It is called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. For years, I read all I could about climate change in my spare time, but I was scared to talk about it as a ranger. It was partially because I did not feel like I knew enough. Even more, I was scared of visitors arguing with me about it.
I must say that my supervisor and lead interpretation ranger at Crater Lake knew my passion for climate change. They were encouraging my interest for years and they were very happy when I created climate change evening program at Crater Lake. The National Park Service has totally been supportive to my interest in climate change. Surprisingly, instead of being argumentative, the visitors so appreciative and receptive to my evening program.
Unlike my Everglades talks, I used more humor and an uplifting, fun message to inspire my audience to take action on climate change to protect our Crater Lake and our national parks.
Giving that climate change evening program has opened many doors for me. In November 2012, NASA invited me to give a talk on engaging park visitors on climate change at the National Association of Interpretation Convention in Hampton, Virginia. In May 2013, Grand Canyon National Park invited me to speak at their Shrine of the Ages Auditorium for an audience of over 200 park visitors and staff. In October 2013, Association of National Park Rangers invited me to speak at their annual convention about speaking to park visitors about climate change. In 2014, Oregon Wild invited me to speak on the impacts on climate change at Crater Lake at their annual conference in Portland, Oregon. In 2016, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada asked me give a talk at their Lobby Day Conference in Ottawa, Canada.
Brian Ettling speaking in Ottawa Canada November 2016.
In 2014, my supervisor assigned me to respond to an e-mail request from author Chris Santella, as he conducting research for his book 50 Places to Camp Before You Die. Chris wanted to feature a chapter on Crater Lake National Park. I called up Chris so he could interview me. We exchanged e-mails to nail down the information he needed on Crater Lake. The book was published and released in 2016 and the chapter on Crater Lake National Park featured me. It even included a brief biography at the end of the chapter:
“Brian Ettling has worked as a summer seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park for the past twenty-two years…Since 2010, Brian spends his off-season trying to protect our national parks and natural world by teaching and public speaking on the problem of climate change and the things we can do to make this a healthier planet.”
To this day, that climate change Crater Lake ranger talk is still providing opportunities for me. In March 2017, I spoke to over a crowd of 100 people in Jefferson City, MO and a crowd of over 60 people in Kirksville, MO about the impact of climate change at Crater Lake. In 2017, the Metropolitan Learning Center grade school in Portland, Oregon invited me speak over 60 4th to 6th grader at their ClimateComm Conference on how I have seen climate change as a park ranger at Crater Lake. I am so blessed and proud to have my Crater Lake summer ranger job to be allowed to talk about climate change as often as I do.
Brian Ettling speaking at Runge Nature Center, Jefferson City, MO. March 2017.
My victories and defeats struggling to be become a full time climate organizer
As much as I have loved working as a park ranger, especially with the freedom I had to give nearly weekly ranger talks on climate change, I had the dream for years to be a full time, year round climate change organizer, writer, and lobbyist. In 2011, I applied to follow the climate change exhibit that was at the St. Louis Science Center to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, but they were not interested. I applied for a full time naturalist education job at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco in 2011, but they decided to hire internally. I applied twice in 2012 for an educator position with the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), but they passed on hiring me.
I did briefly work as an organizer for the Missouri Sierra Club in St. Louis November 2013, but that job turned out to be just too relentless for me. I did not realize it when I accepted the job offer, but I signed an agreement for an “exempt position.” It was not just a 40 hours a week and go home. I was taking work home with me and it felt like I was working morning, noon, night, and weekends. I felt burned out after a month. The work involved organizing for the Beyond Coal Campaign and Sierra Club’s Energy Efficiency campaign. Great campaigns. I still believe in them to this day. However, the stress of constantly working, especially since I was giving other climate change talks on the side, was overwhelming. I really admire the great and dedicated people who work there, but it was not my cup of tea so I left after a month.
Brian Ettling speaking out against Ameren Utility’s reliance on dirty coal for electricity in St. Louis, MO. April 2013.
In 2015, I applied for an Engagement Coordinator position with the Climate Reality Project. I was first trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2012. I really love my volunteer involvement with that organization, and I would love to work for them. However, it was crushing to hear they decided to hire someone with more organizing experience. That news was a real downer. More recently in 2017, I applied for the Climate Communications & Outreach Manager position with the Oregon Environment Council in Portland, Oregon. A month ago, I got the e-mail with the message that they appreciated me applying, but they did not select my application for an interview.
I volunteered as much as I could for the past 5 years for Citizens Climate Lobby and Climate Reality Project. I created goofy comedy climate change YouTube videos to get noticed. Well, I did get noticed. Comedy Central’s Tosh.o flew me out to Los Angeles to be filmed on their show. It was an incredible experience. I am so proud of appearing on that show, but Hollywood has not called back since then.
Brian Ettling appearing with TV host & comedian Daniel Tosh, on his TV show Tosh.o on August 2, 2016
In January 2011, I joined my local St. Louis Toastmaster group, South County Toastmasters. Over the past 6 years, I gave 20 speeches, 8 of which I was voted by my fellow Toastmasters as “Best Speaker.” I put most of those speeches on YouTube and blogged about them, hoping someone would spot me. In 2011, I created this blog and website climatechangecomedian.com, trying to get noticed.
In August 2011, a mutual friend introduced me to Tom Smerling, the founder of the website, climatebites.org, which specialized in collecting soundbites to communicate about climate change. Until the website started deteriorating due to technical support neglect and repeated hackings, I contributed over 200 writings to the site. However, that website did not get the traffic that Tom wanted and it did not get me noticed either. I loved contributing to that website. It really helped advance me as a climate change public speaker and communicator.
In October 2011, Larry Lazar and I co-founded the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet Up group. Over the past 6 years, we organized various climate change meet up events in the St. Louis area with various well-known climate change scientists and communicators speaking to us via Skype. The last event I hosted in January 2017 attracted over 80 people. They came to see one of the top climate volunteer lobbyists in the U.S, Jay Butera, recently featured in the New York Times, speak to us via Skype.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer speaking to the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up. January 2017.
As a climate change volunteer advocate, organizer, writer and volunteer, my proudest achievements include getting published in Yale Climate Communications in April 2012, newspapers publishing 18 of my opinion editorial or guest opinion submissions over the past four years, organizing various climate change events in St. Louis and elsewhere, and giving over 100 climate change talks. I take deep pride knowing I inspired others to write op-eds in the newspapers, lobby their members of Congress, attend Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conferences in Washington D.C and Climate Reality Trainings. It feels like I made difference just co-founding the southern Oregon Citizens’ Climate Lobby group in 2013 that meets monthly and is going strong to this day.
So many other exciting events I could list. On April 15, 2014, the local St. Louis NPR radio program St. Louis On the Airinterviewed my friends Larry Lazar, Dr. Jack Fishman, and I about communicating about climate change. In November 2015, the lead St. Louis organizer from Avaaz chose me on the spot to be the main speaker for that People’s Climate March. I spoke briefly to over 100 people on a chilly and rainy November day in downtown St. Louis. The weather was dreary, but the crowd seemed to love my brief remarks.
An impromptu motivational speech at a Climate Change march in downtown St. Louis.
It is still my goal and dream to be a full time year round climate organizer and lobbyist
Organizing, writing, lobbying, and speaking on climate change is what I love doing more than anything. I just would love to find a way to get paid doing that. It has been a huge letdown and depressing that it has not worked out yet. My wife Tanya and I are working on the idea of me setting up a website, donations, and a 501c4 non-profit called Climate Solutions Lobbyist so I can raise funds from family, friends, and donors to exclusively lobby and organize on climate change. This is uncharted territory for Tanya and I to try to figure out how to do this. I did have some friends say they would contribute if I did set something up.
Unfortunately, I had a recent conversation on Skype with one of the top advocacy organizers in the U.S. He advised me against setting up my own non-profit. He did not think what I wanted to do was that distinguishable or unique from what others are doing. He discouraged me from pursuing that idea. By the end of our conversation, I just felt discouraged and hopeless.
Does anyone out there have any suggestions or thoughts?
Hello! Is there anyone out there that reads my blog?
I sure could use some advice, mentoring, coaching, and help.
In the meantime, I had a chance to return to Crater Lake National Park to work again this year as an interpretation ranger. The park was very short staff in May and could really use my help. With my life’s goal to still be a full time, year round climate change organizer and lobbyist, I told my Crater Lake supervisor that I would just work the month of May. She could really use my help that time of year so she reality said yes. I am not the best of marketing and promoting myself for potential jobs and starting my own organization. However, I do want to go where I feel most useful and beneficial to others in my life so I decided to return to work as a ranger here for one month.
Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park. May 2016.
I made June 8th as my last day because I plan to attend the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference and Lobby Day in Washington D.C. June 11-13th and the next Climate Reality Training in Bellevue Washington June 27-29th. Plus, I wanted to spend more time with my wife in Portland. The long distance from Tanya is very hard. Portland to Crater Lake is about a 5 hour drive. On top of that, I really just want to organize and lobby full time on climate change.
As soon as I returned to Crater Lake, it did feel good to have a steady job and receive a reliable paycheck. Tanya and I moved to Portland in March when she found a permanent job there. Our rent and the cost of living is not cheap in Portland, so it is vital for me to bring in a steady income. I saw that our department is short staffed for the summer and they can still really use me here. Plus, I still can give my climate change evening program about once a week during the summer. Even more, some teachers and friends wanted to come to Crater Lake this summer just to see my climate change talks. Much to my wife’s chagrin, Crater Lake is pulling me back to work here for the summer.
Therefore, I decided to return to work here July 10th to roughly September 15th. It was a tough decision, but it felt right. My supervisor and other park staff was so happy I am returning for the summer. That made me feel good. As I shared in my previous blog, I have felt so much discouragement at times with my involvement within the climate movement. It seems like some people don’t want me around. They don’t see me as beneficial, don’t want to partner with me, mentor me, encourage me, assist me, or even welcome me.
I love the slogan from the recent climate marches: “To change everything we need everyone.”
Yet, I have not always felt like part of the club. I am still going to charm, help others, be audacious, work hard, and inspire to get well connected, but it has been hard for me to break into the well connected climate organizing inner circle.
I love the anonymous quote: “Be outrageous. It is the only place that it not crowded.”
I am still following my climate change calling. I hope you follow your life’s calling!
I will succeed as a full time, year round climate change organizer and lobbyist. I am not going to be deterred by this, even if there are days when I feel like giving up. I spent so much of my life working on this. It is what I have enjoyed doing more than anything. The victories have been so sweet, even while the setbacks have been so heart breaking. Even more than being a park ranger, I want to be remembered as a climate change public speaker, writer, organizer and lobbyist.
I am very proud to be a park ranger for the past 25 years. I have been so blessed and fortunate to be a park ranger. It really gave me the freedom and creativity to pursue my passion with climate change. I still love putting on the uniform, but it is not want I want to do for the rest of my life. Before I really understood that I wanted to be a climate change organizer and lobbyist, I knew I wanted to be an environmental activist and change agent. It is still important for me to follow this calling, even if this transition is quite a struggle for me.
Mark Twain once said, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
“This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man/Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”
I still think it is vital for my life and yours to adhere to mythologist Joseph Campbell’s advice to “Follow Your Bliss!’
Do follow your one true calling, whatever it is. If you don’t know what your true calling is, that’s no problem. I could sure use your help and support as I struggle to transition from a seasonal park ranger to a full time, year round climate change organizer and lobbyist.
P.S: I want to thank my parents, in-laws, and most of all, my wife Tanya how supportive they have been as I have pursued my life’s journey and calling so far.