For Climate Action, say hello to my Little Green Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Climate Action, persuading my dad about climate change

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

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

24 years ago, journalist Bill Moyers interviewed movie director George Lucas about how Lucas came up with the Star Wars movies. In this interview, George Lucas explained how it was actually his father’s dream for George to work in and eventually inherit the family office equipment store in Modesto, California.

However, George had no interest in taking over his father’s business. He decided in college that he wanted to be a filmmaker. When George decided to go to the University of Southern California film school and pursue his dream, his dad felt crushed that George was not going to take over the family business.

George Sr. felt young George was making a huge mistake because he had built up this successful business for his son to eventually take over. It was a big source of friction between them until George Sr. saw son George’s huge success with the Star Wars films.

George said his dad was very proud of his achievements as a filmmaker. George told Bill Moyers “the only thing you have to do, in the end, if you have to accomplishment one thing in life, is to make your parents proud of you. If you are healthy and you can take care of yourself, and you are a good person…one who contributes to society and does not take away….that’s all your parents really want in the end.”

I loved this story because my Dad and I are both big fans of the original Star Wars movies. When I was a kid, almost 12 years old, let me share one of my best memories of my Dad. He went out of his way to buy tickets to surprise us so our entire family could see the much-anticipated Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, on opening day on May 21, 1980. This film is still one of my favorite movies of all time. (Spoiler Alert) It became a cultural icon when Darth Vader announced to Luke Skywalker: “I am your father!”

I will never forget this gift from my Dad because there was an audible gasp from the movie audience when Darth Vader said that. At that moment, no one wanted to believe that plot twist. It took years for me to accept it. The actor James Earl Jones, who played the voice of Darth Vader, thought the character was lying, when he first read the script for the film.

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

Since Darth Vader was the villain in those Star Wars films until Luke redeems him, George Lucas said that the original Star Wars trilogy films is ultimately a space soap opera about a father and son relationship. As mentioned above, George Lucas struggled with the relationship with his father. I certainly struggled in the relationship with my Dad.

When I graduated from college in 1992, I decided to become a seasonal park ranger bouncing around national parks. This disappointed my dad for years. He asked me several times, “When are you going to get a real job?”

To compound my Dad’s disappointment, I made it my life’s mission to write, teach and give public presentations about the impacts of climate change, which I witnessed first-hand and up close, through my work as a park ranger in the Florida Everglades and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. For my dad, it was initially beyond his comprehension that humans could damage our planet. As I became more aware of climate change and began my work as a climate change activist, my Dad displayed open hostility at my life choice. He tried telling me that: ‘climate change was not real, that humans cannot change the climate’, and this is a bunch of nonsense.’

However, like George Lucas, I found my passion in life, and nothing was going to stop me. There was no looking back. In the spring of 2010, I put together this website and my first climate change PowerPoint presentation to share with friends. In August 2011, I delivered my first climate change evening program as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake.

In August 2012, I attended a training in San Francisco along with nearly 1,000 other people led by Al Gore to become a Climate Reality Leader to give presentations on climate change. Since that training, I have given over 270 climate change presentations in 12 U.S. states, Washington D.C. and Ottawa, Canada. Some personal highlights are when I was a guest presenter for NASA in Hampton, Virginia in 2012, a guest speaker at Grand Canyon National Park in 2013, and a presenter for the Oregon Wild Conference in Portland, Oregon in 2014.

I attempted every avenue I know to get out the message about taking action on climate change, including writing a blog since 2011, writing opinion editorials in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Oregonian starting in 2013, doing local radio interviews, and in 2014, making funny short videos with my wife (then girlfriend) Tanya and my mom Fran Ettling.

My dad also played a role in our videos, as my cameraperson. After filming our third video in January 2015, my dad seemed to get antsy behind the camera and he told me he wanted to be in front of the camera with me. I decided to take him up on his suggestion, and to see where this would lead.

In February 2015, my dad and I filmed our first climate video together. I interviewed him about how he had changed his mind about climate change. He explained to me that it was me, his son, who had changed his mind. I had helped him understand and see the weight of the evidence before us. Over the years, I watched a shift in my dad’s thinking, and I gained a new respect and admiration for him. He evolved from being hostile about my climate activism to being my biggest cheerleader. Yet, as I was making this video with my dad, I kept thinking how crazy this idea would have been 10 years before.

These short YouTube videos that I did with my parents and Tanya caught the attention of Comedy Central’s Tosh.o TV show. A year later, a producer of the show called me to invite my Mom and I to fly to Los Angeles to do a comedy segment with the show’s host, Daniel Tosh. Our comedy segment first aired Comedy Central on August 2, 2016. It’s called “The Climate Change Comedian – Web Redemption.” The cool thing about this segment is that a very short clip of my Dad was included, so my Dad had a brief moment on TV using comedy to promote climate change awareness.

My parents’ support of my climate change communication efforts did not stop there. Around that same time in 2016, my Mom came home to tell me a story. They attended a party at the home of one of their friends. The host of the party remarked, ‘I think that climate change is a bunch of nonsense.’

My Mom responded, “That’s interesting. Can I show you a video?”

My Mom then showed the YouTube video of my Dad and I talking about how I changed his thinking on climate change. My Mom said that the host of the party was silent and did not say another word about climate change for the rest of the party.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Mom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If there’s a key audience Dr. Mann wants to reach in this book, I think it is readers who are potentially swayed by what he calls climate “doomers” or “doomists.” His previous book, released in 2021, was The New Climate War. I wrote a blog review of that book in 2022. In that book, Dr. Mann strongly criticized the climate “doomists” who believe it is too late to act on climate. These individuals and groups exaggerate the threat climate change, which ultimately does a disservice to everyone wanting a healthy planet for us to live. As he titles a chapter in that book, “The Truth is Bad Enough.” In that chapter, Dr. Mann makes a strong point that “doomism today poses a greater threat to climate action than outright denial.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing Mt. Shuksan inspires me to Act on Climate 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traveling to see Olympic National Park in late May 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visiting Mt. Rainier National Park in early June 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organizing an Oregon legislative resolution for climate action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canvassing for Oregon Democratic candidates in 2022

In March 2022, my Climate Reality friend Raz Mason invited me to work on her Oregon Senate campaign as “The Volunteer Coordinator.” I relished this role to deliver lawn signs, recruit volunteers, organize fundraising house parties, call friends to contribute her campaign, and knock on doors in Oregon Senate District 26. Raz was running to represent the Senate District on the east and southeast exurbs of Portland, Oregon. I worked all spring and summer in this role until Raz became worried about her campaign funds running too low to pay me.

In September, Raz encouraged me to apply to be become a full-time paid canvasser for the East County Rising (ECR) community organization. ECR is a social justice organization that focuses on getting out the vote to elect progressive Democratic local candidates for the eastern part of the Portland metro area. I canvassed full time for ECR, knocking on thousands of doors in the final two months of the campaign, up until the November 8th election.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Climate Action, let’s protect our democracy, Part 7

Photo of Brian Ettling from April 14, 2021

“Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat,
but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.”
– Activist, writer and speaker Abbie Hoffman

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

This is going to be a very painful blog to write, but I feel like I have no choice to share but to share my story. Hopefully, someone can learn from my disappointment and letdown I felt from environmental and climate Democratic voters who allowed awful candidates for President and other elected offices win.

This was such a tough blog to write. I had so much to say that I broke up it into many parts:
Part 1, My 1980s childhood in Missouri to witnessing 2000 Presidential Election in Florida
Part 2, My story as a park ranger and rediscovering Al Gore 2001 to 2007
Part 3, Loss of a friend, Leaving Everglades, and finding my passion for climate action 2007-08
Part 4, Healing from grief and Taking Climate Action in Oregon and Missouri 2009-2016
Part 5: My frustration and heartbreak with the 2016 Presidential Election
Part 6: Donald Trump’s Disgraceful Presidency and my climate action 2017-2020

Part 7: Working as a U.S. Census Enumerator and living through Presidential Election of 2020

My job as a U.S. Census Enumerator in 2020 during the COVID 19 Pandemic

On March 10, 2020, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed strong executive orders for the state of Oregon to tackle climate change. She did this in response to the Republican walking outs to prevent passage of Renew Oregon’s cap and invest bills in 2019 and at the end of February 2020. I was one of the dozens of climate organizers, including many school age children who were invited, to be inside the Governor’s office to witness her signing those executive orders.

Two weeks later, March 23, 2020, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) published a blog I wrote about this event, “Oregon Governor Kate Brown signs strong climate executive order.” That always feels like a big accomplishment for me to get an opinion editorial published in a newspaper or a blog published, such as the CCL website. After the release of that blog, I felt like I did not have anything to look forward, including no traveling, no lobbying, no public speaking, no way to meet with friends, no events to organize, etc. I was lucky to have my wife Tanya, and we still went hiking locally together. I just felt so lethargic and no motivation to do anything.

Brian Ettling in front of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, OR on March 6, 2020.

Oddly, Tanya got laid off from her job for about nine weeks because of the pandemic and economic downturn. Financially, we were fine. She threw herself into studying full time for a degree in data management. I was just adrift. I did not feel like reading any books or writing any blogs. My wife is half Danish and I started taking daily Danish lessons from her. In May, I started doing the Duolingo Language Learning App on my phone full time.

In January 2020, a friend encouraged me to apply for the U.S. Census Bureau to help them complete their Census count. I turned in my application that winter. I would hear from the Census Bureau periodically that they wanted to hire me to be an enumerator to help compile data for the 2020 Census. I was so tired of sitting at home. Yet, 2020 highly recommended people to stay home with the very contagious COVID 19 raging at the time.

The U.S. Census Bureau finally hired me and the other Census enumerators in the last week of July 2020. I had to complete a series of trainings at home before I drove to a temporary Census office on July 28th in Damacus, Oregon.

The next week, I started traveling to different houses in Portland to interview residents who did not fill out their Census form. I thought this was the most patriotic job I could do at that moment. The Census dates back the U.S. Constitution enacted in 1789. Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress to carry out the census in, “Within every subsequent Term of ten Years, such manner as they shall by Law direct.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “The Founders of our fledgling nation had a bold and ambitious plan to empower the people over their new government. The plan was to count every person living in the newly created United States of America, and to use that count to determine representation in the Congress.

Enshrining this invention in our Constitution marked a turning point in world history. Previously censuses had been used mainly to tax or confiscate property or to conscript youth into military service. The genius of the Founders was taking a tool of government and making it a tool of political empowerment for the governed over their government.”

I helped to count American citizens so they could have full representation in our democratic government. During our training, it was emphasized that U.S. Census population statistics determined not just Congressional, state level, or local representation. “The results of the census help determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding, including grants and support to states, counties and communities are spent every year for the next decade. It helps communities get its fair share for schools, hospitals, roads, and public works.”

Brian Ettling soon after he started his temporary job at the U.S. Center on August 11, 2020.

I knocked on the doors of Americans in my nearby community of those who did not fill out their U.S. Census forms to make sure they were fully seen, represented, and were awarded the government services available to them. These services included access to schools, police, fire departments, roads, hospitals, etc. In addition, Oregon expected to gain a 6th Congressional seat from the 2020 U.S. Census count. Oregon barely missed gaining a congressional seat in the 2010 Census. Population studies from that time suggested it was a near lock.

Thus, by working for the U.S. Census and counting people in my community, I could help Oregon gain representation in Congress. Even more, my own neighborhood and the neighborhoods that surround me are some of the most diverse communities of Portland and possibly for all of Oregon. Thus, I was helping my community to be seen and fully represented.

Sadly, President Donald Trump attempted to order the U.S. Census Bureau to exclude undocumented immigrants from key census count. He wanted to shut out undocumented immigrants from having fair representative in Congress and for government services. He demanded a citizenship question added the 2020 U.S. Census, but the Supreme Court blocked it. Trump then threatened to defy a Supreme Court ruling that blocked it, but then decided against it.

Trump hoped a citizenship question or even the rumor of a citizenship question would discourage communities of color and undocumented immigrants from participating in the 2020 U.S. Census. In fact, President Trump and his Administration went to the Supreme Court to attempt to stop the U.S. Census Count in September 2020. Civil rights groups argued minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed if the counting ended in September instead of October. Reading and hearing about this situation in the news motivated me further to count as many people as I could in the Census, especially people of color.

I enjoyed working in this job where I got to be outside engaging with people to try to conduct the most accurate Census count possible. I met some very kind and helpful people. On the other hand, I encountered incredibly rude people did not want to be helpful. They yelled at me for coming to their door. Some even threatened me with a gun.

Part of me was fine if belligerent white conservative folks did not want to be counted in the U.S. Census. Plenty of them were already counted in the Census. It was disheartening when I encountered African Americans, Latino, Hispanic, Asian and other people of color who refused to talk with me. Sometimes I wondered if the U.S. Census Bureau would have had more success if a person of color approached them instead.

Because some people could be so mean, rude, nasty, bitter, and refusing to help me, it made it hard to go to work some days. I had days when I could not wait for this temporary job to be over. I often came home totally deflated worried about America’s future if so many people did not want to participate in the Census, our democracy, and spurned my attempts to chat with them. I consider myself a friendly guy who loves people and wants the best for everyone. I felt depressed when some people acted negatively to me when I was just doing my job. I cared enough about them that I wanted them to be counted on the Census, but they did not care.

This was the flip side to when I worked as a park ranger at Crater Lake and Everglades National Parks for 25 years. I encountered so many park visitors who seemed to love me. They were enamored with the ranger uniform. They wanted their pictures with me. I was as popular as Mickey Mouse at Disney World. I knew it was because these park visitors were excited to be on vacation in a national park and they loved seeing park rangers. It was not me that they loved, it was the uniform. Still, my park ranger years were a very heady experience.

When I was a park ranger, it was a fun part of my job to go to work each day to experience complete strangers that were so thrilled to see me. This U.S. Census Enumerator job felt like the opposite of that. Some of these same individuals who hated seeing me come to their door would have been so excited to encounter me as a ranger in a national park.

As the old saying goes attributed to Mark Twain and Shakespeare, “Clothes make the man.”

Brian Ettling working as an Enumerator for the U.S. Census Bureau. Picture taken when he was working in a neighborhood near downtown Portland, OR on October 1, 2020.

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

The Census Enumerator was a temporary job, so I had to figure out what I was going to do next. Up until the Presidential election on November 3, 2020, I spent that autumn supporting Oregon Democratic candidates. One thing I learned over the previous 20 years is that we can’t pass climate polices on the national, state or local level without electing Democrats.

Helping elect OR Democratic 2020 candidates while threats emerged about Donald Trump not accepting election results.

On September 10th, while I still worked for the U.S. Census Bureau but on my spare time, I organized a Zoom House Party for my friend Chris Gorsek who ran for the Oregon Senate for District 25. In addition, I volunteered for phone bank shifts to urge voters in his Gresham District to support him. I was eager to knock on doors to canvas for Chris, but he and other Democratic candidates were not allowing that due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On October 25th, I co-organized a house party for Shemia Fagan, who was the Democratic candidate running for Secretary of State. I knew Shemia well since she served as my Oregon Senator at that time. She was very helpful with all my climate organizing. It was important for me that she won the election because in 2021 she would potentially have the final say over redistricting efforts after the 2020 Census statistics were released for Oregon.

It was very exciting on November 3rd that Chris Gorsek and Shemia Fagan won their elections. It felt great to have played a small role in that.

Brian Ettling and Oregon Senator Chris Gorsek. Gorsek was elected to the Oregon Senate in November 2020. Photo taken on May 25, 2019 when he was an Oregon Representative.

As I volunteered at home to support Oregon Democratic candidates due to the pandemic, articles popped up that Donald Trump may not accept the November 3rd election results. One of the first articles I noticed was “THE ELECTION THAT COULD BREAK AMERICA” by Barton Gellman in The Atlantic on September 23, 2020. The sub headline was “If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?”

Two days later, “‘Everyone sees the train wreck coming’: Trump reveals his November endgame” by David Siders and Holly Otterbein in Politico on September 25, 2020. The sub headline: “After more than four years of nonstop voter fraud claims and insinuations that he might not accept the election results, the president isn’t keeping his intent a secret.”

I found these articles to be very alarming and sobering. Yet, they were not surprising because Donald Trump had said for years that he would only accept the election results if he won.

I spoke out on social media after I read these articles. Responding to the Politico piece, I wrote on Facebook on September 25th, “Former Vice-President Al Gore said it best years ago: ‘In order to fix the #ClimateCrisis, we must first fix the democracy crisis (in America).’ Looks like Trump is going to use every despicable tactic possible to stay in power. Therefore, we must be ready to respond. We must vote early if possible and demand that our votes are counted. We must do all we can to ensure this is a free and election, every vote is counted, the results are legitimate, and the losing candidate concedes. Now is the time for fortitude and steel determination, not pessimism, cynicism, nihilism, or feeling defeated. That is what the other side is counting on you to do: give up and not fight back.”

After The Atlantic article, I posted two days later: “Very important article to read and share with the upcoming November U.S. election. The survival of American democracy is under threat. It’s time to face a reality that America has a President struggling with mental issues. He has never been held accountable or learned how to suffer defeat in his life and he is unable to fathom this now. Rather than face a possible loss of power and prestige, he is willing to destroy American democracy just to stay in power. In November, we must steel ourselves to vote, vote in large numbers, and fight to make sure that every vote is counted and the true will of the people is respected.”

Photo by Brian Ettling of a yard sign he saw in Portland, Oregon on September 5, 2020.

Celebrating November 3, 2020 election while concerned with Donald Trump’s reaction

The Presidential election results looked hopeful for Joe Biden on the evening of Tuesday, November 3rd. However, it was very frightening late at night when President Trump announced to his supporters at the White House, “This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were going to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”

Trump’s response was unhinged and troublesome, to say the least. I never heard a President or major Presidential candidate speak like that before in my life or in American history. It seemed like the U.S. was in uncharted territory for a President not to accept the results of an election. I was hopeful. Yet, I had a bad feeling it was going to be a rocky transition since Trump did not want to give up on the reins of power. He was going to do all he could to declare the election illegitimate to try to remain as President. Not good.

The next day, November 4, 2020, Barton Gellman, The Atlantic writer who sounded the alarm for months that Trump would not give up the Presidency, was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air prorgam by host Terry Gross. The interview was titled, “’Atlantic’ Writer Says Current Election Is A ‘Stress Test’ Of American Democracy.”

It was a huge relief for Tanya and me, as well as millions of other Americans, when the news media declared that Joe Biden won the Presidency on Saturday, November 7th. Pennsylvania was the “Keystone State” that helped Biden cross the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes. We were so excited with the results that Pennsylvania tipped the election in Biden’s favor.

To celebrate Biden’s victory, we drove to a local Portland food cart to order Philly cheese steak sandwiches. We ate them for a late lunch that day. Unfortunately, they tasted terrible. Maybe they taste better in Philadelphia. However, these sandwiches felt like a rock in our stomachs. We did not feel fine for the rest of the day. If Pennsylvania plays a crucial role in a future U.S. election win, we know next time to buy Philly cheesecakes, not Philly cheesesteaks!

Brian Ettling and Tanya Couture enjoying locally made Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches after the news broke that Joe Biden officially was elected President. We were happy Joe Biden won, but this was probably the worst meal we ever had.

It felt rather odd that former Republican President George W. Bush was one of the first calls that President-elect Joe Biden received congratulating him on his victory. That was a lovely gesture. Sadly, President Donald Trump refused to accept election results, said it’s ‘far from over.’

My November 2020 appearance on the TV show Comedy Central’s Tosh.o

On a lighter note, as we waited to see if Donald Trump would concede, Comedy Central’s Tosh.o TV show invited me to return to the show for another taping. They wanted to quickly put together an episode to get my comments and other past guests on the recent Presidential election. Unlike the previous episode, they were going to film me over Zoom. With the pandemic, they were not going to fly me to Los Angeles like they did in 2016.

In August, Comedy Central announced it would end its run with November 24, 2020 as the series finale for Tosh.o. ViacomCBS-owned cable network stated Tosh.o would wrap its run with its 12th and final season in the fall of 2020. The last 10 episodes would air starting on September 15th. Thus, I had a chance to return to the show for one last time on one of the last remaining episodes to be aired on Comedy Central.

This TV comedy show could be a great platform to discuss climate change. I wanted to slip in a message to urge for climate action if possible. With the pandemic, I had not given a climate change presentation in months, and I felt very rusty. Thus, I emailed climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann of University of Pennsylvania for his advice for climate change messaging for this TV appearance, and this was his response:

“Hi Brian…
Sounds like a great opportunity indeed. These days, my messaging is focused on just two words: urgency and agency.

Yes, bad things are happening, we can see them playing out in real time now. But we can prevent the worst from happening. Assuming the election goes our way, there will be leader ship once again in Washington DC. And we have ready climate plans on the table from both Congressional Democrats and the Biden campaign. We need to hit the ground running, and in his perspective first hundred days, Biden and a hopefully Democratic Congress need to pass a climate plan that put a price on carbon, incentivizes clean energy, enforces regulations, and blocks support for new fossil fuel infrastructure.
That’s sort of my elevator pitch!“

Sadly, this 2020 Tosh.o segment was not as good as the original episode where I was a guest in 2016. I was disappointed that I was unable to squeeze in a message about climate change for my second appearance. My first guest appearance on Daniel Tosh’s show focused exclusively on my climate change messaging and my attempts to use comedy. This time, climate change was hardly mentioned. Still, it was fun to participate on this TV show again. The segment was called, “DANDERSON COOPER 361.”

2020 was a depressing year for me with the COVID 19 pandemic. This Tosh.o appearance was a welcome comic relief for me. When I posted about it on Facebook, my friends and family seemed to enjoy watching me again on TV. As far as my climate organizing, I made good connections with Oregon Legislators in 2019 and 2020 when I lobbied for the cap and invest bills. This led to new climate organizing effort in 2021. I will cover this in the next blog as well as my thoughts on the serious threat to American democracy.

Screenshot image of Brian Ettling as part of a panel on TV Comedy Central’s Tosh.o on November 10, 2020. Photo taken by Lisa Hunt, Brian’s older sister.

Stay tuned for Part 8, the aftermath of the 2020 Presidential Election: U.S. democracy under attack 2021-2023.

For Climate Action, let’s protect our democracy, Part 6

Photo of Brian Ettling taken on September 18, 2018.

“Remember that your political adversaries want you to feel demoralized, cynical, and hopeless about taking political action. NEVER GIVE THEM THAT SATISFACTION.”
– Brian Ettling

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

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

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

Part 1, My 1980s childhood in Missouri to witnessing 2000 Presidential Election in Florida
Part 2, my story from 2001 to 2007
Part 3, 2007-08, Loss of a friend, Leaving Everglades, and finding my passion for climate action
Part 4, Healing from grief and Taking Climate Action in Oregon and Missouri 2009-2016
Part 5: My frustration and heartbreak with the 2016 Presidential Election

Part 6: Donald Trump’s Disgraceful Presidency and my focus on climate action 2017-2020

Taking Climate actions in St. Louis in January 2017

In January 2017, as Donald Trump prepared to become President, I was busy taking climate action. On January 4th, I gave a speech at St. Louis South County Toastmasters, where I was a member. My talk advocated for joining Toastmasters as one of the best ways I know to engage climate change doubters. A video of this speech is on YouTube. My fellow Toastmasters voted for me as “Best Speaker” for this speech. This was my 20th speech for Toastmasters during the previous 6 years. Most of my speeches were about climate change. As a result of this speech, I achieved the Advanced Communicator Bronze Award from Toastmasters International.

On Sunday morning, January 8th, I was the first speaker for the “Climate Change and You” series at Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. I led a webinar for Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteers on January 12th, “National Parks and Climate Change.” I talked about how my work experience as a park ranger and our love of national parks helped me achieve common ground in meetings with Congressional staff when I lobby them as a private citizen on climate change.

On January 24th, friends informed me on Facebook that they spotted me on TV when my August 2016 episode on Comedy Central’s Tosh.o aired on television again. One of my favorite stories that happened when this episode aired was shared my friend, Lucia Whalen, who is a professional comedian. I know Lucia as a fellow Climate Reality Leader. She was hanging with friends and watching television. She was trying to convince them to attend the upcoming 2017 Climate Reality Training in Denver, Colorado and my episode came on TV.

Fran Ettling and Brian Ettling from their August 2, 2016 Tosh.o episode that aired on again on TV at the Comedy Central Channel on January 24, 2017. Photo by Randy Eichholz

On January 29th, I organized a St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up (now called Climate Meetup-St. Louis) event at Schlafly’s Bottleworks. I invited Philadelphia area businessman and CCL volunteer Congressional Liaison Jay Butera as a guest speaker via Zoom. I asked Jay to share his recent lobby stories to successfully shift some GOP members of Congress to act on climate change. Just one month before, the National Geographic TV series, Years of Living Dangerously, featured Jay on an episode, called “Safe Passage.” Jay asked me to play this video segment at this event before I introduced him to speak. Over 80 people attended this January event at Schlafly’s, which packed their large meeting room.

This was my last event I organized for this group. Just days before this event, my wife Tanya, accepted a job in Portland, Oregon. We moved there in the second week of February 2017.

The start of Donald Trump’s Presidency in 2017 was a disgrace and a disaster.

As Tanya and I transitioned to living in Portland, the U.S.A. was transitioning to life under the Presidency of Donald Trump. His Presidency did not start well. He was unhappy with the news media reporting of the small crowd size at his Inauguration. Two days later, his Inauguration was overshadowed by the Women’s March, the largest peaceful protest in U.S history, according to political scientists. It was prompted by Trump’s policy positions and rhetoric, which were considered misogynistic and represented a threat to women’s rights. Trump tried to impose a ban on Muslim immigrants to the U.S. which sparked big nationwide protests at airports.

Trump’s leadership was an ongoing disaster. The abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. His continual lying because he did not want to acknowledge the Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump refused to accept Russian mingling in the 2016 election, although it was obvious they played a role in promoting misinformation on social media and hacking Hillary Clinton’s emails. Trump campaign had numerous meetings with the Russians in 2016 and shared campaign data with them.

In June 2017, I felt dismayed, as a climate organizer when Trump withdrew from the 2015 international Paris Climate Agreement. He promised he would do this when he ran for President. Thus, his action was no surprise, but it looked foolish with the rising threat of climate change.

On August 12, 2017, it felt like American racism and bigotry had fully bubbled up to the surface with the “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia. White nationalists and neo-Nazis showed up the evening before to protest the planned removal of the prominent statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. They repeated racist chants, such as “Jews will not replace us!” which needed to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. It seems like the election of Donald Trump allowed some Americans to think that it was ok to say openly racist things and boldly gather with like-minded people to openly express hatred.

When counter-protestors showed up in Charlottesville to stand up to the alt-right protesters, violence broke out among them. The violence peaked when a car plowed through a group of counter-protesters killing one protester, Heather Heyer, and injuring more than 19 others.

The worse part was that Donald Trump struggled to find the right words to condemn the bigotry, hatred, and violence. He tried to rebuke the neo-Nazis and alt Right. However, he then made the erroneous statement, “you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”

Oddly, two of my Facebook friends defended maintaining the Confederate statues in the U.S, such as the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA. From my perspective, America was going backwards under Donald Trump. Elections have consequences. The Democratic leaning voters in 2016 who chose not to vote or voted for third party candidates helped elect Donald Trump.

Donald Trump’s awful first year showed Hillary Clinton should have been elected President.

In September 2017, Hillary Clinton wrote a book that was published and released that month called, What Happened, where she attempted to grapple with the outcome of the 2016 election. The book received mixed reviews as she shared her perspective. Some critics thought she was still “out of touch” with Americans, “not newsy.” On the other hand, I agreed with her from what she wrote in the book that Bernie’s “attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election and paving the way for Trump’s ‘Crooked Hillary’ campaign.”

I saw this with some of my progressive friends in November 2016 who reluctantly voted for Hillary Clinton or voted for third party candidates such as Jill Stein of the Green Party. Did Bernie Sanders play a role in handing the 2016 Presidential election to Donald Trump? Most news sources I read from November 2016 and afterwards did not think that. However, I found one source, “Bernie Sanders Voters Helped Trump Win and Here’s Proof” from Newsweek, August 23, 2017.

In that 2017 book, Hillary Clinton pointed to many factors that led to her defeat, including the Russian misinformation campaign on the internet, FBI Director James Comey re-opening the email investigation against her, the media obsession over her emails, many people distrusted her especially as the first woman running for President, Republican voter suppression efforts in states like Wisconsin, and ultimately the decisions she made as the candidate. She aimed to be as candid as she could be and let her ‘guard down’ by writing this book.

When I read What Happened in October 2017 and re-read it in November 2023, I came away thinking that Hillary Clinton would have made an effective President. She had well thought out plans for a jobs and infrastructure package, comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, bipartisan criminal justice reform, bringing down prescription drug prices, and a public option to get us closer to affordable, universal healthcare.

As she prepared to run for President in 2015, Hillary sought out the advice of Senator Elizabeth Warren on tackling issues such as student debt and financial reform. After Hillary won the Democratic nomination, she collaborated with her former Democratic opponent in the race, Senator Bernie Sanders, on plans to make college more affordable and “to write the most progressive Democratic platform in memory.”

She noted that her collaboration with Bernie on college affordability, “That kind of compromise is essential in politics if you want to get anything done.”

Even more, she had a chapter in the book on her philosophy how one makes real change in America: “Step by step, year by year, sometimes even door by door. You need to stir up public opinion and put pressure on political leaders. You have to shift policies and resources. And you need to win elections. You need to change hearts and change laws.”

She learned from her battle for health care reform in the early nineties, “Reluctance to compromise can bring defeat…If you want to get something done, you have to find a way to get to yes.”

She advises that “Progress comes from rolling up your sleeves and getting to work.”

A final tip I wanted to share from her: “I’ve always thought about policy in a very practical way. It’s how we solve problems and make life better for people. I try to learn as much as I can about the challenges people face and they work with the smartest experts I can find to come up with solutions that are achievable, affordable, and will actually make a measurable difference.”

Like Al Gore sixteen years earlier, Hillary Clinton was a very thoughtful highly qualified candidate for President who lost, I believe, because not enough Democratic leaning voters showed up to support and vote for her. In her book What Happened, I did not get the impression that Hillary wrote it to rehash the past. Rather, it felt more like a catharsis to heal from that bitter defeat and a lesson for us and future historians to understand her perspective on her 2016 election loss. At the same time, Hillary made it clear that she was moving forward with her life and doing what she could continuing to make a difference for the U.S. In the months after her defeat and Trump’s inauguration in 2017, her mantra was, “Resist, insist, persist, enlist.”

My climate change public speaking in 2017 and 2018 after moving to Portland Oregon

Like Hillary, I was not giving up after Donald Trump became President in 2017. After Tanya and I moved to Portland, Oregon in February 2017, my climate organizing was very busy that year. In early March, I was a breakout speaker at the Day of Action after the final day of the Climate Reality Training in Denver, Colorado in early March 2017. On March 13th, a Portland 6th grade teacher invited me to be a speaker at the Climate Conference that she hosted.

Brian Ettling speaking at the Florida Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference in February 24, 2018.

At the end of March 2017, I traveled back to Missouri for a week to give climate change talks to over 100 people in Jefferson City and over 60 people Truman State University in Kirksville. I worked at Crater Lake National Park as a park ranger from early May to the end of September 2017. However, I took off the month of June to attend the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) Conference in Washington D.C, where I was a breakout speaker and moderated a panel discussion. At the end of June, I attended the Climate Reality Training in Bellevue, Washington, where I was a co-breakout speaker for the conference giving a presentation on “Reaching Your Audience: Tips and Techniques from Experienced Climate Reality Leaders.”

At the end of October and beginning of November 2017, I lead a climate change CCL speaking tour across eastern, central, and southern Oregon. It was called The Oregon Stewardship Tour. For a recap, I had:

  • 9 public outreach events
  • 2 lobby meetings with district offices of Rep. Greg Walden
  • 2 newspaper editorial board meetings
  • 2 live radio interviews
  • 4 published articles in Oregon newspapers featuring the tour.

After I completed that tour, the Portland Climate Reality Chapter wanted me to give a presentation about that tour for their December 2017 meeting. In that same month while visiting my parents and Tanya’s parents in St. Louis, MO, KMOX 1120 AM radio station, the most dominating radio station in the St. Louis area, invited me to the station to record a one-hour radio interview about my climate organizing.

In January 2018, I was invited to give a short climate change talk at the coastal town of Newport, Oregon. February 2018, I was a guest speaker at the Florida CCL Regional Conference in Tampa, Florida. My topic was the power of Storytelling for communicating climate change. In March 2018, the coordinator for the Greater Pacific Northwest CCL Regional Conference invited me to give two talks at this conference in Boise, Idaho. I gave a summary of my October CCL tour across eastern, central, and southern Oregon. My other talk was on the importance of storytelling for effective climate action. Both of those Boise, Idaho talks were recorded for YouTube.

From February to June 2018, I worked for Tesla Energy. My job was to engage customers at local Home Depots in Portland to schedule them to meet with Tesla solar advisors at their home to install solar panels. This was my first sales job. I became good at making sales for home solar installations. Unfortunately, Tesla laid off my supervisor and the middle management at Tesla Energy in mid-June 2018. My job was transferred to Tesla Motors. I went from a job where I set my own hours and worked near home to transferred to a new Tesla job where I had a long commute and worked long hours. The new job was not a good fit for me, so I quit in early July 2018 to focus on my climate organizing.

Discovering statistics that “Environmentalists are disproportionately awful voters.”

In early June 2018, I attended the CCL Conference and Lobby Day in Washington D.C. The first speaker at their conference and for the June monthly call was Nathanial Stinnett, Executive Director of the Environmental Voter Project.

His presentation was earth shattering for me. 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.

Image Source: a screen shot from youtube.com/watch?v=JPxOf1rb8c4

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.”

Looking at the graph, he pointed out that the loudest voices are those of voters because “politicians go where the votes are, or they don’t get to be politicians anymore.”

Stinnett then boiled it down to good news and bad news. As of 2018, the good news was that 20.1 million Americans are registered to vote identify climate change or other environmental issues as one of their top two priorities. These are “super-environmentalists,” as the Environmental Voter Project calls them.

The bad news? “Environmentalists are disproportionately awful voters,” Nathaniel says. Using public voting and polling data, the Environmental Voter Project breaks down the numbers of environmentalists who vote.

In the United States, we have about 200 million registered voters. In the 2014 primaries, 83 million people voted, and of those 83 million, only 4.2 million were super-environmentalists.

In the 2016 presidential election, 137 million of the 200 million possible voters showed up to the polls. Of those 137 million, only 10.1 million were super-environmentalists. That leaves 10 million super-environmentalists who were already registered to vote, but who simply didn’t find the motivation to get to the polls in an election that was decided by 77,000 votes.

The Environmental Voter Project then had volunteers who contacts those voters by phone (registered voters are public information). The volunteers tries to develop rapport with them to become regular voters who vote in every election.

After I saw Nathanial Stinnett’s information on the June CCL monthly call, I included his information in my climate change presentations on the importance of voting.

His presentation was a motivating factor for me to go door-to-door canvassing in Vancouver, Washington in September, October, and early November 2018 to urge voters to support the Washington’s 1631 ballot measure for a statewide carbon tax.

Brian Ettling going door to door canvassing to urge voters to support voters in Vancouver, Washington to support Ballot Measure 1631 to put a price on carbon on October 29, 2018.

In the summer of 2018, I became involved with Renew Oregon’s efforts to urge Oregon Legislators to pass a cap and invest bill for Oregon, known then as the Clean Energy Jobs Bill. In the fall, Renew Oregon asked volunteers like me to go door to door canvassing in the Portland area to urge voters to elect Democratic incumbent Kate Brown for Governor and Democratic legislators so we could pass this bill in 2018.

My only time I did not canvass was when I took a 12-day trip to Missouri in mid-October 2018 with my wife Tanya. This was a climate change speaking tour where I gave talks at my alma mater William Jewell College, the University of Missouri in Columbia MO, St. Louis University, St. Louis Community College, and Oakville High School, where I graduated in 1987.

Overall, the Democratic Party did well in the 2018 election flipping the U.S. House of Representatives and electing a strong majority of Democrats to the Oregon Legislature as well as electing Kate Brown to a full term as Governor. The bad news was that the Washington ballot measure 1631 failed to pass. The 2018 election showed that many voters in the U.S. and Oregon were not happy with Donald Trump and the Trumpism movement. I was glad to have actively participated in that election with door-to-door canvassing in Oregon and Washington state.

Brian Ettling door to door canvassing for Governor Kate Brown and the Portland Clean Energy Initiative in Portland, Oregon on October 20, 2018.

Organizing for Oregon’s Cap and Invest Bill in 2019 & 2020, then came COVID 19 pandemic

After the 2018 midterm election, Oregon voters seemed to give Governor Kate Brown and the Democratic controlled Legislature a mandate to pass Renew Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs Bill to tackle climate change on the state level. In the remaining weeks of 2018, all of 2019, and in the first two months of 2020, I organized hard with Renew Oregon to encourage Legislators to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Bill. I regularly met and wrote letters to my state legislators, I attended town halls for my legislators and other nearby Oregon legislators, attended hearings before Joint Legislative Carbon Reduction committee that held hearings on the bill and testified numerous times before the committee, and I participated in Renew Oregon’s Lobby Days and rallies at the Oregon state Capitol.

All of this was not enough because a Republican Senate walkout prevented the Clean Energy Jobs bill from passing in June 2019. After all my efforts, that loss felt like a severe blow, similar to the Presidential election losses of 2000 and 2016. After several weeks feeling depressed and laying on the couch in July 2019, I picked myself back up and started organizing with Renew Oregon again. I organized two large community events attended by over 100 people in September 2019 and January 2020. For the short Oregon Legislative session of 2020, I repeated all the same actions I mentioned in the previous paragraph of regularly writing and meeting with my legislators, attending legislative town halls, attending legislative hearings and testifying, and participating in Renew Oregon’s Lobby Days and at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem.

The same result happened at the end of February 2020, the House and Senate Republican legislators walked out to prevent the Democratic legislators from passing the bills. This was another emotional letdown for me. Whenever I faced a defeat, disappointment, or setback in the climate movement, I always found a way to dust myself off and jump on a new horse. I would just focus on a new climate organizing project. However, in March 2020, the COVID pandemic arrived, and all my climate organizing came to a standstill.

I literally did not know what to do with myself. Suddenly, I had no climate meetings scheduled, no lobby meetings or legislative hearings to attend in Salem, no public presentations to give, no meetings or events to organize, etc. Nothing. All I could do was to sit at home. Thankfully, my wife had a good paying job, so financially we were better off that many people during the 2020 COVID 19 pandemic. However, with the bitter defeat of Oregon’s cap and invest bills and no climate activities to devote my attention, I fell into a severe depression.

Making the pandemic worse for me was the leadership of President Donald Trump. I craved for a leader like Winston Churchill who would rally us to say, ‘This will take a couple of years. It will require great sacrifice for all of us, but we will get through this and prevail.’ Instead, we had a President who downplayed the virus, thought it would magically disappear by late spring or summer, did not want to test the American public, and advised people to ingest bleach to defeat the disease. It was such a heavy and bleak time to be alive.

Brian Ettling in front of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, OR on March 6, 2020.

Stay tuned for Part 7 of this blog series, Working as a U.S. Census Enumerator and the Presidential Election of 2020.

For Climate Action, let’s protect our democracy, Part 5

“It’s not enough to be angry when it comes to politics and the world.
We must channel our energy into action and link with others who are acting effectively.”
– Brian Ettling

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

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

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

Part 1, My 1980s childhood in Missouri to witnessing 2000 Presidential Election in Florida.
Part 2, my story from 2001 to 2007.
Part 3, 2007-08, Loss of a friend, Leaving the Everglades, and finding my passion for climate action.
Part 4, Healing from grief and Taking Climate Action in Oregon and Missouri 2009-2016

Part 5: My frustration and heartbreak with the 2016 Presidential Election

Initial impression and skepticism about Senator Bernie Sanders running for President

On April 30, 2015, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont announced that he was running for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. I never heard of him. I found him to be intriguing because he has never been a registered member of the Democratic party and calls himself a “democratic socialist.”

I leaned towards supporting Hillary Clinton for President because of her experience as a former First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State. I found her to be extremely intelligent and insightful in TV and radio interviews. I thought she would make an excellent President. At the same time, I welcomed a vigorous debate for the Democratic nomination. I had concerns that many Republicans, independent voters, and even Democratic voters strongly disliked her. Personally, I liked U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and wanted her to run for President. If Elizabeth Warren was not running, I saw Hillary Clinton as the best Democratic candidate for President.

The first time I commented about Bernie Sanders on social media, primarily Facebook, was July 25, 2015. I found an informal online survey determining how my views matched up with Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton. For that post, I wrote, “Vote for the candidate based on issues and NOT party. Use https://www.isidewith.com/ to see who you agree with most on many of the top issues we are all discussing. I am with Bernie Sanders.”

During the summer of 2015, I worked as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. After one of my ranger talks, I chatted with a couple in their 30s who were from New Hampshire. I commented that it must be interesting living there having the first Presidential primary in an election year. They responded that they had met many Presidential candidates over the years. Most recently, they shared that they met Bernie Sanders. I asked them how that went.

They replied that he had many great ideas on healthcare and other issues. However, they seemed skeptical that his ideas would pass through Congress if he was President. They asked him, ‘You have bold ideas, but how are you going to pass that through Congress?’

His response: ‘We need a revolution to elect members of Congress to get those items passed.’

They were unimpressed with his answer, and they decided not support him for President. Their response left a big impression on me that Bernie Sanders did not seem like a good candidate. After that conversation, I did not focus much on Bernie Sanders. I worked at Crater Lake until October 7th. I then drove across country from Oregon to St. Louis, Missouri. After I arrived home on October 16th, Tanya and I had to prepare for our November 1st Wedding.

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling on their wedding day on November 1, 2015.

Getting married in November 2015 and seeing floods in St. Louis in December 2015

Tanya and I had a fantastic wedding with over 100 people in attendance. My mother-in-law is originally from Denmark, so we had nine relatives from Denmark come to the wedding. With their visit, we had festivities happening for days afterwards.

Two weeks later, I taught a climate change 101 continuing adult education class at St. Louis Community College. November 15th to November 19th, I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the Citizens’ Climate Lobby conference and to lobby with them for climate action at the Congressional Offices on Capitol Hill.

The only downside was that I got a frozen shoulder from handling a suitcase that was too heavy from this trip. It was very painful to move my right arm and shoulder in the remaining weeks of 2015 and beginning of 2016. Fortunately, I was able to go to a doctor who prescribed physical therapy for me. By April 2016, thankfully my shoulder healed, and I felt back to normal.

In December 2015, I was productive with my climate writing. I wrote two blogs about how I taught my climate change 101 continuing adult education classes. Plus, I wrote a blog about the toast my mother-in-law gave at Tanya and my wedding supporting my climate change work. In addition, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published my opinion editorial, “A GOP market friendly alternative to Obama’s Clean Power Plan.” This was my third op-ed published in Post-Dispatch the past two years. Plus, I had 10 opinion commentaries published in Oregon newspapers in 2013. Thus, at the end of 2015, I felt like I was becoming a pretty good at getting op-eds for climate action published in newspapers.

As 2016 approached, I focused on blogging and writing for climate action. We had heavy rains in St. Louis starting the day after Christmas and continued for a couple of days after that. This led to severe flooding with standing water that overflowed the Mississippi, Missouri, and Meramec Rivers, causing gridlock of traffic in the St. Louis metro area.

On December 30th, my wife and in-laws drove several hours from their house in West St. Louis County to my parents’ home in South County. That drive normally takes around 30 minutes. We received our wedding photos a couple days earlier. We were excited to see the photos, but the weather, enhanced by climate change, dampened the occasion. After that experience, I wrote the blog two weeks later, “Experiencing a taste of climate change is no ‘walk in the park.’”

Flooded roads and parks by Creve Coeur Park in St. Louis, MO. Photo taken on January 1, 2016.

Receiving angry responses from friends because I was not ‘Feeling the Bern’

As I began writing my next blog, I noticed the Presidential campaign was heating up between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. On January 18, 2016, I read an article by Laura Akers, Contributor to the Huff Post, “To Those of You Who Feel the Bern.” Akers wrote,

“To my progressive and liberal friends who support Bernie Sanders: I’m starting to get a little worried. You see, I see some of you spending a lot of time talking about Hillary Clinton as though she is the enemy. And I get why you’re concerned about her in the primary. I really do…

So please, support your candidate. Sing his praises to the sky. Talk about his track record and his vision and what he could do for this country. But remember that the primary is not the whole game.

In fact, remember that this is not a game.

That this is not about your guy winning or taking your ball and going home. This is about making our country — all of it, in a lot of different arenas — a better place. And that either of them will be far better for the majority of this country than the alternative.”

The intense passion of Bernie Sanders supporters was impressive. However, I noticed rumblings among them that if he was not the Democratic nominee, they would not vote Hillary Clinton for President in November 2016. As a Florida voter in 2000 who had to contend with Ralph Nader voters, hearing these statements from Sanders supporters deeply troubled me.

When I posted this article, I received over 30 comments, many from my ranger colleague from Crater Lake, Mike Frederick. He said if Bernie was not the nominee and it was Hillary Clinton, he was not going to vote in November. He would just stay home. Other friends and I tried to discourage him from taking a strident stand, but Mike refused to listen. Mike and a few others who commented had me very troubled about the upcoming 2016 election.

On January 25, 2016, Paul Starr wrote a piece for Politico that I concurred, “I Get Sanders’ Appeal. But He’s Not a Credible President.” The subhead was, “Democrats have a choice between a symbolic candidacy and a real one. They should choose the real one.”

He added, “(Sanders’) campaign has been waging is a symbolic one. For example, the proposals he has made for free college tuition and free, single-payer health care suggest what might be done if the United States underwent radical change. Those ideas would be excellent grist for a seminar. But they are not the proposals of a candidate who is serious about getting things done as president—or one who is serious about getting elected in the country we actually live in.”

Like the New Hampshire voters I chatted with the previous summer, I was skeptical Bernie Sanders could implement his grand ideas. After I posted this article, I received nearly 100 comments on Facebook. Many of the comments were from strong Bernie supporters angry with me that I was not supporting him.

This was the response I wrote to them, “If you think Bernie can win the Presidency, well I am from Missouri. ‘Show Me’ that he can. Instead arguing with me on Facebook, I need to see you taking action: working his phone banks, knocking on doors, getting your friends & family to the polls during the primaries, helping to raise money, putting the signs on your lawn, etc. doing whatever you can to make it happen. Don’t just quote me poll numbers and tell me he’s the better candidate. Show me how you are going to make it happen. I need to see action from you.

Again, I am going to support whatever Democratic nominee that emerges. I like Bernie and Hillary. Thus, I am not your opposition. Show me that you can form a coalition stronger than the Republicans that will help get all of Bernie’s ideas passed.

Show me that you have a strong enough network when the GOP decides they will obstruct everything Pres. Sanders want to do, just like they did with Obama starting in 2009.

Show me that you will have enough strength, numbers and energy to overcome the Tea Party, Koch Bros, NRA, ALEC, etc in the 2018 mid-terms. Again, I am not your opposition. They are.

We cannot let a GOP President come into office in 2017 and take a giant step backwards on climate action, the EPA clean power plan, a woman’s right to choose, gun control, clean water for Flint & all of us, overextending ourselves with a war on ISIS in the Middle East, etc. We must find ways to continue to work together otherwise, otherwise the GOP will win.

Again, I need to see results from you in the primaries. Now get to work, show me results, and I will then be happy to join your bandwagon.”

Reading those Facebook exchanges on my wall in 2016, I was struck by the amount of time that hardcore Bernie supporters who were Facebook friends wanted to debate me. As I wrote above, I wanted to see that they were actively supporting Bernie by phone banking, knocking on doors, organizing events, etc. One Facebook friend, Videns Veritatis responded, “Should I send you my receipts and itinerary? Maybe after Iowa and NH you’ll be more convinced.”

Cathy Cowen Becker replied, “Happy to! I am phone banking and attending Bernie meetings weekly.” Yes, if one looked on Cathy’s Facebook page, they saw she was active in Bernie’s campaign. At the same time, Videns and Cathy would write very long comments on my wall defending Bernie and attacking Hillary. I found them to be very passionate, but not very persuasive.

This discussion turned into an endless rabbit hole of Bernie vs. Hillary debate. I started receiving hateful and derogatory comments because I expressed skepticism about Bernie on my Facebook wall. I deleted over 10 Facebook friends pelting me with nasty comments because I preferred Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. I tried to explain numerous times to my Bernie friends that I was very alarmed by all the strong Bernie supporters or ‘Bernie Bros’ saying that they would not vote if he was not the candidate in November. I shared my story about Florida in 2000 and not wanting to relive that again.

The nastiness of the Bernie vs. Hillary debate caused me to try to post a more subtle but positive message on social media. I posted photos of me with my earthball with quotes I created such as, “Don’t tear other people down. Instead, aspire to bring love and hope into the world.”

“We are all angry at the gov’t, Wall Street, and the 1%. Let’s link together and channel that energy into effective peaceful action.”

“Those who scream the loudest are not always correct. Make sure you are also listening to the people who are calm, thoughtful and reasonable.”

By February 2016, I was burned out of the Bernie vs. Hillary debate. No, I did not ‘Feel the Bern.’ As I joked back then, I felt ‘Berned Out.’ I re-focused my energy on how I could be effective for climate action. I called numerous friends in the climate movement to attend the February 2016 St. Louis Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and 16 people showed up for this meeting.

Brian Ettling in lower center of photo who helped recruit most of the people in the photo to attend the February 16, 2016 meeting of the St. Louis Chapter of Citizen’s Climate Lobby.

Why I supported Hillary Clinton for President in 2016 over Bernie Sanders

In March 2016, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch endorsed Hillary Clinton for President on March 6th, just one week before the Missouri Presidential primary on March 15th. I voted for her in the primary. I posted on Facebook about the Post-Dispatch endorsement and that I voted for Hillary, which created more scorn from Bernie supporters following me. They had a strong visceral dislike of her. When I tried to explain her positions on trade, fracking, campaign contributions, climate change, etc, they did not want to hear it. I always stated I would support Bernie if he was the Democratic nominee, but he was not my preferred choice in the primary election.

The negativity and hostility of the Bernie supporters scared me in the spring of 2016. I did not see how this was going to settle down for the 2016 election if Hillary became the nominee. After voting for Hillary in the primary, I focused on giving climate change speeches for South County Toastmasters three weeks in a row from March 23rd to April 6th.

In April 2016, the New York Times published an article, “The Right Baits the Left to Turn Against Hillary Clinton.” MSNBC then reported on that article, “When the right goes after Clinton from the left.” The subhead stated, “A variety of far-right groups, including Karl Rove’s, are pushing a bizarre new attack: Hillary Clinton isn’t liberal enough.” This created more angry comments when I posted those articles on my Facebook wall. I responded to one acrimonious comment with the example of climate and environmental writer Bill McKibben. In that New York Times article, it was noted that McKibben grabbed an attack of Hillary from a right-wing blog without realizing source that grabbed. Thus, again, it is important for respected activists like McKibben, double check their sources for tweeting and posting.

Several of my climate friends were swooning over Bernie Sanders because he wanted to ban fracking, he claimed to not take campaign money from fossil fuel corporations, he intended to phase out of nuclear power, and he supported a carbon tax. However, climate and energy writer David Roberts was unimpressed with both candidates, but especially Bernie Sanders. After watching them in a Presidential Debate, he wrote a Vox article, “The Clinton-Sanders exchange on climate change was a dumpster fire.

Like me, Roberts felt that “Sanders rejects the notion that there might be trade-offs in climate policy, but the next president is likely to face many.” Sanders sounded great on paper, but I did not think he is realistic in effectively implementing his policies.

The longer the campaign wore on, but the less I liked Bernie Sanders. He seemed more like fingernails on a chalkboard. I could not wait for the primary campaign to be over. Bernie Sanders and his supporters with rightwing help painted Clinton as corrupt, ineffective, and not a progressive. As one person commented on my Facebook feed, “Clinton is so far to the right she could have just as well run as a Republican.”

I was not having it. I pushed back, “I don’t buy that for a second. Hillary is strongly pro-choice, favors equal pay, campaign finance reform, strong action on clean energy and climate change, increasing the minimum wage, LBGT rights, affordable college education, continuing the EPA Clean Power Plan, ending voter I.D. laws and restrictions, immigration reform, etc. None of the Republican candidates are in favor of these things. Anyone who says that there is no difference between Clinton and the Republicans is either confused or is kidding themselves. There is too much at stake in this election to think otherwise.

Even more, I heard the same thing as a Florida voter about George W. Bush vs. Al Gore in the 2000 election: ‘Tweedle-dee vs. Tweedledumb.’ Eight years of George W. Bush was a huge setback for climate policy, foreign policy, women’s rights, etc. I think you really need to sit down and think through what you are saying.”

Photo of Brian Ettling taken on March 15, 2015, the Missouri Presidential Primary Election Day.

As I exchanged messages with the Bernie supporters, one even called me the ‘Democratic establishment.’ I found that to be odd because I had never attended a meeting for the Democratic Party and I was not that involved in politics at that point, except for lobbying the offices of my U.S. Representative and Senators to act on climate. My impression of Bernie supporters was that if you were not 100% behind Bernie, there was something wrong with you. Then you received their full wrath, anger, and insults.

One person wrote to me, “I like you, Brian, but sometimes in your wonderful pursuit of the ideal I think you may sometimes lose grasp of the real.”

Or lecturing me with, “We’re running out of time. ‘Pragmatic incremental change’ just doesn’t cut it.” Not realizing that the President Barak Obama in 2016 was a pragmatist. He got what he could accomplished having a hostile Republican Congress for most of his Presidency. I remember reading he would direct his staff in negotiating with Congress, ‘a half a loaf is good.’ In other words, he was happy to get what he could making deals with Congress and the GOP.

In 2016, I was unimpressed by the methods of persuasion by Bernie supporters. As I remarked to one of his most loyal supporters in February,

“If Bernie followers want to truly succeed, they must build a winning coalition. They must build a strong majority. The Bernie-or-bust mentality and extremely hostile tone I have seen when I and others express doubt Bernie or support for Hillary is very disconcerting. I am becoming more convinced that Bernie is going to lose the nomination because his supporters could not effectively reach out to moderate and Hillary leaning voters. It will be close and tight but the lack of civility I have seen is going to come back to bite Bernie supporters in the long run. In the summer of 2015, I was leaning towards Bernie but I got turned off by the Bernie-or-bust over the winter. This is something that should give you pause. I like Bernie Sanders. I think he is a great guy. However, I got turned-off by Bernie’s followers. I do want to wish you and Bernie all the success for the primaries. Let’s do all we can to come together for the general.”

My concern was the progressive critics of Hillary had made up their minds in the spring of 2016. With all this bitterness, I did not see how they would vote for her in the general election. Fortunately, Hillary Clinton secured the Democratic nomination for President on June 7, 2016. I happily posted about it, and friends that disliked her responded with the typical snide comments.

Yes, I was probably on a fool’s errand. However, I wanted to talk friends off the ledge that if Bernie was not their candidate they would not vote in November 2016. I thought it was too risky to take a stand like that when the Republican candidate was Donald Trump who looked like he could do a lot of damage to our country and democracy if he won the Presidency.

To me, it did not feel like Ralph Nader voters in 2000 and Bernie Sanders voters in 2016 understood coalition building. It’s one of the weaknesses of the U.S. style of democracy for voting separately for a President and members of Congress. In a parliamentary system of democracy, such as Canada, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, a voter votes for the member of Parliament and the party that they are affiliated. The party that has a majority in parliament then selects a Prime Minister and forms a government. If that party does not have a majority, they form a coalition with political parties in the parliament who have somewhat similar agendas and then select a Prime Minister and a cabinet.

My personal opinion is that it too many Americans feel like if they just vote a Presidential candidate they like, their work is finished. They fail to understand that they need vote for the same political party in Congress as the President to increase the likelihood that the Congress will then pass the President’s agenda. If a Green Party candidate like Ralph Nader is elected President or a Democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders is elected President, but then the American voters select a Congress with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, I am skeptical a President Nader or Sanders would be able to accomplish much. That was my opinion in 2000 and 2016. I still feel that way today.

Bit of Climate Change Comedy among the heaviness of the 2016 Presidential Campaign

In spite the friction I had with friends who were Bernie supporter in 2016, I had a very productive spring and summer as a climate organizer. On April 6th, I was voted “Best Speaker” by my fellow South County Toastmasters for my speech, “Hey U.S.A! Let’s Win the Clean Energy Race!” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published my op-ed that I submitted to them for April 22, 2016, “Earth Day and our national parks calls for GOP climate action.”

Then in mid- April 2016, something unexpected and magical happened. I was starting packing up my belongings for the summer when the phone rang at my parents’ house. My mom informed me that ‘someone from Los Angeles wants to chat with you.’

I picked up the phone and the person identified himself as a staff member of Comedy Central’s Tosh.o. We had a friendly conversation where he asked me about my background such as “The Climate Change Comedian,” and making the YouTube videos with my parents and Tanya. He then got to the point: “We would like to fly you out to Los Angeles to appear on a taping Comedy Central’s Tosh.o next week to be interviewed by our host Daniel Tosh. Would you be interested?’

“Yes!” as I serendipitously jumped at this opportunity. The show wanted my mom, Fran Ettling, to also appear on the taping. Thus, I asked her if she was interested, and she was. The producers of the show felt bad that when they found out that Tanya and I planned a honeymoon trip to Augusta, Missouri that week in April. They offered to fly her to Los Angeles and she accepted.

The three of us had a blast flying out to Los Angeles over a 24-hour period for this trip. The host Daniel Tosh turned out to be very gracious to my mom, Tanya and me. The taping of the show with Daniel Tosh was a lot of fun. After we flew back to St. Louis, we could casually mention it to family and friends. However, we did not have permission to announce on social media about it until they informed me when it would air. The show finally aired on the Comedy Channel on August 2, 2016, Climate Change Comedian – Web Redemption Tosh.o.

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

Appearing on Comedy Central’s Tosh.o is a highlight of my life. It was a dream come true for me to talk about climate change using humor on national TV to be seen by millions of people.

The menacing and odious atmosphere of the Presidential Campaign in the fall of 2016

Through the spring, summer, and fall, the 2016 Presidential campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump became more unsettling for me. As a Presidential candidate since June 2015, Donald Trump made endless bizarre statements, such as calling Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for almost 5 years, “not a war hero.” He responded with insults to the Kahn Gold Star family who spoke at the Democratic convention who lost their son in Iraq while serving in the military.

When Trump mocked New York Times reporter with a disability, he looked like an insane person that belonged nowhere near the White House. That should have ended Trump’s chances to get elected as President then, but it only got worse. The Russians hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails and released them before the Democratic convention. Bernie Sanders supporters were still upset he was not the Democratic nominee. They protested inside and outside the convention.

In October 2016, it was shocking to read “At least 24 women accused the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, of inappropriate sexual behavior in multiple incidents spanning the last 30 years.” Then came the infamous Access Hollywood tapes where Trump made lewd and inappropriate comments about kissing women and grabbing them by the genitals.

For me, that was not even the lowest part of the campaign. The most disgusting part of the 2016 Presidential campaign was when Trump invited Bill Clinton’s accusers of sexual abuse to sit in the family area close to the center of Presidential debate. The four women — Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Kathy Shelton — sat in the audience alongside other ticketed members. It stunk as an obvious stunt to try to throw Hillary Clinton off their game and to deflect from Donald Trump’s glaring issues.

It is possible Bill Clinton may have been inappropriate with these women. If so, he should be held accountable. To me, it felt like Donald Trump used and abused them again as pawns and objects. He did not care about them. Even more, I was very disappointed with those four women. I would have had more respect for them if they would have held a press conference before the debate laying out their cases against Bill Clinton. Then they should have stated that Donald Trump invited them to the debate, but they refused to participate in his game. In their thirst for revenge against what they saw as a sexual predator (Clinton), these women ended up helping another sexual predator (Trump) with zero interests in securing more rights for women.

Trump’s mentor was attorney Roy Cohn. He was an American lawyer who became well known for as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel during the Army–McCarthy hearings in 1954. In 1973, Trump hired Cohn to defend him and his father, Fred Trump, Sr. Donald and Fred were sued by the federal government for discriminating against black renters looking for apartments in their buildings in New York City. Cohn taught Trump when someone punches you, punch back 100 times harder, to be a counter puncher. Cohn advised Trump to “never settle” to never admit when he was wrong or made a mistake. These were deranged attributes that were very dangerous for a man to be power craven to want to be President of the United States.

The warning signs should have been clear to a large majority of Americans that Donald Trump was not fit to be President. Yet, he remained within striking distance in the polls. In October and into November, I kept watching the aggregate polls from fivethirtyeight.com hoping for reassurance that Donald Trump would lose. Their final poll had Hillary Clinton with over a 70% chance of winning the White House, with Donald Trump less than a 30% chance.

Other news media were even more bullish on Hillary Clinton’s chances. Days before the election, the Independent had the headline, “Survey finds Hillary Clinton has ‘more than 99% chance’ of winning election over Donald Trump.” On election day, the New York Times reported, “Clinton has an 85% chance to win.” Reuters forecasted, “Clinton has 90 percent chance of winning.

I took solace reading these articles about polling in the weeks leading up to the election. Yet, the 2000 election, plus the negative interactions I had with Bernie supporters in 2016, had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that Hillary Clinton might not win. I felt especially nervous on October 28th when FBI Director James Comey announced to Congress that his agency found Hillary Clinton’s emails in a probe into former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., then-husband to Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Those emails Comey wrote to Congress appeared “pertinent” to the investigation into Clinton’s personal email server. He said the FBI was reviewing them.

I remember hearing this news on the radio and reading it on the internet at my in-laws’ house. My wife, her parents, and I did not know what to say. We all felt deeply troubled this could cost Hillary Clinton in a close election. To this day, many Clinton staffers and even Hillary Clinton felt it was a crucial blow that doomed her campaign in the days leading up to the election.

Still, because I thought she was the strongest candidate for climate action. Even more, people I deeply admire such as climate writer David Roberts and former Vice President Al Gore thought she was the best candidate in the November 2016 general election. Thus, I proudly voted for Hillary Clinton for President on November 8, 2016.

Photo of Brian Ettling after he voted in the November 8, 2016 Presidential election.

Responding the horrendous news that Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election

My wife and I watched the election results at her parents’ house on November 8, 2016. I was in a state of disbelief for days. I did not sleep for a couple of nights. Late that night, I wrote on Facebook, ‘There goes many years of my climate organizing down the drain.’

I felt like electing Donald Trump was a huge step backwards for U.S. climate policy. I could not decide if 2000 or 2016 felt worse.

The good news is that my friends on social media encouraging me to continue forward with my climate organizing. Yes, I intended to move past the election results. I planned to fly to Washington D.C. in a week to attend the November Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) conference and lobby Congressional offices on November 15th, just one week after the election.

In the hours after the November 8th election, I exchanged messages with Cathy Orlando, the Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada. In September, I made plans to attend the CCL Canada conference happening at the end of November in Ottawa, Canada. I had friend who attended the previous Canadian CCL conferences and lobby days on Parliament Hill. They shared with me afterwards how they loved attending and lobbying in Canada. Plus, I really admired Cathy, so I was determined to attend. Somehow, Cathy and I exchanged messages about my April 2016 Toastmasters speech, “Hey U.S.A! Let’s Win the Clean Energy Race.”

Cathy then asked me if I could modify this speech and give it for the CCL Canada Conference. I was thrilled and honored that she invited me to be a guest speaker for this conference. Tanya then let me know that she wanted to attend the conference with me. This was peak experience for Tanya and me to travel to Canada for me to speak at this international conference and lobby Canadian members of Parliament to prioritize climate policies.

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling in front of the Centre Block Parliament Building in Ottawa, Canada on November 27, 2016.

My presentation for this CCL Canada conference went great. I modified my April 2016 Toastmasters speech for this conference to be called “Hey North America! Let’s Win the Clean Energy Race!” Thankfully, the organizers of this conference live streamed and video taped all the presentations. Thus, later on, I uploaded this presentation to YouTube.

I recently heard Jane Fonda quote Greta Thunberg on a Climate One podcast released on September 29, 2016. Jane Fonda remarked, “Greta Thunberg said, ‘don’t go looking for hope. Look for action and hope will come.’ And she’s right.”

I overcame the bitter loss of the 2016 Presidential election by lobbying, public speaking, and taking action. My friend, former Crater Lake Park Ranger, and climate journalist Brian Kahn wrote an article featuring me for ClimateCentral.org, one of my favorite websites. The story, “National Parks Are At the Front Lines of Climate Communication” was published on November 14, 2016. It focused on how a greater number of park rangers are talking with park visitors about climate change. Brian reported on how I talk about climate change as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park. Brian quoted me saying,

“The reality of climate change is facing us in national parks. You can’t deny it or go around it so it’s important to engage visitors no matter what.”

On December 6, 2016, I was live on St. Louis radio show Earthworms at FM KDHX 88.1. Host Jean Ponzi interviewed me about my climate change advocacy, especially my recent lobbying in Washington D.C. and Ottawa Canada for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

The November 2016 Presidential election was a huge setback for climate action. However, as the Donald Trump Presidency approached in 2017, I did not let it stop me. I was determined to do more organizing, public speaking, and writing to reduce the threat of climate change.

Brian Ettling speaking at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada Conference in Ottawa, Canada on November 26, 2016. Photo by Tanya Couture.

Stay tuned for Part 6: The disaster of Donald Trump’s Presidency and my climate action during the Trump Presidency, 2017-2020.

For Climate Action, let’s protect our democracy, Part 4

Photo of Brian Ettling taken in March 2010.

“Yes, we do need hope…But the one thing we need more than hope is action.
Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action.
Then, and only then, hope will come.”
– Climate Activist Greta Thunberg at her 2018 TED Talk

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

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

The first post in this blog series, My 1980s childhood in Missouri to witnessing 2000 Presidential Election in Florida. Part 2, my story from 2001 to 2007. For Part 3, my life in 2007, Loss of a friend, Leaving the Everglades, and finding my passion for climate action.

Part 4: Healing from grief and Taking Climate Action in Oregon and Missouri 2009-2016

Finding Healing from Grief on Hawaii’s Big Island in October and early November 2008

In late May of 2008, I returned to work at Crater Lake National Park for the summer. Soon after I arrived in the park, I mentioned to my superiors that I wanted to give a ranger program about climate change. My Crater Lake supervisor, Eric Anderson, and the lead interpretive ranger, David Grimes, supported and encouraged my idea. I just did not feel like I knew enough or was brave enough to do such a program. It would take me three more years before I felt courageous and had enough knowledge to give my climate change evening program at Crater Lake.

During summer of 2008, I focused on my ranger programs, including adding a sunset guided ranger hike up Watchman’s Peak. I was still in a fog and feeling raw from losing my mentor Steve Robinson the previous October. In autumn 2008, Eric Anderson persuaded me to give ranger programs to the school groups visiting Crater Lake during the Fall Classroom at Crater Lake program. The school groups ranged from 5th grade to high school.

I quickly discovered giving ranger talks to school groups was not my thing. The students were frequently rambunctious since they were outside of their school for the day. I could relate because I was a boisterous brat when I was a kid, especially on school field trips. Many of the teachers were either overly demanding or aloof. At the same time, I saw fantastic teachers in action the way they successfully guided their students. I marveled at the great teachers and I doubted I had the adept skills to manage a classroom like them. The adult chaperones were often annoying. I would ask the students a question and the adults would jump in to answer.

Crater Lake is so beautiful, and we had a lot of gorgeous weather that fall. However, I could not wait for my commitment for Classroom at Crater Lake to be over. I still grieved over the loss of my friend and mentor Steve Robinson. I needed to go somewhere to do some healing. Fortunately, my friends John and Jeanette Broward invited me to come visit them on the Big Island of Hawaii. They were close friends of Steve and could relate the emptiness I felt at that time.

I visited the Big Island of Hawaii for 8 days around the end of October and the beginning of November 2008. During the trip, Jeanette told me that Native Hawaiians believed that each of the islands has a theme. They thought the theme of the Big Island was a place of healing. The Big Island had tranquil Pacific Ocean beaches, imposing volcanic mountains that destroyed yet created more land, and towering waterfalls on the Hilo side. If one was open to it, the Big Island was a place that can provide renewal for one’s heart, mind and soul.

That warmed my heart to hear that. John and Jeanette lived in Volcano, which is right next to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. John was a law enforcement ranger at the national park. On his day off, John took me hiking inside the national park for the day. During our hike, he told me that he had a recent dream where he had a conversation with Steve. In the dream, Steve was smiling and laughing. He told John that he was happy and doing great.

I really made the most of this trip. John and Jeanette took me to go snorkeling at a coral reef not far from their house. I tried parasailing and surfing near Kailua-Kona. I was terrible at surfing. It felt like a huge life victory when I was able to successfully stand up one time on the surfboard and ride a small wave. I visited all the national park sites on the island that were sacred heritage sites for the Native Hawaiians.

Brian Ettling surfing on the Big Island of Hawaii near Kona on October 28, 2008.

John and Jeanette arranged for me to go birdwatching with Jay Robinson, one of the top birding experts working at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. He showed me endemic native colorful Hawaiian bird species such as the ‘I‘iwi, ‘Apapene, ‘Amakihi, ‘Oma’o, ‘Elepaio, Nēnē (Hawaiian goose), and other birds.

In my own exploring, I drove to the southernmost point of the Big Island, South Point Park. This is the southernmost point of the U.S. It’s one of the windiest places in the U.S. Thus, it was great to go there feel the winds, the big jagged cliffs overlooking the ocean and see the multiple wind turbines providing a portion of the electricity to the island.

I journeyed to the far northern part of the Big Island to see the Pololū Valley Lookout. I hiked down the tall sloping ridge to the beach and nearly had the whole area to myself as I walked. I made the most of this vacation and exploration around the Big Island. In my state of traveling bliss and soaking up the healing spirit of the Big Island, my friend John asked me a question that reminded me that I had a role to play as a responsible citizen.

When I hiked with John at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, he inquired, “Did you vote by mail in the upcoming Presidential election?”

With the loss of Steve and my bitterness I still felt over the outcomes of the 2000 and 2004 elections, I admitted to John that I had not voted. John was flabbergasted and was disappointed with me that I had not voted. There was a lot of excitement across the U.S. that Barack Obama could win and become America’s first Black President. I shared with John that after what I experienced in the previous Presidential elections, I just could not get my hopes up. I was rooting for Barack Obama. I liked his message of ‘Hope and Change.’ I just felt hopeless at that point.

Brian Ettling (with bad hat hair that day) and his friend John Broward hiking at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on October 30, 2008.

The Big Island provided the healing and renewal I needed. John’s question tugged at me that I needed to return my involvement in politics to take care of our natural environment and planet.

My long seasonal job at Crater Lake in 2009 with lots of traveling in between

For that winter of 2008-09, I returned to my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri to visit my parents, sisters, and their families. I got a seasonal job working at REI in mid November helping customers in the store shopping for holiday gifts and outdoor items for winter vacations. Sadly, the Great Recession dominated the economy in January 2009. The seasonal employees that were hired for the Christmas shopping season, such as me, were the first employees laid off.

I needed another job. The Spring Classroom at Crater Lake started in mid-March, and they needed rangers to guide the school programs. The manager of the Classroom at Crater Lake Program, Linda Hilligoss, was happy to have me return to Classroom at Crater Lake.

During the drive from St. Louis, MO to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, I visited friends. I stayed with my college friend Brent Isaacs and his parents in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I met with Tess, a former Crater Lake boat captain, in Phoenix, Arizona. I then drove west I-10 and camped for a couple of nights in Joshua Tree National Park, California. It was a fun park to hike and explore. The Joshua trees were shorter and more stubby looking desert palm trees, not much taller than me. They still had a charming and majestic quality that was fun to take photos of them.

I then spent several nights visiting my friend Cherie Barth at Sequoia National Park. I knew Cherie from when we both worked in Flamingo in Everglades National Park years ago. It was magical to spend a couple of days hiking among the huge sequoia trees with their bright orange bark and their massive girth that seemed to extend to the heavens.

I arrived at Crater Lake on March 20th. I had a great spring working at Classroom at Crater Lake. I enjoyed leading the snowshoe hikes for the school groups. The snowshoe hikes were much more fun than the fall programs. I told the adult chaperones that if they jumped in to answer the students’ questions that they would be pelted with snowballs from the students. A couple of times when the adults jumped in to answer, the students grabbed their snowballs. They were getting ready to cock their arms to just pummel the adult with the snowballs. I then stepped in to save the adult’s life and they got the point to be quiet to let the kids answer the questions.

Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park on March 27, 2009

During the snowshoe hikes, I found a big snowy hill for the students to slide down. I always went first to show the students how to slide down the snow. Several occasions, the teachers and adults could not help themselves and slid down the snow. At the end the of program, I would line up the students at the top of a tall snowy embankment. I took off my snowshoes and was about 20 yards away from them. I stood on the paved road at Rim Village and dared them to hit me with a snowball. It was a fabulous workout to dodge the snowballs. The students were hilarious trying to hit me. One time a kid yelled at me, “Today is your funeral, mister!”

Because I planned to work a long season at Crater Lake from mid-March to the end of September, Crater Lake National Park had to lay me off for two weeks at the last week of May and the first week of June. This prevented the park from exceeding the number of hours and weeks I could work as a seasonal employee for the federal government during a fiscal year. For this two-week vacation, I decided to visit the national parks in Washington State.

For those two weeks, I camped and visited Olympic, North Cascades, and Mt. Rainier National Parks. I basically had sunny and warm weather the whole time. It was perfect weather for sightseeing, photography, hiking, and admiring the natural beauty of those places. Plus, on the drive up to Washington State, I stayed with my friends Gary and Melissa Martin and their daughter Shelby in Salem, Oregon. We visited Silver Falls State Park, which is less than an hour drive east of Salem. We spent the day hiking on the Trail of the Ten Falls. This is a loop trail over 7 miles long, with four water falls one can hike behind. The waterfalls are stunning, ranging from 27 to 178 feet. This was a state park that was so beautiful that it should be a national park.

In the second week of June, I returned to Crater Lake National Park to give my ranger programs for the summer. During that summer, I became lifelong friends with fellow seasonal park rangers Graham Hetland and Aubrey Shaw. They lived permanently in Ashland, Oregon where they attended Southern Oregon University. Graham’s mother lived in Ashland. They needed someone to housesit for his mom, Barbara, for the winter. Barbara planned to go on a cross country road trip in a RV. Thus, they wanted someone to watch her home and her friendly cat, Poppy. I planned to return to St. Louis, but they persuaded me to housesit for their mom.

Grabbing “Climate Change Comedian” Title while living in Ashland, Oregon in the fall 2009

I moved from Crater Lake to Ashland, Oregon in October 2009. Ashland is a beautiful small city in southern Oregon nestled right against the Siskiyou Mountains. The leaves turned brilliant autumn colors while I was there. The weather had ideal Indian summer days while slowly getting cooler as the calendar immersed into fall. It was fun to walk around Ashland for exercise and take pictures of Ashland experiencing autumn. At the same time, I found myself restless. I wanted to pursue my climate change calling, but not knowing what to do about it.

Photo of Ashland, Oregon taken by Brian Ettling on October 22, 2009.

I decided to go to Southern Oregon University (SOU) and meet with Dr. Greg Jones, an SOU professor and climatologist. He specializes in the study of climate structure and suitability for viticulture. Specifically, he studies how climate variability and climate change influence grapevine growth, wine production, and quality. At that time, I was interested in attending grad school to learn more about climate change. I was eager to see if he had any advice for me. Even more, I was curious to see if maybe I could get my master’s degree studying under him at SOU.

My meeting with Dr. Jones did not go well. I shared my background of seeing climate change in the Everglades, plus watching the documentary about Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth. He immediately let me know that he did not like Al Gore. He did not think Gore was a good spokesperson to explain to the public about climate change. That did not sit well with me because it was Al Gore and his advocacy that brought me to meet with him in his office. I left this awkward meeting I not knowing what my next step would be to pursue my climate change vision.

A few days later, I visited my friend Naomi Eklund who lived in Ashland for advice. She pressed me on what exactly did I want to do with my life. She kept pushing me harder. Finally, I snapped, “Fine! If I could do anything, I would like to be ‘The Climate Change Comedian!”

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

I went home and did that. Barbara soon sent news that she did not like RVing across country. She decided to return to her home where I was housesitting in Ashland in mid November. When she moved back home, it felt awkward living in her house. Around Thanksgiving, Barbara announced that she did not want to share her home with me. My parents just moved into a new home in St. Louis. They wanted me to return home to spend the winter with them.

On December 10, 2009, I left Ashland, Oregon for a cross country drive back to St. Louis, Missouri. Like my previous road trips that year, I made the most of this trip. I visited a friend in downtown San Francisco and explored the city for a day. I then stopped by the beach in Monterey, California. Next I achieved a life goal seeing the picturesque Bixby Creek Bridge, just a few miles south of Monterey. Driving down the coast on Hwy 101, I spent the night in San Simeon, CA. The next day I achieved another dream to see Hearst Castle. From there, I drove across California to visit a friend in Death Valley National Park. From Death Valley, I traveled to Las Vegas to spend the night and walk around the city for the evening.

My next stop on this cross country trip was to visit my friends Steve and Melissa in Flagstaff, Arizona. Steve worked as a back country law enforcement ranger at Grand Canyon National Park. While chatting with Steve during a hike of a box canyon just south of Sedona, he asked me if I would be interested in hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon during this trip. I am always up for an adventure, so I said, “Yes!” The next thing I know, we were at the store buying groceries for this hike and Steve lent me his backpack and other gear. I hiked from Canyon Village on the south rim to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on December 20th. Steve arranged for me to spend that night at the Phantom Ranch Ranger Station at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Brian Ettling at Grand Canyon National Park. Photo taken on December 20, 2009.

I hiked back up from bottom of the Grand Canyon on December 21st. On December 22nd, I started the long drive to St. Louis. I faced winter weather snowing conditions driving up I-44 in Missouri on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. However, I arrived at my parents’ new house in St. Louis that evening to celebrate Christmas with my family just in time. After I settled into their home for the winter, I had to figure my next step with this “Climate Change Comedian” title.

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

Finding my groove as a climate change speaker

During the early months of 2010, my sisters in St. Louis wanted me to speak at my nieces’ and nephews’ schools. My younger sister first booked me to speak at my nephew Sam’s second grade class in St. Charles, Missouri on February 5, 2010. This was my first presentation outside of working as a ranger in the national parks.

For this presentation, I brought my inflatable Earth Ball, which is my symbol for caring and appreciating our planet. I used an Earth Ball for years in my Everglades and Crater Lake ranger talks. The symbol of me holding an Earth Ball is the image I use for my website and all the social media platforms I use (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn). The young students liked seeing the inflatable Earth during my talk.

Brian Ettling (far right) speaking to a second grade class at a grade school in St. Charles, Missouri on February 5, 2010.

Exactly one month later, March 5, 2010, I spoke at oldest niece and goddaughter Rachel’s seventh grade class in St. Louis. This talk was a breakthrough for me because this was the first time that I spoke about climate change in a public talk. I showed the average annual snowpack had gone down over the last several decades at Crater Lake. I defined global warming as humans trapping more carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. As a result, the average temperature of the planet has increased since the Industrial Revolution started in 1880.

I then talked about how climate change could cause problems with less snowpack, greater heat waves, and sea level rise. I then urged them to reduce the threat of climate change by recycling, unplugging voltage vampire appliances in their homes, and turning down the heat by putting on a sweater or snuggle blanket. Hopefully, this message on climate change somehow planted a seed in the minds with these students. I will always be grateful that my older sister, my oldest niece, her classmates, and her school gave me this opportunity to talk about climate change for the first time in a public talk.

At Crater Lake National Park that summer, I gave my climate change PowerPoint informally to some of my ranger friends one evening and I shared it with a few other ranger friends. During my cross-country drive from Crater Lake National Park, Oregon to St. Louis, Missouri in November 2010, I showed this PowerPoint twice. I shared it to some ranger friends in Page, Arizona and to my college friend Brent in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. These friends gave me some helpful tips and feedback to improve my talk.

In 2011, things started happening for me as a climate change advocate. After I returned to St. Louis for the winter of 2010-11, I wanted to improve my skills as a public speaker and climate change communicator. I joined a local Toastmasters group, South County Toastmasters, in January 2011. Over the next five years, I gave 20 climate change speeches to this local Toastmasters Club. My fellow Toastmasters voted for me as “The Best Speaker” for 8 of these speeches.

In March 2011, I had the fortuitous luck to be offered a job to work at the St. Louis Science Center’s temporary Climate Change exhibit. This was one of the few climate change museum exhibits in the United States at that time. While working there, I met St. Louis businessman Larry Lazar. We decided to co-found the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up in December 2011 (now known as Climate Meetup-St. Louis).

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

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

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

Brian Ettling getting ready to speak at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium at Grand Canyon Village on May 7, 2013.

Finding success and fulfillment as a climate change organizer

Besides speaking and hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I had many other adventures and exciting moments as a climate change organizer. In 2012, I attended a Climate Reality Project Training led by former Vice President Al Gore to become a Climate Reality Leader. I loved attending that training and was honored to be a mentor for 8 addition trainings to guide others become effective Climate Reality leaders. At the May 2015 Cedar Rapids Training in front of the group of my fellow mentors, I personally asked Al Gore how to best respond to his critics.

After I became The Climate Change Comedian, I created some YouTube videos with my wife Tanya, my mom Fran Ettling and my dad LeRoy Ettling. Comedy Central’s Tosh.o noticed these videos. This TV show flew my mom and I to Los Angeles in April 2016 to appear on their episode airing on August 2, 2016. I never dreamed that when I gave myself that title that it would be on a TV show seen by millions of people. My 2016 guest appearance met the satisfaction of Tosh.o because they invited me back for a second time for their November 10, 2020 episode.

In April 2012, Carol Braford, the St. Louis Chapter Leader for Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) recruited me to volunteer for CCL. I immediately became deeply committed to CCL. While working as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park during the summer of 2012, I reached out to various climate and environmental advocates in the Ashland, Oregon area. As a result of these interactions, I co-founded the Southern Oregon CCL chapter in 2013 that still regularly meets in Ashland. In 2013, CCL inspired me to write 10 published editorial opinions, two in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and eight in newspapers throughout Oregon.

CCL inspired me to attend 8 of their Washington D.C. conferences from 2015-19 to lobby Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. I loved attending lobby meetings with fellow CCL volunteers to urge Congressional offices to support federal climate legislation. As a climate change organizer, public speaker, and writer, it felt like 2011 to 2019 were very productive years for me. My lowest point though was the Presidential election of 2016. It was an extremely painful time for me. I felt like I was reliving the election of 2000 all over again.

Part 5 of this blog will focus on my painful experience of the election of 2016.

Photo of Brian Ettling taken in March 2010.