To be effective, do mentor folks seeking your advice for climate action

Over the years, I have been astonished by all of the people who flatly turned me down when I asked for them their help to mentor me to be a more effective climate organizer and advocate.

The disappointment of getting turned away when seeking advice for climate action

Yes, sometimes people are way too busy, impending deadlines, personal and family issues, etc. that prevented them from saying yes to my request. It has stunned and frustrated me over the years though how many people flatly turned me down without a reason in a way that felt rather rude. The situations have been numerous for me, even if I just give a couple of examples here.

A year ago, I invited a guest speaker at the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet Up that I co-founded six years ago. He is a successful author and organizer on climate change and other social justice issues. His talk was wonderful. A couple days after his talk, I e-mailed him to thank him for his participation and advice for our group.

I asked him if could advise me more sometime as a mentor. I shared, “I really do want to take advantage of this life opportunity to do all I can to make a difference on climate change.”

His response was a bit of a letdown. “It’ll be hard for me to take on one-on-one time. Just moving beyond your comfort zone with (climate) coaching should do the trick. If you want to organize a one or two session book group by Skype on (my book) just let me know.”

This year, I have really tried to put my intention out there that I want to be the Climate Solution Lobbyist. I would love to work full time, year around and all of the time organizing and lobbying GOP members of Congress to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and co-sponsor House Resolution 195 calling for GOP action on climate. Even more, I would love for them to support Citizens’ Climate Lobby‘s carbon fee and dividend proposal.
A friend, my wife and I got the idea that I should contact one of the top volunteer climate lobbyists in the country to see if I could shadow him and learn how he lobbies. This person and I had exchanged e-mails in the past, so he knew who I was. Because he is so busy lobbying and organizing, I was having a really hard time getting a response from him. Thus, I asked a mutual friend if he could approach him with my request.

The response felt like a kick in the stomach. He wrote:

“While I am very much sympathetic to your interest in learning from him, I am unwilling to make this request of him. (His) meetings are, like any meeting with an member of Congress, highly confidential, and he is very good at keeping constituents informed. To start a precedent of non-constituent volunteers lobbying with him, even if they are as wonderful and dedicated as yourself, is not a practice I want to start.

Further, as someone who works with interns and knows the time it takes to mentor someone well, I would not ask him to take on such a responsibility when he needs every sliver of focus and time he can to move our agenda forward.”

Ouch. I really do want to be more effective with my climate action, but it felt like I had hit a brick wall. The climate lobbyist did eventually e-mail me back. However, it still felt like a disappointment. He responded to me:

“I applaud your initiative in ramping up the intensity of your climate work (and you are already doing a lot) Unfortunately I am not able to directly train people at this time due to time constraints.”

It felt really sad for me because it still feels like we have a long way to go to successfully lobby members of Congress to act on climate change and time is running short. I do think that those who are making successful inroads lobbying members of Congress do need to teach their methods and find ways to replicate and duplicate their efforts. We need more people doing this at a higher level of intensity.

I love business writer Tom Peters’ quote“Leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders.”

As much as I can, I try to make myself available to students, young adults, and climate advocates seeking advice or needing information for a school project. My track record is not 100%. Probably a few requests fell between the cracks over the years. However, I really do try to make an effort to be a mentor and available to others seeking advice and help on climate advocacy.

Brian Ettling (second from left) mentoring seven individuals attending the Climate Reality Training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, May 5-7, 2015.

Even more, I am very proud to be a mentor at four Climate Reality Leadership Trainings. After these trainings, I strived to make myself available to all of these new Climate Reality Leaders attempting to complete their actions of leadership.

Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson as wonderful mentors and role models

A great example of being their as a mentor is the story of how astrophysicist and renowned science communicator, Carl Sagan befriended a young Neil deGrasse Tyson. This was decades before Tyson became the famous astrophysicist and science communicator that he is today.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was a 17-year-old kid from the Bronx who intended to be an astronomer. After Carl Sagan saw Tyson’s application to attend Cornell University, Sagan had invited Neil to spend a Saturday with him in Ithaca at the university, .

Sagan gave DeGrasse Tyson a tour of the lab and a copy of his book, The Cosmic Connection. He wrote on the inside “to a future astronomer”

DeGrasse Tyson recalled:

“At the end of the day, he drove me back to the bus station. The snow was falling harder. He wrote his phone number, his home phone number, on a scrap of paper. And he said, “If the bus can’t get through, call me. Spend the night at my home, with my family.”

I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become. He reached out to me and to countless others. Inspiring so many of us to study, teach, and do science. Science is a cooperative enterprise, spanning the generations.”

DeGrasse Tyson chose Harvard for undergrad. The life lesson for him:

“To this day I have this duty to respond to students who are inquiring about the universe as a career path, to respond to them in the way that Carl Sagan had responded to me.”

It has been demoralizing to me that I have not been able to find someone as I want to take my climate advocacy work up to the next level and be more effective. I have not forgotten my own frustration or Neil DeGrasse Tyson when people approach me for help.

Even St. Louis high school student Ian Mason

On February 28, 2017, I got this e-mail from Ladue, Missouri high school senior Ian Mason:

“Dear Brian,

I’m not sure if you remember me or not, but I was a high school student and I attended your class on Climate Change at St. Louis Community College a couple years ago. I’m currently working with a student organization called Global Student Square and I’m doing a video on the Trump administrations Gag orders to scientists, specifically in the climatology field. I think I remember you saying that you were a Park Ranger at some point so I was interested in your point of view.

I would love to meet up at some point and talk if that is okay with you. Thank you so much!”

To be honest, I barely remembered Ian, but I still responded immediately.

“Hey Ian!
Yes, that would be fun to chat with you. Just to let you know: my wife and I moved to Portland, Oregon recently. 

I will be at the Climate Reality Training in Denver Colorado March 1 to 5. Thus, if we want to chat by video or phone, we will have to do it sometime after that.” 

Let’s keep in touch!

Ian was very eager to meet with me for his story. I suggested this to him:

“I will be flying back to St. Louis Monday March 27th to Monday April 3rd.

I will be meeting with staff and the District Director of Rep. Ann Wagner on Tuesday March 28th at 9 am at her Ballwin Office to lobby for climate action. Would you be able to join me then?

My flight gets in on Monday March 27th at 2:30 pm. We could meet that afternoon or evening. I might be available Tuesday afternoon or evening March 28th to meet.

I leave Wednesday morning to go Jeff City and Kirksville for climate talks. It would be a long drive but you are more than welcome to join us.

My flight leaves Monday April 3rd at 1:30 pm if you want to get together that morning.”

Ian jumped at this opportunity to meet up with me when I came back to Missouri from Portland, Oregon for a week. He met up with me when I had a meeting with the local team I had assembled to lobby Rep. Ann Wagner’s staff. He filmed part of this meeting for his project.

His patience and flexibility was amazing. Weeks before, I asked if he wanted to join me for the meeting. Then, I had to bump him off the team because I did get a response from others that I really wanted in that meeting with me. Ian was so gracious and understanding.

Ian was able to join me for the meeting with staff of Senator Claire McCaskill. I was so happy to have him in this meeting. He really seemed to relish the experience.

Constituents Ian Mason, Jim Rhodes, Kurtis Kahle, David Henry and Brian Ettling meeting with Brendan Fahey, Deputy Director for Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Ian astounded me when his mother and a family friend drove him from St. Louis to Jefferson City to see my climate change talk. That was over a 2 hour drive, 120 miles. Ian then filmed my entire climate change talk in Jefferson City. This was such a gift to me because over 100 people came to this talk. They gave me a very positive response and even laughed heartily at all of my jokes. Afterwards, Ian uploaded this talk on YouTube. It was a thrill to have a video of this talk since it was such a fabulous experience.

Afterwards, Ian wanted to interview me and I gave him all of the time that he needed to answer all of his questions fully. When he felt he had obtained all of the quotes he needed from me, I made sure to thank his Mom and family friend for driving Ian there. Later that evening, I stayed with my friends Kathy and George Laur, who had organized this event. The rain started pounding super heavy outside of their window. Ian, his mom and family friend probably had to drive through that nasty weather on their way back to St. Louis.

It took Ian over a week to get the story together and submit it to the student organization, Global Student Square. I was anxious to see the final product, so I tried to give Ian plenty of space to meet his deadline.

The final product on Global Student Square was terrific. It was a fabulous short narration of my short trip back to Missouri to lobby Congressional offices and give presentations for climate action.


In mentoring, you can receive far more than you give. 

Naturalist John Muir observed“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” 

I think the same thing can be said for mentoring and being there for students and young adults seeking your help: you might receive far more benefits that what you give by helping them.

You might argue that this was not an ongoing mentor experience. However, I tried to do all I could to give Ian everything he wanted for his story. With his deep interest in climate change, I have tried to stay in touch with him to encourage him to get involved with my favorite groups: Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Climate Reality Project.

Right now, Ian is considered my suggestion to apply for the next Climate Reality Leadership Training in Bellevue, Washington June 27-29.

As much as I can, I will continue to make myself available to students, young adults, and you looking for advice and help for climate action. Hopefully, I will still find that mentor to help me take it to the next level to be more effective as a climate change organizer and lobbyist.

Thank you Ian Mason for reaching out to me to help you with your project. It was so much fun!
Let me know if I can help you again in the future.

My 9 tips to Respond to Climate Denial when giving a Climate Change Talk

Brian Ettling giving a climate change talk in Jefferson City, Missouri, on March 29, 2017.

For the past seven years, I have given over 150 climate change talks as a National Park Service ranger, Toastmaster, Climate Reality Leader, teaching Climate Change 101 continuing education classes for St. Louis Community College, and a volunteer for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. For three to four years before this, I was scared to give public climate change talks because I was very fearful of encountering climate denial from members of the audience.

March 5 2017, I was a presenter for the Climate Reality Day of Action Training in Denver Colorado on Customizing Your Presentation. My topic was about how to customize and personal your own Climate Reality presentation to relate your talk to your audience. I gave tips such as briefly sharing your own personal story, sharing common values with your audience, include your audience in you talk, use humor if you are comfortable, share local stories of the problem and solution to climate change.

The audience really seemed to love this talk. However, as we shifted to the question and answer period, the audience really wanted to know about was how to respond to climate denial during their talks. This was an audience of new Climate Reality Leaders who will be presenting in their communities for the first time and they were most concerned about facing climate denial, just like I was fearful 10 years ago. Thus, I wanted to share here some helpful tips.

My 9 tips to Respond to Climate Denial when giving a public Climate Change Talk

1. Expect denial and embrace it.

Don’t be surprised by denial. Baseball Hall of Fame Manager Tony LaRussa likes to say about stressful situations, “It’s mostly about embracing pressure, making it your friend.”

You may never get someone who denies climate comes to one of your talks. However, be prepared you may get a climate denial question at some point. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 9% of the U.S. population is dismissive of human caused climate change and another 11% are doubtful, that makes up almost 20% of the U.S. populations, around 1 in 5 of U.S. adults. Statistically, a person has climate denial questions may show up at your climate change talk at some point and ask questions.

My story was that I was involved with my St. Louis South County Toastmasters group for 6 years 2011-2017 before I recently moved to Portland, Oregon. When I joined the group in 2011, it was obvious that around 30% of the members who attended meetings did not accept climate change. Thus, I knew from the beginning from joining this club that it was going to be a very tough audience. However, I knew it was a challenge, so I fully embraced it.

In April 2012, I gave a speech for the club called The Debate is Over. My theme was debunking the myth shared to me by many of the club members that ‘scientists are still debating whether climate change is real.’ During the speech, I shared various surveys showing there is a 97% agreement among climate scientists that climate change is real and human caused.

When I practiced the speech beforehand for my mentor Rob, he suggested that I have a 5 minute question and answer period. He thought it was important for this audience to be able to respond to the main point of my speech, since many of them strongly disagreed with me. I agreed. When you watch the YouTube video, you will see fellow Toastmaster Adam Kutell fiercely argue with me about this. Until nearly the end of the video, he was not going to back down from his opinion and neither did I.

However, Adam did compliment me on my speech afterwards. Adam and the other Toastmasters, many of whom deny the science of climate change, still voted for me as the Best Speaker of our club that evening. Never again did my Toastmasters Club say to me: ‘scientists are still debating whether climate change is real.’

Brian Ettling winning ‘Best Speaker’ at South County Toastmasters.

2. Don’t let people using climate denial filibuster you and take over your talk.

This is a technique I have used for years.

Some people who reject climate science will come to a talk and try to give their own speech for all of the reasons why climate change is not real. They will want to share all of their reasons, such as ‘it is the sun, volcanoes, climate has changed before, scientists still disagree, hasn’t warmed since 1998, in the 1970s scientists predicted cooling, it snowed last week, etc. etc.’

Don’t let them take over. When they immediately start down this path, I ask them, ‘What is your question?’

I then try to get them to focus on one point that I can easily respond for them and the audience.”

This made seem rude to interrupt some people looking to share their point of view. However, they are trying to take over your talk. Don’t let them do that.

3. Get to know climate contrarians beforehand to learn their objections.

Before I am invited to speak at a Rotary, Kiwanis, business group, senior group, etc, I always attend their previous meeting to network and get to know the audience. From my interactions of letting them know I am the next month’s speaker, some of them will let me know their objections to climate science.

That is a great gift because then I can weave their objections into my talk.

“When I came last week and met Jim, he asked me directly: ‘Hasn’t climate always changed?’ I thought that was a great question so I do want to address the difference between natural and human caused climate change.”

This can help soften the blow during your talk that you are willing to address their question. Sometimes, it can help get the contrarian on your side during the speech.

I did this with friend and fellow Toastmaster Adam Kutell, who is very dismissive of climate change. He challenged me to answer this question in a Toastmasters speech: “How can climate scientists predict the future?”

I met with Adam to practice this speech. I incorporated his advice into my speech. This speech called for a question and answer period. Thus, I offered Adam to ask me the first question, which he was very pleased to do. If you watch this YouTube video of the speech, you will see that Adam is much more subdued and less argumentative than his contentious exchanges with me in the The Debate is Over speech.

The challenging and contentious questions of Adam and the other Toastmasters really helped make me a better climate change communicator.

That leads to my next point, which is…

4. Think of climate denial questions as a gift. 

We should be grateful that someone cared enough about climate change showed up for your talk, even if they disagree with you.

Others in the audience who are uncertain or confused about climate change may have the same question, but they are shy about asking it.

If I don’t know the answer to that exact question, I do think of it as homework. It is my gift to learn more and be more knowledgable about a topic within climate change as soon as I get home. The audience just gave me a gift on where my knowledge is lacking so I will be more informed for my next audience.

5. You are not a PhD economist or a peer-reviewed published climate scientist. Therefore, admit it if you don’t know the answer.

Thank the audience member for that question. Tell them that will be your homework when you get home. Offer to find the answer from an expert and contact them back if they are interested.

In March 2016, I gave a speech to my Toastmasters group, Climate change action IS gaining traction in Congress where I shared my support Citizens’ Climate Lobby‘s Carbon Fee & Dividend.

In the question and answer period, my friend and fellow Toastmaster, Erin, asked me about the economic implications of the carbon dividend 20 years from now. I did not have an answer for her question and I struggled on the spot. I should have been more clear that I would contact the leading economic modeler studying the dividend and get back in touch with her.

I did contact that individual, Scott Nystrom, within days of that speech, to answer Erin’s question. I then contacted Erin with his answer. However, I should have been more clear about that during the speech instead of struggling to answer that question on the spot.

6. Don’t let yourself be thrown off your game by gotcha questions where you don’t know the answer.

Be prepared: some people may come to your climate talk trying to stump you with a question. They are deliberately there to play their favorite game of “stump the expert” to impress their family, friends, or their date.

After my Toastmaster speech in December 2014, Slaying a Zombie Myth: The Earth has not warmed since 1998, fellow Toastmaster Ginny Foster asked me:

“What do we do if we know that Mars is warming at the same rate?”

I had never heard that question before, so I did not have an answer on the spot. I think Ginny was sincere with her question. However, if you watch the video, others in the audience started laughing and snickering because they were gleeful to see Ginny stump me.

I did thank Ginny for that question. I suggested to use the website Skeptical Science to find an answer there.

Even more, I told her that I would find an answer and get back to her which I did.

Ginny was very impressed when I researched this on my own going to Skeptical Science, NASA, and National Geographic and e-mailed her back within that week.

Skeptical Science does address the mars question:
Global warming on Mars, ice caps melting

Their conclusion: “At this time, there is little empirical evidence that Mars is warming. Mars’ climate is primarily driven by dust and albedo, not solar variations, and we know the sun is not heating up all the planets in our solar system because we can accurately measure the sun’s output here on Earth.”

Ginny was very happy with my answer. She even wanted me to do a speech on that topic.

7. Be kind. Everyone in the audience will judge you by how you respond to the skeptic.

At the 2015 Climate Reality Training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, former Vice-President Al Gore gave this advice:

‘When someone challenges you, the audience then frames it as you versus that person. They are trying to decide who they like and, therefore, who they should believe and trust. If they audience likes you, they are more likely to believe you and your answer.’

As a public speaker for many years, that advice from Al Gore was one of the best tips I have heard.

Brian Ettling meeting former Vice President Al Gore on May 7, 2015.

8. Look for the underlying values where you might actually agree with the climate denial question.

While on the surface, the climate contrarian appears to be questioning the science. However, they don’t really question science because, most likely, they fly on airplanes, use smart phones, go see their doctor when they are not feeling well, etc. All of that is science that they readily accept.

Thus, when they object to climate science, what they are really objecting to is government interference in their lives.

Instead look for underlying values where you may agree with them:

– accountability
– freedom
– clean air & water
– U.S. competitiveness with China and the rest of the world.
– unpredictable future.

Science historian Naomi Orsekes does an excellent job with this in the YouTube video:
Naomi Oreskes deconstructs Nick Minchin’s climate denial

During this short video, Oreskes responds to Minchin’s objections to climate science by saying

“I do not want the government telling me what to do. But, the longer we wait, the worse this problem gets…then you are going to see a lot of government interventions that you do not want to see at all.”

9. Join a community group like Toastmasters where you can get comfortable engaging folks who believe in climate denial.

As I previously blogged, my involvement with my St. Louis Toastmasters group was very beneficial for me to meet and get to know people who cling to climate denial. It provided a safe space and a supportive group for me become part of the same tribe with them and turn their objections on climate change into speeches. It made me more versed and comfortable in answering climate denial outside of Toastmasters.

Within my Toastmasters group, it allowed me to take my fellow Toastmasters on a long term journey to debunk each of their myths. As I debunked each of their myths in speeches, they stopped saying them during the meetings. Even more, my climate change Toastmaster speeches helped convince more moderates in the room in climate science. Finally, those who agreed with me where more inspired to speak out and not let the climate denial have the final word.

For climate action, participating in a lawsuit against a big polluter

 

Photographer Ansel Adams once said, “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own Government to save our environment.”

I would add that horrifying too often we have to fight our own local utilities for clean, water, and a livable planet to reduce the threat of climate change. However, if we truly care about these things, we have no choice. We do have to fight hard. There are days when it seems like one hell of a steep climb and an uphill battle. However, it is well worth it.

As author, environmental activist and founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben stated about acting on climate change:

“Very few people on Earth ever get to say: I’m doing, right now, the most important thing I could possibly be doing.’ If you join this fight, that’s what you will be saying.”

In December 2013, Missouri Sierra Club asked me to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the local utility for the pollution of their nearby coal plant. In 2013, I was very critical of the air pollution of the Meramec Coal Plant. I wrote an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, What keeps me up late at night, I gave a Toastmasters speech and accompanying blog with that same title. Even more I wrote a letters to the editor in the St. Louis South County neighborhood newspaper the Call and the Post-Dispatch asking for the retirement of that coal plant from the unhealthy air pollution.

Thus, when the Sierra Club invited me to be one of the plaintiffs their lawsuit alleging the local utility had violated the Clean Air Act with their coal plants, I agreed to join the suit. The court case was filed in March 2014. In the summer of 2015, I heard from the lawyers presenting me that I might be testifying in the fall.

Finally, at the beginning of January 2016. I sat down with a lawyer from the Sierra Club and a lawyer representing the utility for my sworn deposition. This was the closest I had been to testifying in a court case. All I can say was: Oh my! It felt like one of the most grueling experiences of my life to be cross examined for 2 and a half hours. I am hesitant to share much about my deposition.

However, it was fun to be able talk about in my sworn deposition about being the climate change comedian and chatting about this website! I enjoyed sharing about my involvement with Citizens’ Climate Lobby and explaining the details of their carbon fee and dividend proposal. It brought pride for me to talk about my involvement with the Climate Reality Project and my work as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. It was great to be questioned about my involvement with the Sierra Club, especially the Beyond Coal Campaign.

The best part though was that the lawyer had read my blog to prepare to cross examine me. That was cool to know that someone was actually reading my blog. It got a laugh when I congratulated her for reading my blog. Looking back, since she was a expensive corporate attorney, I bet she got paid a lot to read my blog!

The mind numbing part was the cross examination of the lawsuit itself. Getting grilled on the fine questions of the lawsuit was very intense and very stressful on the brain. It was so hard, but I felt like I held my own that no amount of pollution is acceptable. The view of St. Louis from the office where the deposition was held was not bad either.

View of the St. Louis skyline on a gloomy overcast day from the office where I took my deposition.

That experience was so stressful and tense that I felt physically worn out and numb by the end. I ended up driving around St. Louis in silence trying to recover from that draining experience. I treated myself to a good pizza and went to a theatre to see the Star Wars: The Force Awakens just to try to get my mind and body not thinking about the experience that morning.

That whole weekend, I just wanted to stay in bed and sleep. I could not remember the last time I had as intense and stressful of a situation as being cross examined by a lawyer. I kept thinking that I would not have wanted my worst enemy to experience that.

Having said that, I would still do that experience in a heartbeat again, even though it is very physically and emotionally stressful. Nothing is important that fighting for clean air & water for our health and a livable planet from reducing the threat of climate change.

Henry David Thoreau famously remarked: “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

Not just because it was a just and noble cause, it was very rewarding to be part on of court case because of the outcome. On July 21, 2016, St. Louis Post-Dispatch announced: Ameren, Sierra Club reach $2 million settlement over air quality. According to the short article:

“In U.S. District Court on Wednesday, Ameren Missouri reached a $2 million settlement with the Sierra Club over alleged air quality infractions at the utility’s Labadie, Meramec and Rush Island coal plants.

The dispute stemmed from complaints over the opacity of air surrounding the plants, which the Sierra Club argued violated the conditions of the Clean Air Act. In 2013, the organization said that it used an open records request to obtain reports from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources detailing nearly 9,700 infractions from 2008 to 2013, with every six minutes that opacity standards were not met being considered a separate violation.

The settlement indicates that the $2 million payment will be directed to an “environmentally beneficial project” of Ameren’s choosing, with the Sierra Club able to provide suggestions of worthwhile considerations. The agreement states that some of the money, however, must be directed to a bus electrification project for either schools or public transit.”

This was great to know that my actions as well as the other plaintiffs of taking this big polluter to court to reduce its air pollution can make a difference. This utility will have to pay $2 million for electric buses or public transportation. No, this does not solve climate change, but it is a step of progress. Thank you Sierra Club for asking me to be part of this lawsuit.

I got injured while lobbying to reduce climate change

Warning: organizing, lobbying and advocating for climate change can actually lead to a personal injury. I know this firsthand. However, the pain, therapy, inconvenience and recovery are well worth the sacrifice.

November 15-18, 2015, I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend Citizens’ Climate Lobby‘s (CCL) November Conference and Lobby Day. It was an incredible trip that I documented in the blog,
8 Lessons I learned lobbying Congress on climate change November 17 & 18, 2015.

Missouri U.S. Senator Roy Blunt with Brian Ettling

The trip was way more productive and fun that I had even hoped it would be. I had meetings with 5 Congressional Offices. Plus, I attended a Missouri Mornings Coffee meeting where I got to meet and get my picture with Missouri U.S. Senator Roy Blunt. I really do love lobbying, preparing and doing my homework to get ready for the meetings, learning from the staff what are the interests of that member of Congress and trying to find common ground, etc.

Thus, I was feeling very elated with I boarded the plane in Washington D.C. to head back to my home town of St. Louis, MO. I could not wait to tell my wife, in-laws and family who how this trip went.

When the plane landed in St. Louis, I headed to the baggage claim to retrieve my suit garment bag. I purchased for this garment bag for this trip with some of the wedding money that my wife and I received from our wedding just two weeks before. I overpacked this bag because of my disorganization that I blogged about previously. As soon as I picked up my bag from the baggage claim, my mother-in-law called on my cell phone to tell me she was waiting for me in the passenger pick up area. She had followed the progress of my flight very closely and had timed it perfectly to pick me up. I did not want to keep her waiting, so I threw the heavy bag over my shoulder using the should strap and I ran to meet her.

Uh Oh! I just got a painful injury while lobbying for climate action! 

When I got home, I noticed it was pain in my shoulder as I took off my sweater. Even more, I noticed I had a hard time getting my right hand to lift above the shoulder. Like a lot of aches and pains in life, I thought it would go away in a few days. It did not. The pain got worse as the winter progressed. Because something was wrong with my shoulder, a couple of times I sneezed hard and the triggered pain in my right shoulder brought me to my knees like I had been shot with a firearm. The episodes get getting worse. Tanya and I went hiking New Year’s Day 2016. I slipped on the mud on a the trail. I landed near the injury on my right shoulder. The pain was so bad, plus my arm and shoulder were not functioning properly, that I flailed around on the ground for awhile unable to get up. I must have looked like a fish out of water flopping around on the ground. We were newly weds at the time, only married two months. Tanya must have been wondering: ‘What did I get into with this marriage?’

By January, I knew I had to go see a doctor so I went in for a physical fitness and I explained my ailment to him. He then prescribed for me for an appointment to see a physical therapist. Several days later, I went to see the physical therapist named Mary. She ran some exercise tests on me. Mary determined that I had a frozen shoulder with tendonitis. The muscles in my shoulder and upper arm were sprained and other muscles compensated. When I was trying to use the strained muscles, they were weak from atrophy. Hence, the pain when I did try to use them.

My road to recovery from this injury

Mary prescribed a series of physical exercises to do at home and we agreed to make appointments once to twice a week to do physical exercises in her office to track my progress. I was very relieved. She did not think I had a torn rotator cuff that did not need to be corrected with surgery. My injury could have been a whole lot worse. I dodge a bullet. Whew!

I went home and immediately starting doing all of the prescribed exercises and then some. I was working out of the first in my life and loving it. The fun part was that I could listen to my favorite podcasts, such as Climate One, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, TED Talks, Fresh Air, etc. and be finished with my 30 exercises twice a day in no time. Plus, I had to ice down my shoulder twice a day after my exercises, which gave me more time to listen to podcasts and educate my mind.

As I started waking up, engaging, and strengthening my right shoulder and upper arm muscles, it did hurt for a good month. I did not mind at all though because I kept thinking of the cliché: “No pain no gain.” Mary marveled at my progress as I was completing the exercises. She would add more exercises to keep the momentum of my progress going. By the middle of April, Mary thought I had fully recovered and she saw no need to continue our physical therapy appointments. My appointments and therapy ended just in time for my travels back to Oregon to work at Crater Lake National Park as a ranger for the summer.

It is now exactly one year after I completed my last physical therapy appointment. my right arm and should feel normal, just like before my therapy. I can comfortably raise my right arm above my head and easily put on clothing, which was a painful undertaking a year ago last January.

I am still very relieved that I did not have to go through surgery and the injury was not worse than it was. The big picture is that I have no regrets. I got injured during a lobbying trip in Washington D.C. trying to urge my members of Congress to take action on climate change. Since this injury happened while I was pursuing my deepest passion, the injury and recovering from it became a point of pride for me.

“I got injured while lobbying to reduce climate change!” I bragged to a few friends.

Even more, I got to educate my mind even deeper on the science, problem and solution to climate change listening to podcasts while doing my physical exercises to recover. I loved listening and watching climate change related podcasts and videos. Ironically, the physical therapy became an excuse I look forward to twice a day to educate my mind. I particularly loved watching and listening to this 2016 Al Gore TED talk over and over again: The case for optimism on climate change. Al Gore’s optimism on climate inspired my optimism for climate action and overcoming my injury.

Somehow that injury made me a better climate change organizer and lobbyist 

I am not glad this injury happened. It was not fun at the time and I would not wish it on anyone. However, it did help me become a better person as I aimed for the goal of full recovery. I got this injury while lobbying for climate action, so it was well worth the sacrifice. Yes, I do know better now to pack smarter for lobbying trips. In November 2016, I lobbied again for Citizens’ Climate Lobby in Washington D.C, plus lobbied members of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada for Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada. During that trip to D.C, I also went to Kansas City MO to attend the regional conference for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

As Friedrich Nietzsche observed: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

During the past year, I attended two Climate Reality Leader Trainings, Houston TX and Denver CO, as a mentor and guest speaker. My wife and I moved to Portland Oregon in February when she accepted a new job. At the end of March 2017, I traveled back to Missouri for one week to lobby Congressional offices of Missouri U.S. Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill and meet with the District Director of U.S. Representative Ann Wagner (MO-02). Even more, I gave a climate talk in Jefferson City, Missouri to over 100 people and a talk in Kirksville MO to over 60 people. Those events were reported Jefferson City News Tribune and the Kirksville Daily Express. Plus, video of my Jeff City talk was posted on YouTube:

Yes, it is safe to say that I fully recovered from that frozen shoulder and tendonitis. Although entirely my fault, I did suffer an injury as a I lobbied to reduce the threat of climate change. I continue to be smarter to avoid injury when I travel. However, I have no regrets about making that sacrifice. It was well worth it.

How about you? What sacrifices are you willing to make to reduce the threat of climate change?

I can tell you that the rewards to making a difference by lobbying, organizing, meeting with climate advocate friends, being involved with groups like Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Climate Reality Project are well worth any sacrifices.

Albert Einstein said, ““We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

We must take things to a deeper level to reduce the threat of climate change.

Winston Churchill stated, ““Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you must do what is required.”

I don’t want you to get injured. However, I do encourage you though to do all you can. Yes, break out of your comfort zone if you must, to take action reduce the threat of climate change.

For Earth Day, my disorganization makes me a less effective climate advocate

Around Earth Day 25 years ago, a co-worker at Crater Lake National park joked, “People talk about ‘Saving the Earth.’ Yeah, Yeah. ‘Save the Earth’? First, I need to clean up my very messy room and that is not happening anytime soon.”

As a climate organizer and advocate, I grimaced. I did not find it funny because I do I struggle with clutter. I find it hard to throw away any papers or articles, especially as it relates to climate change, conservation, stewardship, caring for nature, etc. 27 years ago when it was first published, I bought a copy of 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. However, I found the book to be very dry and uninspiring, so I tucked it away on the book shelf.

Years later, this was followed by books such as One Makes the Difference by Julia Butterfly Hill, Living a Life that Matters by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, Do What You Are by Paul D. Tieger & Barbara Barron, What Should I Do With My Life by Po Bronson, Attitude: Your Most Priceless Possession by Elwood N. Chapman, If Life is a Game, These are the Rules by Dr. Chérie Carter-Scott, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Dr. Richard Calson, You Are What You Think by Doug Hooper, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, etc.etc. Some of these books had a huge impact on me. Others, I never cracked the cover.

On top of this, I have saved magazine and newspaper articles about climate change, conservation, saving the earth, living a fulfilling life, and even how to get rid of clutter. I also have a backpack full of inspirational quotes for self improvement and saving nature. Thank goodness I had to move twice a year as a seasonal park ranger. It forced me to pitch, I mean recycle because I am very serious about that! Otherwise, I would have so much more books, magazines, notebooks, and papers.

All of this stuff, can be a drag to look at and a time consumer when I periodically have to throw things away. Plus, I easily get distracted by the slips of paper and books around me. Look shiny objects! Who knows what ailment I have. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Maybe. I have been too distracted to find out. Ha!

I do know I would have been a much more effective climate change organizer and advocate without it. Don’t get me wrong. I have accomplished much. I have given over 150 climate change talks to various groups over the past 6 years as a park ranger, Toastmaster, Climate Reality Leader, teaching continuing adult education climate change classes at St. Louis Community College, and a volunteer lobbyist for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Newspapers in Oregon and St. Louis, Missouri have published almost 20 opinion editorials I wrote over the past four years. Plus, I created short goofy YouTube videos with my family that landed me a spot on Comedy Central’s Tosh.o August 2, 2016 playing the Climate Change Comedian.

Brian Ettling appearing with TV host & comedian Daniel Tosh, on his TV show Tosh.o on August 2, 2016. Image source: newsbusters.org

Who knows though how much more I could have accomplished if I was organized. Who knows how much further along I would be in a paid career as a climate change organizer without my disorganization. The disorganization speaks to a larger issue though: a lack of confidence in myself.

In the end, I have to face up to the fact that I have been my biggest enemy as I organize to reduce the threat of climate change. I cannot blame anyone but myself for my circumstances. My life is what I have made of it. It has been very good to me, but I could be doing better.

Country singer Garth Brooks observed“The greatest conflicts are not between two people but between one person and himself.” 

Thus, I have to take my life to the next level. As I wrote and tacked on my my closet wall when I was a teenager: I am the master of my destiny.

I write this blog to challenge myself to take my life to the next level. I intend to be a full time, year round climate change organizer and lobbyist. I must take the steps to make this happen. I must do all I can, within my abilities, to reduce the threat of climate change. I have to change.

I hope others reading this will challenge themselves to take their life up to the next level to be more effective on reducing the threat of climate change. I hope I can inspire them on this journey with my internal struggle.

It troubles me all of the blame game that people do who are alarmed about climate change. They want to blame the Koch Brothers, fossil fuel industry, the election of Donald Trump as President, China, U.S.A, climate deniers, over population, greed, politics, politicians, Republicans, moderates, compromising liberals and moderates, capitalism, scientists as poor communicators, the media, society, meat eaters, etc. for why climate change is a serious threat now.  Yes, believe me, each of these groups is culpable for the situation we face with climate change. Yes, I admit have felt frustrated with each of these groups.

However, they are not 100% to blame. Each and everyone of us has played a role in the unprecedented 43% rise of carbon dioxide and the Earth’s temperature increasing 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Unless you are an indigenous who spent his or her whole life living sustainably off the land, all of us play a responsibility for climate change.

As Patrick Gonzalez, climate scientist for the National Park Service, advises,
“A million small things got us into this climate crisis, and millions of actions will get us out of it.”

NASA scientist Robert Cahalan likes to say, “The fact that humans are causing climate change is good news. That means we can do something about it.”

The key is taking action, which is scary for many of us. I struggle with whether my actions have been and are significant. I struggle with the thought if people will really listen to me and be inspired to change. I struggle with the fear of push back from climate contrarians who reject the science or climate pessimists who want to shout out how it is too late. I know if I struggle with these thoughts, others must doubt their abilities.

My backpack full of pieces of paper containing quotes still keeps me going. Hopefully, can inspire you.

1. We are more powerful, vital and influential to the world than we think we are.

As author Marianne Williamson wrote in her book A Return to Love, in a quote that was widely mis-attributed to Nelson Mandela, she affirmed:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Martin Luther King, Jr believed:

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know about Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” 

You matter. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

When I felt down years ago, a friend gave me this inspiring quote:

“You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; You have a right to be here.” – the poem Desiderata by American writer Max Ehrmann.

2. Find opportunities from the disorganization, clutter and setbacks.

Albert Einstein said:

“One: Out of clutter, find simplicity.
Two, from discord, find harmony.
Three, in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

If you can, find ways act and rise above setbacks.

In this quote from Albert Camus:

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

3. Do take control of your thoughts and don’t let your thoughts, small stuff and distractions distract you.

Author Steve Chandler wrote in his book Reinventing Yourself: How to Become the Person You’ve Always Wanted to Be:

“Preoccupation is the enemy of all achievement.”

Another friend gave me this unknown quote years ago:

“If you control your mind, it is your best friend. If your mind controls you, it’s your worst enemy.” 

4. To be effective on issues like climate change, it will involve transforming yourself.

Jackie Kendall, Executive Director of the Midwest Academy stated:

“Whenever changes occur for the better (with society), it is fundamentally because people have taken charge of their own lives, transforming society as well as themselves.”

American psychologist Abraham Maslow reflected:

“You will either step forward into growth or step backward into safety. To live to our fullest potential, we must be willing to risk making choices based on who we might become, rather than staying safe in who we are.”

5. To reduce the threat of climate change it will ultimately be up to you. 

We can talk all we want about how society and humanity must change to reduce the worst threats of climate change, but it really does start with you and me.

I once heard Florida nature photographer, Clyde Butcher say,

“So many of us don’t realize that we are the government. I like to call it ‘the God of they,’ as in, ‘Oh, they’ll fix it.’ No, it’s up to us.”

Dr. Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, wrote:

“In reality, you vote with your actions, not your words.”

One of the most inspiration songs I ever heard that really spoke to me was the 1987 Michael Jackson song Man In the Mirror. In the chorus, he sang:

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”

As a young adult, I really enjoyed listening to the recordings of motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. At the close of one his talks, he recited:

“God said to build a better world.
And I said, ‘How?
The world is such a dark and lonely place 
And I am so young and useless
There is nothing I can do.’
And God said in all of his wisdom,
‘Just build a better you.” 

So you then ask, what can one do to reduce the threat of climate change?

There are so many actions. First, do a home energy audit if you can.
Use public transportation when it is possible. Plant trees. Eat local and organic.
Buy less meat and lower on the food chain. Invest in a more fuel efficient car and home appliances.

Ask your local college or university, pension funds and your investment broker to divest from fossil fuels. Join Bill McKibben’s 350.org, which is leading the campaign for fossil fuel divestment. Get involved with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign to force local utilities to retire old polluting coal plants and replace it with clean energy. Pay extra on your utility bill to use clean energy.

Be an informed climate voter and vote in elections. Regularly contact your member of Congress by calling their D.C. office, writing letters to their District Office and e-mailing to tell them that you care deeply about climate change and urge them to act. Get involved with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) and ask your member of Congress to support CCL’s carbon fee & dividend proposal.

Write letters to the editor and opinion editorials in your local newspaper to inform that you that you care about climate change and now is the time to act.

Become trained to become a Climate Reality Leader and give climate change presentations in your community. The next training will be held June 27-29, 2017 in Bellevue, Washington, just outside of Seattle. Apply now. The application deadline is May 23rd.

Again, reducing the threat of climate change starts by taking action.

As I like to say,

“Each and everyone of us can change the world.
We do this by the way we vote, the products we buy,
and the attitudes we share with each other.”

Even more, “Think Globally, Act Daily.”

It is time for me to clean up my own clutter and get personally organized as I reflect on Earth Day.

Happy Earth Day to you!

8 Lessons learned from lobbying Washington D.C. & Ottawa, Canada 2016-17

In November 2016, I had the thrill of lobbying Congressional Offices in Washington D.C. and parliament offices in Ottawa Canada for climate action. This was a follow up trip for me from lobbying Congressional Offices for climate action in November 2015. I enjoyed the 2015 trip so much I blogged about it soon afterwards, 8 Lessons I learned lobbying Congress on climate change November 17 & 18, 2015.

This year it took me much longer to write this blog because I did feel very depressed after the November 8, 2016 Presidential Election. I felt like that election was a gigantic step backwards for taking U.S. and global action to reduce the threat of climate change. Months later, I still struggle to motivate myself to write my blog and act on climate change.

However, my friend Carole Holomuzki asked me to write this blog post last November. I am still determined to keep my promise to my good friend Carole. Thus, I am going to share with Carole and you:

8 Lessons I Learned Lobbying in Washington D.C. and Ottawa Canada 2016-17:

1. “Action is the Antidote for Despair.” – Joan Baez.

The first two nights after the November 8th Presidential Election, I could not sleep. I could not understand how the U.S. could elect Donald Trump as President. So many statements he stated during the campaign I found to be sexist, racist, ignorant, and offensive. I could not comprehend how people could vote for him when he seemed so ill-prepared and uninformed to be President. On climate change, it felt like 6 years of my work of organizing, writing and giving public talks got flushed down the drain since Trump intended to reverse all of President Obama’s climate policies.

The Sunday after the election, I arrived in Washington, D.C. to attend Citizens’ Climate Lobby‘s November Education Day. It was the best comfort I could have received after feeling crushed by the election. It did re-energize me to be around hundreds of other climate advocates, volunteers, and the staff of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. All of them felt crushed by the election, but we were determined to carry forward. However, we were excited to be around old and new friends. We were excited by the growth of our organization, all of our efforts, and the progress we were making with members of Congress.

Winston Churchill once said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

I am not sure where I would have been last November if I had not taken these inspiring trips to lobby in Washington D.C. and Ottawa Canada. It was the perfect medicine for me and so many others. Joan Baez did say it best,  “Action is the Antidote for Despair.”

Dr. David Orr said, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

Donald Trump will attempt to roll back and reverse as many climate policies as he can.

However, the most important thing is not to give up in despair, but act. You will feel much taking action.

2. The Democrats were completed dejected but the Republicans were bewildered

Before our lobby day, we expected the Democratic offices we met to be defiant and determined. However, we found them to be completely dejected that voters in swing states had rejected them so thoroughly.

I attended a meet-and greet-coffee with Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri.

Brian Ettling meeting with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri.

She had this observation for an audience of Georgetown law students and constituents attending the gathering: “I hate to be less than lady like and say this but, here it goes. To me, it felt like voters in Missouri and middle America gave the Democratic Party the middle finger.”

We were quite surprised by the dark cloud we saw hanging over the Democratic offices. They did not seem to be in much of a mood to talk about climate policy or anything else. Yet, climate change is just physics and chemistry. It does not care who was elected President. It just responds to whatever forcing it receives. Therefore, it was still important to engage the Democrats even if the political climate did not seem good at the time.

On the other hand, we expected the Republican Congressional Offices to be all puffed up and gloating after the election. However, they seemed to be much more bewildered, confused and subdued after the election. Trump had run against traditional Republican positions such as free trade, the war in Iraq, etc. They were not sure at all what he was going to do on health care, the economy, climate change, etc.

Surprisingly, the GOP offices seemed to be much more open minded about Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s proposal of carbon fee and dividend. They were not ready promising to support it. However, the offices seemed more open minded to hear about it and engage us, where they would have been more resistant and hesitant in the past. Trump really seemed to shake things up for Republicans also. Thus, they seemed to be more open to chat with us about climate change.

4. The methodology of showing respect, gratitude, and appreciation for members of Congress works. 

This was my second year in a row of lobbying Congressional Offices in Washington D.C. I had met with the staff of District Office of my member of Congress, Rep. Ann Wagner (MO-02) since 2014. Even though Rep. Ann Wagner is a very loyal conservative Republican who rejects taking action to reduce the threat of climate change, all of my meetings with Rep. Ann Wagner’s staff have been very positive.

Her highest priority issue in Congress is working on bipartisan solutions to stop sex trafficking. Thus, in my meetings with her staff, I always thank Rep. Wagner for her efforts on this issue. The deeply appreciates this sincere show of gratitude. It helps relax the staff that we are not there to just lecture them and shame them to act on climate change. They seem much more open to listen to my concerns to address climate change. Citizens’ Climate Lobby has one rule: we only meet with members of Congress and their staff showing appreciation, gratitude, and respect.

Joel Olson, Darrell Hart, Brian Ettling, Kris Cook: Energy Aide to Rep. Ann Wagner (MO-02), and Miranda Phillips in front of Rep. Ann Wagner’s Washington D.C. Office from Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

I fully attest that this methodology works. Staff of Rep. Ann Wagner are always happy to see me in our lobby meetings. Even more, I had a breakthrough at this meeting. The energy aide of Rep. Wagner wanted my assessment of why did the Washington state ballot initiative 732 failed during the recent November election. I was a little caught off guard because I had prepared hard to just talk about CCL’s carbon fee and dividend proposal.

One week before, I e-mailed this aide links to Wall Street Journal commentary supporting a carbon tax from October 2016 and another WSJ article, A Growth-Friendly Climate Change Proposal. Amazingly, he read the articles and he prepared questions for me. This aide was using me as a resource and he jotted down notes as I shared my observation why the Washington I-732 failed. At Citizens’ Climate Lobby, we aim to be unbiased resources for members of Congress and their staff. We want to build trust with them so they will more openly consider our proposal. Personally, this felt like a victory for me to be a reliable resource for the office of a conservative Republican.

Overall, it does feel like this approach is working. Over the past year, 36 members of the House of Representatives, 18 GOP & 18 Democrats, joined the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus to exchange ideas on climate change solutions. This year, 17 House Republicans co-sponsered House Resolution 195, calling conservative Republican action in the House of Representatives on climate change. These measures were largely pushed by the thousands of CCL volunteers directly asking their member of Congress to take these steps.

One of the greatest politicians of all time, Abraham Lincoln observed:

“It is an old and true maxim that ‘a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’ So with men, if you would win a man to your cause, first convince him you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart; which say what you will, is the great high road to his reason.”  

5. It is more effective to meet with staff or members of Congress than to protest in front of their offices.

I wrote about this my November 2015 blog and it was still very true last November. This Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference and Lobby Day happened just one week after the 2016 Presidential election. Emotions were still very raw. Apparently, there was big protests of young people front of the Capitol angry that Trump won, in what they perceived as a stolen election.

The word among CCL volunteers inside the buildings was not to cross the street in between the House Office Buildings and the Capitol Building. Otherwise, you could be delayed by the protests. However, I never saw the protests. There are tunnels between the House Office Buildings and the Senate Office Buildings. One can avoid walking out into the street to avoid the weather or protests, if they chose. Plus, the buildings have thick marble walls. Thus, I never heard any of the protests either. As a citizen who felt crushed by the election results, I was glad to know they were there. It was interesting to see that the Congressional staffs that I engaged seemed completely unaware of the protests. Business was still happening as usual.

This was another reason why I felt great about lobbying that day. It was wonderful to take the voices of the protestors into the Congressional Offices with a calm, measured approach to build consensus — that’s what will bring enduring change.

6. Canadian members of Parliament really wanted to hear the American Perspective

In September 2016, my friend Cathy Orlando of Sudbury, Ontario, who is the Canadian National Manager for Canada Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCCL), personally invited me to attend the CCCL Conference and Lobby Day on November 26-29th. I really do admire Cathy as a climate organizer. Plus, my friend Doug Grandt went a couple of times to the Canadian CCL Lobby Day. He always seemed to have a great time attending. Even more, my wife Tanya to decided to join me at the last minute. I was thrilled to have her with me, so it made it a trip of a lifetime.

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling in front of the Centre Block Canadian Parliament Building, November 28, 2016.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives represent district with an average of 700,000 Americans. On the other hand, members of the House of Commons in the Canadian Parliament have ridings representing an average of 100,000 Canadians. U.S. Representatives represent a much larger group of people than their Canadian counterparts.  Thus, if you travel to Washington D.C, you are much more likely to meet with the staff of a member of Congress if you are a constituent. Whereas, in Canada, you have a much greater chance of meeting face to face with the member of Parliament. Ironically, the Canadians that I lobbied with were shocked that you meet most of the time with the Congressional staff, not the members of Congress, if one chooses to go to D.C. to lobby. They flat out told me that Canadians like them would not tolerate traveling to Ottawa and just meeting with the staff.

In Ottawa, my wife and I ended up participating in about 5 meetings with average size groups of 5 Canadians with the meetings with the members of Parliament. If wonder how useful Americans could be in these lobby meetings, you would be surprised. The American Presidential election just happened a few weeks before these meetings. The members of Parliament did want to hear our perspective on this as they were deciding what to do next with their climate policy. I assured them that my meetings with Congress staff in Washington D.C. just two week lobbying with Citizens’ Climate Lobby before went great. The Republican members of Congress were very surprised by the outcome of the election. They were unsure what Trump was going to do and they seemed much more open minded and interested in hearing CCL’s policy of carbon fee and dividend. It felt like being their sharing the American perspective gave the Canadians hope that they should continue their movement towards a national carbon tax.

7. Canada is moving forward with national carbon pricing, regardless of what Donald Trump does.

This conference came on the heels of the big news that on Monday, October 3, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will establish a floor price on carbon pollution of $10 a tonne in 2018, rising to $50 a tonne by 2022. That  While the U.S. was taking a gigantic step backwards with federal climate policy with the election of Donald Trump as President, Trudeau’s announcement showed Canada had taken a big step forward on climate action.

Thus, the lobbying felt totally different in Canada. Instead of trying to lobby U.S. members of Congress to do something or anything on climate policy, Canadian CCL volunteers were applauding the Trudeau government for taking a step forward. The lobbying in Canada was focused on making sure that this carbon tax will be implemented. Even more, these citizen volunteers were lobbying for this carbon tax to be ratcheted up to be more more effective to meet the Canadian commitment to the December 2015 Paris Accords and reduce the global threat of climate change.

Members of Canada Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Brian Ettling meeting with Member of Parliament, Peter Julian, of the New Democrat Party.

Before the start of this conference Canada Citizens’ Climate Lobby released this statement:

“The reality is Canada’s current GHG targets are woefully inadequate and the current carbon pricing plan needs improvements and more details. While CCL was on Parliament Hill, the government of Canada approved two pipelines, adding to the concern that climate change is not being taken seriously by the government.

Volunteers at the conference acknowledged that Canada’s climate targets are currently inadequate and that there is a grave risk of losing the political resolve on the gains Canada has made to secure a healthy climate in the lead-up to next federal election in 2019.”

It was very inspiring to see Canada taking a step forward getting ready to implement a national carbon tax. On the other hand, it was sobering to learn from my Canadian climate friends that their Government was taking a very timid and inadequate steps to address the reality of climate change. It was a lesson to see that even when we eventually get the U.S. Congress to the point where they will pass a pass a national carbon tax, it will probably be woefully short of seriously addressing the problem. Therefore, as American climate advocates, we still have a very long fight ahead.

Volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada, including Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling, on the far right side, lobbying on Parliament Hill, Ottawa Canada, November 28, 2016.

8. I love lobbying Congressional Offices for Climate Action

I have been lobbying Congressional Offices for 3 years now. I really love it. I feel like I have a knack for it. I will be blogging on future posts how my lobbying went in March in Missouri District Congressional Offices. I love establishing and maintaining positive and friendly relationships with the Congressional staff. I love looking for the sweet spots of common ground where we might be able to work together on climate related issues. I love showing them the tenacity and determination that I am not going away, even if they are nowhere close joining me to act on climate change in Congress. I love the planning and homework that goes into making these meetings a success. I love that I have now been doing this long enough that some of these Congressional Offices are starting to see me as a valuable resource for them. I love all of the friends I have made in Citizens’ Climate Lobby as I have lobbied with them.

I full realize this is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is not everyone’s approach to sit down with political parties and individuals they detest to make a difference on climate change. But, it is my love and passion. I hope to continue lobbying as much as I can.

Even more, my wife and I just grabbed the domain name for www.climatesolutionlobbyist.org. We hope to eventually transition to that website. We want to set up a 501c4 so I can fund raise and find supporters and sponsors so I can lobby full time for climate action. That’s my calling now!

Stay tuned…

Julie & Julia & Me: My Goal to be a full time Climate Organizer

Oprah Winfrey once said, “The only courage you need in life is the courage you to follow your dreams.”

Julie & Julia

The 2009 movie Julie & Julia, starting Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, just sparked me to pursue my own path as a climate change organizer, public speaker, writer, and lobbyist.

The film is based on two true life stories of Julie Powell and Julia Child.

In 2002, Julie Powell was living in Queens, New York with her husband, Eric, over a busy pizzeria. She worked at a job she found unappealing: the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s call center,  where she answered telephone calls from victims of the September 11 attacks.

As Julie recalls in an interview for the Julie & Julia DVD Special Features:

“I was about to turn 30 and I thought it was the end of the world. I was working a series of disastrous temp jobs. All of the sudden, I literally woke up in the middle of the night and said, ‘You know what I am going to do: I am going to cook my way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I am going to do it in a year and it is going to change my life.

I was talking to my husband and he said, ‘That is a really good idea. What you should do is start a blog.”

The challenge: all 524 recipes in 365 days.

Image Source: thefamouspeople.com

Mixed in with Julie’s story is the true story of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) moving to Paris France with her husband Paul Child, who was a diplomat on assignment from the U.S. State Department. Paul loved his job and Julia deeply loved him and living in France. However, she was unsure how to pass the time there.

Chatting with Paul one day, Julia Child asks: “What am I going to do (in France)?”

Paul: “What do you really like to do?”

Julia: “Eat!”

She enrolls Le Cordon Bleu to learn French cooking. It not always easy for her. Her teacher and fellow students were not thrilled having a boisterous American woman among them who struggles to chop onions, but Julia has the time of her life. Google reviews described Julia’s trek as conquering “French cuisine with passion, fearlessness, and plenty of butter.”

As she soon tells an American friend, “I am in heaven here. I have been looking for a career all of my life and I found it.”

She decides to write a French cookbook in english for Americans who do not have cooks.

From this point on, there was no turning back for Julia Child. She had found her passion and her calling. It was not an easy journey to learn how to cook French and eventually get her book published.

Finding The Inspiration to Transform Your Life 

The theme of this film is becoming what you want to be. As the Producer Eric Steel informs in the Special Features, “This film is about transformation. Putting your life on a set of rails on a destination that you want to go.”

When Julie Powell bemoans early in the movie that she cannot cook like Julia Child or Mario Bataii. Her husband responds, “Julia Child wasn’t always Julia Child.”

Brilliant statement. All of us have to make that conscious decision if we want to have that fulfilling life.

The real Julie Powell on her journey: “I would have said in the beginning (when she started her personal challenge) that is was about learning how to cook. What it was about in the end was challenging myself how to live bravely and actively.” (my emphasis)

I first saw this film on a whim one night in the spring of 2015 with my wife Tanya. It was a Friday night curl up on the couch date night movie, grabbing a convenient DVD off the shelf. Now it’s a fun film that refuses to let me go two years later. Now I am seeking my own path. I want to follow my own destiny, live up to my own potential. I cannot let go of their stories from mind.

Producer Eric Steel observed, “These stories (of Julie and Julia) work so well together. Julie Powell’s dedication to food really came together because of Julia Child’s dedication to food. Julia Child’s dedication to came from a transformation from herself. She remade herself through food.”

Ironically, the film aims to inspire women, yet it is sparking me to take my life to a new level.

Producer Amy Robinson remarks:

“I hope that this story can be a fun movie and a delicious one that can make one want to go out and eat, but also something that may inspire, particularly women, to say, ‘You know what: What do I really love and what can I do with that and make something of my life and try to pursue it.”

My Goal: To Be a Climate Solution Lobbyist

Inspired by the true stories of Julie Powell and Julia Child, what does Brian Ettling want to do?

I want to be a full time climate change organizer, public speaker, writer and lobbyist.

I want to start my own 501c4 organization as a Climate Solution Lobbyist. Just like Julie and Eric Powell in the movie making the big jump from Brooklyn to Queens, my wife Tanya Couture and I made a big move from our hometown of St. Louis MO to Portland Oregon two months ago. We moved because Tanya found a steady job here. Just like Julia Child, figuring out what she we going to do while living in France while knowing that she loved to cook, I am trying to figure out how I am going to make it in Portland with my passion and calling for climate action.

As a Climate Solution Lobbyist, these are my goals:

  1. Help shift my Missouri member of Congress GOP Rep. Ann Wagner (MO-02) in her position on climate change.
  2. Help Vancouver, Washington get a Citizens’ Climate Lobby group established and running.
  3. Lead a successful Oregon statewide Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) tour in October to create more awareness, energy and inspire potential groups for CCL.
  4. Help Missouri establish more Citizens’ Climate Lobby groups.
  5. Be regularly speaking about climate change in the Portland & Vancouver WA area and nationally.
  6. Present a TED Talk on humor and climate change.
  7. Write books/get published as an author.
    a. From Park Ranger to Climate Lobbyist:
    My story of seeing climate change in the national parks led me to be a climate advocate

    b. 10 Solutions You Can Do Today to Reduce Climate Change:
         Action for Our Planet.
  8. Help shift GOP Rep. Greg Walden (OR-02) in his position on climate change.
  9. Get businesses to endorse climate action.
  10. Regular blog and writings to inspire others for climate action.

This is very scary for me to venture out of my comfort zone and follow this path. For the past 25 years, I have been a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. It is so easy for me to stay into the same routine and do the same ranger talks. However, that job no longer has my life’s passion. I want to work full time on climate change organizing, writing, and lobbying.

Ranger Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park

I am excited to return to Crater Lake to work for one month from May 1 to June 8th to help out for the beginning of the season. However, like Julie Powell with her job at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s call center, I do feel like it is time for me to fully follow my passion.

Almost 20 years ago, I saw a video with American mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell advise people of all ages to “Follow Your Bliss.”

In 1987 The Power of the Myth, journalist Bill Moyers asked Joseph Campbell this question:

“What happens if you don’t follow your bliss?”

Campbell: “Then you will have a psychological breakup.”

Like Julie Powell and Julia Powell, it it time for me to fully follow my bliss.

Similar to Julie, I now plan on blogging nearly everyday to clearly put this intention out into the world like never before.

An Important Ingredient for Success: A very supportive spouse! 

Just like Julie Powell and Julia Child, I have in common another amazing gift as they did: a very loving and supportive spouse. My wife Tanya is so enthusiastic about my climate change work.

The Director of Julie & Julia, Nora Ephron, described their marriages this way:

“Both of these men that these two women were married love this thing that their wives were passionate about. They were not threatened by it. There were completely supportive. Those guys loved that they got to eat all of this great food.”

Actress Amy Adams commented, “It is so rare to find men who support women so graciously.”

In my case, I am so incredibly fortunate to have Tanya. She set up this website and she regularly updates it, putting much of her own time on it. She is totally encouraging me to follow my passion with climate change. She has regularly told me that she is proud of my climate work and accomplishments. She is always so positive with everything I do. Like Julie and Julia, this definitely gets me a huge boost in following my bliss. I hope Tanya knows how much I appreciate her!

It is through the love and support of our spouses that we can follow our dreams.

This is how Nora Ephron summarized Julie & Julia:

“It’s about love. It’s romantic. It’s about marriage. It’s about changing your life by writing. It’s about doing things you love. Doing things you care about and finding happiness through that.”

Julie Powell reached her goal and so will I! 

Towards the end of the film, Julie Powell reaches her goal of making all of 524 recipes in Julia Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She writes on her blog that day:

“Julia Child began to learn how to cook because she loved her husband. She loved food and she did not know what else to do with herself and in the process she found joy. I did not understand this for a long time but I do now. Julia taught me that, but here is what Julia really taught me: She taught me to cook so here we are.”

The movie ends with this scrolling text:

The Book Mastering the Art of French Cooking is now in its 49th printing. 

Julie Powell’s book was published in 2005.

She and Eric still live in Queens, but no longer over a pizzeria. 

She is a writer. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said.”Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and a trail.”

Thank you Julie Powell, Julia Child and Tanya Couture for inspiring to follow my own path with climate change advocacy.

More blogs and action yet to come as I set out on my own path.

Stay tuned…

Responding to a friend who saw climate change on his vacation

My friend, Mark Deeter, getting ready to go on a scuba dive in Jamaica.

January 13 2017, my friend, Mark Deeter, saw the damage of climate change firsthand.  He was scuba diving on one of his dives in Jamaica. He had trouble making sense of what he saw.

He posted the video below on Facebook with this comment:
“One of my dives in Jamaica. What’s startling is that the reef is essentially dead. There are a number of small fish but the larger fish are absent. There were not many crabs or crustaceans either. We did see some turtles and an octopus No lobster, eels or other creatures that should be found in a healthy reef. The reason: Global Warming. The warmer oceans have killed the reefs. Only about 1/4 of the existing reefs in the world are healthy. Perhaps my friend Brian Ettling can also comment (we worked National Park Service together and he is a world renown expert on Global Warming).”

Below was my response to Mark:

Mark: I wake up everyday wishing that climate change is not real. I take no joy only sadness with the increased amount of evidence for global warming that we are seeing across the world, especially with what just videoed from you recent dive in Jamacia. Having said that, the only way I know to overcome the dire evidence of climate change that I have seen working in the national parks is to act.

Joan Baez said: “Action is the antidote for dispair.”

Dr. David Orr said, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

Mark Deeter and I worked together in Everglades National Park from 1992-93. The Mother of Everglades National Park and one of my biggest heroes, Marjory Stoneman Douglas used to say, “It’s not a matter of being optimist or pessimistic when It comes to saving the Everglades (or the planet). It is something that simply has to be done.”

We will have negative consequences with climate change in the future and now. The question is: How bad do we want it to be?

Our decisions that we make each and everyday day does make a difference. Each and everyone of us has to decide what kind of world that we want to have.

Explorer Robert Swan, said, “The Greatest Threat to Our Planet Is the Belief That Someone Else Will Save It.”

So what gives me hope? The millions of people across the world organizing to reduce the threat of climate change. Canada is getting ready to implement a nationwide carbon tax by 2018. Worldwide carbon emissions have now been nearly flat for three years in a row from years 2014-2016. China plans to invest over $361 billion dollars in renewable energy. In many areas across the world, renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels. In 2015 almost 70% of new electricity installed came from renewable energy. I have not seen the final figures yet for 2016. However, Solar Made Up 64% of New Electric Generating Capacity in the US in the first quarter of 2016. 2010 was the first year where more money was invested in renewable energy than fossil fuels. The future trend shows more money being invested in renewable energy in the future while investment in fossil fuels continues to shrink.

Source: “Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables,” Bloomberg News, April 14, 2015.

I get my best deepest sense of hope for the future by getting involved with other climate advocates. American conservationist Ding Darling said, “It’s not enough to care. We must link our arms together and act collectively.”

I get hope with my involvement in the Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps since 2012. The next Climate Reality Training is in Denver, Colorado on March 2-4. I will be a mentor there. The Climate Reality Project has trained almost 11,000 people across the world over the past 10 years to give climate change talks in their communities.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) gives me tremendous hope for the future. They have over 55,000 volunteers across the U.S and world. They have over 368 groups in the U.S alone regularly engaging their members of Congress and the media to get Congress to pass their carbon fee and dividend. With their efforts in 2016, they enabled 16 GOP members of the House of Representatives to co-sponsor the Chris Gibson Resolution H-424 calling for climate action. With the persistence of their volunteers in 2016, 9 GOP House members and 9 Democrats are now part bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus to discuss climate change solutions.

Brian Ettling lobbying Congressional Offices as a volunteer lobbyist for Citizens Climate Lobby, November 2016.

There is hope in the world. However, we must be open to look for it and, more important, we must be willing to act.

Buckminister Fuller wrote, “If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do… HOW WOULD I BE? WHAT WOULD I DO?”

Mark Deeter and I served together in the the Christian Ministries in the National Parks in Everglades National Park in the winter of 1992-93 and Death Valley National Park in the spring on 1994. For years afterwards, I was not active in any church. However, over the past two years, I have been speaking in different churches on climate change.

As I have been speaking in churches recently, I have been ending with this quote that I heard decades ago:

“You ask what the will of God is and this I know is true. It is the nearest thing that can be done and can be done by you.”

The Best Way I know to Reach Climate Change Doubters

Below is the text from a speech I gave at St. Louis South County Toastmasters on Wednesday, January 4, 2017. The members of this Toastmasters Club for me as “The Best Speaker” for this speech.

Are you frustrated with the world and don’t what to do about it?

I highly recommend joining your local Toastmasters group. Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. But let’s face it: public speaking scares many people to death.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld famously joked, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Image Source: wikipedia.org

Mr. Toastmaster, my fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, let me tell you my story. Unlike most people, I am a bit of a ham.

For the past 19 years, I have been a seasonal park ranger in Everglades National Park, Florida and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. I loved every minute of standing in front of an audience, in these iconic places sharing about nature.

Ranger Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park

I even created my jokes as a park ranger, such as:

“What did one continental plate say to the other after the Earthquake?”

Any guesses?

“It’s not my fault!”

I thought that was hilarious. Some of my fellow rangers even stole that joke from me.

As a ranger, I saw something that was not funny at all. Any guesses?

Ironically, one of I the things I quickly learned when I started giving ranger talks is that people expect park rangers to know everything, don’t you?

Around 18 years ago, I was giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park, Florida. Visitors started asking me about this global warming thing. Visitors hate when park rangers tell you, “I don’t know. ” As soon as I could, I rushed to the nearest Miami bookstore and library to read all I the scientific books I could find on climate change.

The mangrove coastline in Everglades National Park

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

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

Wild Flamingos photographed in Florida Bay inside Everglades National Park. Image Source: Brian Ettling

Even worse, I learned that sea level rise could be a disaster for the millions of people living in south Florida. In the last couple of years, the evidence is mounting for what is now called ‘sunny day flooding.’ This is flooding from ocean water showing up on Miami streets during the highest tides or what’s called ‘king tides’ of the year.

National Geographic now projects up to a 6 sea level rise by the end of this century that could displace up to 13 million Americans who live in these coastal counties.

Image Source, “Americans in Danger From Rising Seas Could Triple,” nationalgeographic.com, March 14, 2016

I became so worried about climate change that I quit my winter job in Everglades National Park in 2008. Since then I spent my winters in hometown St. Louis to educate folks here about climate change.

This led me to join South County Toastmasters 6 years ago this month.
I joined Toastmasters not because I had a fear of public speaking. I had a deep fear about talking publicly about climate change. I was scared of people wanting to argue and angrily confront if they disagreed with me.

Let’s face it: many people consider climate change discussions as a downer.

Climate speaker Dan Miller observed in his TED talk: “Society conspires to suppress the discussion of climate change. As someone who talks about climate change a lot, I can vouch for this. For me, talking about climate change (can feel) like farting at a cocktail party.”

Nobody appreciates that!

Image Source: womenshealth.answers.com

My friends, if you scared to death to talk publicly about climate change, I advice you to join Toastmasters. You will joining a supportive community group that can help you learn how to engage and talk with people that strongly disagree with you.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Image Source: biography.com

In the past 6 years, I am really thankful for my fellow Toastmasters who strongly disagree with me about climate change. They have really helped become a more effective communicator. I know this because some of my fellow toastmasters have shifted in their thinking on climate change because of me.

Take our incoming club President Adam Kutell. If you go on YouTube, watch a speech I gave five years ago called, “The Debate is Over.” In the speech, I talked about how 97% of climate scientists agree current climate change is real and human caused. After the speech, I had a 5-minute question and answer period. Adam forcefully argued that he disagreed with me on the scientific agreement. Neither Adam nor I have backed down from our positions.

South County Toastmaster member Adam Kutell

Many climate advocates would never want to talk again with a person who disagreed with them so strongly. However, Adam came up to me afterwards and complemented me on my speech.

Three years later, I was preparing for a climate change Toastmasters speech. I contacted Adam for his advice. Adam generously met for coffee with me to practice the speech. That speech also called for a question and answer period from the audience.

I groaned to Adam: “Someone is probably going to say to me: ‘How you say that climate change is real when it was cold in St. Louis recently?’”

Adam responded: “You don’t have to worry about this because you already explained to us (in a previous speech) ‘weather is a snapshot, climate is a movie.’”

St. Louis Gateway Arch in winter

Weather is what is happening RIGHT NOW, OUTSIDE THE WINDOW. HERE IN ST. LOUIS AT 8:00 PM. Climate is LONG TERM, GLOBAL. HAPPENING OVER MANY DECADES AND CENTURIES.

Wow! Adam’s statement felt like a huge victory for me. Here was Adam who is still very dismissive of human caused climate change. He now gets this vital concept.

I am so appreciative of Adam and his partner Erin for their advice and friendship over the years in Toastmasters that I invited them to my wedding over a year ago.

Adam Kutell and Brian Ettling.
Image Source: southcountytoastmasters.wordpress.com

For my friends looking to make a difference on climate change, joining Toastmasters is still the best tool I know. You will learn presentation skills, confidence, and build up your expertise. Even those who disagree with you will be very supportive and helpful. You will make professional speakers like Dan Miller proud you can speak about climate change effectively. You will not stink up the room like a fart struggling to explain it, and embarrass our club founder, Howard Brandt.

South County Toastmasters Club Founder Howard Brandt. Image Source: Brian Ettling

Best of all, You may overcome a fear of public speaking, which according to Jerry Seinfeld and many others can be a fate worse than death.

For inquiries into Toastmasters International, check out their website at toastmasters.org

If you live in south St. Louis County, Missouri, check out South County Toastmasters

Want to be effective on climate change? Join a Toastmaster group

Concerned about climate change but unsure how to speak out and engage folks in your community? Then I highly recommend joining a local Toastmasters International group in your community.

What is Toastmasters? 

Toastmasters started over 100 years ago by Ralph Smedley, director of education at the YMCA in Bloomington, Illinois. Smedley wanted to help men in his community to learn how to speak, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees. He then organized a club where they could learn these skills in a social environment. He named the group the Toastmasters Club.  The term “toastmaster” referred to a person who gave toasts at banquets and other occasions.

The first unofficial Toastmasters meeting was held on March 24, 1905. Smedley began working at the newly organized YMCA in Santa Ana, California, in 1922, and the first official Toastmasters meeting was held at that YMCA building on October 22, 1924. Since then,

Toastmasters now boasts having 332,000 memberships in 15,400 clubs in 135 countries to help their members improve their speaking and leadership skills.

If you attend a Toastmasters meeting, many people join saying, ‘My boss highly recommended that I join Toastmasters to improve my public speaking skills’ or ‘I have some big presentations coming up with my company so I really do want to learn how to become a better speaker.’

That was not the case with me. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love being in front of an audience as a park ranger and public speaker. I have led ranger talks in the national parks for almost 20 years, starting in Everglades National Park, Florida in January 1998 and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon in June 2006.

As I blogged previously, I became worried about climate change working as a ranger in Everglades National Park from 1998-2008. By the winter of 2007-08, I became so concerned about climate change that I gave up my winter seasonal job in the Everglades. I still worked my summer ranger job at Crater Lake Nat. Park, but I decided to spend my winters in St. Louis. I was determined speak out and educate folks in my hometown about climate change. However, when I return home for the winters, I was unsure how I was going to speak out on this issue. Thus, I decided to attend meetings and join my local South County Toastmasters Club in January 2011.

My experience joining Toastmasters 


When I joined the local Toastmasters Club in January 2011, I stated that I wanted to become a professional climate change public speaker when I filled out my application. When you apply to become a member, you are briefly escorted out of the room by the Sargent in Arms Officer (just his or her club officer title. They are not actually armed). I could hear from the other room some members of the club laughing and snickering when the Club Secretary read my application. They seemed to think it was funny that I wanted to join to gain skills as a climate change public speaker.

I soon learned that many members of that Club are very politically conservative and doubtful of the science of climate change. In some ways, those club members are very reflective of the local community. South St. Louis County is a very white suburban middle class area with community residents that tend to be very conservative.

Brian Ettling speaking
at South County Toastmasters in 2011.

Thus, to chat with this group about climate change was going to be a steep uphill climb with this group. I did not care though because I love a good challenge. I was not going to make a difference on climate change if I only spoke with people that agreed with me, “preaching to the choir.” I needed to go to a place where I could actually possibly persuade and help move people in their beliefs on this issue. Thus, Toastmasters was going to be a great place for me to push myself out of my comfort zone.

On the other hand, Toastmasters International and my local club prided themselves on being a supportive and positive safe place for members to improve their public speaking and leadership skills.

The members were all very friendly when I first showed up as a guest to consider joining their club. Therefore, I also knew that my Toastmasters Club would be a supportive space for me to grow as a climate change public speaker.

My Toastmasters Icebreaker Speech


In February 2011, I gave my introductory speech to the club to share who I am. In Toastmasters jargon, they call this speech, “The Icebreaker.” The title of my speech was I’d rather be here than paradisea small part of the speech is recorded on YouTube. In that speech, I talked about my years as a park ranger in Everglades National Park, Florida. I stated how I had the perfect job and loved it. I got to chat with visitors all day about nature while showing them amazing wildlife such as alligators, crocodiles, dolphins, manatees and various birds. I then gave up that ideal job in warm balmy sunny Florida to be cold and snowy St. Louis because of two words: climate change.

I then told the audience: “In November 2007, while I was still working in the Everglades, I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to the issue of climate change.  Now I want to use my skills I gained as a public speaker as a park ranger to humorously educate and inspire people, like you, to take action to resolve climate change.”

I then closed the speech with “Fellow Missourian, Mark Twain once said, “You should live your life so fully, so that when you die even the undertaker will be sad.” For years, I had the dream to be a national park ranger. Now I am taking the courage to follow my dream to humorously educate people about climate change, starting in St. Louis.  I appreciate you, fellow toastmasters and honored guests, allowing me to share my dream with you in my icebreaker here tonight.”

After the speech, I decided to hang out with my fellow Toastmasters at a nearby sports pub. I was exhausted from giving the speech, but I was stunned by their reaction. Some of them flat out told me they did not believe in global warming and they seemed offended that I would even mention that in my speech. One fellow Toastmaster, Dee, even confronted me with saying, “How do you really know that climate change is real?”

I was totally caught off guard by their negative reaction, but I was not going to let that stop me. Dee actually gave me the idea for my second toastmasters speech. I was going to give a responding speech of how I exactly know how climate change is real. Looks like some of the members of the group really wanted to challenge me on the science of climate change.

Dee asked me a great question: ‘How do I know for sure?’ I felt up for the challenge. Dee gave me all the motivation I needed to start working on my second speech.

My beginning failure and success giving climate change speeches to my Toastmasters group.

For my second speech in April 2011, I went straight at Dee’s question with my speech called, I am going to drop a Stinkbomb on you. I was quite nervous giving that speech. Even more, I had trouble with the slides advancing with using the club’s remote control. I also turned my back to the audience several times to look to see what was on the screen.

Image Source:www.healthambition.com

I did get helpful advice from my speech evaluator, Tom Terrific, to buy my own remote. He also suggested that I place my laptop in a way that I could use it as a teleprompter so I did not look have to turn to look at the screen so much. That was great advice on public speaking that I use to this day. I soon bought my own remote control that I love using and I do like using my laptop as a teleprompter for some of my climate talks.

Because of my struggles delivering this speech the club members did not vote for me for best speaker for this speech. However, they did vote for me as the Most Improved speaker as encouragement.

Since the stinkbomb speech as so serious and technical about climate change, I decided to go lighter for my next speech in May 2011. It was called “Time to Say Goodbye.” This speech was about saying goodbye to my temporary job at the St. Louis Science Center working at their temporary climate change exhibit, saying goodbye to my fellow Toastmasters as I was leaving St. Louis to return my summer seasonal ranger job at Crater Lake National Park, and my dream of saying goodbye to my ranger job so I could work full time on climate change communications and organizing.

This speech was very successful with the club members. They voted for me as “Best Speaker” and “Most Improved Speaker” at this toastmaster’s meeting. This felt like a big victory for me. It proved that I could giving a winning speech to a conservative group while mentioning my conviction that climate change is real and I must take action.

Successfully convincing my fellow Toastmasters that it is ‘Easy to be Green.’ 

After my second speech, a Toastmasters friend, Nilsa, informed me that my next speech had to be “more uplifting with solutions to climate change.   You scared the hell out of us that WE ARE STINKING UP THE PLANET with your last speech.”

Thus, my next Toastmasters speech that I gave in November 2011 was my sequel or flip side to the Stinkbomb speech.  It is much more upbeat and light.  It was called It is Easy and Fun to Be Green.  I am aiming for the undecided and deniers of climate change in my audience.  I spoke to them in a language they understand: CASH! and not even mentioning the sensitive word of climate change.

With the help of Kermit the Frog from the Muppets, I talked about how ‘Green is Green: it saves you money to go (environmentally) green. I showed about how weatherizing your home can save lots of money.  I spoke to my audience in a way they could relate resolving climate change. I sold them on how reducing your carbon footprint (without using that term) can save you cash (not to mention saving the planet).

As you can see from the YouTube video of the speech, the speech went fabulous. I had fun delivering the speech and the audience enjoyed listening to it. The other Toastmaster members voted me as the “Best Speaker” for the evening.

The oldest member of the club, Howard, who is a hardcore conservative and climate change contrarian, stopped me with a big smile afterwards. He is known in the for being very tight with money. Howard said, “Brian, I still don’t believe in global warming, but I loved your message about saving money tonight. As everyone knows, I am all in favor of that!”

That felt like like a big success to me that I had found a successful message on climate change that reached contrarians that did not offend them. On the contrary, they really seemed to like that message.

I learned a big lesson that night: if we could help persuade people to reduce their carbon footprint even if they still outright rejected the science of climate change, that is good enough for me. The planet wins and they win by saving money, even if they still hated the concept of global warming.

Brian Ettling winning his 4th Toastmasters speech,
with the help of Kermit the Frog

I was now on a roll winning two speeches in a roll. I thought was was getting this Toastmasters thing down pat. However my next two speeches proved harder to dazzle the audience.

Debunking this contrarian myth: Scientists are still in disagreement about climate change


My fifth speech in January 2012 was EXPAND YOUR PATRIOTISM. From my experience of working in nature and my passion about climate change, I wanted to inspire my fellow Toastmasters to think different about the world that surrounds them. So many of my fellow Toastmasters are so deeply patriotic for America. I hoped to broaden their thinking to be more patriotic for the planet. This speech did not move them very much and I was not voted as the Best Speaker.

My sixth speech in March 2012 was The Silence that Speaks to Us. I still am very proud of this speech. I am happy that I was able to record it for YouTube. My focus was inspire my fellow Toastmasters to reconnect with nature and the outdoors. With my passion for climate change, my deeper hope that maybe they would want to protect nature, the environment, and eventually our planet if they did spend enough time in nature.

The audience did not seem persuaded by this speech, so I did not win for this speech. I had now struck out twice in a row. I wondered where my magic touch was and I wanted to win another to get it back.

For my seventh speech in May 2012, The Debate is Over, I was determined to win for more than one reason. I was tired of my losing streak. More importantly though, I was tired of hearing this myth from my fellow Toastmasters: ‘Scientists still disagree that humans are causing climate change.’

I was determined to blow that myth out of the water with that speech. I put together the best powerpoint images I could find. I practiced this speech over and over with family. I practiced this speech with my mentor, Rob. He was very cautious about accepting human caused climate change. At the same time though, he was very supportive of my purpose with the Toastmasters group to improve as a climate change public speaker. He challenged me to do a 5 minute question and answer period with the audience. He felt like many folks in the group would want to respond with questions to challenge my assertion and I should give them an opportunity to do that.

As you can see from the above YouTube video, the sparks really did fly during the question and answer period. My fellow Toastmaster and friend, Adam, did not like my fact that 97% climate scientists accept human cause climate change. He countered that there are meteorologists and paleontologists who still disagree with human caused climate change. I then responded with a theoretical example within the Toastmasters culture to relate of how scientists have this strong scientific agreement on climate change.

That YouTube video shows that the question and answer did become quite contentious between Adam and me. After all that tension, Adam and the other Toastmasters did vote for me as the Best Speaker that night. This was even a bigger victory for me than the first two wins. It showed I could respond to dismissive questions on the spot and still win. It was even more wonderful to take away one of their favorite arguments that they were using against me at the meetings that scientists still in disagreement about climate change.

Debunking this contrarian myth: Scientists in the 1970s were predicting global cooling


My eighth speech was in January 2013, You Can See Clearly Now. For this speech, I wanted to debunk this myth I had heard from some of my fellow Toastmasters: ‘It is snowing or cold today, therefore global warming cannot be real.’ In the speech, I explained the difference between weather and climate. I then showed how climate change is loading the dice for warmer and more extreme weather, while showing there would still be some cold and snowy days.

I did not win Best Speaker for this speech. However, it still felt like a victory. I took away another weapon or myth the contrarians were using against me that cold and snowy weather disproves climate change.

For my ninth speech in April 2013, What Keeps Me Up Late at Night, I wanted to address the addiction to coal energy in the St. Louis area causing climate change. St. Louis currently gets up to 84% of its electric energy from coal. That is over twice the national average of utility energy produced by coal. As a result of this dirty energy, St. Louis has twice the national average of asthma for children, the poor, minorities, and seniors. Because of the dirty air, I was concerned about the health impacts on my family, especially my dad.

I did not win Best Speaker for this speech. It pleased me though that some of the members of the audience wanted to fill out the green cards I mentioned during the speech. Those cards were drafted by the Missouri Sierra Club.  They were addressed to the St. Louis County Council. They asked the St. Louis County Council to request the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to require Ameren, the local electric utility which operates the nearly Meramec Coal Plant, to lower its sulfur dioxide emissions to levels that are safe for our families according to the Clean Air Act.

April 2014, I gave my tenth Toastmasters speech: Growing Up in the 1970s: climate change and me!

In this speech, I wanted to debunk this myth I had heard from years from some of my fellow Toastmasters: ‘In the 1970S climate scientists believed an ice age was coming!’ I wore a disco outfit to reminisce about the fun aspects of the 1970s. At the same time, I showed evidence that there was no scientific agreement in 1970s about a looming evidence. It was actually a minority of scientific papers.

As you can see from the above YouTube video the audience had a lot of fun hearing this speech and I had so much fun giving this speech. I was voted Best Speaker for this speech. Even more, it was fabulous to away another of their favorite argument myths that they were using against me at the meetings that scientists in the 1970s were proclaiming global cooling, not global warming.

This speech was an even bigger victory for me because I had completed my 10th speech in the Toastmasters Competent Communicator Manual. This now meant I qualified to be a Toastmasters Competent Communicator. A big achievement for a Toastmaster. (see picture at beginning of blog)

Debunking this contrarian myth: Earth has not warmed since 1998.


While I was relishing the victory of winning my 10th speech and becoming a Toastmasters Competent Communicator, I was cornered at the next meeting by Steve. He is one of the more hardcore contrarians in that Toastmasters Club.


At first he seemed a little shaken that I had debunked one of his favorite cherished myths. He looked like a kid that their parents had just taken away their security blanket. He said, “Brian, Wow! I had not heard before that there were so many scientists that accepted global warming in the 1970s.”


However, since I had blown apart one of his favorite myths, Steve instinctively felt like he had to hit me with another jab: “You know Brian that the Earth has not warmed up since 1998.”

I responded: “Steve, 2013, 2010, 2009 and 2005 were all hotter years than 1998. This decade so far and the 2000s where all hotter decades than the 1990s. Even more, most of the heat each year from burning fossils fuels ends up in the oceans. Therefore, you cannot say ‘The Earth has not warmed up since 1998.'”

Image Source: climatecentral.org

Steve was stunned that I answered him back so fast. He was used to stumping people when he mentioned this. His face seemed in disbelief that I had such a quick response. He then sheepishly uttered, “Well, you have your sources. I have mine.’

It was then that the light bulb went off and Steve had just given me the idea for my next speech. It was time to slay the often heard myth that ‘Earth has not warmed since 1998.’

I had the perfect source to do this. Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, a top U.S. climate scientist, had this talk on TEDx called, Slaying the “zombies” of climate science. Dr. Shepherd is a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Georgia and director of the University’s Atmospheric Sciences Program. As the 2013 president of the American Meteorological Society, Shepherd is a leading international expert in weather, climate and atmospheric sciences.

In this video, Dr. Shepherd knocks down the “zombie theories” that hinder our discussions about climate change. He defines zombie theories as: “One of those theories that scientists have refuted or disproven time and time again, but they live on like zombies in the blogs and on the radio stations.”

I was able to track down Dr. Shepherd through a mutual friend and he generously gave me his slide deck from that presentation. Armed with his images and my own information that I had gathered, I put together my own speech for my Toastmasters group in November 2014, Slaying a Zombie Theory: ‘Earth has not warmed since 1998.

For this speech, I practiced it often for friends, including my fellow Toastmaster Adam, who is very critical of climate science. He advised me to play up even more the zombie theme. My zombie theme may have been too strong because some of my fellow Toastmasters felt like they were being accused of being zombies. That was not my intention. It was the discredited myths that too many people still believe were the zombies, not them. However, they did not see it that way. I was not voted as the best speaker for this speech.

From this YouTube video, you will see that I had a five minute question and answer period. I was caught off guard by a question from fellow Toastmaster Ginny. She asked about Mars also warming about the same rate as the Earth. I answered it the best I could on the spot. That is the thrill and frightening thing about a question and answer period. You never know what an audience is going to ask you, especially if they decide to play ‘let’s stump the speaker.’

The gift that I do love about question and answer periods is that it sparks me to do my own internet research. It gives me a great opportunity to have an answer ready next time that question is asked. I went to three credible sources afterwards, SkepticalScience, NASA and National Geographic to answer Ginny’s question in an e-mail. The conclusion of these articles indicated to me that evidence of Mars warming seems to be weak and not very well established.

In an e-mail to Ginny afterwards, I wrote that after reading my three sources, I concluded that “any warming on Mars is from an internal influence. It looks like the change in albedo (reflectivity of light primarily from ice, snow or clouds) was probably caused by a shift in the wobble of Mars’ rotation (this same shift triggers glacial and interglacial ages on Earth). It is not the sun or any external influence because solar irradiance (the output of light energy from the entire disk of the Sun, measured at the Earth) has decreased on Earth during the past 35 years. Therefore, any warming on Mars, would purely be coincidental and not related to current warming on Earth or other planets in our solar system.”

The second question I got from Ginny was “Why was last winter so freaking cold?” I was prepared in answering that question. I acknowledge that St. Louis had some record cold temperatures in the winter of 2012-13. However, much of the world had temperatures that winter that were well above their average, such as Siberia, China, Europe, Africa and Australia. I tried to explain to the audience that you have to look at climate change as global and long term, not just short term and in your neighborhood.

I ended my question and answer period with this analogy, “To look out your window and say ‘Man its snowing. Therefore climate change is not real’ is kind of like looking out at the horizon and saying ‘I can see the horizon. Therefore the earth is flat.'”

Oddly, my speech evaluator and other Toastmasters still thought I cheery picked and did not adequately answered the question. Thus, I did not seem to win over the audience with this speech. However, I still felt like I took away another one of their cherished myths that ‘the Earth has not warmed since 1998.’ Another argument they have not hit me with since then.

On a lighter note: Trying to sell Everglades Python Jerky to my fellow Toastmasters  

Since my zombie speech seemed to trigger some strong negative reactions from some of the other Toastmasters, I decided to create a much lighter and more humorous speech for my 12th speech in January 2015. This speech project in the Toastmasters manual was called, The Effective Salesperson.


The objective of this speech was to learn a technique for selling an inexpensive product in a retail store and try to persuade the customer to buy that product.

In November 2014, a good friend and co-worker from Crater Lake, Dave Grimes, gave me Everglades python jerky as a gag gift. I had worked 16 years in the Florida Everglades. While working there, it was sad to witness introduced Burmese pythons out competing the native alligators. Even more, the pythons were eating endangered birds and wiping out other native animals, such as raccoons, rabbits, bobcats, and deer.

For fun, in this speech, I would try to persuade my fellow Toastmaster, Susan, try a sample and buy Everglades python jerky. I did not win Best Speaker for this speech. It probably because I was not able to successfully convince Susan to try or buy the python jerky. I did not bother me that I did not win. As you will see from this YouTube video, I had so much fun giving this speech and the audience really witnessing it.

It was fun to present a lighter and more humorous side of me to my fellow Toastmasters after my heavy hitting previous speech on climate change. Some of my fellow Toastmasters and I still laugh about that speech to this day, so it still seemed like a big success to me.

Successfully selling to my fellow conservative Toastmasters a revenue neutral carbon tax

After the python jerky speech, I next tried to sell my conservative Toastmaster friends on a carbon tax. After the Zombies Toastmasters climate change speech, a fellow Toasmaster, Jerry, told me that he felt helpless and unsure about climate change. He wanted to know “What can I do?”

He requested that I give a future speech with solutions that could relate to him. Thus, the speech I gave for Jerry and other concerned Toastmasters in the room was an upbeat speech called The Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax

In this speech, I made my case that a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend, as proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, is the best conservative, market-based approach to reduce the threat of climate change.

This speech did connect with the conservative Toastmasters audience because they did vote for me as the Best Speaker for this speech.

Successfully reaching my doubtful Toastmaster friend Adam on one aspect of climate change. 


After the carbon tax speech, I wanted to address a question that my friend Adam, who is very doubtful of human caused climate change, posed to me. He wanted me to answer this question in a Toastmasters speech: “How can climate scientists possibly know what is going to happen in the future?”


I thought that was a very fair and good question that I should address during the speech. Like all great questions, it forced me to answer that question for myself: How can anyone, especially climate scientists, possibly know what is going to happen in the future? All of us can think of times in the past when humans were wrong.

Since Adam and I had heated disagreements about climate change in the past, I was determined to get him on my side for this speech. Thus, I met with him at coffee shop to show him the powerpoint and the draft of this speech. Adam had a lot of great suggestions for me for this speech to help reach him and other conservative Toastmasters.

Toastmasters Adam Kutell and Brian Ettling
Image Source: southcountytoastmasters.wordpress.com

This speech also called for a question and answer period. When I was practicing my speech with Adam, I remarked: “Someone is probably going to say to me: ‘How you say that climate change is real when it was cold in St. Louis recently?'”

Adam responded: “You don’t have to worry about this because you already explained to us (in a previous speech) that weather is a snapshot, climate is a movie.”

Wow! I was stunned by Adam’s statement because it looked I had helped move him a little in my climate change speeches. This felt like a huge accomplishment for me. Here was Adam who is still very dismissive of human caused climate change on many levels showing me that I had reached him in one of my speeches.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Image Source. biography.com

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.” 


On most political issues, Adam and I still don’t agree. However, I have come to see him as a friend and ally in the Toastmasters group. When others members have verbally attacked me for my passion on climate change, Adam has come to my defense.

That is the great thing about Toastmasters that I recommend other climate change advocates join. It is a community support group to help people improve their public speaking and leadership skills. Thus, some members may get personally offended if someone joins looking to improve their skills and confidence as a climate change advocate or a progressive organizer. However, the group as a whole will be very supportive. Even more, you will even get conservatives who will rush to your defense to support your goals in Toastmasters, even if they are completely opposed to your politics.

This is how we make progress on issues of climate change and other social justice or political issues. We engage our community members. Some will despise our message, other unlikely allies will rise to our defense. This is heavy lifting. It is not easy. It is not for everyone, but this is how we progress on issues that we can are about, such as equality, reducing violence, reducing pollution, etc. We won’t solve these problems by just staying home or Facebooking those who just agree with us. We engage our opposition.

After seeking Adam’s advice and input, I gave this speech to my Toastmasters Club in March 2015. The speech was called, Addressing the Opposition: “How can climate scientists predict the future?” Adam was in the audience and I let Adam ask the first question. Unlike previous question and answer sessions after one my speeches, Adam was not hostile this time. He helped me craft it. How could he be hostile to something he helped create?

Even more, I asked Adam to keep his questions short and he totally kept his word on this. He had a short question, instead of a long laundry list why I am wrong and he is correct.

Adam asked the question: “My concern is that all of us know the difference between a chiropractor and a medical doctor in that lot of us don’t trust chiropractors and we think of them as quacks. They are less than a mature practice like medical doctors. And I would say the same thing about climatologists versus meteorologists. Why would we trust climatologists when a more mature science like meteorology when there is a lot less of a belief that climate change is human caused in the meteorology world?”

I thought this was an excellent question by Adam because much of the general public is confused about the difference of climatology versus meteorology. Thus, I answered Adam’s question by trying to walk through the history of climate science starting with Joseph Fourier in 1824 discovering the greenhouse effect, John Tyndall in 1859 discovering H2O and CO2 absorb infrared which confirmed Fourier’s greenhouse effect and Svante Arrhenius proposing in 1896 that human CO2 emissions would prevent earth from entering next ice age. My argument was the the science of climatology was just as old as the science of climatology.

Adam actually seemed happy with my answer and he had no other questions for me. One other Toastmaster, Jason, had a question about volcanoes contributing to climate change. I thought it was an easy question to answer. This was by far the easiest question and answer period I had faced with my Toastmasters. They really seemed to like this speech. They voted for me as Best Speaker for this speech.

This speech felt like a big victory to get my friend and climate doubter, on my side for this speech.

Responding to other climate change contrarian myths from some of my fellow Toastmasters 


Since that Addressing the Opposition speech in March 2015, I have given three more Toastmaster speeches trying to respond to arguments from dismissive and doubtful Toastmasters in my club why they cannot accept climate change.

1. For over a year, my Toastmaster friend Jim was asking me: ‘What can I do to get you to ‘see the light’ to change your mind about climate change?’

In March 2016, I gave this speech, My Winning proposal for you (for climate contrarians looking to change my mind), for Jim and other Toastmasters who kept asking me that question.

Even if I did not win Best Speaker on that night, I was still very proud of this speech. I laid out the case how I had seen climate change as a park ranger working in Everglades National Park. I showed the evidence of sea level rise, increased carbon dioxide in the air supply and more extreme weather events impacting our St. Louis area. I then challenged the audience to meet with climate scientists to try to convince them they are wrong about climate change.

When they start changing scientific minds, then I will change my mind. It was great to deflate another contrarian argument about the high standard they will have to cross to change my mind about climate change.

2. In April 2016, I gave a press conference speech, where the audience could ask me questions. For this speech, I wanted to address this argument: ‘I don’t see this dysfunctional and partisan Congress ever taking bipartisan action to address climate change.’

The title of my speech was Climate change action is slowly building movement in Congress.

I pretended to be a spokesperson for Citizens’ Climate Lobby holding a press conference after the bad news that the Supreme Court put a stay on President Obama’s EPA Clean Power Plan. I highlighted that Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend is the best path forward for Congress. Even more, there is movement among Republicans in Congress, specifically the Gibson Resolution and the House Climate Solutions Caucus, to start addressing solutions to climate change. I then took questions from the audience for 5 minutes.

My Toastmaster friend Erin asked me this question during the question answer session: “How do you forsee the dividend program continuing when the projection is that fossil fuel usage will decrease? As a result one could see that there would be less money to return to households and eventually it would not be able to sustain the increased costs of fuels.”

Fellow Toastmaster Jim then asked me: “I understand you clearly said that this is a market driven solution and not government regulations. My interpretation is that it is not market based. It is not the free enterprise. Corporations are not going to freely volunteer do this. It will only happen with major rigid government controls. Can you please explain that?”

These were both excellent and challenging questions that I really had to think on my feet to answer. I gave detailed answers of my actual answer and the response I would have liked to have given in this previous blog.

I did not win for this speech. Most likely, it was because I struggled answering Erin’s question. However, I love and fear the high wire act of answering questions about climate change on the spot.

3. My most recent speech was in April 2016. In this speech, I really wanted debunk this argument I had heard over the years from some of my fellow Toastmasters: “We should not take any action on climate change until China cleans up its pollution.”

In this speech, I really tried to appeal to the audience’s sense of patriotism, American exceptionalism and competition. I called this speech Hey U.S.A! Let’s win the Clean Energy Race!

During this speech, I showed that China is investing a lot more money in renewal energy. I did acknowledge the elephant in the room that China has a serious problem with pollution. However, the evidence coming out of China is that they are starting to take steps to address it, such a early signs that they are starting to reduce their coal use.

I then warned my audience that with all of the Chinese investments in renewable energy, the U.S. runs the risk of really falling behind China in the race for renewable energy. I then ended the speech by repeating the title: Hey U.S.A! Let’s win the Clean Energy Race!


I am still really proud of this speech. I was able to deflate another climate argument. Best of all, this speech did seem to really connect with the audience. My fellow Toastmasters voted for me as the Best Speaker for this speech.

The climate change questions my Toastmasters Club has helped me learn to answer


As a climate change communicator and public speaker, my involvement in South County Toastmasters has been a huge benefit for me. The conservative members with their very tough, challenging, and pointed questions has enable me to discover answers to these questions:

1. How do we really know that humans are currently causing climate change?

2. What can I personally do to reduce the impact of climate change? 

3. Don’t scientists still disagree that humans are causing climate change?

4. If it is snowing or cold outside, how can global warming cannot be real?

5. Do you realize that the Earth has not warmed up since 1998?

6. Isn’t planet Mars warming at the same rate as the Earth?

7. Is there any hope than Congress and/or me can reduce the threat of climate change? 

8. How can climate scientists possibly know what is going to happen in the future?

9. What can I do to get you to ‘see the light’ to change your mind about climate change?

10. Why should we take any action on climate change when China pollutes so heavily?

11. Don’t volcanoes give off more carbon emissions than humans? 

12. How can a carbon fee and dividend program continue to pay higher dividends to households in the future when the projection is that fossil fuel usage will decrease?

13. How can I believe that global warming is real when I see that Al Gore lives in a big mansion and flies on private jets? 

The final question I have not yet addressed in a Toastmasters speech. However, I heard that statement frequently enough that I got to ask that question to Al Gore directly when I met in in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in May 2013. In e-mails and on social media, I did share Al Gore’s response to my Toastmaster friends.

Final Thoughts


Since becoming a Toastmaster in January 2011, I have given 19 speeches. I am now one speech away from achieving the Toastmaster level of Advanced Communicator Bronze. I have have the thrill of winning Best Speaker 7 times and winning Most Improved twice. On the lighter side, I have also entertained my fellow Toastmasters by being The Jokemaster on more than one occasion.

It has been an amazing adventure so being a Toastmaster so far, but I don’t plan on giving it up anytime soon.

Along this journey, I want to thank my fellow Toastmasters who have been so kind and helpful to me, even with their very challenging questions at times:

My mentor Rob Van Winkle, Tom Terrific, Adam Kutell, Erin Gissell, Susan McConnell, Nilsa Scott, Dee McAliney, Steve Winheim, Jerry Paul, my mentee Rich Puskarich, Kathy Denton, Steve Flick, Dave Domian, Brent Stewart, Ginny Foster, Adam Jackson, Dean Boone, Jack Bettag, Judy Sowers, Howard Brandt, Carl Hendrickson, Jason Murphey, Alan Kirby, and many others.