A personal blog by Brian Ettling. This online journal shows my life's evolution as a climate change communicator and speaker. Along with millions of others with the same dream, I want to inspire Americans to fully act NOW to resolve climate change.
“Climate Change is like the World Naked Bike Ride. Once you see it, you cannot unsee it.” – KB Mercer, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteer from Portland, Oregon.
June 12, 2018, I was in Washington D.C. as part of Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s 2018 International Conference and Lobby Day. Over 1,200 volunteers from across the United States and other parts of the world gathered in Washington D.C. for two days previously for a conference to prepare for lobbying over 500 Congressional offices that day. CCL’s goal for every lobby meeting is to train its volunteers to effectively ask members of Congress to support CCL’s carbon fee & dividend proposal. During the conference, all of us met in practice meetings to have plans of actions for effective meetings with each of these Congressional offices.
KB Mercer was the designated leader of this meeting with staff of Rep. Earl Blumenauer. 5 CCL volunteers, including me, were assigned to this meeting to assist KB. By the time the Tuesday lobby day had arrived, KB had a detailed organized plan for everyone’s role in the meeting and exactly everything we were going to say. The only thing I was not anticipating was KB’s opening statement at the start of this lobby meeting.
It was obvious before the meeting with her touch of nervousness and steel determination that KB planned a big attention grabber. She knew beforehand she wanted to start off the meeting with humor and a metaphor that would hook the attention of this Congressional staff, even if Rep. Earl Blumenauer is known to take a very strong position to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Combating Climate Change.
Caught totally off guard, I nearly fell off my chair laughing, when she started off the meeting with her quote:
“Climate Change is like the World Naked Bike Ride. Once you see it, you cannot unsee it.”
Since October 2011, I had collected and contributed over 200 humorous and sticky messaging soundbites and metaphors to the website Climatebites.org. I must say I had never never a funnier climate change soundbite and metaphor than what KB just stated. As a side note, I tried to turn KB’s quote into a Climatebite, but I could not get past technical glitches on the website to save my a post I created to capture KB’s quote. Therefore, I decided to put it here on my blog instead.
KB’s hilarious metaphor of connecting the searing image of climate change to being unable to unsee the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) was certainly a sticky and unshakeable image. Full disclosure: I have never been to this event, which was held in Portland on June 23, 2018. According to Portland WNBR’s website, “Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is just one of nearly 100 documented Naked Bike Rides that happen all over the globe.”
Thus, it appears from KB’s observation that seeing the WNBR is an image that you will never forget. Very similar for me, climate change is an image that I just cannot unsee. From personally seeing it from sea level rise in Everglades National Park, reduced snowpack at Crater Lake National Park, and flooding in my hometown of St. Louis MO, climate change is an image that I cannot shake out of my mind. Therefore, I must act.
Because my personally experience of seeing negative impacts on climate change in our national parks and my hometown, I have volunteered with CCL since May 2012 to do what I can to have break throughs in my personal political power.
Since then, I have traveled to Washington D.C. 5 separate times to meet with numerous Congressional offices to lobby them for climate action. One of the highlights for me with my involvement with CCL is all of the friends I made over the years, such as KB Mercer. I can easily say that I have learned so much from their actions and words, including this quote KB made at the start of the Rep. Earl Blumenauer meeting that I still can’t get out of my mind!
Hopefully, your own personal climate change experiences you have witnessed or stories you have heard from others or from the media are something that you cannot unsee will inspire you to act on climate change. Even more, I hope it will inspire you to contact your member of Congress to ask them to act on climate change.
Finally, do consider joining us with Citizens’ Climate Lobby to lobby Congressional offices in Washington D.C. or a Congressional District office by your home. Our dress code for lobbying is strictly professional business clothes. Yes, please do not wear what you might dream of wearing or not wearing to a World Naked Bike Ride! However, as you can tell by KB’s creative quote, we do have a lot of fun when we lobby for climate action.
(This blog is the text of the speech from that conference. Here is a video of that speech)
Your story is vital for engaging people on climate change.
George Marshall, the British climate communicator not to be mistaken for the American World War II General, stated on the April 2015 CCL monthly international call:
“Science is not what persuades people. It’s the stories they hear from the people they trust.”
George Marshall, a British climate communications specialist and writer. Image source: climateconviction.org
What’s your story?
This is something we work on and practice at the Climate Reality Trainings. Who here has attended one of those trainings?
Like getting involved with CCL, I highly recommend attending a Climate Reality Training which are led by former Vice President Al Gore. He shares his climate change presentation and teaches you how to give it. It can help you take your climate activism to a new level.
Brian Ettling and Maddie Adkins speaking at the Climate Reality Project Bellevue WA Training, June 29, 2017.
A friend from Climate Reality, Eric Torres shared the story in 2007 that someone he mentored told him that it was not enough just to just give Al Gore’s climate change talk. He wanted to start an organization to lobby Congress on climate change. Eric advised this Climate Reality Leader to go for it. Do you know who that Climate Reality Leader was?
Brian Ettling with Citizens’ Climate Lobby Founder, Marshall Saunders
Anyway, we practice really hard on our personal story telling and these trainings so we can more effectively communicate about climate change.
I was a mentor at the Climate Reality Training in Houston Texas in August 2016. We were going around the table practicing our stories. One older woman, Jane Stackhouse from Portland OR, really started biting her lip and you could see she was getting irritated. When it was her turn to practice her story, my friend Jane yelled at me:
‘Brian, I don’t have a story! I just saw An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. I then decided to reduce my driving and ride my bike!’
I then responded: “That’s it! That’s your story! You got it!”
Climate Reality Leader Jane Stackhouse and Brian Ettling
Everyone here has a great story of giving involved in the climate movement, whether you are a mother, a truck driver, a business owner, a soldier, a student, etc.
What’s my story?
I was a seasonal park ranger in Everglades National Park, Florida and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon for the past 25 years. Around 20 years ago, I started giving ranger talks. People expect park rangers to know everything, don’t you?
Ranger Brian Ettling giving a ranger talk at Crater Lake National Park July 2015.
Visitors in the Everglades started asking me about this global warming thing. I knew nothing about it. Visitors hate it when a park ranger tells you: ‘I don’t know!’
Thus, like any teacher, I had to spend my spare time reading about it. It really scared me. I learned that sea level rose 8 inches in the 20th century, which is 4 times more it had risen in previous centuries. This century, due to melting of glacial ice in Greenland and Antarctica, sea level could easily rise over 3 feet. That would spell doom for the Everglades because the highest point on the park road is only about 3 feet above sea level. Here I was on my off days canoeing to see the alligators, crocodiles, manatees, dolphins and birds in the Everglades. It made me sad to think this precious wildlife habitat could be lost forever.
Thus, I quit my winter job in Everglades National Park in 2008, exactly 10 years ago this April, to spend my winters in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri to organize on climate change. This eventually led me to get involved with Citizens’ Climate Lobby 6 years ago this May.
What’s your story?
Think about your story, but also think about closely listening to other people’s stories.
To become a good storyteller you must also become a good listener. Listen closely to your listener’s story to find common ground. As CCL tries to teach us with lobbying: being better listeners than talkers. Being more interested than interesting.
Roberta D’Amico, organizer of this conference, and I both come from a National Park Service background. Those of us who lead ranger talks in national parks are called Park Interpreters. Basically, we are interpreting the national park, monument, battlefield, or historical site for you.
What is our goal in giving our ranger talks? We want to find a way to inspire our audience to care and protect these national treasures. We do this with an interpretive technique called universal concepts. These are concepts that all human beings have in common on a basic level.
Universal concepts include items in our talks such as love, patriotism, security, determination, courage, and victory over incredible odds, obstacles and opposition.
For the past 12 years at Crater Lake National Park, I have given a ranger talk about our park founder William Gladstone Steel. In May 1870, William, as a Kansas school boy, he read a newspaper wrapped around his lunch about the discovery of Crater Lake. His family moved to Portland, Oregon (yeah) in 1872 and he made a mental note to see Crater Lake someday.
In August 1885, He set out to see Crater Lake. He took the train down from Portland, Oregon to Medford, Oregon. It then took him three days to reach the lake. He walked 20 miles, arriving on August 15, 1885.
For Will Steel, it was love at first sight to see Crater Lake. He made it his life’s mission to make it a national park. Keep in mind in 1885, there was Yellowstone. That was it.
It took him 17 years to make this dream come true. He made numerous trips to Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress. Keep in mind in 1886 there was no Portland International Airport. He had to take many train trips across the continent to Washington D.C. He became such a fixture a the capitol that Senators and Congressmen would duck around doors and hallways to avoid him. They probably told him: ‘Will Steel. Get lost! We are not turning your little lake into a national park.’
Will Steel would not give up. At one point, he said, “I got licked so much that I learned to like it.”
Because of his steel determination, Congress finally made Crater Lake a national park on May 22, 1902.
Image Source: Brian Ettling
Think of this next time you lobby your member of Congress on climate change. It took 17 years. That is the same amount of time to raise a child. William Steel won because he loved Crater Lake so deeply.
That’s his story.
What’s your story?
This is how we are going to win on climate change: by sharing our stories. With our family, with our friends, with our neighbors, our co-workers, and with each other here tonight, sharing our personal story on climate change.
Never underestimate how valuable your personal story is.
“A man or woman could hardly ask for a better way to make a living than as a seasonal ranger or naturalist for the National Park Service.” – environmental author Edward Abbey.
For the past 25 years, I have been a seasonal park ranger at Everglades National Park, Florida and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. Let me start by saying I write the blog as a private citizen, not as an employee of the National Park Service (NPS) or federal government. The opinions I express here are strictly my own and not necessarily shared other park rangers or the NPS.
When asked, this is my answer to recent Trump Administration actions:
You own our national parks. When you go to national parks, you expect to hear the truth on slavery, Jim Crowe, women’s rights, gay rights, the importance of wildfires, Japanese internment during WWII, treatment of Native Americans, the re-introduction of wolves, and climate change.
If you go to Mt. Vernon and ask the ranger: ‘Did George Washington own slaves?’ If the ranger said, ‘Oh, that is just too controversial to talk about,’ that would be totally unacceptable.
It is the same thing with climate change. If you go to a national park and ask a ranger, ‘How is climate change impacting your park?’, you should be able to get an honest answer. Never accept it if they want to shy away from it. If they refuse to talk about it because a directive from anyone higher in their chain of command, complain immediately. Immediately write, e-mail and call that national park, your member of Congress and the Director of the Department of Interior. We cannot allow censorship in our national parks.
Even more, I have shared this thought with friends:
“Park rangers have to follow the orders of our superiors, including the Secretary of the Interior and the President of the U.S. Thus, if they tell us that we can no longer talk about climate change on the job, we have to obey them. I am not sure yet if recent actions by the Trump Administration is a directive for NPS rangers to stop talking about climate change. However, at the very least, it creates a chilling effect. This is why anyone who cares about climate change must still ask ranger about climate change. It is your right since you own our national parks.
When I wear that uniform seasonally from May to October, I am just a loyal employee. If any ranger told you with climate change or any science or historical subject, ‘We are not allowed to talk about that,’ that is not acceptable. Don’t take it out on the ranger, because they are following orders. However, do contact that park, NPS, the Department of Interior and your member of Congress to tell them that is not acceptable. Thank you for letting me share this with you.”
On a interview profile with radio host Debbie Monterrey of 1120 KMOX AM radio station that aired on January 6, 2018, Debbie asked me directly: “Just recently on the news, President Trump went to Utah and made a big announcement that was apparently popular with some politicians and not necessarily popular with others about scaling back some of Utah’s national monuments and I could not really remember a time when somebody had done that before, like ‘here is a national monument. Nope, we are taking it back.’ What is your feeling on that? Does Utah need more protected space or not?”
My response “I am speaking here today as a private citizen, not as an employee of the National Park Service. What I like to tell people is that you are basically as an American Citizen an owner of our national parks. You get to determine how big or small they are. You get to determine how well they are protected, what kinds of commercial services they get to have on them. It is ultimately your choice and your determination.
As park rangers, we are basically foot soldiers. We have to follow orders. We have to go with the park that has been given to us and what our managers, and what Congress, and ultimately the U.S. President tells us to do. So, what I would recommend for people to do is to get involved. Study up on the national parks and our natural areas, and figure out the best ways that you want them protected.”
Brian Ettling recording a KMOX profile interview with radio host, Debbie Monterrey.
Bottom line: If you love and want to protect our national parks, learn about them. Keep yourself informed about threats they are facing. Act when you see they are being threatened by contacting your member of Congress, voting, and organizing with your friends and family.
It is not to park rangers to protect our national parks and the planet, it is up to you.
I love this sign we have at the Crater Lake National Park Interpretation workroom:
But, what about your career as a park ranger?
A few days ago, my friend John Davis from Climate Reality Project, expressed his fear to me that I could jeopardize my seasonal park ranger job by speaking out publicly about climate change. I appreciated John’s deep concern because It is always a temptation to return to my job as a seasonal park ranger. I would certainly not want to harm that amazing possibility for me. However, this was my response to John:
“I don’t want to necessarily return to my job as a seasonal park ranger. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely loved being a park ranger, but I do want to move on with my life. I may change my mind in April when I need to make a decision. However, I live with my wife in Portland. I would rather work locally here. My dream is to organize, write, and lobby full time on climate change. That is my dream now.
I have done everything I have wanted to do as a park ranger. There is not any regrets or really any more boxes for me to check off. I got to do a climate change talk for 7 seasons as a park ranger and speak to thousands of people. The program is recorded on YouTube. Ryan Zinke or anyone else cannot take that away.
I saw the impacts of climate change in the national parks and now I want to be an advocate and organizer for change. I feel like I did my part. Now my advice to everyone is: YOU own our national parks. You ultimately decide how big or small they are, how well they are protected, how much they are impacted by climate change, and if the rangers can freely and honestly address the subject of climate change in their ranger talks.
As I continue to tell friends, feeling helpless or hopeless is not an option with the Trump Administration. You have to stand up and fight for what you think is right. Don’t back down. The health and future of our national parks and our planet is at stake.”
John and other Climate Reality friends seemed happy and relieved by my comments.
Expanding my life beyond being a park ranger
If you talk to most of my park ranger friends, I am a very odd duck. Most of them are living their dream being a park ranger. They are very happy in that role. They want to make a career out of it and have that good 401K plan available when they retire. Thus, they don’t want to go out on a limb and say anything risky that could harm their careers. I have nothing but respect for my friends that are doing this. Many days I am jealous of them for having a steady job and path for a solid financial retirement. However, that is just not me.
20 years ago, I lamented to a fellow ranger friend Tim after giving a ranger talk that I would really like to be an environmental activist. My friend Tim replied: ‘Then you probably should quit your job as a ranger and become one.’
At the time, Tim’s words stung because I loved being a ranger. Deep down, I knew Tim’s words were true. I was never going to be fully happy as a ranger because I like pushing the envelope. I like being a change agent and organizing for environmental action. Park rangers are foot soldiers who are loyal to the National Park Service mission “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Brian Ettling leading a ranger led canoe trip in Everglades National Park around 2006.
It is not a park ranger’s job to advocate for environmental policy or action. Rangers who lead public talks and programs are called Interpretation rangers for good reason. We are simply suppose to interpret the meaning, significance, history, wildlife and impacts happening in our national parks and connect it to visitors’ values. For example, we can tell you that climate change is a threat to our national parks. Thus, we should take action to reduce this threat on our national parks. However, it is not up to the park ranger to endorse or suggest actions. The park visitor is sovereign to agree or disagree with the park ranger’s interpretation and then decide for themselves how to respond with action.
As a park ranger, I did my best to uphold and respect this principle tenet. However, as a concerned citizen, I always knew I wanted to do more beyond this as a climate change organizer and activist in my free time and off season.
Brian Ettling appearing with TV host & comedian Daniel Tosh, on his TV show Tosh.o on August 2, 2016
My supervisor at Crater Lake has advised me against making waves. However, I do like making waves and making an impact. That is when I am happiest.
A quote inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr goes, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’
I feel I like must speak out on issues such as injustice, inequality, and climate change as a private citizen in ways I cannot speak out as a park ranger. I must do all I can to reduce the threat of climate change and I cannot feel like I can fully do that just as a park ranger. Hence, this blog.
Even more, it has been a dream and struggle of mine for years to transition from a park ranger to a full time climate organizer, writer and lobbyist. It is still my struggle trying to make a living calling this deeper calling of mine. However, it is my dream, passion and overwhelming desire to make this happen.
I want to live by the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote:
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
For climate action, never forget: you own our national parks
As a seasonal national park ranger and a private citizen, my response will always be:
You own our national parks. It is up to you and your actions to protect them.
Hopefully, this blog and my life will somehow inspire you to take actions to project our precious national parks and our planet.
Even more, may these quotes which inspired me over the years to act, inspire you:
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it” – Robert Swan, British polar explorer and environmentalist.
“Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.” – Carl Sagan, American astronomer and science communicator.
“So many of us don’t realize that we are the government. I like to call it ‘the God of they,’ as in, ‘Oh, they’ll fix it.’ No, it’s up to us.” – Photographer Clyde Butcher.
Finally, I have been saying for almost 20 years now: THINK GLOBALLY, ACT DAILY.
In the 1992 critically acclaimed film Malcom X by Spike Lee, a white college student on the campus of Columbia University approaches Malcolm X. She tells him that she supports his struggle and asks. “What can I do to help?”
“Nothing,” Malcolm says coldly, and walks away. Director Spike Lee ends the scene showing the hurt on the young woman’s face. Some days I feel the same as that college student following my passion to make a difference on climate change. It has been very tough for me to find mentors to guide me on this path.
So many people or visible hands helped and shaped my climate story
As I blogged about previously, I knew back in 2007 while working in Everglades National Park in Florida that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life making a difference climate change. I envisioned myself giving speeches, organizing, writing, doing research, etc. I put together my first climate change talk in 2010. Yes, many people have helped me along the way encouraging me with my passion and challenging me to take bolder actions.
One highlight: My friend Naomi Wolff and I were brainstorming on what I should do with my life in November 2009. The conversation got intense as she prodded me on what I really wanted to do. Finally, I blurted out: “Fine! If I could do anything, I would be The Climate Change Comedian!”
Naomi then let out a big hearty laugh and said: “You go home right now and grab that website domain.” I did and it led to his website, which I first built with my friend John friend in 2010. The website led to this blog, which I started writing in February 2011. My wife Tanya rebuilt this website and blog in 2016 and she has helped me maintain it ever since then.
When I gave myself the The Climate Change Comedian title, I had to come up with a talk. On my own and without any help, I came up with first powerpoint Let’s Have Fun Getting Serious about Resolving Climate Change. I started sharing this talk with family and friends in the spring of 2010. That winter, my sister Mary booked me to give climate talks at my niece and nephew’s schools.
My mom suggested I join Toastmasters International, which ended up being very helpful for me. I joined South County Toastmasters in January 2011. By the time, my wife Tanya and I moved from St. Louis to Portland Oregon in February 2017, I gave 20 climate change speeches to that club. My fellow club members voted for me 8 times as best speaker for those speeches and I reached the level of Advanced Communicator Bronze in January 2017. I was blessed to make lots of friends in this club, some of whom are staunch conservatives deny human caused climate change, who mentored me on how to be a better public speaker.
In February 2011, I stumbled across a temporary climate change exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center, called Climate Change: The Threat to Life and a New Energy Future. I was totally determined to work in that exhibit as a volunteer or paid staff. Fortunately, they hired me in March and I worked at the exhibit until closed in May. I absolutely loved that experience of taking extensive notes on the text all of the displays and videos.
In addition, I attended the accompanying Science Center lectures about climate change. That lead me to meet St. Louis businessman Larry Lazar. We started getting together for coffee in September 2011. That lead to us forming the St. Louis Climate Reality meet up group in October 2011, which met regularly with speakers to discuss the science and solutions to climate change.
Brian Ettling and Larry Lazar from January 2012.
For a couple years, my supervisor at that time at Crater Lake National Park, Eric Anderson, encouraged me to put together a climate change ranger talk. The lead naturalist ranger at Crater Lake, David Grimes, supported my efforts as I researched and put together this talk. Finally, I debuted this talk on August 3, 2011. Grimes videoed this talk in September 2012. I uploaded on YouTube soon afterwards.
Even more, John Morris, Interpretive Program Manager for the National Park Service (NPS ) in the Alaska Regional office, advised me to apply to attend the September 2011 Earth to Sky V: Communicating Climate Change Training, co-sponsored by NASA, National Park Service, and Fish & Wildlife Service. Thanks to John’s guidance, that conference was very enlightening for me to hear top NASA scientists describe the science of climate change. The scientists generously provide graphics, power points, images and tips to communicate about it more effectively.
At our winter 2011-12 our St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up monthly meetings, Carol Braford from Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) kept showing up. She was very persistent with inviting me to attend a CCL monthly meeting. Out of curiosity, I attend her meeting in April 2012 and immediately became involved CCL. I eventually became the co-leader of the St. Louis CCL group, co-coordinator for Missouri CCL, a guest breakout session speaker at their June 2017 International Conference in Washington D.C, and the lead presenter for the 2017 Oregon Stewardship Tour.
Brian Ettling’s talk in Lakeview, Oregon on November 1, 2017 as part of the Oregon Stewardship Tour.
Since 2007, fellow Crater Lake ranger Amelia Bruno suggested I get trained by Al Gore, since he led trainings on giving climate change talks. In August 2011, I searched the internet and found former Vice President Al Gore’s group, The Climate Reality Project. They did a feature on their website on Climate Reality Leader Carolyn Treadway, from Normal, Illinois. I then googled her, got an e-mail address and phone number for her business. I called her and sent an e-mail trying to reach out to her.
Carolyn and I did chat by phone and I expressed my eagerness to be a Climate Reality Leader. Carolyn then generously contacted the Climate Reality Project to put in a good word for me to be trained as a Climate Reality Leader. At the time, there was no upcoming trainings in 2011, but Carolyn helped put me on the radar for the organization. Thanks to Carolyn, and other Climate Leaders like Dr. Peter Joseph, Brian Bozek, I was able to attend my first Climate Reality Training in San Francisco in August 2012.
I do know from going down this path and having so many people help me that mythology expert Joseph Campbell was correct. He observed:
“When you are on the right path, invisible hands will come to your aid.”
Only these hands, were never invisible. They were all very visible. I am very appreciative of all of them and many others who encouraged me.
Brian Ettling and Maddie Adkins speaking at the Climate Reality Project Bellevue WA Training, June 29, 2017.
Looking for a climate mentor
Climate Reality Project assigned Penny Mahon to be my mentor and for 8 others at the Climate Reality Training at their August 2012 San Francisco training. I really liked Penny a lot. Very kind, gentle, a great listener, always very positive, with big warm smile. Even more, her daughter Maully Mahon, in her 20s, was at our table to be mentored by Penny. That was a great sign that she had positively influenced her daughter to attend. Even more, Maully was looking very pregnant at that time and eager to be a mom. Thus, there was a good chance there will be 3 generations of Climate Leaders in this family.
Penny did the most important thing that a Climate Reality Mentor could do: she made me and all of her other mentees feel very welcome and part of the community during the training. With Penny’s positive and warm personality, this appeared to be very natural for her. It was not a show or an act. Penny is a librarian in Prairie Village, Kansas. I have no doubt that if you walked into her public library, you would get the same exact welcoming treatment. I always tried to emulate Penny’s welcoming and friendly style when I was then a mentor for 5 Climate Reality Training from 2013 to 2017 and hopefully more in the future. I will always be grateful for her.
Penny Mahon, Brian Ettling’s mentor from the 2012 Climate Reality San Francisco Training.
Penny and I are still friends, but I did not seek her out much as a mentor after the training. I was very busy with my summer park ranger job, Toastmasters, Citizens’ Climate Lobby and giving joint Climate Reality talks with Larry Lazar. Plus, distance kept me from staying in contact with her. She also seemed to be very busy with her library job and being a new grandmother. She was the best mentor she could be for me, but I was searching for something deeper.
I contacted Climate Reality Project to see if I could have an additional mentor to help take me to the next level as a climate change organizer, writer, speaker, and leader. However, Climate Reality Project wanted me to stick with Penny, my original mentor. I understood their rational, but I was still longing for a mentor. I longed for a teacher to help me be more effective and feel more fulfilled with my climate change passion. I was going to have to keep searching.
Looking for a mentor within Citizens Climate Lobby
As soon as I became involved with Citizens’ Climate Lobby in May 2012, I met lots of highly focused people that I wanted to be around, get to know and learn from them. On that May 2012 conference call, Executive Director Mark Reynolds started the call quoting from Dr. Peter Joseph, the group leader from Marin, CA.
This amazed me because I had Peter met in San Francisco just 5 month before at a party while I was attending the AGU Fall Meeting. We just happened to attend a Union of Concerned Scientists party and we struck up a conversation. Peter mentioned that he was a Climate Reality Leader, trained by Al Gore. I knew I wanted to be a Climate Reality Leader also so I exchanged business cards with him and I made sure to keep in touch.
Mark Reynolds began this call with this Peter Joseph quote: “Action is the antidote for despair.”
Dr. Peter Joseph and Brian Ettling at the 2012 Climate Reality San Francisco Training.
I knew then that Citizens’ Climate Lobby was the climate organization I had been seeking my whole life. I immediately tried to make that Peter Joseph quote into a climate bite. As I was writing that climate writing for Climatebites.org, I found on the internet that Joan Baez was cited for that quote. I then contacted Peter to ask if it was him or Joan Baez that originated the quote. Peter then laughed and responded: “I probably gave Joan that quote.”
A couple years later, I asked Peter Joseph if he could mentor me since he was so deeply involved with CCL and Climate Reality, but he was just too busy and not interested. I encountered that same reaction a lot over the years from friends and people I really admired within CCL: just too busy and not really interested in mentoring me. I never gave up in asking folks. I still want to be much more effective as a climate leader, organizer, writer, and public speaker. I have taught myself a lot by trial and error and I have met so many supportive people over the years. Yet, I still felt like I was missing a teacher or mentor to help me reach a higher level.
My frustrations trying to find a mentor or teacher in 2017
In 2017, I did have so many personal breakthroughs. In January, over 100 people attended a St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up even I organized to listen to Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer Jay Butera. He talked to us how he orchestrated the House of Representatives bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. I traveled back to Missouri to give climate change talks in Kirksville and Jefferson City. Climate Reality invited me to be a guest speaker at a break out session at their June Bellevue Training and for their day of action at their March Denver Training. Citizens’ Climate Lobby allowed me to be a guest speaker for a breakout session at their June international conference in Washington D.C. I was on the road for 12 days in October as the lead presenter for the CCL Oregon Stewardship Tour.
Brian Ettling with Ladue High School student, Ian Mason, who interviewed Brian for Global Student Square.
In that blog, I shared one example how I approached a successful author and organizer on climate change and other social justice issues. I e-mailed him last spring to asked if he could advise me more sometime as a mentor. I shared, “I really do want to take advantage of this life opportunity to do all I can to make a difference on climate change.”
His response was a bit of a letdown. “It’ll be hard for me to take on one-on-one time. Just moving beyond your comfort zone with (climate) coaching should do the trick. If you want to organize a one or two session book group by Skype on (my book) just let me know.”
I then recounted another example that is just too painful to rehash here. I could share other stories how I have been kept at bay by people in the climate movement I really admire.
I do keep pressing forward and view setbacks and letdowns as temporary events.
The vital importance of being a mentor
In that same April 2017 blog, I relayed how astrophysicist and renowned science communicator, Dr. Carl Sagan befriended a young teenage Neil deGrasse Tyson. Carl Sagan briefly helped Neil deGrasse Tyson in such a way that it made an impression for Neil for a lifetime.
This is how Dr. Neil deGrass Tyson summed up the experience:
“I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become. He reached out to me and to countless others. Inspiring so many of us to study, teach, and do science. Science is a cooperative enterprise, spanning the generations.”
The life lesson for him:
“To this day I have this duty to respond to students who are inquiring about the universe as a career path, to respond to them in the way that Carl Sagan had responded to me.”
As much as I can, I really do try to make myself available for others who do seek me out for advice and knowledge. I always think of it as a deep honor and a high priority for students and young adults to come to me needing quotes and stories for their school projects or just advice.
I have not been perfect, but I really do try to strive and make a conscious effort to be there for those seeking my help.
Over the past 5 years, I had the privilege to be a Climate Reality mentor at 5 trainings, mentoring over 70 people. I did my best to be as welcoming and helpful as Penny to my mentees during the trainings. Afterwards, I made sure they had my contact information they could call or e-mail me anytime. Over time, some people that I trained ended up as amazing climate leaders and organizers on their own. They did not seem to need my mentoring. Others, just dropped out from acting on climate change because of work or life. That is still good because hopefully the training and my mentoring still had a positive impression on them somehow.
Brian Ettling with the Climate Reality Leaders he mentored in Bellevue WA in June 2017.
My hope in the blog is that it will speak to others in the climate movement to please be available to those seeking you out as a mentor or for advice. Don’t blow people off.
You may think I have taking many actions on climate change and I did not really need a mentor. I did so much without one. However, it still hurts deeply when people brush me off because I was sincerely seeking their help.
If we are going to be successful at reducing the threat of climate change, we must reduce our carbon emissions down to zero in this century and even draw it out of the atmosphere. Just as important: we need to groom and inspire present and future leaders who will guide us to achieve this. If they need your help, find ways to be there.
If you don’t have time to help them or don’t think you can be helpful, be honest. Even more, suggest someone who can help them. Be a matchmaker for a potential mentor and someone who wants to be mentored. Be on the lookout for students seeking teachers and teachers seeking students to help.
An old Zen Proverb says: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
My proverb: ‘When the student is ready, do what you can to help that student find that teacher.’
How you can help me find a mentor
If you are reading this and don’t think you can mentor me, no problem. Please keep your eyes and ears open to someone you think can.
If you think I have done great without a mentor and I still don’t need one, that is your opinion. You can still be supportive and helpful. Just don’t downplay my longing to find a mentor to be the most effective climate organizer, writer, public speaker, and leader that I can be.
If you think you can mentor me, e-mail me at email@example.com.
This is where I need help from a mentor or teacher:
1. This is my life’s calling to work full time on climate change. Unfortunately, it does not pay the bills or provide for a stable lifestyle. How can I find a way to get paid following this calling?
2. Should I set up my own foundation so I can pursue my passion?
3. Is there a way to pursue my passion within a climate organization or should I strike out on my own?
4. I have written a lot of blogs and for others websites over the years. Is there a way to turn my writings into a published book where I could get some royalties?
5. If it is better for me to go my own way with my own organization or foundation, do you have advice on fundraising?
6. I am starting to get requests to travel outside of my home in Portland to speak. How can I get paid for doing that?
7. Should I go to graduate school to further my education as a climate change organizer?
If you don’t any answers to these questions, I won’t hold it against you. Please share this with someone who might. Sometimes in life when we don’t know what to say to another person, we start advising them for not knowing what else to say. I am certainly guilty of that myself if you know me. Before rushing to automatically respond, just think about the best way you might be able to help me before responding. I will take prayers too!
For effective climate action, help and mentor others looking to act on climate
There was a reason why John Lennon wrote the song Help! at the height of the Beatlemania. As he talked about in interviews years later, he was crying out for help. The stress and fame of the Beatles, especially on tour, was getting to be to much for him.
I am crying out for help in this blog also. Not just for me. I want to cry out also for others really looking to make a difference on climate change, but they don’t know how to do it. They are scared of the nasty consequences that climate change could bring and happening now. Therefore, they do want to act now. Do take these folks seriously. I worry that in the climate movement we focus sometimes too much on climate deniers, the fossil fuel industry and our own feelings of helplessness and despair. Yet, we could be ignoring people who are saying: ‘Sign me up! What can I do? How can i be part of the solution?’
Please be open to help those people be effective.
When thinking about climate change, I am reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr talking about the “The fierce urgency of now.”
In a speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, he said:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.”
Like the young blonde female college student asking Malcom X, “What can I do to help?”
Don’t ignore her.
When people, including me, ask: ‘What can I do to help reduce the threat of climate change?’, be ready for an answer, support, and be that mentor. If you don’t have an answer, that’s ok. Do what you can to help them find that mentor.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
2017 was a big year for me to lobby members of Congress for climate action. I went to Washington D.C. twice to lobby four Congressional offices each time with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) at their June International lobby day conference and their November Lobby Education Day. I was not alone. The June conference had over 1,000 volunteers and staff in attendance and the November conference over 600 volunteers and staff with CCL.
In March, I lobbied the District Office of Rep. Ann Wagner in St. Louis, MO, the District office of Sen. Claire McCaskill in St. Louis, and the district office of Sen. Roy Blunt in Columbia MO. In November, I and the District Offices of Rep. Greg Walden in Bend and Medford, Oregon. In addition, I attended a town hall meeting for Rep. Greg Walden in The Dalles, Oregon in April where I was one of the first people in the audience to ask a question to the Congressman. Of course, I asked about climate change.
Rep. Greg Walden shaking hands with Brian Ettling
Many people I encounter think I am crazy and it is a waste of time to engage Republican members of Congress on climate change. Most recently, I went to a screening of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power in Ridgefield, Washington. Over 100 people attended to see this film and audience discussion at The Old Liberty Theater in Ridgefield on the night before Thanksgiving. When the question and answer portion started, as usual since I am not shy, I was one of the first people to stand up and ask a question. This time, I did not ask a question.
I stated I was a volunteer from Citizens’ Climate Lobby. I briefly explained about their carbon fee & dividend solution. I told them that the staff of members of Congress said to me that they do not hear from their constituents on climate change. The way we change that is to contact our members of Congress regularly. I then showed a clipboard of constituent comment forms I brought for them to fill out to express their concerns about climate change. I then promised I would deliver them to their local Washington member of Congress, Rep. Jamie Huerra Buetler.
Brian Ettling speaking at Rep. Greg Walden’s Town Hall meeting, April 2017.
Many in the audience started to boo me. I did not let it bother me. I continued to make my case that we must contact our members of Congress if we want climate action. Some in the audience did applaud me when I was finished. Amazingly, some of the people sitting around me who were most cynical ended up filling out the constituent comment forms. It was a good lesson that if you can state your case with conviction while listening to your listener’s concerns, you can persuade people. I left that meeting feeling sky high that I persuaded a few people to act on climate and contact their member of Congress.
Afterwards, the booing still was a head scratcher for me. Yes, it is in the American DNA back to the American Revolution if not before to distrust political leaders. Watergate and other other political scandals over the years certainly deepened and solidified the cynicism. Yet, I feel strongly that cynicism toward politicians is a cope out for inaction. I would even say that cynicism is like eating cotton candy at a carnival. It feels great in the moment. However, your stomach feels empty and even nauseous afterwards. Their is no substance to it. It can feel good in the moment to win the argument to pull the other optimistic person down to your level of pessimism. However, that victory is very hollow, short lived, and empty.
Even more, I am convinced that the status quo and the powers that be want us to feel cynical, pessimistic, and hopeless. If we feel despair, we are less likely to act and more easily controlled.
With the 13 plus meetings I had with the staff of members of Congress in 2017, I thought all of them went well. I always found the staff to be very polite, friendly, and open to listen to our concerns and solutions to climate change. Citizens’ Climate Lobby has the methodology that we go into every meeting with staff and members of Congress showing respect, appreciation and gratitude. Their one rule is that if we cannot sincerely express an appreciation, at the very least for their public service, that we should not lobby the office of that member of Congress.
CCL volunteers are making progress on climate action with members of Congress
I must say I do find CCL’s methods really do work for having productive meetings with staff and members of Congress. It puts me and others going into the meeting that we are going to be positive and treat Congressional staff like friends. We pride ourselves on being the best listeners we can be to learn exactly what their positions are on climate change, even repeat it back to them so they know they were heard. We then try to look for sweet spots of common ground where we can try to work together on climate change.
In reviewing the notes, Richter ranked the meetings with Republicans in three tiers:
Tier 1: productive meetings with offices that showed clear and genuine interest.
Tier 2: meetings were quiet but not uninterested interactions.
Tier 3: meetings were combative or totally uninterested interaction.
In 2014, the ratio of Tier 1 meetings to Tier 3 meetings – productive vs. hostile – was 3 to 1. Between then and 2017, that ratio gradually improved, with this year’s ratio being 20 to 1.
Think of it this way: 20 times as many Republican offices were clearly interested in what CCL volunteers had to say as offices who were clearly hostile to CCL’s message.
“What this tells us is that CCL’s approach of respect and appreciation with members of Congress is paying off,” said CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds. “Our engagement with congressional offices, particularly Republicans, is helping to drive the growth of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House.”
Yes, that has been the other success with the positive engaging relationship building with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the formation of the House of Representatives bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. This caucus began in February 2016 by two south-Florida representatives Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), who serve as co-chairs of the caucus. This caucus was the brainchild of CCL volunteer retired Pennsylvania businessman, Jay Butera. The House members join this caucus Noah’s Ark style – two by two, a Republican for every Democrat, so that the caucus remains balanced and truly bipartisan. This caucus is now up to 62 members, 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats, exchanging ideas on the problem and solutions to climate change.
Image source: twitter.com/citizensclimate
Want more inspiration? Watch this 4 minute YouTube video. 14 high school students from Traverse City, Michigan, traveled to Washington D.C. for the June CCL Congressional Lobby Day. They are not yet old enough to vote. Yet, they got a face to face meeting with their member of Congress, Republican Congressman Jack Bergman. They asked him directly to join the Climate Solutions Caucus and he immediately said yes.
These teenagers teach us to ever underestimate your power to change the world.
My personal progress on climate action with staff of my member of Congress
That is very encouraging on the macro level. I have also been very encouraged on my personal micro level. For the past two years, I had 4 meetings with the staff of my Missouri member of Congress. By showing respect, appreciation and gratitude, these meetings have all been very positive and productive. To maintain positive rapport with these Congressional offices, we must maintain a level of confidentiality. However I can say that each meeting has been better than the one before.
At the June meeting, the staff member told me he is very enthusiastic about everything we give him about our issue even stating, “knowledge is power.” He likes everything electronic, and he keeps a CCL disk folder on his computer with everything I sent him by e-mail. He said this member of Congress is still not there on CCL’s carbon fee & dividend or climate action. However, I was blown away that he takes our issue seriously enough to have a file about it on his computer.
CCL volunteers and Brian Ettling meeting with staff of his member of Congress.
I thought the more recent November meeting with the staff of this member of Congress was even more encouraging. He complimented me that I don’t pester with my e-mails but I reach out in an appropriate manner. I showed the recent CCL data that our meetings with GOP members of Congress has gone in a matter of 4 years from a ratio of 3 to one positive vs. hostile meetings to 20 to 1 positive vs. combative. His response: ‘We are happy we have these meetings with CCL volunteers, it is always a great time.’
Even though this is a very conservative member of Congress, this staff person did not give us an negative push back on climate action. He informed me that He said this staff and member of Congress does not hear very much about climate change outside of these CCL lobby meetings. He said ‘CCL brings really good data and has really good meetings but we don’t here about climate change outside of that.’
This staff member then gave me great advice. He told us point blank that this member of Congress needs to hear from constituents. She does pay close attention to the phone calls, letters, and e-mails when deciding upon which issues to pay attention and act. This staff person was informing us that we really to contact our members of Congress on climate change. If they don’t hear from us, they don’t think it is a priority for us. Therefore, we need to organize and act in numbers.
Photo credit: peoplesclimate.org
My big lesson learned for 2017: members of Congress are looking to you to Act on Climate
This is our marching orders from staff of a conservative GOP member of Congress: Act! Call, e-mail, and write letters regularly and frequently that you want climate action. Even more, get your friends to join you. Remember those 14 high school students from Traverse City, Michigan who convinced their member of Congress, Rep. Jack Bergman, to join the Climate Solutions Caucus.
“Action is the antidote for despair.” – Joan Baez.
If we are truly serious about reducing the threat of climate change, then we step out of our comfort zones to act, organize, and put polite pressure on our members of Congress. If you can, use CCL’s methodology of respect, appreciation and gratitude when engaging Congressional staff or members of Congress. Yes, there is a place for protesting, yelling and pounding the desk to make your point. However, it probably will not get you many dates. Yelling is mostly a turn off, especially for members of Congress. It is hard for them to hear what you are saying if you are shouting at them.
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” ― Albert Einstein.
Do what you can to act. As Marianne Williamson notes, we may that discover that “we are powerful beyond measure…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Don’t be afraid or pessimistic. Be that light into the world to reduce the threat of climate change.
So many people think I have the perfect job as a park ranger. However, my perfect job would be a full time, year round climate change lobbyist and organizer.
For the past 25 years, I have worked as a summer seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park Oregon. During that time, I also worked as a seasonal winter park ranger in Everglades National Park from 1992-2008. So many people I have encountered dream of becoming a park ranger. I don’t recall dreaming of being a park ranger as a child.
When growing up, I imagined myself becoming an author of science fiction novels, a lawyer, a missionary, making special effects for Star Wars movies, a TV newscaster, a comedian, a prophet (they always so wise and confident in the Bible or movies) , a movie actor, public speaker, truck driver (I loved to travel down highways, but my parents thought that would be a terrible idea. One day, they warned me that truckers get hemorrhoids. I am serious!l), President (I read many books on the Presidents as a child), tree surgeon (I always thought that job title sounded funny, but nobody laughed when I joked about wanting to be one) professional pool player (that’s billiards, meaning 8 ball or 9 ball. I spent so many hours in my parents’ basement as a kid practicing on their pool table to make that happen) or whatever crossed my mind at the moment.
Brian Ettling shooting pool at Crater Lake Nat. Park 2005.
My serendipitous path to become a Park Ranger
In reality, I fell into working in the national parks for not knowing what else to do with my life. In 1992, I was completing my undergraduate degree in business administration from William Jewell College just outside of Kansas City, Missouri. I really liked my business and economics classes a lot, although my favorite college classes was acting and public speaking. While I was proud to earn this business degree, jobs were not exactly beaconing at my doorstep. Even more, I did not like the idea of just working in an office cubicle one bit. I wanted to be outside and a job where I can travel. On top of that, I really wanted to be away from Missouri. I always loved mountains and I really wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest, near its majestic mountains. Before graduating college, I secured a summer job working at the gift store at crater Lake National Park.
On the night of college graduation, I took an Amtrak train from Kansas City, MO to Klamath Falls, Oregon. When I arrived at southern Oregon and Crater Lake National Park, it was everything I dreamed of and more. It felt like I had found home and I did not want to leave. I loved the glistening snowcapped mountains, the jagged volcanic rocks on the mountains, the beautiful evergreen forests, and the bright blue waters of Crater Lake.
Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park in 1992.
Realistically, Crater Lake was a seasonal job, so I was going to have to find another job for the winter quickly. Unfortunately, the only offer I got was to work housekeeping in Everglades National Park for the winter. This was about as far away from the Pacific Northwest as I could be. A total bummer, but I needed a job and to be on my own away from St. Louis.
I enjoyed the winter of 1992-93 working in the Everglades with living along a beautiful marine shoreline, canoeing in mangroves to see alligators and crocodiles, etc. However, I could not wait to return to Crater Lake National Park that May to experience the climate and hike on the mountain trails. Naturalist John Muir said, “Going to the mountains is going home,”
Brian Ettling at Everglades National Park around 2007.
I loved hiking in the park and the friends I made. I enjoyed my job working as a lead in the gift store, but I started to become intrigued to become a park ranger. I dated a woman at the time that jumped from working from the park concessionaire to becoming an entrance station fee collection ranger. She informed me the pay and the park housing is much better. I followed her to become a entrance station park ranger in 1996, and I loved wearing the uniform.
As I worked as a ranger, I got to know the interpretation/naturalist rangers who were leading the ranger programs. They awed me with their knowledge of nature and the park. All of them seemed to enjoy giving the ranger talks. I have always loved to talk and public speaking, so I really wanted one of those jobs. To get experience, I first became a naturalist guide ranger narrating the boat tours in Flamingo, Florida in 1998.
My determination to preach environmental protection as a park ranger
As a naturalist ranger, it was fun to show people the alligators, crocodiles, dolphins, manatees and birds on a daily basis. However, I absorbed as much as I could learning about the ecology of the Everglades and the restoration plan. I learned that the Everglades was one of the most endangered ecosystems on Earth. I wanted to do all I could to protect it and to stress as strongly as I could environmental protection and conservation during my ranger talks. I was as provocative as I could preaching about the Everglades restoration and protecting nature. I would conclude nearly all of my Everglades talks with this quote I loved by local Miami environmentalist Joe Podgor, “The Everglades is a test. If we pass it, we may get to keep the planet.”
Brian Ettling giving a ranger talk at Everglades National Park 2004.
I could see the ecological damage to the Everglades with my own eyes with overdevelopment and urban sprawl shrank the Everglades in half. The cities took most of the water for drainage to keep the western suburbs dry. Therefore, there was not that much fish, birds, or other wildlife to see because the human interference in nature. It bothered me and I had no problem making visitors feel uncomfortable sharing my thoughts about it. At one point, I told Tim, a seasonal interpretation ranger in the Everglades, “I want to be an environmental activist.”
I will never forget Tim’s response: “You probably should not become a park ranger. You should just become an environmental activist.”
At the time, I felt uncomfortable with Tim’s advice. However, as time passed, I saw that Tim is correct. Rangers generally don’t sermonize with an environmental lecture. Rangers share knowledge, stories, and love of nature. Hopefully, that compelling information and passion inspires the audience to stewardship. As the etched wooden sign says in the interpretation workroom at Crater Lake National Park:
If I could go back in time to chat with myself, I challenge myself to lighten up and be kinder to my audience. Thinking about this now, if young or older adult said to me, “I want to be a ranger,” my response might be: “Are you sure?”
I might press them exactly why do they want to be a ranger. I may encourage them to journal and really think about why do they want to become a ranger. Maybe, like me, they really want become an environmental activist. For the park visitors, the mission of the National Park Service, and their own career satisfaction, they may actually might be seeking something else.
I discovered my life’s passion for climate change as a park ranger
On the other hand, it was my naturalist job in the Everglades where I discovered my deep passion for climate change, especially how it impacts our national parks. Ironically, one of I the things I quickly learned when I started giving ranger talks is that people expect park rangers to know everything, don’t you?
In 1998, when I was giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park, Florida. Visitors started asking me about this global warming thing. Visitors hate when park rangers tell you, “I don’t know. ” As soon as I could, I rushed to the nearest Miami bookstore and library to read all I the scientific books I could find on climate change.
The mangrove coastline in Everglades National Park
I discovered sea level rise along our mangrove coastline in Everglades National Park. Sea level rose 8 inches in the 20th century, four times more than it had risen in previous centuries for the past three thousand years. Because of climate change, sea level is now expected to rise at least three feet in Everglades National Park by the end of the 21st century. The sea would swallow up most of the park and nearby Miami since the highest point of the park road less than three feet above sea level.
It really shocked me that crocodiles, alligators, and beautiful Flamingos I enjoyed seeing in the Everglades could all lose this ideal coastal habitat because of sea level rinse enhanced by climate change.
Even worse, I learned that sea level rise could be a disaster for the millions of people living in south Florida. In the last couple of years, the evidence is mounting for what is now called ‘sunny day flooding.’ This is flooding from ocean water showing up on Miami streets during the highest tides or what’s called ‘king tides’ of the year.
Sunny day flooding in Miami, FL. Photo Credit: Grist & dailykos.com
National Geographic now projects up to a 6 sea level rise by the end of this century that could displace up to 13 million Americans who live in these coastal counties.
Pursuing my passion on climate change as a private citizen advocate
I became so worried about climate change that I quit my winter job in Everglades National Park in 2008. Since then I spent my winters in hometown St. Louis to educate folks there about climate change. I created my own climate change talk that I shared with family and friends. I gave environmental talks to my nephew’s second grade class, his cub scout group, my younger niece’s girl scout group, and my older niece’s 7th grade class.
From March to May 2011, I had the amazing opportunity to work at the St. Louis Science Center at their temporary climate change exhibit, called Climate Change: The Threat to Life and a New Energy Future. It originated from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I was in my glory working that job. The exhibit had profound text and displays to educate the public about the science, the problem and the solutions to climate change. My job was basically to keep the exhibits clean and engage the visitors. Whenever the exhibit was empty, which was early and late in the day, I would take precise notes on all of the information. I had fun engaging the pubic, especially the school groups, visiting the exhibit.
Brian Ettling at St. Louis Science Center Climate Change Exhibit 2011.
I went above and beyond with that opportunity, creating short presentations for children on the importance of Arctic sea ice for polar bears and us. In my spare time, I assisted middle school to high school teachers developing lesson plans for engaging their classes with the special climate change exhibit. My mother noted she had never seen anyone so happy going to work each day. Nor had I worked a job that was a better fit for me. I still proudly have my green uniform shirts from that job. With my deep interest in climate change, I still cannot believe how that job fell into my lap.
The benefits of pursuing my passion on climate change as a seasonal park ranger
From the St. Louis Science Center job, I gained the confidence to create an evening program on climate change at Crater Lake in August 2011. I still give that talk during the summers to this day. It is called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. For years, I read all I could about climate change in my spare time, but I was scared to talk about it as a ranger. It was partially because I did not feel like I knew enough. Even more, I was scared of visitors arguing with me about it.
I must say that my supervisor and lead interpretation ranger at Crater Lake knew my passion for climate change. They were encouraging my interest for years and they were very happy when I created climate change evening program at Crater Lake. The National Park Service has totally been supportive to my interest in climate change. Surprisingly, instead of being argumentative, the visitors so appreciative and receptive to my evening program.
Unlike my Everglades talks, I used more humor and an uplifting, fun message to inspire my audience to take action on climate change to protect our Crater Lake and our national parks.
Giving that climate change evening program has opened many doors for me. In November 2012, NASA invited me to give a talk on engaging park visitors on climate change at the National Association of Interpretation Convention in Hampton, Virginia. In May 2013, Grand Canyon National Park invited me to speak at their Shrine of the Ages Auditorium for an audience of over 200 park visitors and staff. In October 2013, Association of National Park Rangers invited me to speak at their annual convention about speaking to park visitors about climate change. In 2014, Oregon Wild invited me to speak on the impacts on climate change at Crater Lake at their annual conference in Portland, Oregon. In 2016, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada asked me give a talk at their Lobby Day Conference in Ottawa, Canada.
Brian Ettling speaking in Ottawa Canada November 2016.
In 2014, my supervisor assigned me to respond to an e-mail request from author Chris Santella, as he conducting research for his book 50 Places to Camp Before You Die. Chris wanted to feature a chapter on Crater Lake National Park. I called up Chris so he could interview me. We exchanged e-mails to nail down the information he needed on Crater Lake. The book was published and released in 2016 and the chapter on Crater Lake National Park featured me. It even included a brief biography at the end of the chapter:
“Brian Ettling has worked as a summer seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park for the past twenty-two years…Since 2010, Brian spends his off-season trying to protect our national parks and natural world by teaching and public speaking on the problem of climate change and the things we can do to make this a healthier planet.”
To this day, that climate change Crater Lake ranger talk is still providing opportunities for me. In March 2017, I spoke to over a crowd of 100 people in Jefferson City, MO and a crowd of over 60 people in Kirksville, MO about the impact of climate change at Crater Lake. In 2017, the Metropolitan Learning Center grade school in Portland, Oregon invited me speak over 60 4th to 6th grader at their ClimateComm Conference on how I have seen climate change as a park ranger at Crater Lake. I am so blessed and proud to have my Crater Lake summer ranger job to be allowed to talk about climate change as often as I do.
Brian Ettling speaking at Runge Nature Center, Jefferson City, MO. March 2017.
My victories and defeats struggling to be become a full time climate organizer
As much as I have loved working as a park ranger, especially with the freedom I had to give nearly weekly ranger talks on climate change, I had the dream for years to be a full time, year round climate change organizer, writer, and lobbyist. In 2011, I applied to follow the climate change exhibit that was at the St. Louis Science Center to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, but they were not interested. I applied for a full time naturalist education job at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco in 2011, but they decided to hire internally. I applied twice in 2012 for an educator position with the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), but they passed on hiring me.
I did briefly work as an organizer for the Missouri Sierra Club in St. Louis November 2013, but that job turned out to be just too relentless for me. I did not realize it when I accepted the job offer, but I signed an agreement for an “exempt position.” It was not just a 40 hours a week and go home. I was taking work home with me and it felt like I was working morning, noon, night, and weekends. I felt burned out after a month. The work involved organizing for the Beyond Coal Campaign and Sierra Club’s Energy Efficiency campaign. Great campaigns. I still believe in them to this day. However, the stress of constantly working, especially since I was giving other climate change talks on the side, was overwhelming. I really admire the great and dedicated people who work there, but it was not my cup of tea so I left after a month.
Brian Ettling speaking out against Ameren Utility’s reliance on dirty coal for electricity in St. Louis, MO. April 2013.
In 2015, I applied for an Engagement Coordinator position with the Climate Reality Project. I was first trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2012. I really love my volunteer involvement with that organization, and I would love to work for them. However, it was crushing to hear they decided to hire someone with more organizing experience. That news was a real downer. More recently in 2017, I applied for the Climate Communications & Outreach Manager position with the Oregon Environment Council in Portland, Oregon. A month ago, I got the e-mail with the message that they appreciated me applying, but they did not select my application for an interview.
I volunteered as much as I could for the past 5 years for Citizens Climate Lobby and Climate Reality Project. I created goofy comedy climate change YouTube videos to get noticed. Well, I did get noticed. Comedy Central’s Tosh.o flew me out to Los Angeles to be filmed on their show. It was an incredible experience. I am so proud of appearing on that show, but Hollywood has not called back since then.
Brian Ettling appearing with TV host & comedian Daniel Tosh, on his TV show Tosh.o on August 2, 2016
In January 2011, I joined my local St. Louis Toastmaster group, South County Toastmasters. Over the past 6 years, I gave 20 speeches, 8 of which I was voted by my fellow Toastmasters as “Best Speaker.” I put most of those speeches on YouTube and blogged about them, hoping someone would spot me. In 2011, I created this blog and website climatechangecomedian.com, trying to get noticed.
In August 2011, a mutual friend introduced me to Tom Smerling, the founder of the website, climatebites.org, which specialized in collecting soundbites to communicate about climate change. Until the website started deteriorating due to technical support neglect and repeated hackings, I contributed over 200 writings to the site. However, that website did not get the traffic that Tom wanted and it did not get me noticed either. I loved contributing to that website. It really helped advance me as a climate change public speaker and communicator.
In October 2011, Larry Lazar and I co-founded the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet Up group. Over the past 6 years, we organized various climate change meet up events in the St. Louis area with various well-known climate change scientists and communicators speaking to us via Skype. The last event I hosted in January 2017 attracted over 80 people. They came to see one of the top climate volunteer lobbyists in the U.S, Jay Butera, recently featured in the New York Times, speak to us via Skype.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer speaking to the St. Louis Climate Reality Meet Up. January 2017.
As a climate change volunteer advocate, organizer, writer and volunteer, my proudest achievements include getting published in Yale Climate Communications in April 2012, newspapers publishing 18 of my opinion editorial or guest opinion submissions over the past four years, organizing various climate change events in St. Louis and elsewhere, and giving over 100 climate change talks. I take deep pride knowing I inspired others to write op-eds in the newspapers, lobby their members of Congress, attend Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conferences in Washington D.C and Climate Reality Trainings. It feels like I made difference just co-founding the southern Oregon Citizens’ Climate Lobby group in 2013 that meets monthly and is going strong to this day.
So many other exciting events I could list. On April 15, 2014, the local St. Louis NPR radio program St. Louis On the Airinterviewed my friends Larry Lazar, Dr. Jack Fishman, and I about communicating about climate change. In November 2015, the lead St. Louis organizer from Avaaz chose me on the spot to be the main speaker for that People’s Climate March. I spoke briefly to over 100 people on a chilly and rainy November day in downtown St. Louis. The weather was dreary, but the crowd seemed to love my brief remarks.
An impromptu motivational speech at a Climate Change march in downtown St. Louis.
It is still my goal and dream to be a full time year round climate organizer and lobbyist
Organizing, writing, lobbying, and speaking on climate change is what I love doing more than anything. I just would love to find a way to get paid doing that. It has been a huge letdown and depressing that it has not worked out yet. My wife Tanya and I are working on the idea of me setting up a website, donations, and a 501c4 non-profit called Climate Solutions Lobbyist so I can raise funds from family, friends, and donors to exclusively lobby and organize on climate change. This is uncharted territory for Tanya and I to try to figure out how to do this. I did have some friends say they would contribute if I did set something up.
Unfortunately, I had a recent conversation on Skype with one of the top advocacy organizers in the U.S. He advised me against setting up my own non-profit. He did not think what I wanted to do was that distinguishable or unique from what others are doing. He discouraged me from pursuing that idea. By the end of our conversation, I just felt discouraged and hopeless.
Does anyone out there have any suggestions or thoughts?
Hello! Is there anyone out there that reads my blog?
I sure could use some advice, mentoring, coaching, and help.
In the meantime, I had a chance to return to Crater Lake National Park to work again this year as an interpretation ranger. The park was very short staff in May and could really use my help. With my life’s goal to still be a full time, year round climate change organizer and lobbyist, I told my Crater Lake supervisor that I would just work the month of May. She could really use my help that time of year so she reality said yes. I am not the best of marketing and promoting myself for potential jobs and starting my own organization. However, I do want to go where I feel most useful and beneficial to others in my life so I decided to return to work as a ranger here for one month.
Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park. May 2016.
I made June 8th as my last day because I plan to attend the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Conference and Lobby Day in Washington D.C. June 11-13th and the next Climate Reality Training in Bellevue Washington June 27-29th. Plus, I wanted to spend more time with my wife in Portland. The long distance from Tanya is very hard. Portland to Crater Lake is about a 5 hour drive. On top of that, I really just want to organize and lobby full time on climate change.
As soon as I returned to Crater Lake, it did feel good to have a steady job and receive a reliable paycheck. Tanya and I moved to Portland in March when she found a permanent job there. Our rent and the cost of living is not cheap in Portland, so it is vital for me to bring in a steady income. I saw that our department is short staffed for the summer and they can still really use me here. Plus, I still can give my climate change evening program about once a week during the summer. Even more, some teachers and friends wanted to come to Crater Lake this summer just to see my climate change talks. Much to my wife’s chagrin, Crater Lake is pulling me back to work here for the summer.
Therefore, I decided to return to work here July 10th to roughly September 15th. It was a tough decision, but it felt right. My supervisor and other park staff was so happy I am returning for the summer. That made me feel good. As I shared in my previous blog, I have felt so much discouragement at times with my involvement within the climate movement. It seems like some people don’t want me around. They don’t see me as beneficial, don’t want to partner with me, mentor me, encourage me, assist me, or even welcome me.
I love the slogan from the recent climate marches: “To change everything we need everyone.”
Yet, I have not always felt like part of the club. I am still going to charm, help others, be audacious, work hard, and inspire to get well connected, but it has been hard for me to break into the well connected climate organizing inner circle.
I love the anonymous quote: “Be outrageous. It is the only place that it not crowded.”
I am still following my climate change calling. I hope you follow your life’s calling!
I will succeed as a full time, year round climate change organizer and lobbyist. I am not going to be deterred by this, even if there are days when I feel like giving up. I spent so much of my life working on this. It is what I have enjoyed doing more than anything. The victories have been so sweet, even while the setbacks have been so heart breaking. Even more than being a park ranger, I want to be remembered as a climate change public speaker, writer, organizer and lobbyist.
I am very proud to be a park ranger for the past 25 years. I have been so blessed and fortunate to be a park ranger. It really gave me the freedom and creativity to pursue my passion with climate change. I still love putting on the uniform, but it is not want I want to do for the rest of my life. Before I really understood that I wanted to be a climate change organizer and lobbyist, I knew I wanted to be an environmental activist and change agent. It is still important for me to follow this calling, even if this transition is quite a struggle for me.
Mark Twain once said, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
“This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man/Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”
I still think it is vital for my life and yours to adhere to mythologist Joseph Campbell’s advice to “Follow Your Bliss!’
Do follow your one true calling, whatever it is. If you don’t know what your true calling is, that’s no problem. I could sure use your help and support as I struggle to transition from a seasonal park ranger to a full time, year round climate change organizer and lobbyist.
P.S: I want to thank my parents, in-laws, and most of all, my wife Tanya how supportive they have been as I have pursued my life’s journey and calling so far.
In my four years of climate lobbying, a recent compliment by a conservative Republican who resists taking action on climate change really astounded me.
On March 28, 2017, I met with Miram Stonebraker, District Director for U.S. Representative Ann Wagner (MO-02), and Jordan Fears, Field Representative for Rep. Wagner. Along with three other constituents that I invited, our meeting took place at Ann Wagner’s District Office in Ballwin, MO. The meeting seemed very productive for me to learn how this Congressional Office feels about climate change, clean energy, and Rep. Wagner’s priorities in Congress.
I met with Wagner’s office as a volunteer liaison for Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a nationwide grassroots advocacy organization focused on on national policies to address climate change. Specifically, CCL wants to generate the political will necessary for members of Congress to pass their Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal. The goal of CCL meetings with Congressional offices is to find common ground on energy, economic and environmental issues so we can work together.
CCL volunteers strive to meet with Congressional staff and members of Congress showing respect, gratitude and appreciation to establish a positive working relationship. Since I was leading the meeting, I made sure we keep the interaction with Rep. Wagner’s staff positive, friendly, and open to hear their perspective. As the meeting progressed, I was very happy with the good rapport between all of us.
Constituents Sue Bell, Liz de Laperouse, Brian Ettling, and Steve O’Rourke in the conference room of Rep. Ann Wagner’s District Office in Ballwin, Missouri.
Towards the end of the meeting, Miriam Stonebraker said something unexpected to me that I will never forget. She looked right at me and commented,
“By the way I am really impressed with (Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s) website, I went on there it is very clearly laid out. It is very easy to follow. It shows that you know how to get things down. You have clear goals and you reach them. I am very impressed because lobbying is not easy. Is it Brian?”
The comment left me feeling speechless. Miriam strongly indicated during the meeting that Rep. Wagner is NOT interested in supporting any climate action in Congress. Yet, it still felt like Miriam admired my tenacity with climate lobbying and she was cheering me on.
After a moment of trying to process her admiration for my climate efforts, I smiled back and quickly responded, “‘No, lobbying is not easy, but is it so rewarding.”
It felt in that moment and afterwards that she understands how hard it is to lobby. It can be just down right totally frustrating at times.
The discouraging part of lobbying
First, it gets engrained into us as Americans that “you can’t fight city hall.” The media, society, family and friends tell us that ‘all politicians are corrupt.’ There are stories on the news of big donors, contributors, special interests, and professional lobbyists controlling elected officials. Thus, it can make one think: ‘Why bother?’ Becoming a citizen volunteer lobbyist can seem daunting and futile.
Then, if one decides to get involved, it can take multiple e-mails and phone calls to a Congressional Office to try to schedule an appointment to meet with staff and/or the member of Congress. If you are able to get a meeting scheduled, it can be hard to get friends to join you in the meeting since so many people disdain politics, think it is a waste of time, or they are just not interested.
If you do meet with the staff and/or the member of Congress, you quickly learn that they may seem skeptical to take action on your cause, such as climate change. Thus, you have to build up the political will in their district to inspire them to act. This means writing and submitting letters to the editor and opinion editorials for the newspapers that can often be rejected. About 50% of my guest opinions that I submit to newspapers are rejected as the newspaper managing editors decide to publish other submissions.
To create the political will for elected leaders to act on issues like climate change, the member of Congress needed to hear from constituents and important leaders in their district that acting on an issue like climate change is vital. Thus, you have to encourage your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to write letters, e-mails, and call to your member of Congress for climate action. Then, you run into the same problem I mentioned above: many people disdain politics, think it is a waste of time, or they are just not interested.
On top of that, I had people in the climate movement who I thought were friends and potential allies decide to criticize me instead working with me to lobby members of Congress. In my previous blog, it has been very discouraging for me with all of the people over the years who flatly turned me down when I asked for them their help to mentor me to be a more effective climate organizer and advocate. This past week, I chatted on Skype with one of the top advocacy organizers in the U.S. I was so excited to receive his advice. He was generous with his time with me. Yet, his body language and tone of voice conveyed that he was annoyed meeting with me. It felt like I was a nuisance and wasting his time, when I am so hungry and eager to be more effective as a climate organizer and lobbyist.
To be honest, I have felt so much discouragement at times with my involvement within the climate movement that I have thought about giving up and quitting.
The sense of reward I have received from lobbying
Yet, I don’t give up because I saw in that meeting with Rep. Ann Wagner’s staff that lobbying can be so rewarding. At that same meeting, Jordan Fears, Field Representative for Rep. Wagner, turned to me unexpectedly to say: “We are so sorry that we did not answer your e-mails faster.”
I was touched by their statement. I am not major business owner in St. Louis employing lots of constituents. I am a lowly seasonal park ranger. Yet, they were still apologizing to me for not answering my e-mails quicker. It felt like they were treating me like a constituent of major importance in their district. I was humbled, stunned and speechless. If you have met me outside of this blog, you know I am longwinded and have lots to say.
Yet, Jordan’s comment was very gracious. Even with the high volume of correspondence they receive from other constituents, they felt bad not responding to me sooner. I was silence for a moment trying to comprehend his comment. However, my deep reflection did not last too long because I thanked Jordan for their concern as quickly as I could.
I have had other successes lobbying. Part of the enjoyment I get from lobbying comes from following Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s 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.
With using that CCL methodology, staff of Rep. Ann Wagner are always happy to see me in our lobby meetings. Even more, I had a breakthrough at the November 2016 meeting, with Kris Cook, Legislative Aide for Rep. Ann Wagner at her Washington D.C. office. During that meeting, Kris 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.
As I gave my knowledge and understanding of why Washington state’s I-732 fell short at the ballot box, Kris jotted down notes and he was listening very closely to what I had to say. I was turning into a trusted resource for this office. This conservative Republican office was not seeing me as another environmental lobbyist to be polite but ignore their requests once the meeting was over. After years of lobbying, this office like me and trusted my opinions.
On top of all this, when I announced on my Facebook page on September 11, 2016 I planned to attend the November CCL Lobby Education Day, my Facebook friend, Kimberly Bizon, quickly became interested. She asked me questions about the conference and then she commented, “Brian – It’s in November. I think I will register and join you!” Kimberly did register and I did see her at the conference. She seemed thrilled to be there. It was wonderful to meet her in person.
Brian Ettling with Climate Reality Leader & Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer Kimberly Bizon
As I like to say, the reason why I take action on climate change is that hopefully it inspires others to take action also. Hopefully, when I lobby it inspires others to lobby and contact their member of Congress also. If enough of us are engaging our members of Congress, we will see significant action on climate change. Congress will then have the political will to pass a revenue neutral carbon tax, which greatly reduce harmful carbon emissions.
Yes, lobbying is hard, but it is very rewarding. It gives me hope. If it is done well, it can even impress the staff of the conservative members of Congress, or even the members of Congress that you want to influence to act on climate change.
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:
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.
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.
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 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 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.
“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.
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:
– 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.
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?”
“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.