Monday, November 30, 2015

8 Lessons I learned lobbying Congress on climate change November 17 & 18, 2015

Two weeks ago, I had an experience of a lifetime lobbying six Congressional Offices in Washington DC as part of Citizens' Climate Lobby's November Lobby Day.

If you are not familiar with Citizens' Climate Lobby (CCL), it was started in 2007 by retired San Diego real estate broker Marshall Saunders. CCL is a a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change. With over 307 active chapters in the US and worldwide, CCL lobbies Congress in support of its Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal. Its thousands of volunteers do this by building friendly relationships with our federally elected representatives and senators. Their one rule is that they do so with respect, appreciation and gratitude for their service when they meet with members of Congress or their staff.

Citizens' Climate Lobby has an annual Lobby Day Conference in Washington DC around the third week of June every year. At their June 2015 Lobby Day, close to 900 volunteers attended and they met with over 500 Congressional Offices. As I have blogged previously, my involvement with CCL started in April 2012. Unfortunately, I have not attended the June CCL Lobby Day in DC because of my commitment to my summer ranger job at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Thus, it was a dream come true for me to be able to travel to Washington DC and lobby Congressional offices on climate change on November 17 & 18, 2015.

Here are 8 Lessons I learned from Lobbying DC Congressional Offices: 

1. We need to create a lot more political will so Congress will act on Climate Change. 

Larry Schweizer,
Image source: The Climate Reality Project
Presenter Profile for Larry Schweiger
As my friend Larry Schweiger, former President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, once wrote, "It's not enough to care; we must link our concern to each other & act collectively."

Unfortunately, the staffs of both Democratic and Republican offices say they are not hearing their constituents voicing a loud concern about climate change.

The Congressional staff stated that their constituents seemed to be most worried about jobs, the economy and energy prices. Since then, you can probably add national security/the threat of terrorism after the recent Paris attacks to this list.

Thus, Congressional Offices did not seem highly motivated to act on climate change.

Therefore, if you are alarmed about climate change like me, then we must step up, organize, and let our members of Congress know that action on climate change is a top priority for us.

It is vital to write your members of Congress. Check out this amazing TED Talk, Political change with pen and paper by Omar Ahmad, the former mayor of San Carlos, California. It is about writing effective letters to your local politician to get them pay attention to an issue you care about deeply.

It should be noted that writing one letter is not enough. You should make it a regular habit to write letters, even a postcard, to your members of Congress. Regular stream of letters will enable climate change to rise to the top as a priority for Congressional offices.

Even more, consider writing letters to the editor and opinion editorials in your local newspaper about climate change. It has felt very fulfilling and empowering to get letters and editorials I wrote published in local newspapers. Make sure you include your elected Senators and Representatives names in these published writings so it will catch their attention.

US Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), Brian Ettling, and Mark Gould,
Citizens' Climate Lobby volunteer from South Carolina. 
Furthermore, send an e-mail to the staff of the Congressional Office to notify them of this newspaper editorial or letter to the editor. This reinforces the message that climate change is a high priority for you. For your US Senators and Representatives, mail letters to their local district offices, not their Washington DC offices. Because of the anthrax scare in 2011, letters going to Congress in Washington DC get screened for harmful substances. Thus, it could take up to 6 weeks for a staff or member of Congress to see your letter.

Bottomline: Write letters to your members of Congress regularly and frequently.

To paraphrase Irish orator John Philpot Curran from 1790: 'The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.'

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

While I was rushing to meet with Congressional offices, it was easy to see various protests in front of the Capitol Building about protecting our local police, closely screening Syrian refugees, and climate change. However, when I asked the Congressional staff, they knew nothing about these protest gatherings. Even more, they told me that protests in Washington DC are so common are the Capitol that they don't even pay attention anymore.

This made me feel more empowered in the 15 to 30 minute meetings I had with staff.

Brian Ettling protesting against
the Meramec Coal Plant,
April 25, 2013
I was able to look them in the eye as I shared with them my story how I witnessed climate change while working as a ranger in the national parks. In addition, I shared my story of living close to Meramec Coal Power Plant may have been a contributing factor to my Dad's cancer.

One Republican staff member seemed a little shook up by my story. To my surprise, she did not defend coal, she replied, "There's no excuse for these (coal) plants to be inefficient."

Yes, I have protested the Meramec coal plant and have been attended climate marches in St. Louis. However, it felt so much more empowering for me to share my story directly with Congressional Staff and feel them being emotionally impacted by my story. No way had I ever felt this level of satisfaction before from protesting in a march or even writing a letter to Congress.

3. It is a valuable learning experience to learn how they really feel about action on climate change. 

It was a helpful gift to hear where Congressional Offices stood on climate and CCL's carbon fee and dividend proposal.

First, none of the Republican offices that I met denied the science of climate change.

The offices seemed to confirm the quote from David Yarnold, President and CEO of the National Audubon Society: “Most Republicans say the same thing behind closed doors: ‘Of course, I get that the climate is changing, of course I get that we need to do something."

At worst, some of the staff members would become awkwardly silent or started squirming in their chair when CCL volunteers or I would engage them on the negative impact of climate change on their constituents' businesses.

At best, the staff of one Republican Congressional Office told me that climate change is real and their boss would like to take action to address it.

Clearly, I got the sense from the staff that they wanted to do something and this issue was not going away. All of the offices I spoke seemed unwilling to take the leap of action.

Their main objections:

a. No significant movement in Congress right now to pass legislation on climate.

b. Climate change was a low priority for their voters, compared to the economy, jobs, and energy prices.

c. Citizens' Climate Lobby's carbon fee and dividend proposal did not meet WTO & GATT compliance for world trade agreements.

d. President Obama's EPA Clean Power Plan created "a poisonous political climate."

By genuinely listening and learning their objections, naturally led to my next lesson learned.

4. It is empowering to answer Congressional objections to climate change solutions. 

It was an uplifting experience to be a resource for Congressional staffs how CCL's carbon fee and dividend solution is beneficial.

Our responses to their objections:

a. In the House, Republican Rep. Chris Gibson recently introduced Resolution on Conservative Environmental Stewardship (H.Res 424), now co-sponsored by 11 other House Republicans calling for action on climate change.

In the Senate, Four Republican senators — Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — recently formed a Senate Energy and Environment Working Group that, according to Ayotte’s office, will “focus on ways we can protect our environment and climate while also bolstering clean energy innovation that helps drive job creation.”

Yes,  movement is happening in both houses of Congress among Republicans for climate change.

b. We demonstrated that action on climate change is a high priority for voters. For this November Lobby Day, Citizens' Climate Lobby showed it is creating the political will for action with around 140 volunteers traveling from as far away as California and Miami meeting with over 170 Washington DC Congressional offices. This was the follow up to the June 2015 Lobby Day with 900 volunteers meeting with over 500 Congressional Offices. Furthermore, CCL is getting the attention of Congress with with our actions so far in 2015 with over 1,155 meetings with Congressional Offices, 2,897 published media and over 12,832 handwritten letters to Congress.

c. Citizens' Climate Lobby completed extensive homework to show that its plan meets total WTO & GATT compliance for world trade agreements.

5. The rewarding satisfaction of giving a successful "off the cuff" sales pitch to a Congressional Staff. 

As noted above, Republican Congressional made it clear that offices President Obama's EPA Clean Power Plan created "a poisonous political climate." For me, it was thrilling to provide a counter argument that CCL's Carbon Fee and Dividend allows members of Congress to go "on offense" instead of defense trying to stop President Obama's Clean Power Plan.

One Republican staff person told me that his boss spent most of his political capital "playing defense right now" with President Obama's EPA Clean Power Plan.

My response was that we are telling Democratic Representatives and staffs that carbon fee and dividend was a much better alternative than the EPA Clean Power Plan. The EPA rules are designed to reduce emissions from power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. Regional Economic Models Inc. (REMI), which conducted a 2014 study of CCL’s Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D) proposal, found that CF&D would achieve a 90% reduction below 2005 levels in the power sector by 2030. Thus, CCL's carbon fee and dividend results in greater emissions reductions sooner, cuts emissions deeper, while growing the economy and creating jobs.

This aide seemed to be very happy when he heard me say that CCL prefers carbon fee & dividend over the EPA Clean Power Plan because this EPA plan has basically no Republican support. CCL would much rather support a bipartisan solution in Congress. That plan is much more likely to be passed with broad approval.

On the spot, I then asked the aide point blank, "Does our Carbon Fee and Dividend Plan help you and your boss start playing offense instead of defense?"

That Congressional aide was speechless. It felt like hitting a home run making this sales pitch to him. He was definitely considering my invitation to look at our proposal.

It felt like I had carefully listened to the aide's defensive position. I then invited him a positive step forward that could lead for a victory for his boss, the Republican Party, and our planet.

6. The technique of showing admiration, appreciation and respect for members of Congress & their staff works. 

Citizens' Climate Lobby likes to say that their one rule is that their volunteers show members of Congress or their staff respect, appreciation and gratitude for their public service when they meet with them.

Gulp. That one rule can be extremely hard. Often, CCL volunteers like me are meeting with the the members of Congress or staff where we have totally opposite points of view. In those instances, my first reaction would naturally be to yell at them and berate them for their deep ties to the fossil fuel industry.

 Brian Ettling, Sarah, Erik Rust & Larry Kremer
Sarah is an intern for Erik Rust.
Erik Rust is Energy & Environmental Aide for Rep. Wagner.
Larry is a CCL volunteer from Texas. 
Thus, I have had to learn to be very friendly, patient, and kind when setting up these meetings with Congressional staff. I made it a habit to treat them like lifelong friends. It took in some cases up to 10 e-mails and phone calls with the office receptionists to set up the meetings with staff. In every step, I made sure I was polite and friendly when setting up these appointments.

When the Congressional staffs meetings took place November 17 & 18th, the tone felt very friendly and relaxed. It felt very easy for an exchange of ideas to flow.

I looked at their objections and questions not as barriers, but my homework to provide future information for them. The other volunteers in the meeting and I consciously strived to listen carefully to their questions and concerns. Our goal in Citizens' Climate Lobby is to be interested not interesting. We are interested in what they have to say and pay close attention, rather than longing to be interesting in who we are.

As a result, it felt like the Congressional staff was interested in engaging us in conversation and then listening closely to our ideas.

Years ago, I applied for a job for another environmental organization. During the interview, the hiring official wanted to know my experience of political organizing. I explained my experience using Citizens' Climate Lobby's technique of showing respect, admiration, and gratitude for Republican members of Congress and their staff.

This interviewer bristled at my response, and retorted, "We don't talk to these people. We defeat them."

I totally respected this environmental organizer's point of view. Yes, there are elected officials that I will be voting against on election day that must be defeated. I totally get political campaigns against politicians with awful to 0% voting records for protecting the environment. They should be defeated.

On the other hand, these same elected leaders may still be holding office for years. I would much rather use Citizens' Climate Lobby's strategy of finding common ground with elected officials and working for solutions together with them. On the other hand, I see it as a very limited and polarizing strategy of just defeating them.

7. Meeting with the staffs of Congressional Offices was fun, rewarding, and inspirational. 

Citizens' Climate lobby's mission is to create the political will for a livable world by empowering individuals to experience breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.

Hilary Pinegar, Legislative Correspondent for Sen. Roy Blunt
meeting with Brian Ettling. Blunt's office used to be the
office of Senator & Vice President Harry S. Truman,
before he became President. 
It was a lot of fun to plan this trip,  do my homework to learn about the member of Congress and their staffs, spend time exploring Capitol Hill and Washington DC, walk around Capitol Hill to locate their offices, and see the mementos in their office that represents their district and state.

For instance, it amazed me to learn from the staff of Senator Roy Blunt that his office used to be the office of Senator and Vice President Harry Truman. I also had a meeting with the staff of Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky. His district it encompasses almost all of Louisville metro area, including the famous Louisville Slugger factory & Museum and the Kentucky Derby. Thus, it was fun to be greeted by a giant Louisville Slugger bat when entering his office and pictures of the Kentucky Derby.

I wish I would have had time to step inside all 535 Congressional offices to see the valuable decorations from their home district or state.

It did feel very empowering for me to personally engage the Congressional staff on climate change solutions. It felt like I was taking effective action on the issue that I care the most deeply. It stretched my comfort zone to chat with Congressional Staff who are making policy decisions and advising member of Congress. For years I had dreamed of going to Washington DC to lobby on climate change, it felt surreal and a peak life experience to actually do it.

I hope to lobby in Washington DC again soon, especially for Citizens' Climate Lobby.

Through the adventure of lobbying, I have experienced firsthand the Joan Baez quote that "Action is the antidote for despair."

8. I got to lobby Congressional Offices with old and new friends. 

Don Kraus, Brian Ettling, Elli Sparks, and Tim Fitzgerald
getting ready for a meeting with staff of Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)
on November 17, 2015.
None of these meetings, I was alone. I had at least 2 to 4 other Citizens' Climate Lobby volunteers in all of these meetings. It truly felt like teamwork.

In all of these meetings, Citizens' Climate Lobby Volunteers divided up roles: such as note taking, showing admiration for a particular action of that member of Congress, asking a specific request, seeing if the staff had questions, timekeeping to be respectful of the staffs' busy schedule, and a leader to facilitate the meeting.

This was always a relief because it never felt like the burden of the Congressional meeting was squarely on my shoulders. I still have a lot to learn about Citizens' Climate Lobby's carbon fee and dividend proposal.  Thus, I was grateful to have friends in the meetings who knew more about their proposal than me. All of the other volunteers in the meetings were excellent at answering the questions I would have been more shaky at answering.

For me, making friends has been the deepest reward with taking action on climate change. These friends have given me hope and inspiration. It is empowering to know there are thousands of involved citizens volunteering on the climate issue, meeting with Congressional offices, creating deeper awareness in their communities on the climate issues, and offering solutions that allows society a forward. These are the people I want to "hang with."

As Reid Hoffman, Chairman and Cofounder, LinkedIn, stated, "The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with the people who are already who you want to be."

Unfortunately, I did not get pictures of the Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers who were with me in each of the six meetings. The exception was the picture that was taken of the CCL volunteers who were with me before the meeting in Rep. Greg Walden's office, shown above.

However, Citizens' Climate Lobby did get a group photo of all 140 volunteers, including me, who did get to lobby Congress in DC on November 17th and 18th.

Image Source: Citizens' Climate Lobby Blog

With all of the climate activists who could not make it to this conference because of work, school finances, or other commitments, this gives me tremendous hope that Congress will eventually pass significant legislation to reduce the impact of climate change.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Science comedian Brian Malow's advice & jokes for communicating about climate change

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...'" – Isaac Asimov

Brian Malow
Looking to be entertained by someone with a mutual geeky love of science? Look no further than Brian Malow, Earth’s Premier Science Comedian (self-proclaimed). He has performed for NSF, AAAS, JPL, NIST, ACS, AGU – and many other acronyms, as well as comedy clubs nationwide.

Brian currently works in science communication for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, and blogs for Scientific American.

Brian has made science videos for Time Magazine’s website and is a contributor to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s radio show. He gives workshops and presentations to train scientists to become better speakers and that is where I first encountered Brian Malow.

He was a guest speaker for the December 2011 Communicating Your Science Workshop at the AGU (American Geophysical Union) Fall Meeting in San Francisco. His workshop for scientists and science communicators like me was called, Delivering Your Message: Lessons from Stand-up Comedy. 

To this day, this was one of the most beneficial workshops I have attended for tips to successfully engage an audience on science, especially climate change.

This is a presentation with tips I needed to learn. As I blogged about previously, I saw evidence of climate change while working as a ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon and Everglades National Park. While working in the Everglades in November 2007, I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to be a climate change communicator.

Unsure how to pursue this passion, one day I was brainstorming with my friend, Naomi, in Ashland, Oregon. She was giving me lots of advice. Finally, I said out of honest desperation, "If I could do anything, I would like to be the Climate Change Comedian!"

Naomi just about fell out of her chair laughing. She said, "You go home and grab that website domain." I immediately did that and a friend helped me build the website, in March 2010. I have not done much with the website since then, even though I love to blog, create videos, and contribute posts to the website

In Spring 2010, I also created my first powerpoint attempt to find that sweet spot of sharing the science and solutions to climate change while incorporating humor. It was called Let's Have Fun Getting Serious about Resolving Climate Change. 

I gave this talk a few times for friends to get comfortable Towards the beginning of my talk, I shared some of my favorite quotes trying to find the sweet spot between humor and serious learning:

- 'Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and Three-fourths Theater.' ~ novelist Gail Godwin

- “Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy, and literature than any number of dull arguments.” – science fiction writer Isaac Asimov

- “When humor goes, there goes civilization.” – humorist Erma Bombeck

- “You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it.” – comedian Bill Cosby.

(Ok, knowing what we know now about Bill Cosby, I would not use this quote in 2015. However, I really liked this quote in 2010)

- “If I had no sense if humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.” – Mohandas Gandhi. 

Nobody ever laughed at that last quote, even though I thought it was very funny. I am a big fan of Gandhi and all he was able to accomplish. This quote shows me that he did not take himself or life too seriously. Nobody in the audience seemed to get that logic though. 

Fran Ettling, Tanya Couture, and Brian Ettling
Ok, you can tell I need a lot of help with my humor. To this day and in my short videos, my mom and fiancée Tanya tell me that I am not that funny

Therefore, yes, I was in great need of Brian Malow's workshop at AGU in December 2011, Delivering Your Message: Lessons from Stand-up Comedy.

To relate his love of science to the audience, Brian Malow starts with the joke, "I used to be an astronomer, but I got stuck working the day shift."

I still love this joke no matter how many times I have heard Brian tell it (twice in person, his NPR Science Friday appearances, his YouTube videos, etc) 

Soon after that opening joke, Brian gave some advice that really jumped out at me. He said, 

"An audience is not an amorphous blob. It is a group of individuals. Keep this in mind." 

I never forgot that advice. Whenever I give a talk, whether as a park ranger, teacher, or guest speaker, I always try to get to the event extra early to get to know individuals in the audience. I try to find out where is their hometown, what brought them to the event, and what they hope to get out of my talk. 

That information is so valuable to weave into my talk, establish more rapport with the audience and get them on my side for the topic I am presenting.

Brian went further to say to know that your audience is human. Therefore, connect with them with human ideas. He encouraged us to put ourselves in our programs. I took this to heart nine months later when I developed my own ranger evening campfire presentation at Crater Lake National Park on YouTube, called the The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. I put goofy images of myself in my program so my audience could relate more to me and the information I was sharing with them. Such as me below catching my first gigantic kokanee salmon at Crater Lake in 2012.

Brian Malow pointed out that every story has a conflict. We need to engage an audience on our topic in a way that answers their question: Why should I care? 

He challenged us to use analogies and metaphors to connect with our audience. This was music to my ears because I contribute to a website, where we collect sound bite metaphors and quotes on climate change. 

One of my favorites: confused about weather vs. climate, then check your underwear drawer.

"Climate is percentage of long underwear vs. shorts in your closest. Weather is deciding to wear long underwear or shorts today." – Inspired John Morris, retired Interpretive Specialist, National Park Service, Alaska Regional Office.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.
His profile Twitter Image
Or, Climate change A political issue? That's like choosing sides over E = mc2

"Climate change has taken on political dimensions...That's odd because I don't see people choosing sides over E = mc2 or other fundamental facts of science."
— Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, Host of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

Brian then advised us that power point "should be supporting special effects, not total reliance." He challenged us not to use powerpoint at some point. He guaranteed it will fail at some point. 

Gulp. I still overly rely on powerpoint. I struggle with memorization and I love some of the images I use for laughs. Such as Positive Proof of Global Warming slide with the change of underwear fashions over the years from the long bloomers our great grandparents wore to the dental floss thongs some teenagers and young adults wear today.

Brian then taught us that our visuals should be visual. They should tell a story and even enhance your story. They should not include a lot of words, if any at all. 

Image from the YouTube talk from
Brian Malow, How Wine Saved the World
He then showed his funny and educational powerpoint about Louis Pasteur which is on YouTube called How Wine Saved the WorldTo illustrate how Louis Pasteur was a “super-chemist,” the slide shows a Photoshopped image of Pasteur’s head on Superman’s body.

Even more, Brian's powerpoint shared a great scientific story how Louis Pasteur proved that life can only come from life. Pasteur crushed the previous accepted doctrine of spontaneous generation. He performed experiments that showed that without contamination, microorganisms could not develop.

He ended that story with this amazing Louis Pasteur quote: "Never underestimate the infinitely great power of the infinitely small."

Brian encouraged us to engage our audience to ask questions. One question he posed to us: 

"Does anyone here have a fear of public speaking? Can you please come up here and tell us about it?"

With two very sticky quotes, he stated we should try to be very clear and precise with our words. Such as: 

"The difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is the difference between a notion of water and an ocean of water." – Isaac Asimov

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."  – Mark Twain

With Brian's marvelous use of humor and analogies, I asked him during the talk if he had an helpful metaphors or humorous analogies for climate change. 

Brian had a treasure load of these that he very generously shared and I turn then incorporated into some of my writings:

- We are treating the small livable part of spaceship earth, our air supply, as an unregulated SEWER to dump our vehicle and industrial wastes. Currently, carbon dioxide emissions are roughly 36.7 billion, with a B, metric tons a year. Throwing this much carbon dioxide into our atmosphere is really no different than me lighting up a cigarette in this room. Even more, imagine that you were swimming in a beautiful Olympic size swimming pool. Then you saw someone peeing into the pool. Then you saw another person peeing into the pool. Then another. And another. At way point would you yell at the top of your lungs, “STOP PEEING IN MY POOL!”

- Climate change is as if the check engine light light has turned on inside our car and we have decided to put our thumb over it on the dashboard.

- Brian thinks it is odd that people trust experts for everything, except for evolution and climate change. People think they know more than these experts.

There’s something fascinating about why people don’t trust scientists. I mean we defer to so many experts in our lives. You know, if you have a problem with your plumbing, you call the plumber. If you have a problem with your car, you call the mechanic.

But for some reason when it comes to evolution or climate change, you’re going to trust some politician and not the experts? It’s so absurd. What if we greeted plumbers with the same skepticism? “Oh, yeah, right, right. You’re just gonna snake that little thing down there and it’s gonna clear up the problem? Sure. And I’m supposed to believe that?"

- Brian found it odd that in nature all the other creatures are adapting to climate change "except for us brainiacs." 

- Brian pleaded with us to use plain words like "air supply," not atmosphere, when we are talking with the general public.

What really shines through Brian's comedy routines, radio interviews, videos, and scientific workshops is his love of science. He told us that science is a process. Science is the pursuit to satisfy our curiosity. 

He then ended with his inspiring quote: 

"Scientists have maintained their child-like wonder of the world. The only other profession I am aware of like this is clowns, and I think they are a lot less scary than clowns."

If Brian Malow scheduled to perform in your city, I highly suggest you drop everything you are doing and go see him. Or at the very least, do check out his YouTube videos. 

Thank you Brian Malow for your humor and inspiring me to more effectively use humor when I am giving talks on climate change. I blogged about my own success over a year ago: Using Humor Effectively to Communicate Climate Change.

You have been a big influence on me.

Brian Malow with Brian Ettling.
Image taken on February 25, 2015 after Brian Malow performed
at St. Louis Community College, Meramec Campus

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Addressing the Opposition: "How can climate scientists predict the future?"

Below is the text for my South County Toastmasters Speech delivered on March 18, 2015: 

I am here tonight to address the opposition.  My opposition is not this crazy visitor I once encountered as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park. 

Adam Kutell
My opposition is my friend and fellow Toastmaster, Adam Kutell. For the past four years, I presented over a dozen climate change speeches to this club. After hearing all these speeches, Adam wants me to address this question:

“How can climate scientists possibly know what is going to happen in the future?”

Adam, I think that is an excellent question. How can anyone possibly know what is going to happen in the future? All of us can think of times in the past when humans were wrong.

Here is a picture of me as a kid growing up in the 1970s. Wasn't I cute? 

To this day, I remember adults and other kids in school saying, “Smoking cigarettes is not that unhealthy. I have a grandpa or great uncle who is 80 years old. He has smoked all his life and he is ok.”

As a kid, that argument sounded ridiculous to me. 

In 2015, most of us would agree now that smoking cigarettes regularly could lead to various health hazards, some of them life threatening.

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However, you may not know this information from the AAAS, also known as American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is the world's largest and most prestigious general scientific society, with around 127,000 individual and institutional members. It was established in 1848. In this March 2014 they released this statement,

“Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts, and others all agree smoking causes cancer…a similar consensus now exists among climate scientists (over 97% and over 60% of meteorologists) a consensus that maintains that climate change is happening and that human activity is the cause.”

After studying the Earth’s ancient climates, climate scientists, are very worried about the dirty pollution we are putting into our air supply by burning oil, coal and natural gas for our energy needs.  

Who here enjoys watching National Geographic and Discovery Channel shows?

In 2008, National Geographic released this video, 6 Degrees Could Change the World that really impacted me. Based upon what scientists know about the Earth’s climate, this program laid out what they expect will happen with each degree of rise in the Earth’s average temperature if we do not reduce our pollution.

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If the Earth warms by just one degree celsius (or close to two degrees fahrenheit) by the year 2100, the result could be severe droughts in the U.S. Great Plains. The prolonged droughts could turn some of America’s most productive farmland and ranch lands into deserts, causing shortages in the global grain and meat markets. This drought worries me on the effect it would have on our Mid West economy.   

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If the Earth warms by two degrees, coral reefs across the planet may collapse from warmer ocean water temperatures and ocean acidification. Over the past 150 years, the oceans have absorbed nearly half of all the carbon dioxide we have put into our air supply. All this carbon in the oceans is making the seawater more acidic. This change in water chemistry is already damaging the shells of beautiful marine life, such as sea butterfly snails. Even worse, extra carbon in our oceans could endanger seafood we love to eat such as clams or Maryland crabs.

This frightens me because I have great memories over to all you can eat seafood festivals when I worked over 10 years ago in the Florida Everglades. Didn't I have great hair 10 years ago? 

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If the Earth warms by three degrees, the extreme heat could cause intense wildfires that could burn down the Amazon rainforests in Brazil. These rainforest are known as the lungs of the Earth for how much oxygen they produce for you and me.

West Antarctic Ice Sheet, located inside of the red oval
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If the Earth warms by four degrees, the West Antarctic Ice sheet is in danger of collapse, which would raise sea level 16 feet worldwide.  Of special concern is Florida, where Adam grew up. Most of the state lies close to present sea level. As it is, scientists now project global sea level to rise at least three feet in the 21st century.

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If west Antarctic ice sheet collapsed, Florida’s coastline would go from looking like this today, to this. It would raise Florida sea level by 16 feet.  

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Keep in mind that the Earth warms 4 degrees or more, some scientists worry all the ice in Greenland and Antarctica could melt. This could then raise global sea level by 216 feet!

The September 2013 National Geographic shows what the Statue of Liberty would look like with a 216 feet rise in sea level. 

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On the inside of the magazine, this map shows what the US would look like without any polar ice. Basically, you would have no Florida, Louisiana, , New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc. All those millions of refugees would have to relocate somewhere. Imagine the stress to our St. Louis area absorbing millions of climate refugees.

If the Earth warms by five or six degrees, scientists don’t even want to think about it.  According to Adam Frank, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester, “The danger (of drastic climate change) is not to the planet, but to our civilization on the planet.”

Brian Ettling with Dr. Richard Somerville, climate scientist and Professor Emeritus at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, San Diego, CA 
My friend, Dr. Richard Somerville, now retired Climate Scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, once stated"The very elaborate infrastructure that has been put together: the damns, pumps, reservoirs, and canals, won't work (with the increased chances of more extreme heat waves, droughts and floods) because they were designed for the climate we have had, not the one we are going to have."

So, Adam to answer your question:

“How can climate scientists possibly know what is going to happen in the future?”

Hopefully, tonight I have shown you what really worries scientists and me about climate change.

For my nieces and nephews, I cannot leave behind such a chaotic world to them, their children, or my future grandchildren. 

Adam, I have seen your kids at our Toastmasters meetings. They are beautiful children. I cannot leave such a world behind for them also. 

For you children, I challenge you to be part of the solution to climate change. For everyone in this room, let's find common ground to work together to reduce our pollution. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Climate Change impacting our National Parks: It’s no Joke

Last November, the leader of my local Toastmasters Club, Steve, started out the meeting with this joke: New York Times just reported that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. The next thing they will probably tell us is that global warming is not real.”

Conservative members in the audience chuckled, but I sat there perplexed as Steve looked directly at me when he recited his joke. Not finding the joke funny, I sat there looking bewildered. Then someone in audience shouted out, “Wasn’t that funny, Brian?’

It is still beyond me how this joke was funny. First, the weapons of mass destruction that were found during the Iraq War were manufactured before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. As the article states, "The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the (Bush Administration’s) invasion rationale."

Even more, I could not bring myself to laugh at this joke because of the climate change part. I spent the previous two decades seeing and educating myself on the impact of climate change in our beloved national parks. After spending 22 years working in Everglades National Park and Crater Lake National Park, I personally saw how climate change had a negative impact on our national parks. Thus, Steve’s comment did not seem like a joke, but more like a kick in the stomach.

Climate Change and Humor can go Together  

Sure, I love a good joke. I attempt to use lots of humor in my ranger evening talk on impact of climate change at Crater Lake National Park, on YouTube, called The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. I have blogged about using humor to convey a message about climate change. On a dare over five years ago, I even grabbed the web domain, Climate Change Comedian and set up a website by the same title.

When I use humor to educate folks about climate change, I am always making fun of myself, NEVER the science of climate change. Even more, over the past year, I filmed four short humorous climate change videos with my fiancée Tanya, my mom, and my dad to raise awareness about climate change. The tag line in those videos is all of them telling me, “YOU'RE NOT THAT FUNNY!"

As a ranger, teacher, Toastmaster, Climate Reality Project Leader, and professional speaker on climate change, my goal is always to educate, entertain, and inspire an audience to take action to reduce the impact of climate change. Since giving talks on climate change since 2010, my philosophy is that people were more likely to listen my message on the science and my call to action, if they liked me. How were they going to like me? I know they will like me more if I find a way to use humor appropriately to connect with them in the universal language of laughter. 

There is an old joke where one speaker asks another:
“Do I have to be funny to be a good speaker?”

The other speaker: “Only if you want to be paid to speak.”

Brian Malow and Brian Ettling
Science comedian Brian Malow (pictured on left) is an excellent example of marrying a deep love of science with very funny comedy in his stand up routines he performs across the United States. I will write more about him on a future blog.

Yes, there is a time and place for appropriate humor climate change talks. However, Toastmaster Steve did something I try to never do in a talk: insult members of the audience, especially those who disagree with me. He wanted to needle me with his humor. Yes, I love to be teased. Just ask Tanya or my good friends. However, seeing first hand my beloved national parks ravaged by climate change, I just could not find the fun in Steve’s joke.

Personally Witnessing climate change in our national parks

Recently, I blogged Seeing Climate Change in my 22 years as a Park Ranger. I wrote about how I personally discovered sea level rise in Everglades National Park. The 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. 

Rock Reef Pass. Highest elevation point on Main Park Road
in Everglades National Park 

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 since it lies less than three feet above sea level.

Learning that fact alarmed me because I had a fantastic time canoeing along the coastal areas in the Everglades. It was a thrill to go explore to see the endangered American crocodiles and Florida manatees. The dolphins would swim under and around the canoe, Bald Eagles soaring overhead, beautiful shorebirds and herons working along the shoreline for all you can eat seafood dinners. Peregrine Falcons would then come out of nowhere to attack the shorebirds. 

Best of all, it was fabulous to canoe around the four foot tall magnificent wild Flamingos which were feeding and standing around the tidal flats.

It shocked me most of the Everglades could be lost due to sea level rise from climate change. Even worse, the crocodiles, shorebirds, Peregrine Falcons, and beautiful Flamingos could all lose this ideal coastal habitat that is actually very rare in the overly developed Florida.

During my time working at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, I learned that the snowpack is diminishing each decade. Pikas and white bark pines are struggling to survive with the warmer temperatures and milder winters.

I could even see changes in the park with my own eyes over the two decades I worked there. I could see that it was raining more and snowing less in the months of May, June, September, and October. It was stunning how little snowpack I had seen when I arrived for the summers of 2013 and 2014. The winter of 2014-15 projects to have even less snowpack when I arrive in May or June.

Meeting a eyewitness seeing climate change in other national parks

Aware of this knowledge of the impact of climate change on Crater Lake, I have presented my The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly evening program at the Crater Lake campground amphitheater since August 2011. This presentation turned out to be very beneficial for me. 

NASA invited me to give a version of this talk at the National Association of Interpreters Convention in Hampton, Virginia in November 2012. Grand Canyon National Park invited me to give this talk at their Shrine of the Ages Auditorium in May 2013. Oregon Wild conservation group invited me to speak on climate change impacting Crater Lake at their annual conference in in Portland, Oregon in May 2014.

It was at the Oregon Wild Conference where I met a fellow presenter, Michael Lanza. He gave a very inspiring keynote address. He spoke about the joy and adventure of taking his wife and his kids backpacking in America’s most rugged national parks. Unfortunately, he has also seen firsthand the changes brought by a warming climate. His presentation moved me to buy and read his book, Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to ExploreAmerica’s Most Endangered National Parks.

Besides Crater Lake and Everglades, Michael’s book made it clear that all of the national parks are facing serious threats from climate change. Toastmaster Steve will probably never understand this, but climate change impacting our national parks is no joke.

The deep connection of Michael Lanza, his family and the great outdoors.         
In early April 2007, on assignment for Backpacker Magazine, Michael backcountry skied into the Northern Rockies of Montana’s Glacier National Park. Exploring Glacier along side him was scientist Dan Fagre, who runs a U.S. Geological Survey field station in West Glacier, MT.

Fagre’s computer models predict the 7,000-year-old glaciers at Glacier National Park will be gone by around the year 2020. Towards the beginning of my Crater Lake evening program, I mention that fact and show the retreat of the Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park from 1913 to today.  The before and after images of the glaciers disappearing gets gasps from the audience. 

Most of us tend to think of the impacts of climate change coming in the distant future. However, it struck Michael that the glaciers of Glacier National Park may disappear while his kids are still teenagers.

As he did more research, Michael wrote to me in a recent e-mail that he “discovered that many parks—places we’ve diligently set aside to preserve in their pristine condition—are reeling under ecological calamities triggered by global warming.”

Michael, along with his wife, Penny, have been taking their son, Nate, and daughter, Alex, on backpacking adventures since they were babies. During his Oregon Wild talk, it was amazing to hear the stories how Michael’s kids love these outdoor trips. The book is a joy to read how the kids had fun connecting to nature. When the family would find their camping area for the night, the kids had an incredible natural playground to and run around and toss rocks and sticks into a rushing creek or a mountain lake. They had pine forests to endlessly explore, but it never bored them.  

It was even more fascinating to hear how the family bonded in the great outdoors, in contrast to today’s busy high tech, fast paced entertainment world. This family would actually spend hours every day just talking and interacting with each other. Imagine that! I could not. It made me sad and longing for a similar family experience. I came from a family where the TV was constantly blaring and full-blown sibling fights growing up over which TV shows to watch. My parents were frequently zoned out in front of the TV from working so hard at their jobs. Michael’s family backpacking stories seemed like a different planet.

According to Michael, during those trips, the kids “get our full attention. There’s nothing in our regular lives that compares to this uninterrupted time together.”

During his talk, Michael gained the total respect from audience members like me. Instead of just raising kids as a squeezed in priority, like most people, Michael compiled over years a growing to-do list of adventures he wanted to enjoy with his kids before they were independent adults.

Unfortunately, it seemed that carbon dioxide was messing with his plans. Michael then decided to write a book about spending a year taking his family on wilderness adventures in national parks that each has a unique climate-change story.

Between March 2010 and February 2011, the Lanza Family took 11 national park trips. I highly recommend reading his book. Each chapter and page was a page-turner to see how they were connecting with nature, each other, and seeing the impact of climate change was an every present shadow on their trips.

Michael Lanza witnessing climate change in iconic national parks

Grand Canyon National Park

In Michael's own words in his e-mail to me: 

“We backpacked a 29-mile, four-day route in the Grand Canyon, from Grandview Point to the South Kaibab Trailhead on the South Rim. The canyon’s famously rugged anyway, but the difficulty is compounded because there’s so little water—meaning you have to carry a lot of it. In 4 days, we would pass just 3 sources of water.

Average 21st-century temps in Southwest expected to increase by about 6° F, threatening the few reliable water sources—bad news for flora and fauna as well as families backpacking: I left our last flowing creek carrying 27 lbs. of water for my family for 24 hours, on top of all the gear, food, clothing. If there were only one or two reliable sources on that 29-mile hike, the trip would become all but impossible for families and most backpackers.”

On May 7, 2013, I gave my Crater Lake climate change talk at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The agreement between Pete Peterson, South Rim Village District Interpreter Supervisory Park Ranger, and myself was that I should include information how climate change impacts on Grand Canyon National Park.

Gulp. I only had one day to learn and cram this information into my talk. My best source that day was Stephanie Sutton, District Interpreter. She briefed me on the science of phenology, which is the study how seasonal life cycle events for plants and animals are impacted by variations in climate. Of special concern at Grand Canyon are the gambel oaks.

Gambel Oak

According to Stephanie, with the warming climate temperatures, gambel oaks are now putting out their leaves earlier in the spring. The winter moth caterpillars then emerge earlier to take advantage of the earlier leaves. Unfortunately the Pied Flycatcher still arrives around the same time during the spring migration only to find all the caterpillars gone into their cocoon stage. As a result of no food, scientists noted up to a 90% population decline of the Pied Flycatcher.

Yosemite National Park

The Lanza family day hiked to Yosemite Valley’s waterfalls: first to Upper Yosemite Falls, which drops a sheer 1,430 feet, and then on the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls.

I first hiked from the valley floor to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls in October 2006. Yosemite hiking guide said it would take 3 to 4 hours one way. I happened to be in great shape at the time from hiking the 700-foot elevation gain from the Cleetwood Cove Trail at Crater Lake National Park twice a week for that summer ranger job. Thus, I shot up to the top of Yosemite Falls in a little over two hours. The view of the valley and surrounding park was beyond words.

In mid May 2013, I hiked the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls for a day trip. Mist on the trail lived up to its name. I will never forget the loud roar and the power of those waterfalls as I hiked around them. 


According to Michael:
“Those waterfalls and rivers depend on some of the heaviest winter snows in the world. But peak runoff will occur earlier in spring as temps warm—meaning streams and waterfalls declining or drying up earlier, not good for animals and plants or hikers who come in summertime.

Models predict 30% to 50% less snow in the Sierra by 2050, and a tipping point by around 2030 with ‘major changes in the snowpack.’”

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

During my The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly evening program, I show before and after pictures of the retreat of glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska. Just like my before and after images of the Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park, the audience gasps when they see these before and after images taken in Alaska.

According to Michael:  
The Lanza family “sea kayaked for five days in Alaska’s Glacier Bayseeing sea lions, seals, brown bears, sea otters, bald eagles and other birds—and listening to tidewater glaciers, rivers of ice that flow from the mountains into the sea, explosively calve bus-size chunks of ice into the bay. 

Glacier Bay has seen the fastest glacial retreat on Earth. 40 years ago, there were 12 tidewater glaciers.

Brian Ettling and Larry Lazar
Today there are five. 99% of Alaska glaciers are retreating.”

Glacier Bay is where my fellow co-founder of the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet-up group, Larry Lazar saw climate change with his own eyes. Before his trip to Alaska in 2006, Larry was openly doubtful and skeptical of climate change. This trip changed Larry’s life. It eventually led to us meeting up and starting the Climate Reality St. Louis Meet-Up group in October 2011.

Glacier National Park
According to Michael: the Lanza family “backpacked to Gunsight Pass in Glacier National Park, camping on Gunsight Lake, seeing deer in camp and a young mountain goat blocking our trail.

Glacier had 150 glaciers in 1850; today there are 27, and the last of them will melt within a decade. The ice disappearing is a foregone conclusion. Researchers are focused on what that will mean for the flora and fauna that rely on streams, which will get warmer and have less water in summer.”

I have yet to see Glacier National Park. It has a similar season for the availability of trails and roads as Crater Lake National Park. Thus, I am working at Crater Lake during the best time to visit Glacier. My hope is to visit there before the glaciers are all gone.

Joshua Tree National Park

Michael described Joshua Tree as  “a big granite jungle gym for my kids. We did some scrambling, hiking and rock climbing in this mecca for climbers.

The Joshua tree has an interesting evolutionary story. One mega fauna, the Shasta ground sloth, ate its fruit and dropped the seeds all over the Southwest. Unfortunately for the Joshua tree, the Shasta ground sloth went extinct 13,000 years ago. Today, rodents cannot disperse the seeds far enough to keep up with climate zones shifting 600 meters north per year.

A March 2011 report predicted the Joshua tree will no longer survive in 90% of current range within 60-90 years—and will not survive in Joshua Tree N.P.”

I camped and went for short hikes in Joshua Tree National Park in March 2009. With its Biblical name and distinct desert trees, it felt like a very spiritual place to me. It would be a huge loss for me to no longer see those iconic desert trees around.

Yellowstone National Park 

Michael shared, “I’ve been to Yellowstone many times; my favorite season is winter. We cross-country skied the Upper Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Fall, and the spectacular rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

In Jan. 2011, an NRDC/USFS report predicted that whitebark pine, which produces a nut critical to grizzly bears and more than 100 species, will be ‘functionally extinct’ in Yellowstone in 5 to 7 years.”

And a July 2011 report predicted that by 2050, wildfires like the Yellowstone fires of 1988 will occur almost annually.”

I visited Yellowstone about four times over the past 10 years. Just like all these other national parks, Yellowstone has a special place in my heart. It hurts to know that their whitebark pines could be “functionally extinct” extinct within 5 to 7 years.

I really love the white bark pines at Crater Lake. They are hanging on to the tops of the mountains at Crater Lake by the edges of their fragile roots as a warming climate brings ever-bigger invasions of mountain pine beetles attacking them.

Everglades National Park

Ironically, Michael had a similar memories of I do of the Everglades: canoeing among the mangroves and being spellbound by the birds, dolphins and alligators. At the same time, he was troubled by the Everglades fate of sea level rise. 

Image Source:

Michael wrote, “Paddling the Everglades was one of our favorite trips. We kayaked the mangrove tunnels of the East River and canoed 3 days in the Ten Thousand Islands. We saw great egrets, white ibises, black anhingas, brown pelicans, great blue herons, a dolphin, and 12-foot-long alligators.

Everglades is arguably America’s most endangered national park. IPCC 2007 report said oceans may rise by two feet by 2100, but many researchers now project the ocean rising three to six feet.

Two-thirds of Everglades N.P. is less than three feet above sea level.

Park Service 2008 report: if higher estimates of sea-level rise bear out, there’s potential for ‘catastrophic inundation of South Florida.’

Now the Good News!

There is still hope! While learning and cramming to give my Grand Canyon Evening program, I learned that Grand Canyon National Park is doing what it can to be a Climate Friendly Park. The South Rim Visitor Center has multiple solar panels to provide most of its electricity.

One of many solar panel to power the South Rim Grand Canyon Visitor Center,
pointed out by Park Ranger Pete Peterson
Next to the visitor center, there is a large cistern tank to reclaim rainwater for landscaping and restroom toilets. The South Rim Village has a very convenient shuttle bus service and bike rentals so visitors can drive less and not idle in traffic jams. 

Recently constructed maintenance and natural resource offices are LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) by the US Green Council. According to Grand Canyon park signage, “All new buildings in the park meet strong standards for sustainable materials and energy efficiency. Building features include:
·      Passive heating and cooling
·      Low-flow plumbing fixtures.
·      Efficient lighting
·      Recycled materials.”

My friend and Everglades National Park Ranger, Larry Perez, speaks of positive green actions happening in the Everglades during his climate change ranger talk. 

Everglades Park Ranger Larry Perez
Image Source:
In his powerpoint, he mentions park buildings using more energy efficient light bulbs. Park visitor centers, office buildings, and maintenance facilities using more solar and wind power.  Other steps include: providing a recycling service for employees and visitors, using shuttle buses to transport visitors within park boundaries, and converting park staff work vehicles to electric or hybrid vehicles.

I always emphasize in my evening program that Crater Lake National Park is doing what it can to reduce its carbon footprint. It has purchased hybrid vehicles for employee work transportation. It offers trolley tours on compressed natural gas, which emits 90% less carbon dioxide than a large recreational vehicle traveling through the park, according to the trolley company. For over two decades, the north entrance station received 100% on solar power. Starting two years ago, Mazama camper store has portable solar panels to reduce its electric demands.

Mobile solar panels next to Mazama Camper Store,
Crater Lake National Park
I acknowledge those actions is not nearly enough for Crater Lake to seriously reduce our carbon emissions. Thus, I empower my audience to get involved. At my conclusion, I ask my audience to stop by our visitor centers and fill out comment forms. I request that they demand Crater Lake National Park do more to reduce the impact of climate change.

Final Thoughts

Toastmaster Steve and I stopped speaking after his climate change joke. I sent a private e-mail to him to seek an apology and explain why the joke hurt. I tried to share the pain I feel for the slow destructive onslaught happening in our national parks from climate change. Steve did not want to listen. Realistically, Steve will never understand. I am at peace with this. 

Perhaps, if you made it the end of reading this very long blog, you can understand. Many scientists and experts say it is still not too late to avoid the worst and nastiest consequences of climate change. Unfortunately, scientists think window of opportunity is closing fast.

As Pope Francis remarked about climate change,
“If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us.”

Hopefully, you will contact your member of Congress, reduce your carbon footprint at home and with your car, and join effective groups like Citizens’ Climate Lobby,, BeyondCoal, The Climate Reality Project, etc. Your actions can make a difference because climate change impacting our national parks is no joke.