A Park Ranger Turned Climate Activist

For 25 years, Brian Ettling worked as a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and Everglades National Park in Florida. He has made it his life’s mission to take action on climate change. Since first volunteering with CCL in 2012, he has given over 200 climate change talks as a seasonal park ranger, Toastmaster, Climate Reality Project Leader, and volunteer. Brian recently completed a tour across his home state of Missouri in October 2018 to speak at Oakville High School (‘87), William Jewell College (‘92), The University of Missouri, St. Louis Community College, and St. Louis University. On his tour, he spoke to hundreds of faculty, students, and community members to promote CCL and climate action.

When not advocating for climate solutions, Brian enjoys spending time in nature with his wife, Tanya, where they live in Portland, Oregon. He hopes that his tour inspires others to travel across their own home states to promote environmental advocacy. Brian believes it can be a very rewarding experience to return to your old high school or college to inspire students to act on climate change.

What got you involved in CCL?

For 25 years, I was a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon and Everglades National Park, Florida. I learned about and saw sea level rise in the Everglades and I witnessed the diminished annual snowpack and a more intense fire season at Crater Lake National Park. Seeing the negative impacts of climate change in our national parks motivated me to do climate advocacy during the past 10 years and to get in involved with CCL in 2012.

What did you like about CCL?

When I finally stumbled across CCL in May 2012, my thought was, “Where have you been my whole life!” I had been worried about this issue for years and here was an organization that was nationwide and action-oriented. Even more, I loved that they were bi-partisan, working with conservatives and liberals on on a market-based solution. There were so many pluses for me that I could easily get involved.

What was your tour in Missouri like?

My alma mater, William Jewell College, approached me last December and asked me to give an economics lecture and I said, “Well, I’ll do it as long as I can do it on Citizens’ Climate Lobby and carbon fee-and-dividend.” That was really exciting, to be able to go back and repay my college and try to engage students the way that I was engaged thirty years ago. Then University of Missouri in Columbia MO approached me around the same time, so I asked each school if I could bundle this trip. I hated the thought of flying home and then flying back out to Missouri separately. Luckily both colleges were thrilled about me doing a bundled trip. Even more, since I’m originally from St. Louis and my parents, extended family, and in-laws are in St. Louis,  I figured I may as well try to get in some climate talks in my hometown. So I emailed St. Louis Community College where I used to teach, I approached my old high school, and a friend at St. Louis University asked me to speak there. It just all came together serendipitously.

What do you find challenging about talking about climate change in a red state?

People can feel hopeless in a deep red state like their opinions and actions don't matter. The top questions I get when I give presentations in red states and conservative red areas are: "How do I respond to my family, neighbors, friends and co-workers who disagree with me about climate change?" and "Why should I act when my members of Congress won't listen to us on climate change?' I then try to emphasize in my talks that they do matter and their actions make a difference. I try to give tips on engaging people who disagree with them about climate change and provide success stories of people who engaged their conservative members of Congress.

What keeps you motivated to do this work?

I saw the damage that humans can do to our national parks. I don't want to see the same damage happen to our planet. I want to leave behind a livable planet for my nieces and nephews and future generations.

My personal quote I created is, “Each and every one of us can change the world, and we do this by the way we vote, the products we buy, and the attitudes we share with each other.” I just want to make sure that I leave no stone unturned, as far as knocking on as many doors as possible, writing blogs, engaging friends on this issue, and lobbying members of Congress. The more I work on this issue, the more I see how many other great people working on this too. For me it seems like I’m keeping up with so many amazing people on this.

You often hear, “Think globally, act locally,” but I’ve put my own twist on that. Somedays, I don’t want to act locally. For me, it’s more of what I can do daily on this issue: “Think globally, act daily.” Take a family member to a park, write a member of Congress, be supportive of someone giving a presentation, but make sure you do something daily. That’s what keeps me going.