Talking to Your Parents about Climate Change: A Personal Story

Used with Permission: Brian Ettling

Used with Permission: Brian Ettling

We are pleased to share with you a very personal post by our friend and fellow Climate Reality Leader Brian Ettling. In this post, Brian shares with us how his relationship with his dad changed and deepened over Brian’s commitment to “change climate change.” Brian’s enthusiasm, perseverance and energy inspire us and give us hope that together we all can and will create a livable future for ourselves and our children.

P.S. If you are looking for a way to turn your passion on climate change advocacy into action, like Brian has done so successfully, consider joining an upcoming Climate Reality leader training. Find more information here.

My Climate Skeptic Dad, and How he became a Climate Change Leader too!
By Brian Ettling

I love Climate Mama’s mission for Mamas and Papas of all ages to work together to create a healthy and sustainable planet for our children. In the process of following this mission, we can reach our own skeptical parents.

Photo: Creative Commons attribution Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Creative Commons attribution Wikimedia Commons

15 years ago, Bill Moyers interviewed George Lucas about how Lucas came up with the Star Wars mythology. In this interview, George Lucas explains how it was his father’s dream for his son to work in and eventually inherit the family office equipment store in Modesto, California.

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

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

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

I faced a similar story with my life. My dad worked two jobs throughout his long career so that my sisters and I could have productive lives. After an angry confrontation in my late twenties, I found out what my dad’s dreams were for me. He hoped that I would work an office job like him so I would understand the sacrifices he made. He saw me working in an office because that is what he understood as a stable job.

Used with permission: Brian Ettling

Used with permission: Brian Ettling

When I decided to become a seasonal park ranger bouncing around national parks, it disappointed him for years. He asked me several times, “When are you going to get a real job?” To compound my dad’s disappointment, I made it my life’s mission to write, teach and give public presentations about the impacts of climate change, which I witnessed first hand and up close, through my work as a park ranger.. For my dad, it was initially beyond his comprehension that humans could damage our planet. As I became more aware of climate change and began my work as a climate change activist, my dad displayed open hostility at my life choice. He tried telling me that: “climate change was not real, that humans cannot change the climate, and that this was liberal nonsense.”

However, like George Lucas, I found my passion in life and nothing was going to stop me. There was no looking back. In August 2012, I was trained in San Francisco along with nearly 1,000 other people by Al Gore to become a Climate Reality Project Leader to give presentations on climate change. Since that training, I have given around 70 climate change presentations nationwide; many in and around the St. Louis area. Some personal highlights are as a guest speaker at Grand Canyon National Park in 2013, for NASA in Hampton, Virginia in 2012, and as a presenter for the Oregon Wild Conference in Portland, Oregon in 2014.

I have attempted every avenue I know to get out the message about taking action on climate change, including writing opinion editorials in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, writing a blog, doing local radio interviews, and more recently, making funny short videos with my fiancée Tanya and my mom Fran Ettling.

My dad also played a role in our videos, as my cameraperson. After filming our third video in January 2014, my dad seemed to get antsy behind the camera and he told me he wanted an on camera part. I decided to take him up on his suggestion, and to see where this would lead.

Brian and his dad. Used with Permission - Brian Ettling.

Brian and his dad. Used with Permission – Brian Ettling.

In February 2014, my dad and I filmed our first climate video together. I interviewed him about how he had changed his mind about climate change. He explained to me that it was me, his son, who had changed his mind. I had helped him understand and see the weight of the evidence before us. Over the years, I watched a shift in my dad’s thinking and I gained a new respect, admiration, and peace with him. He evolved from being hostile about my climate activism to being my biggest cheerleader. Yet, as I was making this video with my dad, I kept thinking how crazy this idea would have been 10 years before.

As climate mamas and papas, we work tirelessly on climate change education, advocacy and action to create a better world for our children. Along our journey, we reach many, many people; sometimes surprising even ourselves by the depth of our reach. Even those who often seem very set in their ways and least likely to change their opinions – like some of our parents – can still change the way they think. I am by no means alone in influencing my dad to change. Four years ago, I blogged here on Climate Mama, about my best friend, Scott and how his son Ricky convinced him to change his views on climate change.

The cover story of the March 2015 issue of National Geographic, is The War on Science by Joel Achenbach. This article includes a story about Liz Neeley who helps to train scientists to be better communicators. As it turns out, Liz’s father is a climate change doubter. He gets most of his climate change information from conservative media. In frustration she finally confronted him: “Do you believe them or me?”

She told him she believes the scientists who research climate change and knows many of them personally. “If you think I’m wrong,” she said, “then you’re telling me that you don’t trust me.” Her father’s views shifted; and in the end it wasn’t the facts that finally convinced him, but rather his relationship with his daughter.

shutterstock_11256511During the Bill Moyers interview, George Lucas talked about how parents can be redeemed by their children. This was part of what he demonstrated through his Darth Vader character. My own dad, my best friend Scott, and Liz Neeley’s dad, all initially found it hard to comprehend that humans could put our future and that of our planet in peril through the burning of fossil fuels. They changed their views and opened themselves up to hearing the reality about climate change because of their love and respect for their children.

So for those of you whose parents or other loved ones may still be reluctant to see, hear and understand the facts and realities about climate change, don’t give up! If Darth Vader, one of the biggest movie villains of all time can be redeemed by his children Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa, then there is certainly hope that we all may still be able to redeem our own reluctant parents.

Brian Ettling is a climate change communicator, Crater Lake Park ranger, public speaker, Climate Reality Leader, US traveler, hiker, writer and blogger. To find more of Brian’s writings, visit his blog or Climatebites, where Brian is a Senior Contributing Writer.

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