Communicating Climate Change in a National Park

The story of a Crater Lake National Park ranger who shares his anxieties and challenges with speaking to park visitors about climate change and the five lessons he's learned through communications trainings and personal experience.



Anyone who's attempted to communicate with the public about climate change will recognize naturalist ranger, Brian Ettling's initial hesitancy to engage with climate skeptics and feel inspired by his path to overcoming his fears about engaging visitors on the issue.


  • Crater Lake National Park ranger Brian Ettling was anxious that park visitors would heckle him if they disagreed about climate change and that he may not know enough about the issue to adequately respond. He was also concerned that information about climate impacts would come across as too negative.
  • The National Park Service has begun urging park rangers to address climate change in presentations with park visitors. Seasonal training sessions (which include expertise from Climate Access member John Morris), provide climate communications recommendations for rangers.
  • Park rangers are important climate change messengers, as visitors generally have a respect for their position and the park environment is conducive to learning.
  • However, Ettling asserts that if someone is firmly entrenched in a position of rejecting climate change, attempting to persuade them with scientific evidence is unlikely to be effective. "Sometimes, it is best to let them say their opinion, state why you disagree, wish them the best, and walk away."

Brian Ettling's 5 Communications Lessons:

1. BE LIKABLE. Look for those ways to establish rapport with your audience. At my ranger talks, I always try to arrive about 30 minutes early to get to know the early arrivals in my audience. In establishing connections with early arrivals, they become friendly faces in the crowd, often providing support and offering an open mind to your ideas.

2. BE ENTHUSIASTIC. Ralph Waldo Emerson was so correct when he stated, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” If you are not excited about climate change, how will your audience be? Even more, if you are not about the solutions, especially the ideas of sustainability and hope, how can your audience get excited? Genuine enthusiasm is contagious.

3. BE CREDIBLE. Know your subject well. It is hard for an audience to question your knowledge if you have really done your homework. The more research and effort you have put into your subject, the more confidently you will speak about it. There’s no exception to being adequately prepared.

4. USE HUMOR. Find some way to naturally incorporate humor into your presentation. As science fiction writer Isaac Asimov once remarked, “Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy, and literature than any number of dull arguments.” If you can find a natural humorous way to share funny stories, images, or analogies, your audience will more likely stick with you on what they perceive is a heavy subject like climate change.

5. BE HOPEFUL. A friend went to a presentation by Project Ocean last November where the speaker stressed the point that on learning they have cancer, people do not research the molecular biology of cells. They want solutions, and now, on how they can fight cancer successfully. Doctor, Tell me: Is it exercise, diet, meditation, prayer, medication, surgery, a sense of humor, or anything else?


Photo via (cc) Flickr user grant_loy

Date: 2012
Authors: Brian Ettling
Strategic Approach: Engagement, Framing, Other
Strategic Approach: Engagement, Framing, Other

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