Hi, I’m Ethan Brown!
I was never the outdoorsy type growing up. When I first learned about climate change, I was scared and overwhelmed, but I did not find it the least bit interesting. I wish that I could have given my high school self an outlet to learn about the environment that valued nonpartisanship, critical thinking, and fun. But now, I’ve created that for all of you.
While I was inside as a kid hiding away my pollen allergies and lack of hand-eye coordination, I was hard at work. I loved math at the time, and after reading Dr. Arthur Benjamin’s The Secrets of Mental Math as a fifth grader in 2010, I went on a five-year run performing a mental math stage show called Mathemagics all over the world—from the World Science Festival in New York City to a TEDx conference in New Delhi, India to the literal Las Vegas strip (certainly the proudest 27 dollars I’ve earned in my life).
I won Connecticut’s 2011 Nicholas Green Distinguished Student Award, established a world record by memorizing and reciting 2,012 digits of tau (2*pi) in 2012, and co-authored a paper with Dr. Benjamin on my original techniques for magic squares which was published in the peer-reviewed College Mathematics Journal in 2014 and republished in the Princeton University Press’s Best Writing on Mathematics journal in 2015, making me the youngest writer ever to receive this distinction. I later had the opportunity to do a version of my magic square on FOX’s TV show SuperHuman, where I won my episode’s $50,000 grand prize. I really didn’t intend to be one of those people who peaked as a teenager, but it’s kind of looking that way.
I realized as I had the opportunity to explore some higher-level math during my high school years at Phillips Academy that math wasn’t for me long-term. I couldn’t see myself developing into an expert in multivariable calculus or statistics or any other advanced field to get over a 90% on a test, let alone major in it in college or build a career with it. I didn’t even make the school’s math team.
That stuff wasn’t what I loved about math anyway. I loved numbers and patterns. I loved how it helped me think critically about the world around me. I loved being able to communicate it to others in a fun way, breaking the stereotype that math is hard and boring. My favorite performances were in elementary and middle school classrooms, where I could actually teach other kids how to do mental math themselves and open their eyes to the fun side of the subject. One fifth grader left my presentation saying “I can’t wait to learn algebra now.” I hope higher level math went better for her than it did for me…
I found myself in the same boat on climate change that I’m sure many people did with math. I knew it was important, but I found it remarkably uninteresting. Luckily, it was so important that I decided to stick with it anyway. If I could make math interesting, why not this?
So during the summer of 2017, I launched this very site: The Sweaty Penguin. My dad thought of the name as he continues to remind me every couple weeks to this day, and my mom designed the first logo. I wrote satirical articles on environmental news throughout that summer, many of which are still available on here if you scroll back far enough! Unfortunately, since most people were tuning out environmental news as I had been prior to that summer, they didn’t get my jokes. Worth a shot, right?
So I arrived at Boston University that fall of 2017, and began my dual degree in Film & Television and Environmental Analysis & Policy. I quickly joined BU’s satire publication The Bunion, and became Editor in Chief within a few months when the older writers got burnt out and quit. I spent the next two years growing The Bunion from just me into one of the largest student organizations on campus with daily content and 90+ members, earning myself an Excellence in Student Activities Award for my managerial efforts all the while developing into a comedy writer and learning about climate change in class. I continued to want to combine those interests and rehash The Sweaty Penguin. I thought comedy could make climate change more interesting, more fun. I just needed time.
Enter the coronavirus. I moved back to my childhood home in Connecticut, and quickly found myself bored for the first time since before opening The Secrets of Mental Math as a fifth grader. With the help of my Media Entrepreneurship professor Bob Gustafson, I decided to explore The Sweaty Penguin again, but this time, as a podcast. Inspired by late-night comedy, I figured if I could focus on specific environmental topics week-by-week, I could write comedic monologues and present the issues in a fun way.
I could also break some of the common assumptions about environmental politics. What I was learning in my college coursework was contradicting many popular stereotypes about climate change. Climate change is often portrayed as two-sided: people want climate action or they don’t. The problems and solutions, science and politics, facts and opinions somehow got ridiculously intertwined.
I realized I could use these monologues to separate these two things. I’d explore the problems and their effects on the environment, economy, health, justice, security, etc. Then, I’d explore the solutions, discussing not one solution but a variety of solutions from individual to global, technological to political, regulatory to market-based, and share the pros and cons of each one. I wouldn’t have to ignore politics to be nonpartisan. All it would take is critical thinking, nuance, and open-mindedness.
So with the help of my good friends Frank Hernandez, Caroline Koehl, and Shannon Damiano, I launched this thing. Our first episode came out in April 2020, and after about ten episodes, we realized we had something special. That’s when Megan Crimmins, Olivia Amitay, and Dain Kim graciously joined our team, and we never looked back, producing new episodes every single week, plus plenty of written content, Instagram memes and graphics, and bonus/spinoff podcasts. After launching a partnership with PBS’s national multiplatform climate initiative Peril and Promise in April 2021, we’ve been able to partially fund our operation and ensure we can consistently continue producing all this content.
A few years in, The Sweaty Penguin team has turned over a whole new leaf, with the original eight team members all moving onto the next steps of their careers. But we’re still here, providing opportunities for new, talented young people and continuing to grow our brand. In 2022, The Sweaty Penguin earned a Signal Listener’s Choice Award, Official Honors at the Webby Awards, and became a Solutions Journalism Network Climate Beacon Newsroom.
If there’s anything I learned in the first quarter of my life, it’s how to take an overwhelming subject and make it fun. I sincerely hope we create some good climate policy in the near future and I’m not still doing this in 30 years, but in the meantime, I’m really hopeful that I can offer something to anyone out there who relates to my younger self—not really interested in climate change, maybe a little scared or sick of the politics, and looking for the right outlet to learn.
And let’s not forget the most important part of our story: our patrons! Thank you to Lawrence Harris, Brownies Central, Laura Harris, Velina Georgi, Jack Brown, Lisa Breeland, Kathleen McGarvey, Laura Crimmins, Mike Amitay, Shannon O’Lear, Riley Osterberg, Emma Jones, Stephen Schmidt, and Brian Mirletz. Without your donations, The Sweaty Penguin truly would not be possible. If you like our content, I hope you’ll consider joining our Patreon family to get bonus content, get your merch, and also help The Sweaty Penguin continue to grow into the future. It really goes a long way.
To all of you who visit this site or subscribe to our podcast, thank you. And welcome to Antarctica’s Hottest News Source.