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A New Name for Climate Change

One of my favorite movies growing up was Wayne’s World. It follows the laughably sad, but genuine, duo of Wayne and Garth. These two have a low-fi television show on the local public access station that they tape in Wayne’s parents’ basement.

When their show, Wayne’s World, finally gets some notoriety, it is moved to a real studio. But early on in this transition, their newfound success starts to sour. When asked how they like the new digs, Garth replies, “we fear change.”

Every time I hear someone say, “climate change,” for whatever reason, I hear Garth say, “we fear change.” It often seems to me that we live in a society of people obsessed with change. Anytime I read a news website, I am inundated with articles on how to change. There are pieces on how to change your habits, change your career, change your relationship, change your appearance, change cities, change products, change, change, change.

But when I really start to dig into what these articles are suggesting, it seems to be more about alteration than change. I think this is an important distinction. According to the Miriam Webster’s Online Dictionary, to alter is “to make different without changing into something else,” whereas change is “to make radically different.”

Climate change, if it is happening and we can all agree it is happening, is inherently terrifying. Based on the evidence and the projected outcomes of our anthropogenically modified climate, we are all in for a scary, new future. But the crazy thing about avoiding this cataclysmic result is we ourselves have to change.

Real change is hard. All one has to do is think on the injustices and atrocities of our historical, recent, and even current time to realize that real change takes a lot of time and energy. In order to stop the earth from changing, we have to change.

I wanted to know who coined the term “climate change.” This is not the easiest of answers to discover. I did, however, locate the scientist who invented the term “global warming” in 1975—an oceanographer named Wallace Smith Broecker.

In a 2017 interview with New York Magazine entitled, The Man Who Coined Global Warming on Worst Case Scenarios, Broecker lays out a pretty bleak vision of our future. There was a part that I found particularly interesting. When asked about the current administration’s prospects for addressing climate change, Wallace Smith Broecker said this in response:

Doesn’t mean anything good. But, you know, what if we had signed the Paris accords? The U.S. still wasn’t going to keep its commitments, so as far as what we would do it wasn’t going to make much difference. You know, when we reached an agreement in Kyoto, that didn’t really change things significantly. Until carbon taxes really become common, we’re not going to do anything.

So international accords and commitments are toothless and useless. Kyoto failed, the Paris accords will fail, but a carbon tax will save us. Even here, in this short quote, the scientist who first made global warming a thing states that until we start to directly impact people’s behavior, there will be no change.

How do we go about changing people’s behavior? That is a tall order. Is carbon tax the answer? Are feed-in tariffs the way to go? Is Sturm und Drang, end-of-the-world messaging with the aim of terrifying people the answer?

Based on the current state of things, nothing we have tried thus far has been incredibly effective at getting through our stubborn, human brains.

This is where Garth’s voice comes back in. “We fear change.”

Did we pick the wrong name? Should we have called it “Earth Fever?” Based on experience, fevers are scary, but actionable. We know how to address them as a society. Or maybe “Temperature Terror?” The masses were certainly keen to rally around the call to stop extremism. We will hand over all of our privacy to feel protected from terror. Or how about “Mother Earth’s Mutation Emergency?” An ugly new version of the planet that we have caused. This term shortened could be the ultimate meme.

Or truly, maybe it doesn’t matter what it is called.

We have all of the ability, all of the knowledge and all of the resources to change how we live in this world. We certainly figured it out when there was a giant hole in the ozone layer. As a world, we came together and slowed the damage.

Maybe that is what it will take to stop climate change; some awful, worldwide disaster to motivate us. What frightens me is that by that time, it just might be too late.

It seems appropriate to end with one more quote from my favorite buddy-comedy movie. Whenever at a loss for words or action, Wayne and Garth get down on their knees and bow down saying, “we’re not worthy. We’re not worthy.”



Wallace-Wells, David. (2017) “The Man Who Coined Global Warming on Worst Case Scenarios.” From

Wayne’s World. Directed by Penelope Spheeris. Performances by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. Paramount Pictures. 1991.