In general, I am a big fan of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, one of the few national columnists who writes regularly & intelligently on energy and climate matters. But his recent column, “The People We Have Been Waiting For,” goes off track — twice. First, he writes:
… sweet-sounding “global warming” doesn’t really capture what’s likely to happen. I prefer the term “global weirding,” coined by Hunter Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, because the rise in average global temperature is going to lead to all sorts of crazy things — from hotter heat spells and droughts in some places, to colder cold spells and more violent storms, more intense flooding, forest fires and species loss in other places.
Well, half credit. Yes, “global warming” is inadequate to describe the coming nightmare — but “global weirding” simply isn’t a serious enough term — it could just as easily be used to describe the world’s growing fascination with reality TV (or videos of piano-playing cats and skateboarding dogs).
Also, the word “weird” strongly implies something either supernatural or bizarrely unexpected. What’s happening to the planet is pure science and has been predicted for decades — nothing weird about that except maybe it’s happening faster than most scientists projected. Climate Progress readers know I prefer the term “Hell and High Water” — since at least it does accurately describe what is coming. [Note to self: It didn't catch on. Let it go.] My guess is we’re stuck with “global warming.”
[As an aside, Hunter probably didn't coin the term "global weirding" (see here), and, of course, she's not at RMI any more. I am a big fan of hers since we worked together at RMI, but those seeking her wise counsel on sustainability should go to Natural Capitalism, Inc (for profit) or Natural Capitalism Solutions (non-profit).]
Second, the entire point of the piece is that what gives Friedman hope is a bunch of smart people working on clean energy technology, who he claims are the “people we have been waiting for.” I hate to break the news to Tom, but
- We’ve had a bunch of smart people working on clean energy technology for about 30 years — and, of course, we’d have a lot more if Reagan and Gingrich hadn’t gutted key applied energy technology programs or if conservatives didn’t block efforts to create a carbon dioxide market.
- People working on technology are the people global warming Delayers like Luntz, Bush, Lomborg, and Gingrich have been waiting for. The people the rest of us are — or should be — waiting for are political leaders with the wisdom and guts needed to pass laws limiting carbon emissions and accelerating into the marketplace the technologies we developed in the last 30 years.
- It is way, way premature to say “we” or any group are the people we have been waiting for. Only future generations can say that. If we buck up and start now with the large-scale multi-decade actions needed to avoid catastrophic global warming, we might, come 2050, be viewed as the Greatest Generation of the 21st century. If not, we will surely be viewed as the Greediest Generation of all time, stealing the future well-being of the next 50 or more generations.
That said, I am a very big fan of all the clean energy folks Friedman names: