An open letter of apology to the entire planet from Wallace Smith Broecker, the scientist who coined the phrase “global warming” in 1975

Dear Planet Earth And Its Denizens,

As the scientist who named human-caused climate change “global warming,” I’d like to formally apologize. Looks like I screwed the pooch on this one. Screwed the pooch real bad.

After watching on CSPAN a senator take a snowball to the floor of the U.S. Senate as some attempt at evidence that global warming wasn’t real, I felt that old familiar knot of frustration welling up in my chest that I get when I see people misunderstanding or willfully misrepresenting the concept of global warming. But then when I realized this wasn’t just any senator, it was the Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I sunk to a new low.


Sen. James Inhofe, an elected official in charge of our future

What I felt was more than a mere crisis of faith in the name I’d chosen. This was more like a horrible epiphany that I’d made an irrevocably terrible mistake. Maybe the inevitable environmental apocalypse we seem to be hellbent on hurling ourselves toward on a rocket-ship powered by carbon dioxide is all my fault, a course that could have been altered if I would have just given it a different name.

I wish more than anything I could go back to 1975 when I first published my paper, “Climate Change: Are We On The Brink Of A Pronounced Global Warming?” and give it a different name. “Climate change” was right there in the title, too! Couldn’t people have locked onto that part? I didn’t think that I needed to specify “Climate Change For The Worse,” but I guess people are so dumb that you have to spell everything out for them or else — I apologize. There I go again, blaming others, but as a scientist I must take responsibility for what I have done.

Such is the burden one takes on when you publish a scholarly paper in a little-read academic journal — you do it knowing that before long every single person on Earth might be quoting your words back to you.

I got to meet Bill Nye the Science Guy. That was cool. But mostly I am crippled with regrets.

Oh, that I could name it something else. Anything else. I wake up with nightmares almost every night now, screaming out other names I could have given it.

“The Bad Pollution Hurt Earth Effect!” I shout from a cold sweat at 3 a.m.

“The Let’s Stop Poisoning Our Grandchildren, Please? Phenomenon!” I cry softly in the early morning hours of another sleepless night.

“Global Warming ON AVERAGE, But Yes Some Places Will Still Be Cold Sometimes But Just Look At The Fucking Weather Channel That Places Besides Where You Are Are Getting Warmer, For Fuck Sakes Didn’t You See That Documentary Footage Of The Polar Bear Starving To Death On An Ice Flow Because Its Habitat Is Melting?” I yell from a somnambular stupor.

My wife and I sleep in separate rooms now.

For years I’ve blamed Fox News for purposely obscuring the fairly plain facts of the empirically observable occurrence and spinning it to make it seem like an “issue” for “debate” for you to pick a side on that suits your existing worldview. “No, just because we had a lot of snow this winter, that doesn’t mean that average global temperatures aren’t rising,” I have wanted to yell at my television countless times and, more times than I’d like to admit, have yelled at my television.

For years I’ve blamed the Republicans for taking lobbyist money from the energy industry. “For the love of our future existence on this planet, can we please not kowtow to greedy industries with a clear profit-based interest in undermining the research calling for environmental restrictions?” I’ve screamed into the answering machines of my elected officials.

For years I’ve blamed the Democrats for being too cowardly to make a clear stand on the side of science out of fear it would alienate their religious constituencies. “Here’s a thought: Just because some individuals think science is a four-letter word that insults their personal faith, that is not reason enough to make policy decisions that doom future generations to a scorched existence!” I’ve carefully written with tiny letters on tiny pieces of paper that I’ve inserted into the cute little claw pouches of homing pigeons, releasing them into the sky for whomever to find my messages while the air is still clear enough for birds to fly.

But now I see clearly. I have nobody to blame but myself. And for that I apologize.

Let me here and now be clear, for once and for all: The phenomenon I observed is that the Earth’s average climate temperature has been increasing for a century due to man-made increases in levels of greenhouse gases, which in turn corresponds to exponentially extreme weather effects; the slight but significant increase in global surface temperature we can predict will result in rising sea levels, melting ice regions, expansion of desert zones, and more. The global effects will be catastrophic and we are approaching the point of no return. Some think we’ve passed that point. The governing scientific board of every developed nation on Earth has declared global warming to be real.

But all that isn’t enough, because people get hung up on that stupid, stupid name, “global warming.” And for that I deeply apologize.

I’ve given it a lot of thought. As a final act of contrition, I’d like to officially rename the phenomenon. This is my new choice, a choice which I think properly conveys both the actual effect and terrible severity of the matter:

“Global Greenhouse Gas Chamber.”

There. Finally, at long last, a name that nobody will have a problem with.


Wallace Smith Broecker, The Scientist Who Decided On The Name “Global Warming”