Time is Running Out

"What we need more than anything else is a mass movement of young people," Peter Goldmark, director of EDF's Climate and Air Program, who recently announced his retirement at the end of the year. "In American culture, it is youth that sets the agenda. It's always been this way.  Think who was driving change in the anti-Vietnam war movement, in the civil rights era. They have to mobilize, now, and demand action against global warming."

The wheel of change is turning in spite of our government's inactivity

We are sitting in Goldmark's small, spare office at EDF's Manhattan headquarters. He has had a distinguished and varied career, which included stints as Director the Port Authority of New York, President of the Rockefeller Foundation and publisher of the International Herald Tribune. I've come to talk to Goldmark, as he prepares to leave EDF, about what he has learned during his tenure. He speaks angrily of the "shameful paralysis" of the U.S. Senate, and says his focus is now is almost entirely on the next generation.

"My generation has failed," he says flatly. "We are handing over the problem to our children. They—and their children—will live with the worst consequences of climate change. Make no mistake, global warming is happening right now. It is only going to get worse."

In a 2003 paper, "Before the Storm," he wrote: “We are, I believe, living in the time before a storm of historic proportions, a period of searing difficulty for the peoples of the world and the planet itself."

Peter GoldmarkGoldmark: A tough negotiator who draws inspiration from a Chinese poet.

But the world, Goldmark added, was failing that challenge: "We all—citizens, governments, and foundations—face in common the imperative to respond constructively to the crises of our times. And we are not responding. We are drifting."

That drift continues, he says. Nor does he expect the marketplace to solve the crisis of climate change for us. Markets, he notes, may respond to social agendas, but they do not set them. But Goldmark isn't entirely disheartened. "When historians look back at this decade, from 2000 to 2010, they will see that the wheel of change began turning in spite of our government's inactivity," he says. "We have begun a very slow transition to a low carbon, high efficiency energy system." The problem is that we are not moving fast enough.

What Goldmark—along with all leading authorities on climate change—fears most is that we still do not understand the urgency of the problem. "When I think about how I would address a group of young people, my message is not a gentle one," he says. "This is the hardest, most terrible, thing to say to a young person, but we have no choice: it is five minutes before midnight. Time is running out."

That means we no longer have the luxury of polite, time-consuming public debate on the issue. "We have to be much more aggressive about pinpointing our enemies, and doing it early—showing how and where they are spending their money to undermine our efforts," he says. "We need to learn how to inflict pain on the opposition."

The environmental movement must also do a better job of linking climate directly to shrinking harvests, falling water tables, receding glaciers, extended droughts and more violent storms. Already, food, water, and climate problems are simultaneously hitting many nations. It's happening now, and we need to connect that to climate change in the minds of all people.

Environmentalists also need to reach small and medium size businesses with this message. We've done well in educating the GEs of the world, but we need to convey the urgency of climate change to the people who run or work at the smaller enterprises, because their numbers, and their voices, carry influence. That's what made the Chamber of Commerce such a powerful voice against progress in the Senate debate on climate change.

While at EDF, Goldmark has traveled the world with his message and helped to extend the organization's global reach. He has worked on projects in India, Mexico, Brazil, and China, as well as in the United States. Everywhere he went, he tried, indefatigably, to raise the awareness about the need for prompt action.

There is, he emphasizes, "no such thing as an American solution to global warming." Slowing global warming down demands international efforts to reduce carbon emissions. "Either we all get there together, or no one does."

The need for global solutions is another reason Goldmark is now putting his hope into a youth movement. "Young people are already transnational thinkers. This is one of the great gifts of the Internet culture. Fifteen to 35 year-olds are used to thinking globally. They are the ones who are going to insist that the United States get on board with international solutions."

Unfortunately, Goldmark believes that the United States will continue move slowly on climate legislation. "We will need other countries to lead the way," he says. "We even have to remain open to the possibility that China will emerge as at least a co-leader once others begin to move. China is choking on its economic boom supported by conventional, high carbon energy, and the pollution is getting worse daily. Even though the country is investing heavily in alternative energies—and threatening to penalize heavy polluters—we have not yet seen them move off reliance on coal."

I ask Goldmark about hope, a subject much on my mind these days, as science delivers ever more bad news about the condition of the planet. It's a question he gets asked a lot.

Goldmark begins by noting that the world still has enough time to draw down carbon emissions to forestall the consequences of climate change. Also, there is much we do not know about how climate change will unfold, he points out. This reminds me of a recent conversation on the subject with Jeremy Grantham, Chairman of the Board of GMO, a Boston-based fund, who told me, "While we deal in probabilities, there is hope. It is only when we deal in certainty that things become hopeless. And the outcome is not yet certain."

Goldmark agrees, and points out that countless polls show that Americans understand that climate change is a problem, and want it addressed. The problem is only that it is never high on anyone's agenda.

"It has got to be said, over and over again," Goldmark says, "this is an urgent situation. We must act."

In his work with EDF, Goldmark has done more than most to get us closer to solving the climate crisis. Yet he hesitates to predict what is going to happen. "I do the best I can, without being able to see how it is going to come out."

Still, he adds, history shows that people have a remarkable ability to blunder into solutions. Several days after our talk, he sent me a poem about hope, written by the Chinese poet, Lu Xun.

Hope is like a path in the countryside.
At first there is no path.
And then, as people are all the time coming and walking in the same way,
a path appears.

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71 Responses

Comment from sdcougar
October 17th, 2010 at 9:26 am

"…That means we no longer have the luxury of polite, time-consuming public debate on the issue."

A big part of the problem with the misunderstandings in this issue has been the denial that there is anything to debate in the first place–you know, the "settled science" oxymoron.

Read the Climate gate emails–they were about surpressing scientific debate.

Get a grip on the science:


Comment from Jack Monday
October 17th, 2010 at 1:05 pm

So what we need is an army of eco-youth in green shirts to inflict pain on the enemy. No need for logical arguement, debate, or even democtacy for that matter.

Eco-fascism, pure and simple.

Comment from krakatoa663
October 17th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

After all that has happened in the last few years, how much credibility do you think the environmental movement has now? The climate scientists, competing for research money, benefit when the public believes in AGW.

Certainly, scientists supported by large polluters have a conflict of interests, but environmentalists do also. The more dire their "findings", the more likely it is that they will get government grants from a panicked public.

Your "science" is little different from a religious belief. You ignore data that doesn't support your cause. You have faith in things you can't see, and when your predictions don't come true, it doesn't phase your beliefs one bit.

You make press releases about polar icecaps melting in one area but ignore the fact that they are getting thicker in other areas. I could go on. As someone who was formerly neutral in this area, I just marvel at how you can go on as though nothing has changed.

In the end, all the environmental movement will have done is to make the public skeptical of all science.

Comment from Shane O.
October 17th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Perhaps the reason why oldtimers don't get worked up about the eco-fad of the day is that they've been around long enough to know it's never as bad as it's hyped to be. Especially farmers, who make a living watching the weather, noticing subtle climate changes – noticing that changes happen cyclically, and that there is no evidence of runaway global warming. The reason why youth are typically at the forefront of societal movements is that they don't have the experience to know these kinds of things. They've been used as political pawns by a variety of sheisters throughout the ages who don't have the ability to convince more mature segments of the population of the merit of their ideas. The only ones who will buy into some of these weak arguments are those who don't have the experience base to know better – thankfully, I left this group in my teens, after spending years worrying about the coming ice age of the 70's, which had as much doom and gloom credibility (actually, probably a bit more) as today's global warming crusaders have. I'm a high school teacher, and I can honestly (and thankfully) say that I see NO generaly interest among my students to remake the world because of overhyped global warming.

"Everybody wants to save the world, but nobody wants to clean their room"

Comment from Idewole Afeyofun
October 17th, 2010 at 5:11 pm

On the same subject, will one of my fellow "denialists" PLEASE let me know how to get hooked up with that Big Oil Money that's funding our campaign? I check the mailbox every day for those big paycheques and – nothing!

Comment from Michael H Anderson
October 17th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Climate is not "getting wackier" – it is weather that is getting more mainstream media focus, since Impending Global Doom sells lots and lots of little bottles of ketchup.

People who refuse to understand this this are pathetic troglodytic gulls and deserve to be fleeced – but not the rest of us, and not our children.

Comment from Kevin
October 17th, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Here's even more alarming news about the environment. Scientists say that the sun will go 'red giant' in about 10 billion years. But according to my peer reviewed study, it's going to happen in less than NINE billion!!!

People, we've got to do something about the sun before it's too late. I suggest a tax on hydrogen plasma, or maybe on helium creation. That should put a damper on all things solar.

Comment from Ralph
October 17th, 2010 at 7:33 pm

What a crock!

Comment from Lazlo Toth
October 17th, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I am willing to run the risk of the earth becoming warmer and having to live with that or die by it, because it's better than the slow death and torture of listening to sanctimonious people who refuse to debate and seek to stifle dissent and disagreement by harming them personally. People who try to harm their opponents for debating already make the air smell foul. As one of the other commenters says, SHAME ON YOU.

Comment from John Farouk
October 17th, 2010 at 7:56 pm

A typical blog of a typical person with a useless degree, too much time, and a zeal to do "good", which is actually window dressing for arrogance.

In the real world people work, earn money, raise a family, and don't whine about econonsense. They are good stewards of nature without the eco-fascism etc.

Comment from Dirtman
October 17th, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Let's see, shrinking harvests? No, that's what comes with global cooling. Warming increases harvests.

Falling water tables? In some places. In others they're rising. Nothing either new or scary about that.

Receding glaciers? That's a problem? If they were advancing I'd be concerned.

Extended droughts? Where? Back in the little ice age there was a 70 year drought on the praries. Nothing to compare with that now.

More violent storms? Not according to the stats.

Food, water, and climate problems are simultaneously hitting many nations? Well yeah, but that's always been the case

So tell me why I should be worried.

He thinks China might lead the way? China??? What a laugh! They're building dozens of nuclear power plants (something the environuts oppose) and thousands of coal fired plants. They've made a tiny token move on wind energy, and that's all they're going to do. They're threatening to penalilze heavy polluters, true, but they mean REAL polluters, not CO2 emitters. China wants its competitors to take action which will give China a substantial trade advantage, but they're not going to do anything themselves.

Comment from F. N. Wagnel
October 17th, 2010 at 11:05 pm

For those young pups out there;

I was 5 years old (I'm turning 50 in 4 months) when the UN had all the children in Canada, and other contries, collecting for the UNICEF fund to help out Bangladesh. IO can clearly remember the commercials on the B&W TV, about how the UN was going to get the people of Bangladesh back on their feet. Now, 45 years, I hear about chicken crap digesters….

After 45 years of support the UN, and the NGOs for that matter, have clearly failed to make any substantive progress in Bangladesh, despite the billions and billions of dollars in funding.

So let's all get these chicken crap digesters and we will heat our homes with them in the winter – right? The fact that they can produce enough methane for a gas lamp is not going to solve a heating problem in North America. Further just the thinking behind this whole idea is a clear indication why the NGOs have failed.

Any other suggestions to make your back yard in N.A. just a little more like Bangladesh?

Comment from Richard
October 18th, 2010 at 6:04 am


Oh, dear.

"However, the trends are very clear" No they aren't. They are, in fact, entirely unclear.

"Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas, we're burning billions of tons of it into the atmosphere every year" So what? How much is needed to trap more heat? At what rate does that increase in trapping decline? This is meaningless hyperbole, using big numbers to scare.

"…it has been accumulating in the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial revolution…" No it hasn't. There is a carbon cycle, it enters and leaves the atmosphere. It does not accumulate.

"…the planet is getting hotter…" What evidence is there for this?

"…and there will be a very serious and increasing price to pay" How do you know? What is the basis for your assumption that a warmer climate is worse for humanity?

"Look at what's happened just this year — record summer heat in nearly every state in the union" and here in the UK one of the coldest summers in years, after the coldest winter in years. Did you know that the greenhouse effect has less effect on peak daily temperatures than on minimums? So your statistic, if true (I don't think it is) is not caused by the greenhouse effect.

"…bleaching coral reefs,

"…thousands of dead in Moscow from record heat…" only they are dead from swimming drunk, not from heat. If all stations are taken into account, without the selective bias of the climate industry, Russia is cooling very slightly.

"…thousands dead in Pakistan and China from epic flooding…" caused by deforestation in Pakistan and increased habitation of flood plains in China. No connection with climate, which has not changed.

"…walruses beaching themselves in northern Alaska (they normally congregate on ice floes, but there aren't any to be found…" just like few were found in the Mediaeval Warm Period

"…record low Arctic ice volume…" during a very short recording period, but then followed by increasing ice volumes.

"113 degree day in Los Angeles in September" and -17 degree day (Celsius) in Oxfordshire. Remember that the greenhouse effect has more influence on minimums than maximums.

"Every year the planet's climate gets a little whackier…" No it doesn't

"…a little warmer…" Nope, no evidence for that either.

"… a little more dangerous…" nor that – in fact a specific study has shown no increase in dangerous weather events.

"And this will continue…" Yes it will

"… unless we get a handle on the pollution that is causing this" It is not pollution. It is plant food. Helps to feed the world. In fact as a geologist I can tell you that CO2 levels are currently very low indeed.

"Denial isn't just a river in Egypt" No indeed. So why don't you just pop along to http://www.bishop-hill.net and look up the story of the CRU scandal, so you can lever yourself out of the denial that what is in catastrophe here is not the Earth's climate but the Left's multi-billion-dollar-a-year climate panic industry.

Comment from Brian G Valentine
October 18th, 2010 at 6:56 am

To think people get paid for idiocy like Goldmark's makes me sick to my stomach.

Is it possible to be immune to such nonsense and not let it bother me? I wish.

Comment from Michael H Anderson
October 18th, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Well, you sure killed the comments quickly when more anti-alarmists kept posting, didn't you?

Comment from Luis Aponte
October 18th, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I'm just concerned about whether we have done too little too late. When it comes to environmental issues, the most radical changes are in reaction to catastrophic events instead of anticipation of them.

Then again it begs the question, is crisis inevitable? I read a report from the EPA that stated, even if we cut-of all CO2 pollution today, the long term global warming effects will continue to happen anyways.

I'm trying to do my part by creating an online community that discusses how we can eliminate dependence on petroleum (for example), but is it truly enough? Will it ever be enough to simply eliminate fossil fuels and create renewable and sustainable means of energy and fuel?

Thank you for posting this article.

Warm Regards,
~Luis Aponte, author

Comment from Sharon from Louisiana
October 19th, 2010 at 1:26 am

To Dominique Browning, thank you for a great article that addresses my concerns. To Mr. Goldmark, thank you tremendously for all the hard work you've done to spread the word about what needs to be done, and the urgency of stopping climate change.
To Sam T. Parry, thank you for a voice of reason, in response to the comments from those who choose to believe what they WANT to believe instead of scientific facts, and those who choose to put their heads in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong, and those who are absurdly calling leaders like Goldmark prophets of the end of the world. All these denial responses are a big part of the reason why our country is making such slow progress in shifting over to renewable energy sources, and reducing greenhouse gasses. These people are the uninformed, the misinformed, the cynics who are cynical about everything, and those who think they know all about our world's climate cycles, who actually know very little, compared with the scientists who have called the alarm about climate change. And of course there are the self-centered people who just don't care about what we leave for future generations, just so their lives are kept convenient and not disturbed for any type of sacrifice for the future of the planet. And there are the philosophers who think they have it all figured out, because they've studied human nature and history, and therefore they know all about this particular issue, which has nothing to do with whatever they have learned. Wake up people, get your heads out of the sand, and do some factual research, and stop just listening to your existing beliefs and opinions. I am sure that when it was discovered that the earth was round, there were many people arguing against it with all kinds of opinions and false facts. But in the end, the truth prevailed, as it always does. The sad thing is that so many people will cling to their doubts about climate change until it may be too late to do anything about it. That's what scares me. And that's part of what's slowing down Congress in acting on this. There are just not enough of us who do take it seriously to convince them to take action and ignore the oil lobby. That has to change if we are going to ever make any progress.
And I agree with Mr. Goldmark that the younger generations will have to play a big part in making changes. But I think a lot of older adults see the truth and logic too, just not as many of them perhaps. And there are a lot of young people who are caught up in the me generation and wasting energy and thinking everything is disposable. We have a big challenge in trying to reverse that kind of thinking.
I like the words of the promise that one woman is making to her children: that she saw the problem, and is doing everything in her power to change it, until the day she dies. That's how I feel. That's taking responsibility.

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October 20th, 2010 at 7:14 pm

[…] check out the whole piece, Time is Running Out, which, again, is excellent and worth a full read, head on over to […]

Comment from Adonis Karmiotis
October 20th, 2010 at 7:26 pm

I feel great full to to live on planet Earth!
I feel I am living on an amazing, bounty planet with extraordinary beauty of natural wonders… and that's of whats left of it.
I actually believe that if we really wanted we could make this planet the paradise we were once taught.If we believe we could one day in time manage to make this planet the paradise of Adam and Eve
Its (the way that we live) that we should t like, at least i feel that i know it could be far better!And then someone could start thinking; I actually feel privileged to also live in a generation where humanity is going through our ultimate test.The test to prove if we were worthy to be given the privilege to be the "dominant species "of this planet.Do we accept that greediness and materialism are the attributes that at this critical moments in time characterize all fellowman and all our ancestors.What about wisdom, hope, love , courage, awareness, moral consciousness, universal values, etc? I am sure we have evolved enough to be able to acquire those attributes.In the past when it was needed from us for various reasons to prove our nobility we used wisdom, hope love, bravery and so many other "values".As long as our commitment stays honorable and true to the right values we will provail.
Why can t we do it now that it s needed the most.Why can't we consciously acknowledge the evolution of human kind and the bonding with our mother planet and our mother nature ? Why can t we through new moral systems become a positive part of nature,a positive part of our planet and remain living proof of a successful species in this abundance universe.We can give it a chance. I mean what do we have to loose ? The past 10 years we consciously acknowledged the impact of all species on this planet including ours.
As long as we were ignorant it could be OK but since we know then we ask questions like

Is this who we really are ?

Is this the final destination of our evolution?

Do we accept that this is the reason we are here?

Could there a better reason for existence ?

We have managed to evolve to a level that allows us to understand how extraordinary and sophisticated our planet and nature are.Humanity as well as the future of all life as we now know it depends solely to our generation.We have to do the right thing , We have to give a guarantee to Nature our planet and even to the positive parts of the universe that our species may be greedy and materialistic but we are also intelligent, wise and above all we are moral.We need to cultivate our moral conciosness into our economic systems that are so unfairly and unconditionally exploiting our planet which so far remains unique in the known universe.
If we could succeed with out expecting a reward we could be rewarded!We could send beacons of hope to all parts of the universe that we are successful species and that we would always do the right thing to allow existence and a moral conscious awareness to co-exist.

Comment from sentient
October 25th, 2010 at 4:30 pm

For Ben D.

I think you will appreciate this:


Comment from sentient
October 25th, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Adonis Karmiotis, it is interesting that you mention evolution as related to our species. In most of your points I would heartily agree, though I am not so sure if there is really a reason why we are here save this.

We live today in Marine Isotope Stage 1 (MIS-1), otherwise known as the Holocene Epoch or the 11,500 years since we melted our way out of the Wisconsin Ice Age, which is also the 6th interglacial dating back to the Mid Pleistocene Transition (MPT) when we switched from the 41kyr ice age/interglacial couple periodicity (which matches the obliquity in our orbit) to the 100kyr one (which matches the eccentricity in our orbit) we have been in since the MPT. Five of those 6 interglacials have each lasted about one half of a precessional cycle. The precessional cycle ranges from 19kyr to 23kyr, and we are at the 23kyr point today, making 1/2 11,500 years, the present age of the Holocene. If we are still on the 100kyr/half precessional cycle clock, then this interglacial is just about kaput. But what about that 6th cycle, the one that wasn't on the half-precessional clock?

That would be MIS-11 (or the Holsteinian interglacial), about 400kyrs ago. Or 4 eccentricity cycles back. That interglacial lasted about 30kyrs, or 1.5 to 2 precessional beats (depending upon who you quote). Many MIS-11 workers have suggested it "skipped" a precessional beat.

As it turns out, during both MIS-1 and MIS-11 we just happen to be at an eccentricity minimum, when our orbit about the sun approaches its most circular path. Eccentricity minima and maxima occur every fourth cycle offset by half a 4th cycle, or 200kyrs. So, in 200kyrs we will be at another maxima, another 200kyrs beyond that (400kyrs from now), we will be at another minima, and so on.

Interestingly, the 4th cycle maxima correlate rather well with hominid evolution:

“An examination of the fossil record indicates that the key junctures in hominin evolution reported nowadays at 2.6, 1.8 and 1 Ma coincide with 400 kyr eccentricity maxima, which suggests that periods with enhanced speciation and extinction events coincided with periods of maximum climate variability on high moisture levels.”

state Trauth, et al (2009) in Quaternary Science Reviews. As it turns out, periods of wet maximum climate variability (in modern lingo, global warming/global cooling correctly re-branded as climate change), cook-up the larger braincases. We went from 500-550cc braincases 2.8 mya to the average of about 2,500cc today in the most rapid encephalization of any mammal in the fossil record.

The last maxima, since we are at a minima now, occurred during MIS-7, about 200kyrs ago. Homo sapiens appears in the fossil record at that time and coexisted with H. neanderthalensis for about 30kyrs before they got rubbed out.

So we find ourselves about 200,000 years away from our next opportunity (an eccentricity maxima) for a natural "hardware upgrade", assuming we make it that long, and assuming that "periods of maximum climate variability on high moisture levels" manage to produce another braincase expansion since MIS-7 really didn't.

So at 6.8 billion of us, finite resources, bickering over a climate that naturally swings 400 feet of sea level and 20C so regularly you can set your geologic clock by it anyway, we are going to have to do it with what is between our ears right now. Having said that it occurs to me that every penny not spent on fusion research might very well turn out to be a penny wasted, particularly if the Holocene turns out to be nearly kaput.

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