We are excited to re-introduce Left Wondering, our advice column on how to lead an ethical life in an increasingly unethical world. And we are thrilled to welcome our new advice columnist: Joel Stein. Despite his self-effacing introduction below, Stein is a celebrated columnist, journalist, and author, and he’s eager to answer your existential questions — and make you laugh along the way.

Have a question about how to make a personal decision related to climate change, corporatization, politics, wealth inequality, globalization, or other matters that you’d like Joel to answer? Send it to LeftWondering@levernews.com.

I want to do my part to address the world’s most pressing issues. The problem is that I don’t have a lot of skills. I can’t build a machine that removes carbon from the atmosphere or give all my non-existent employees a raise. 

The thing I’m good at is giving unwanted advice. And typing. And calling experts who will say things in a smart way that I can translate into a dumb way. I’ve been doing this for three decades as a columnist and reporter. And now I’m going to do it for you. I mean that literally. If you write to me. And I like your letter. 

I have spent hours arguing with my wife about whether to recycle plastic with a triangle with a number 4 on it. I spend even more time telling people I drive an electric car and hoping they don’t ask if it’s a Tesla. 

I’m frustrated at how much I’m bumbling around guessing as to what the most ethical thing to do is. And I’m hoping we can find out together. 

Have a question you’d like me to answer? Send it to LeftWondering@levernews.com.

Dear Left Wondering,

It amazes me that since forever, humans have known that pollution destroys us and nature, yet we continue to use the planet as a sewer. Will we ever make big oil and the rest of the companies internalize these costs? Calling it “climate change” is greenwashing. Do you have a better name for it? I have asked many of the eco orgs and writers and never get a response.


Harvey Arkin

Dear Harvey Arkin,

Before I come up with a better name for “climate change,” I think it’s more important that we come up with a better name than “Harvey Arkin.” I like “Fletcher Maverick.”

Dear Fletcher Maverick,

I don’t know if you’re using the phrase “greenwashing” correctly. That’s when a company advertises that it’s improving the environment to hide the damage it’s doing. Like when Keurig says its disposable canisters are recyclable or when water companies put pictures of deer frolicking in pastures on their plastic bottle labels. I assume you don’t buy bottles of Dasani or K-cups, Fletcher. 

Unlike those lazy eco orgs, I’m taking on your challenge. I turn to Aaron Hall, a professional namer, who wrote a piece for Ad Age suggesting the following options to replace “climate change”:

  • Global Meltdown
  • Climate Collapse
  • Climate Chaos
  • Boiling Point
  • Scorched Earth

I don’t know if you know a lot of professional namers, Fletcher (certainly your parents didn’t), but they always pitch their best suggestion last. So I was going to suggest “scorched earth.” But then I saw that the British newspaper The Guardian had, back in 2019, changed its preferred style from “climate change” to either “climate emergency, crisis, or breakdown.”

Those seemed like serious, attention-grabbing phrases. Then I realized that this is America. Words that are horrifying to British newspaper readers are things our five-year olds scream at their parents. We’re a people who name our female babies Fanny.

Luckily, SPARK Neuro, a neuroscience startup so American that it shouts in ALL CAPS, has researched this very question. They hooked brain-activity monitors to people as they listened to alternatives to “climate change.” The ones that most freaked people out were “climate crisis” and “environmental destruction.” But “environmental destruction” was especially scary to Republicans.