The world on fire

Climate change is here now, but so what? Let's make our kids deal with it.

A wildfire.
(Image credit: ABDUL QODIR/AFP/Getty Images)

This summer, forests are bursting into flame all over the world. More than 50 wildfires have scorched a shocked Sweden — some of them north of the Arctic Circle — as temperatures have soared into the 90s amid withering drought. In normally chilly Oslo, the mercury climbed past 86 degrees for 16 consecutive days. The Brits have been gobsmacked by 95-degree weather; it hit 98 in Montreal; and in Japan, 22,000 people were hospitalized when temperatures climbed to a record 106. In Arizona, Southern California, Pakistan, and India, summer's broiler has been turned up to unbearable levels, past 110 degrees, and people are dying. Heat, drought, and fires of this scale and scope are not normal — or perhaps they now are. Climate change, says Elena Manaenkova of the World Meteorological Organization, "is not a future scenario. It is happening now."

It is human nature to postpone change and sacrifice as long as possible. We don't act, especially collectively, until a crisis is upon us. This penchant for procrastination is why the national debt of $21.3 trillion is climbing at a rate of nearly $1 trillion a year, and why we're doing nothing to address the approaching funding shortfalls of Medicare and Social Security. Why deal with such unpleasantness now, when we can push decisions off into the future? So it goes for greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The evidence clearly shows that the planet is warming, that the jet stream and other wind patterns have been disrupted, that ancient ice is melting and seas are rising, and that weather extremes such as droughts, heat waves, torrential rains, and flooding have all become more common and more prolonged. And the consequences have just begun. But what's most important is our comfort today, the next quarter's GDP, and the re-election of incumbent politicians. Climate change? The national debt? Social Security? Let our children and grandchildren deal with all that. We'll be dead by then, suckers.

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.