Generation Hot: Meet the Kids Who Are Fated to Spend the Rest of Their Lives Confronting the Impacts of Climate Change
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As the father of a five year old, it infuriates me that Hansen's warning, and countless subsequent ones, has gone unheeded. As a journalist, I have helped expose some of the tactics that energy companies and their allies employed to block action. Often the cynicism has been breathtaking. For example, the science advisers to the corporate-funded Global Climate Coalition privately told the group's board of directors -- way back in 1995! -- that the science behind climate change was "well established and cannot be denied," a fact the board then censored from the group's public outreach materials. Last July, lawmakers in Washington refused to pass modest climate legislation even as the northern hemisphere sizzled under what will likely be the hottest summer on record.
"This was a crime," Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the climate adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told me, referring to the past two decades of global inaction. But the wrong people are being punished. My daughter and her peers in Generation Hot have been given a life sentence for a crime they didn't commit; they will spend the rest of their lives coping with a climate that will be hotter and more volatile than ever before in our civilization's history. Meanwhile, the perpetrators of this crime continue to reap record corporate profits, win political re-elections and get invited onto national TV and radio programs.
The battle to prevent climate change, feeble as it was, is over. Now the race to survive it has begun. If humanity is to win this race, we must change the way we think about the climate problem. Humanity has left behind what I call the first era of global warming -- when we argued about whether it was real and how to stop it -- and entered a new, second era of the problem, where the paradigm has shifted in a fundamental but still largely unrecognized way.
In the second era of global warming, the traditional goal of climate policy -- limiting global emissions -- is more important than ever but no longer sufficient. To be sure, we need to reverse global warming, and quickly -- before the earth passes tipping points that could trigger irreversible climate change. At the same time, however, we must now prepare our societies for the many impacts already in the pipeline. In short, we face a double imperative: we must live through global warming even as we halt and reverse it.
A handful of cutting-edge leaders around the world have taken this lesson to heart and begun to put in place protections against the projected impacts, including better sea defenses, more efficient water supplies and improved emergency and health care systems. Probably the most far-sighted work is taking place in the Netherlands, which has launched a well-funded, politically tough-minded 200 Year Plan to adapt to climate change. (No, 200 is not a typo.) Most countries, however, like most private companies and local communities, are doing little or nothing to prepare for the storm bearing down upon them.
It's now September, the end of summer, and my five year old has started kindergarten. It's a huge transition, as every parent knows. Meanwhile, the oldest members of Generation Hot are embarking on their own huge transition. Now 21- or 22-years-old, they are leaving childhood behind for the adult world of work, marriage and children.
But a third transition, just as huge, awaits each and every member of Generation Hot. One of the key facts of the 21st century is that climate change is going to get worse, perhaps a lot worse, before it gets better. Like it or not, the kids of Generation Hot will have to learn how to cope with the consequences -- not only for their health and economic prospects but their emotional well-being.