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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My daughter Chiara, age five, is a member. So is my goddaughter Emily, age twenty-two. So are the thousands of Pakistani children now suffering after record monsoon rains left 20 percent of their country -- an area the size of Great Britain -- under water.
In fact, every child on earth born after June 23, 1988 belongs to what I call Generation Hot. This generation includes some two billion young people, all of whom have grown up under global warming and are fated to spend the rest of their lives confronting its mounting impacts.
For Generation Hot, the brutal summer of 2010 is not an anomaly; it's the new normal.
One wouldn't know it from most media coverage, but the world's leading climate scientists have concluded that last summer's rash of extreme weather -- including record heat across much of Europe (especially Russia) and the United States -- was driven in no small part by man-made global warming. Of course no single event can ever be definitively attributed to global warming; weather results from many factors. But according to the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization, the extraordinary heat, rains, drought and flooding that occurred this summer fit the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's projections of "more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming." In other words, dangerous climate change is no longer tomorrow's problem; it is here today.
But for most of us, the other scientific shoe has yet to drop. Aside from a fundamentalist few, most people around the world, in rich and poor countries alike, accept that climate change is real and has already begun to occur. Nevertheless, many non-specialists still do not grasp the most fiendish aspect of the climate problem: we can't turn it off.
No matter how many solar panels, electric cars and other green technologies we humans may embrace, the fact remains that more severe climate change is locked in for decades to come. The reason is the physical inertia of the climate system: the fact that carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for centuries. Even if global greenhouse gas emissions were magically halted overnight, sheer physical inertia would keep average global temperatures rising for another thirty years at least, scientists say.
Not every future summer will be as punishing as 2010 was, but more and more will be. Members of Generation Hot who live in New York City, for example, will endure roughly twice as many extremely hot summer days in the 2020s as they do today, according to the New York City Panel on Climate Panel, a group of scientific, government and business leaders advising the city government.
Growing enough food will also be a challenge. Corn, one of the world's key staple crops, does not reproduce at temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. During the 20th century, the breadbasket state of Iowa experienced three straight days of 95 F temperatures once per decade--not a big problem. By 2040 Iowa is projected to experience such hot spells in three summers out of four.
It's not that we weren't warned. I date the beginning of Generation Hot to June 23, 1988 because that is when humanity was put on notice that greenhouse gas emissions were raising the temperatures on this planet. The warning came from NASA scientist James Hansen's testimony to the U.S. Senate and, crucially, the decision by the New York Times to print the news on page 1, which in turn made global warming a household phrase in news bureaus, living rooms and government offices the world over.