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Opinion: Blistering summers are the future

A vendor fills a cooler with ice during a heat wave in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday in Washington, D.C.
Anna Moneymaker
Getty Images
A vendor fills a cooler with ice during a heat wave in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday in Washington, D.C.

Will our children grow up being scared of summer?

This week I watched an international newscast and saw what looked like most of the planet — the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia — painted in bright, blaring orange and reds, like the Burning Bush. Fahrenheit temperatures in three-digit numbers seemed to blaze all over on the world map.

Heat records have burst around the globe. This very weekend, crops are burning, roads are buckling and seas are rising, while lakes and reservoirs recede, or even disappear. Ice sheets melt in rising heat, and wildfires blitz forests.

People are dying in this onerous heat. Lives of all kinds are threatened, in cities, fields, seas, deserts, jungles and tundra. Wildlife, farm animals, insects and human beings are in distress.

The U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization says there is more lethal heat in our future because of climate change caused by our species on this planet. Even with advances in wind, solar and other alternative energy sources, and international pledges and accords, the world still derives about 80% of its energy from fossil fuels, like oil, gas and coal, which release the carbon dioxide that's warmed the climate to the current temperatures of this scalding summer.

The WMO's chief, Petteri Taalas, said this week, "In the future these kinds of heatwaves are going to be normal."

The most alarming word in his forecast might be: "normal."

I'm of a generation that thought of summer as a sunny time for children. I think of long days spent outdoors without worry, playing games or just meandering. John Updike wrote in his poem, "June":

The sun is rich

And gladly pays

In golden hours,

Silver days,

And long green weeks

That never end.

School's out. The time

Is ours to spend.

There's Little League,

Hopscotch, the creek,

And, after supper,


The live-long light

Is like a dream...

But now that bright, "live-long light," of which Updike wrote, might look menacing in a summer like this.

In blistering weeks such as we see this year, and may for years to come, you wonder if our failures to care for the planet given to us will make our children look forward to summer, or dread another season of heat.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.