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"We have an obligation tonight to talk about the legacy we're leaving our children and grandchildren." So Newt Gingrich said in his talk to the nation two weeks ago. "No truly moral civilization would burden its children with the economic excesses of the parents and grandparents."

Gingrich's concern for what we shall leave our grandchildren would be more convincing if he worried about leaving them not only a burdensome debt but a country of despoiled land, air and water.Economic arrangements are temporary. This Congress may decide to victimize the poor, deny welfare to young women with babies, make it hard for people injured by defective products to sue. A later Congress can change those decisions.

But destruction of our surroundings is for keeps. An extinct bird or animal cannot be recreated. A wetland covered with concrete will not again nurture life.

A moral civilization, to use Gingrich's good phrase, must take the long view. It does not burden future generations with polluted water or denuded forests in order to let someone turn a quick profit now.