Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Inevitability By Choice


The view from Telegraph Hill. That's Treasure Island and the Richmond/Berkeley area in the background. They put this on the "walking tour" of SF - all I can say is, you better be in shape if you plan on walking up Telegraph Hill, one of the steepest inclines in the city. Whew.

I wrote this next bit back in early February, updated the numbers on Sandy Hook (they doubled since then), so if something else seems a bit dated it's because of that. The news that the assault weapons ban is destined for defeat made me think of this again....


Every single day, more Americans die from gunfire. Today, it’s over 2,800 since Sandy Hook.  Tomorrow it will be 2,850. The next day it’s 2,900. And so on. Our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters, the names roll by at a dizzying rate as mass shootings have now become a common event that is unseen anywhere else in the world outside of a war zone.

The United States stands alone in the developed world when it comes to death by gun violence, 10.2 per 100,000 people as of 2009, over twice the rate of second place Finland at 4.47. We also stand alone when it comes to lack of registration and accountability too. Most developed nations demand gun owners take responsibility for their acquisitions; here in America, weapons are readily available at your local big box retail store and can be passed through the community without a trace. 

We have nearly enough guns to arm every man, woman, and child in the nation - 88.9 firearms per 100 people, far outdistancing second-place India, which only has 4 firearms per 100 citizens. And yet advocates for gun manufacturers will insist we need more guns and even less accountability, as if the answer to the fire is to continue to pour more gasoline on the flames while they refuse to let the fire department attend to the situation.

In 2010, the cost of gun violence was estimated to be $174 billion dollars when you add up medical costs and lost productivity. But can you put a realistic price on the loss of a life, and all the potential it can hold? Or the permanent devastation that loss brings to friends and family and community? It cannot be quantified. 

By 2015, American gun deaths will surpass traffic fatalities. And while we have studied, modified, improved, and insured automobiles and their use to reduce injury and death, for some reason when it comes to guns, we are not allowed to even try to mitigate the damage to our families and to our country.

This is inevitability, by choice. 

A recent Gallup poll found that solid majorities of Americans of all stripes back sensible gun safety laws. In the face of all the evidence, in the face of the desire of the people to do something about the situation, will we again choose to do nothing?

Every single day, there is another major weather event in the world due whose power of destruction is magnified due to the effects climate change. Last year it was Superstorm Sandy. Last month it was drought, record heat, and fires in Australia. Today, it's a spring-like outbreak of powerful tornadoes and violent thunderstorms across the south, leaving death and billions in damage in its wake. Tomorrow, the drought continues in America, the weather records will continue to fall this year, and climate change will continue to accelerate.

In 2011, the Unites States broke the record for most $1 billion dollar storms in one year. In 2012, the nation endured its hottest year on record, and its second-worst year when it comes to extreme weather events. In the past six years, four out of five American lives have been affected by extreme weather. Chances are you have been personally affected already, whether it be the direct loss of your own property, or the attendant fluctuations in the price of food, raw materials, taxes, and other related costs to the clean-up.

A study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research puts the price tag for extreme weather at an amazing $485 billion a year, nearly 3.4% of our GDP. For a size comparison, that's nearly three-quarters of our military budget for 2011. Think of how that money could be better spent in your community, or in your own life. Can you put a price on lost potential, as these resources are directed away from other areas that need attention?

And while we are doing a pretty good job of cutting emissions in the United States, a record amount of carbon dioxide was pumped into the air in 2011 as developing countries like China and India are increasing their use of coal. That record is again expected to fall when the numbers are added up for 2012. 

The Global Change Research Program has complied the findings of scientists and climatologists for an upcoming federal report to Congress. When it's done, it will be an official document of the United States government. The draft of this report says in no uncertain terms that climate change is happening, it's being driven by human fossil fuel activity, and it's going to get much, much worse faster than we thought. The experts are coming to the realization that we may have reached the tipping point where there is no turning back unless we take action right now.

This is inevitability, by choice.

An AP poll released in December found the 80% of Americans think that global warming is a big problem for our nation, and 57% feel the government should do a "great deal" to address the situation. In the face of all the evidence, in the face of the desire of our people to do something about the situation, we will again choose to do nothing?

The daily barrage of empirical data mounts, inexorably.

One day soon, the people, in the face of evidence that they can see with their own eyes, feel with their own skin, hear with their own ears - will demand leaders take action. Will demand that the people they hired to fix it, actually fix it.  One day, the evidence will be piled so high that all of the articles by climate change deniers and all of the books by John Lott and his ilk will seem like laughable specks of dust. When the people can see the data and sift through it themselves, that’s when they will demand action.

That day is here. And we owe it to them to see beyond our short-term interest, and get something done.

Or so I hope.  


My hopes now are fading. It seems it doesn't matter who gets elected, we are going to do what the extreme right wants to do. On everything. Sure, some small amounts of progress can be seen in the blue states where politicians act in the best interests of their people, but at the federal level, all we hear is excuses of why the Democrats can't ever seem to get things done. Three glaring headlines prove that this morning:

Reid guts Senate gun control bill.

Poll: President Obama voters don't want Keystone.

Democrats Come Up Short In Sequestration Standoff.

If you don't fight for progress on the issues where the American people are a)overwhelmingly on your side and b)want to see some action - don't be surprised when those people don't show up for you next time you ask for their vote.

That, too, is "inevitability by choice."