Two urgent threats: Guns, climate change

By Julia Olson, The Register-Guard, February 24, 2013

Global warming is like a loaded gun in our midst, and yet we have no plan to curb the destruction

President Obama’s address on the State of our Union took us back to the devastation that gun violence visits upon our children. It also reminded me that we must cultivate those same deep instincts to protect our children from climate disruption.

When I heard the first news accounts of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., I reacted like millions of Americans. I wept with anguish and hugged my children hard. A beautiful sunny day suddenly was blacker than black.

As I sorted through the riot of emotions that gripped all of us that day, I was overwhelmed by a personal memory that lurks in the shadows of my childhood.

When I was a kid, I was shot multiple times by a mentally ill stranger with an M14 semiautomatic assault rifle. Somehow, I survived. I’m lucky. Very lucky. Against the odds, I am recovered today from my wounds and leading a full life.

It might seem counterintuitive, but over time the experience has made me more compassionate. Somehow, I didn’t harden. The more I healed, the more I opened up.

That’s not to say I ran out and joined the National Rifle Association. I freely admit to hating guns of any kind. I wish people who hunt would use bows and arrows, and the argument for owning guns for self-defense is an even harder sell.

The numbers don’t lie: People who own guns for self-defense are four times more likely to be shot than those who don’t. Study after study has proven that gun ownership makes everyone less safe.

Naturally, I support President Obama’s “plan to protect our children and our communities by helping reduce gun violence.” Two weeks ago, he signed 23 executive actions to move the nation in that direction. And he’s calling on Congress to act on four legislative measures: closing background check loopholes, banning military-style assault weapons, making our schools safer and increasing access to mental health services. During his State of the Union address, he implored Congress to bring these measures to a vote, for the sake of the victims and our children.

Again, numbers don’t lie. Nonsensical rhetoric from the NRA notwithstanding, poll after poll shows that American people favor sensible guncontrol
measures. A plurality of American citizens are determined to drag the Second Amendment out of the 18th century where it has been stuck for 200 years.

But this is when my stomach turns to knots, where the cognitive dissonance on the bigger picture of life-threatening challenges kicks into high gear.

Obama has invested some of his hard-won post-election political capital in new initiatives to protect our children from gun violence, but he was the first to admit that even bold new actions won’t stop every massacre. But, he argued, if gun control reforms save the life of even one child, then each of us has a responsibility to take action.

Agreed. Twenty beautiful kids were mown down in withering gunfire by a deranged killer on that awful day at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and each of us shares a responsibility to stop this from happening in the future.

But just the month before the Newtown tragedy, another “Sandy” took the lives of more than 20 children when the eponymous superstorm struck the eastern seaboard.

The Climate Vulnerability Monitor report, commissioned by 20 nations, found that an average of 1,000 children die every day from the ravages of climate change — 360,000 a year! Most of these deaths are kids living in poverty because climate change, like so many other scourges, finds the poorest and most vulnerable first.

As a childhood victim of gun violence, I applaud the president’s urgent appeal for sensible gun control legislation. Conversely, I (and millions of others) am dismayed that the leadership of this country stands paralyzed in the face of the most significant crisis of our time: climate change.

We still have no credible plan to deal with the very real violence of climate change. Our own Central Intelligence Agency has projected climate change as the single greatest threat to our national security, yet we see no effective action on this issue at the national level.

Would Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt or John Kennedy have taken the lead on this issue in their own times? Of course they would.

The American people spent $2.5 billion on the presidential campaign, yet there was not one meaningful discussion about the loaded gun in our midst.

Most of our children will never come face-to-face with a gunman, as I did. But every single child born in the 21st century will have to contend with the devastating legacy of climate change. Every one of our children is going to inherit a world defined by catastrophic superstorms, wildfires, rising sea levels, food and water insecurity, and the political chaos resulting from the migrations and mass disruptions that experts predict in coming decades.

We still have time to redirect the plot line in this story. Our nation’s top climate experts tell us we will yet have an opportunity to slow the pace of the changes that are already baked into our future. It’s still possible to avoid the worst of the worst.

But there is no more wiggle room. We have to begin now.

Like the numbers on gun control, a plurality of citizens now realizes that climate change is the rampaging elephant in the global living room. We can’t afford more pointless debates about “if” and “how bad” the consequences of inaction will be. At this late hour, in order to bequeath a safe atmosphere to our children, we need a plan.

From our local, state and federal governments, our children deserve urgent action on climate change — not piecemeal actions, “voluntary goals” and lip service, but concrete
comprehensive actions that meet our obligation to our children and to future generations to ensure their safety in the years and decades to come.

President Obama’s address to the nation called on Congress to act on climate change, warning, “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

But Congress has sat idle for decades in the face of increasingly irreversible threats to our children.

To show true leadership, the president should begin today to prepare and implement a national climate recovery plan to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and transform our economy into one that saves lives instead of one that threatens them.

When it comes to climate change or gun control, further delay is no longer an option. If we take on the issue of fossil fu els today, we can save not tens of thousands of lives, but millions.

Think of it this way: The climate gun is pointed at all of us.