Climate change. Gun violence. One threatens our natural environment. The other threatens our social environment. Both are anthropogenic, caused by human activity. Both require immediate and forceful action if we hope to maintain the fabric of life in this country and on this planet.
There is a great deal of similarity in the political response to gun violence and climate change. Both problems have existed for some time. Both are worsening.
Many of our national political figures deny or diminish climate change and resist efforts to take meaningful action. There are also those who say guns are not a problem, people are the problem. The dysfunctional political system cannot deal with either issue.
The public at large is well ahead of politicians on both topics. Over 80 percent of Americans are receptive to some controls on guns. More complete and rigorous background checks is the measure that is most widely accepted as a means to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Banning of weapons of war, assault rifles and high capacity magazines, is also widely seen as a common-sense solution to reducing the level of violence.
On the climate change front, the scientific consensus on climate change is nearly universal. Ninety-seven percent of active climate scientists agree on the origins and trends of climate change. The general population shows a smaller majority feeling strongly about climate change, in part reflecting the divisive rhetoric from the political front. Public opinion varies significantly depending on gender, ethnicity, age and political persuasion.
The scourge of gun violence is easy to perceive. All one needs to do is read the paper or watch TV every day. The statistics are overwhelming. Over 30,000 Americans die from gun-related incidents each year. The mass murders make the headlines but the everyday violence is the larger problem.
Over the entire history of our country from the American Revolutionary War through the continuing fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 1.3 million Americans have died in wars. In just the past 50 years, this number has been exceeded by the lives lost in this country to gun violence: homicides, suicides, and accidents.
Impacts of climate change may be more difficult to quantify than gun incidents but are no less real. The World Health Organization projects annual deaths of 250,000 people per year due to climate change related conditions including malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress within the next 15 years.
Climate change is all around us every day. Drought, flooding, extreme weather events, retreating ice caps and rising sea levels are happening around the country How can we continue to tolerate a political system that does so little about reducing gun violence? How can we not take action to deal with the spreading cancer of climate change? Both are fundamental to the protection of life and property.
We are in the midst of a bruising political campaign. Much of the “debate” seems to revolve around personal attacks and popularity issues. We must demand more.
Guns and climate change, disparate as they are, are both crying for debate and solutions that will save lives and make our country and our world a better place to live.
The political system needs to work for us for a change. Demand that it do so.