Smarter than ants (part 2)

 

In yesterday’s blog post I stated that I think before discussing possible solutions to tragedies like what happened in Las Vegas, that we should agree that investing time in thoughtfully discussing the opportunities for minimizing the loss of life was of value.  If you disagree and think we should do nothing more than shrug our shoulders, build a memorial, and use the phrase #<insertcitynamehere>Strong for while then please read no further.

 

Too often in discussions like this we assume others have extreme positions and we fail to have an honest and thoughtful dialog where we really listen, compromise, and leverage our common ground.  So for the purposes of any responses to this post, please resist your urge make assumptions, call names, and behave like an idiot.  I will moderate comments if needed.  My friend Mike made a Facebook comment on my blog from yesterday about how he thinks open air events like the one in Las Vegas should be eliminated due to the inability to protect attendees from a vertical threat and how those wishing to do harm and commit mass casualties are paying attention.  As opposed to knee jerking and assuming here is another guy who does not want to change anything with guns, lets recognize that Mike makes a very valid point.  The landscape has changed and we need to adapt our safety protocols and update our thought process because somewhere out there right now there is someone planning to set a new “record”.  Physical security is a lot like computer security, we do our best to patch and be secure from the beginning but when something is exploited we need to update our defenses and mitigate for future variants.  Our approach going forward needs to be more comprehensive than just dealing with a weapon problem.  As an example, look around at your neighborhood school at how they have adapted their entrances and security protocols, and how kids now have practice code red drills and so on.  Sure, it is a sad that these are needed, but in reality those types of things save lives.  Sadly now we need to think differently about open air event gatherings and vertical threats.  I guess my point is that if you are still reading this, you would like to minimize the loss of life like what recently happened in Las Vegas and that is common with anyone else who may comment or offer an opinion so please be respectful.

I am not a gun owner but I would say it is not out of the realm of possibility that I will be someday.  I am not an expert on the second amendment, I am not a lawyer, I am not an extremist who wants to take everyone’s guns away; I am a self-defined tree hugger and my only political agenda is to get a revenue neutral Fee and Dividend policy implemented so the true costs of emissions are recognized and our planet has an opportunity to improve its health.  As it relates to this issue, my core belief is that we can do better, that we can find common ground and both “sides” can realize they are less far apart than they think and compromise.  I choose to use the following as a baseline for my thoughts on this topic:

  • The focus of any legal changes as it relates to weapons should focus on the problem.  The problem is not the hunter or sportsman, the problem is not the gun collector who has hundreds of guns, the problem is not the enthusiast who likes to shoot a variety of high powered and unique weapons in an appropriate place, the problem is not the person at the grocery store who you never knew had a permit for his/her concealed handgun; the problem we are trying to solve is people who thoughtfully plan mass murders.

  • There is no solution that will prevent every scenario and the goal of any new policy should be to increase the potential for preventing and minimizing the loss of life.  This is incredibly important to not lose sight of.

  • States should be allowed to add their own additional laws if they desire but there should be an updated baseline federal law.  If we leave this to the states it will only lead to a scenario similar to fireworks where I can simply drive to Wisconsin and get “real fireworks” and numerous other issues.

Given that, here are my current thoughts on a path forward in order from least to most complicated:

  • Bump stocks should be made illegal.  I had never heard of them before this week but my generic understanding is that they crudely make a semi-automatic rifle behave more like an automatic rifle.  Given that they are an accessory and not a weapon themselves, an argument could be made that legal changes to their status is not really protected under the second amendment.  Regardless, it appears as though this notion already has momentum so getting more specific on a path forward is in order.  The end goal of any legal changes to bump stocks should have a focus on making them more difficult to obtain.  I see a few options:

    • Bump stocks are declared illegal to purchase or sell going forward.  The ones in circulation today are left to die on the vine so to speak and they will be coveted by collectors and enthusiasts and the price of purchasing one will continue to increase.  Over time, less and less of them will function and continue to exist much like civilian owned machine guns did after 1986.  They could need to be legally registered or similar.

    • Bump stocks are declared illegal for civilians to own.  This gets a little more complicated but some sort of buyback program might incite some owners to turn them in but certainly some would remain in circulation.

  • High capacity magazines are reviewed.  Again, I am not an expert in this area but I think minimizing the amount of ammunition a weapon can fire without needing to be reloaded would increase the probability of saving lives in situations like this.  I am uncertain what a reasonable amount of ammunition is to have in a single magazine but my opinion is that for the average gun enthusiast and owner, this is not a huge inconvenience as long as the capacity compromise is reasonable.  Like bump stocks, a decision could be made to make them illegal to purchase or sell going forward or make them illegal and introduce some sort of buyback or similar to encourage a reduction in the current circulation.

  • Criminal background checks should be required for all firearms sales and they should be tracked.  Today licensed firearms dealers require an ID and leverage NICS but this does not cover other scenarios.  Today, if I were to go buy Sudafed I would need to swipe my drivers license.  If I were to drive to a dozen pharmacies and buy one box at each, some sort of alarm would go off somewhere and I would need to get an exception or follow a more rigid process to purchase in bulk.  I think a similar program could exist with firearms so that if someone were purchasing dozens of high powered rifles in a short period of time, a few questions would be asked to vet the person, their intent, and legitimize the purchases as appropriate.  The goal of the program would NOT be to eliminate the right to make bulk or consistent purchases, it would simply be to ensure those who were making the purchases were vetted and determined not to be an imminent threat much like with Sudafed where the goal is to ensure I am not a meth dealer.  This one would require some real compromise to accomplish.

    • Is there a way to ensure concerned gun owners that this is not a path towards some sort of national gun registry that will later be used to confiscate their guns or similar?  Can that be written in to law or somehow or an amenable compromise be made?  Given that Equifax cannot even secure our most prized financial and personal information, how would this data be secured and who would have access to it?  What would the criteria be that “triggered” an alert on purchases? Etc.  Many questions would need to be answered to gets folks on board but working through those specifics would be a valuable investment of time in my opinion.

It is an easy argument to make that if a bad person wants to do harm, they will find a way.  That is absolutely true but if we go back to my baseline statement that the goal of any new policy should be to increase the potential for minimizing the loss of life then this holds weight.  If someone has to jump through a few extra hoops or do unconventional things, then they are more likely to be caught or have the amount of damage they do diminished.  In turn, if law abiding citizens need to step through an extra hoop for the greater good, then so be it, we do it every day in many other scenarios.  Another common argument is that implementing anything like this leads down a slippery slope and that it will be the start of numerous other actions against gun owners.  I wonder if there is a way we can write something in to law to mitigate that fear or perhaps through thoughtful dialog that focuses on the areas most people find common ground, we can move past it.

That is it, those are my thoughts today.  I welcome your respectful ones and am genuinely interested in protecting the rights of gun owners while trying to add some common sense ways to decrease unnecessary bloodshed.

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Defeating excuses

As you might recall, last February I began a new program to begin to improve my overall health. After losing thirty pounds in 6 months, I have spent the last month maintaining that but not inching any closer to my end goal. I have been eating pretty appropriately but not getting in much exercise. My bike had been sitting on the garage hooks for several months and I kept finding myself too busy or distracted with other things to get it down. So, on Thursday I purposefully painted myself in to a corner and had the kids drive themselves to school despite me planning to attend my sons school soccer game 15 miles away. This left me one free option, to ride my bike. Thursday morning my brain started randomly producing excuses about why I should just stay home. These included the unusual heat and humidity, that is was too far and unsafe, that my bike should have a tune-up first, and my favorite – that I would likely get some chaffing, In and amongst those, I put air in the tires, lubricated the chain, prepared an appropriate song playlist, and began to pre-hydrate. Since Bing currently lacks an integrated bicycle mapping solution (vote for it here), I turned to Google. It showed the path I should take and estimated it should take 90 minutes on a bike to go the 15 miles. My first thought was to give myself 3 hours and if I was running ahead of schedule I could stop somewhere on the way, but as the day wore on I settled on 2 hours, sprayed some arm and hammer powder to alleviate chaffing concerns, put on my ear buds, and was on my way. For the first few miles, the excuses and doubts continued to creep in but I kept peddling and was eventually to a point where it would be less effort to keep going towards my destination rather than turn back. I arrived at the game 30 minutes early which was spot on with the Google estimate. I wonder if Google knew I was a middle aged somewhat out of shape man riding a fat tire trail bike.

Sometimes we need to push (or pedal) through our doubts and excuses and stop letting fear, uncertainty, laziness, or complacency hold us back. It has been several months since I have written a blog entry, in part because of an underlying feeling of despair. I have watched many of the decisions that our current U.S. elected and appointed officials have made related to environmental protections and have been truly saddened for future generations who will feel the impacts much greater than I will. The current status quo is unsustainable and the global scientific community has been telling us this for decades. We have been treating the sky like it is a limitless expansive sewer, where we dump 110 million tons of man made global warming pollution every day, when in reality there is a thin shell of an atmosphere less than half the distance that I biked yesterday. It is no coincidence that 16 out of the 17 hottest years ever recorded on planet Earth have occurred since 2001. I could go on and on but to simplify what you hopefully already know, the problem is complex and the solution is simple. My good friend Tim said it well, we need to fix the market bug and have taxpayers stop subsidizing the very things that we turn around and socialize the costs of.

The good news is that there is growing bi-partisan support for addressing this issue head on but we need to keep the momentum. Today there are 56 US House of Representative members (28R / 28D) in the Climate Solutions Caucus working on economically viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply, and public safety. While 56 is a good number, it is not like being past the halfway point on my bike was. We need to keep peddling and push through any discomfort, go up some hills, avoid some potholes, avoid some distracted drivers, and eventually we will have enough momentum that moving forward will be easier than turning back. You can use the previous link to look at who is in the CSC and easily ask your representative to join the caucus as well as thank the current members. Please take a few moments to nudge your representative. As we have seen, addressing climate change with partisan solutions is not sustainable because a change in leadership after an election cycle can quickly negate progress in that area. Mother Nature and Climate Change do not care about your political affiliations and neither should you when it comes to this topic. We need to embrace our representatives with a positive mindset and find common ground with them to move forward.

Let’s roll

A recent op-ed by Mark Reynolds of Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) is titled “To solve climate change, the passengers must now fly the plane”.  It does a good job creating a metaphor but I think there is one area that could use an adjustment.  Here is a portion of it:

When it comes to climate change, most Americans are like the passengers on a jetliner wanting to arrive safely at their destination but thinking there’s no need to be involved with the actual flying of the plane. The “people in charge,” surely, have things under control.

Lately, however, the plane has experienced a rough ride:

  • On Christmas Day, the temperature at Santa’s workshop – a.k.a. the North Pole – approached the melting point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, about 40 degrees above average for that time of year.
  • With 2016 hitting another high mark for average global temperature, 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred in the current century.
  • Floods, like the disasters that struck Louisiana and North Carolina last year, are happening as a result of unprecedented rainfall measured in feet rather than inches.
  • As we start the new year, 37 million people across Africa are without food because of crop failures caused by droughts and floods exacerbated by climate change.

All this turbulence is prompting some of the passengers to rise from their seats, walk to the cockpit and check with the pilot. Upon opening the door, however, they are shocked to see no one seated at the controls.  For a number of years, President Obama did his best to keep the plane aloft with executive orders to address climate change, chiefly the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at power plants. But the 44th president has donned his parachute and exited the plane, leaving the pilot’s seat disturbingly empty.

So, how do we avoid crashing into a mountainside?

It’s time for the passengers to start flying the plane, and by passengers, we mean citizens.  This entails setting aside cynicism about our government and engaging with people in Congress who represent us in Washington. Government will respond to the will of the people, provided the people tell the government what we want.

If we take a look at the facts, our current president has tweeted that Climate change “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”, is a “Hoax”, is an “expensive hoax” and is “bullshit”.  He even tweeted “Not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people’s health”.  Trump made campaign promises to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, has approved fossil fuel projects, has made staff appointments of outspoken climate change deniers, and placed restrictions on how scientific agencies can communicate to citizens.  The really sad thing is that with majority party control, making progress to address climate change presents a huge opportunity where the current elected officials could be heroes by following the CCL recommended and widely supported plan that would initiate significant job creation and shift the U.S. economy while moving towards clean energy. 

So back to the metaphor above.  I agree we are all passengers on the plane, the only problem is that from our seats we can hear that the captain is indeed still at the controls, we can tell he is there by his constant chirping over the PA system.  When we try to go have an honest dialogue, we learn that he has a likeminded flight crew, numerous DHS agents, and a legion of unconditional followers who will not hesitate to verbally abuse or attack the majority with a factual view of science.  As we listen to the chirps continue, we realize that a thin skinned unapologetic egocentric madman is at the controls; bullying anyone who asks tough questions or has an opposing view.  Relying on hope that someone close to him will get through to him and shift his mindset is not enough.  As passengers, we need to take action to prevent a crash landing that few will walk away from.  We can no longer afford to sit in our seats and listen to the same rhetoric and misinformation, it is time to get up and demand action; let’s roll.

Mark sums it up well by reminding us what Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart once said, “We aren’t passengers on spaceship Earth, we’re the crew. We aren’t residents on this planet, we’re citizens. The difference in both cases is responsibility.”

Guest Blogger: Tim Reckmeyer

My good friend Tim recently penned a guest column for his local newspaper titled The global heat is on for Congress, please give it a read. Below is some additional commentary from Tim.

The science of climate change isn’t what you know it’s what you believe.  More scientific studies and reasoning are not going to help people.  There are just certain things in the scientific realm that have always been that way.  Did you know that when Galileo claimed that the Earth spins on its axis and orbits the sun he was put on trial and forced to recant?  Why was this?  It went directly against the church doctrine.    

I recognize that everyone has different values (politically, spiritually, morally, etc.) which is why Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) is such a great organization to be a part of.  We listen to all viewpoints and then work to find common ground – not only with our members of Congress but also with people we interact with every day.  Here are just a couple of examples:  

You want less EPA regulations – CCL has a plan for you.
You want to reduce carbon emissions – CCL has the plan for you
You want create healthier air to breath – CCL has the plan for you
You want to grow jobs in America – CCL has the plan for you
You want more money in your back pocket – CCL has the plan for you

People create political will – not Congress.  Please join us.

If you want to join Tim and I at CCL, please let us know at MNCCL-CD2@outlook.com

 

 

 

 

Global thoughts

We have likely all seen the bumper sticker or heard the phrase “think globally, act locally” but human nature sometimes makes that difficult. Despite NOAA, NASA, the Japanese Meteorological Agency, and the UK Met Office all stating that 2014 was the warmest year on record, it has been colder than normal where I live as depicted in the picture above. This localized cold sometimes makes conversations about climate change and our warming planet more challenging. In addition, people who live in the upper Midwest of the U.S. sometimes take to the opinion that a few degrees warmer sure would be nice and it is less expensive than moving to Kansas. Ironically, if our planet was just 7 degrees colder those of us in the upper latitudes would be under a mile of ice. Looking at the data above, helps get back to seeing a good depiction of a global problem. While in the upper Midwest we might have been fighting a polar vortex that caused school closings and travel restrictions, many other areas throughout the globe were fighting record heat and drought in 2014.

It is even more important to look at long term trends as depicted in the chart below taken from a data query I did on the NOAA website. It is disheartening to know that every year my children have been alive, global temperatures have been above historical averages. December 2014 was the 358th consecutive month where global temperatures were above average. In addition, 13 of the hottest years on record (since 1880) have been in the last 15 years. The scientific consensus on whether the warming is manmade or not is overwhelming everywhere except the U.S. Senate and the U.S. media. All 38 National Academies of Science agree, the hundreds of AMS organizations all agree, and peer reviewed scientific articles have outnumbered those opposed 500:1 for over 20 years.

1880-2014

What if we change our mindset to align with the former chief economist of the World Bank (Sir Nicholas Stern) and many others who view this problem as a market failure? After all, we typically do not let industries dump their garbage and toxins for free. A market failure is when costs are shifted to non-users and that is precisely what has happened here. In one way or another, everyone is currently paying for carbon regardless of their usage. Typically when markets fail, governments intervene in one of four ways: R&D, Subsidies, Regulation, or Taxes. R&D is great but in reality we already have the technology and knowledge needed though continued improvements in efficiency will help. Subsidies help but they are expensive and not politically viable, with little ROI. Regulation is good by forcing more fuel efficiency and standards on emissions, but that is quite simply not enough to move the needle significantly. And everyone hates to talk about taxes, though that is exactly what is needed here. The Citizens Climate Lobby is advocating a $10 / ton tax on CO2 with that increasing $10 each year for 20 years. To put that in perspective, in year one it would be ~10 cents per gallon at the pump and ~1.2 cents per kWh for electricity. The beauty of their proposal is that it would be 100% revenue neutral, meaning all of the tax revenue would be returned to American households equally without the government keeping anything. Imagine you, me, and Keith Hernandez all getting a monthly dividend check for the same amount. This type of tax would be a light switch moment, immediately shifting behaviors and decisions of consumers. In the past year gay marriage had a light switch moment and though there are a few states with their hand still on the dimmer switch, tremendous progress has been made. Eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels needs a similar moment to give it momentum and move us forward.

So this brings us back to thinking globally and acting locally. If you are reading this, you have much to be grateful for in terms of being born where and when you were and more. Understand that our lifestyle and choices have impacts on the planet as a whole and small iterative changes can have large impacts when multiplied by billions of people. As John Muir said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world”. I encourage you to investigate joining one of the CCL’s weekly intro calls to learn more how you can help our elected leaders respond to our citizens political will.