The high bar

Imagine if we said that seat belts were not going to prevent all auto related deaths so we did not make them mandatory.  Imagine if we did not have drunk driving laws because some people are going to drink and drive anyway.  Imagine if we did not have any screening of bags at the airport because someone with bad intentions will eventually get something through anyway.  Imagine the same examples for texting and driving, lead paint, leaded fuel, athletic protective gear, and so on…. One of core goals we have as a society is the preservation of life and the advances in safety we have made have been towards that end.  We learn, we adapt, and we evolve.

When it comes to climate change mitigation discussions and gun violence prevention discussions; a quick argument that is frequently made against taking any action, is that it will not be 100% effective.  Why move away from fossil fuels if the sea level is going to rise anyway from all of the carbon already in the atmosphere?  Why impose any changes to gun purchasing because if a bad person wants to get a gun they will find a way?  Setting the bar to 100% is unreasonable and is an invalid position.  As humans we constantly reside in the gray and that is a perfectly acceptable place to be, things are rarely simplistic enough to be black and white. 

Imagine if transitioning to cleaner energy sources could minimize future environmental disasters or if modified gun legislation could prevent one mass school shooting, would it then be worth it?  How many lives does a change need to save to be worth it?  I do not think any reasonable person would say 100% but yet that is quickly the unreasonable standard that is set in these discussions.  I am encouraged with the 70 members (35R / 35D) of the Climate Solutions Caucus and the direction their dialog is going as their group continues to grow.  I am encouraged by some of the recent town hall style discussions taking place on how to better ensure the safety of our children at school; as I recently mentioned, having a dialogue is a critical part of the equation.  Now the next step is to determine what success looks like and agreeing that there is room for compromise in the answer.  The consequences of inaction are too great.

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The necessity of dialogue

Today the front page news is once again pictures of shocked and grief stricken family members trying to cope with the loss of loved ones due to a mass shooting. It seems unlikely that anything meaningful is going to change to improve these situations. Sure, we pass referendums and watch our local school entrances get fortified, we can constantly be aware of our surroundings like Jason Bourne, and we can buy Kevlar inserts for our backpacks; but none of that may help at all. It seemed after Las Vegas that there was going to be an appetite in DC for regulating bump stocks but that fell by the wayside. Having a reasonable conversation about the first four words (a well regulated militia) of the second amendment seems to be a non-starter, the focus is always on the last 14 words (the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed). What bothers me most about this issue is how no real dialogue takes place. Imagine any other scenario resulting in thousands of senseless deaths each year with not even a conversation about options to mitigate it.

On the one side politicians are quick to decry the need for gun control and on the other side politicians are quick to say stop politicizing this. In my opinion, there is the problem. Our political system has become so fractured that having a reasonable and open dialogue about something is taboo unless it is with someone from your own political party. Sure, there are some exceptions to this but it is uncommon and those joint ventures have not secured additional support outside of a small group regardless of whether it is immigration reform, health care, or gun violence. For a brief moment this morning I wondered if the solution was simple, I wondered if the news media started treating mass shootings like they do women’s athletics or climate change if that would improve things. Is part of the appeal of the shooter knowing they will be the lead story and have their name everywhere and be talked about until the next mass shooting? I do not know, but maybe more focus on the victims and mitigations for the problem wouldn’t hurt because the reality is at the moment I could care a less about the piece of shit shooter and his troubled life.

The gridlock, inaction, and self-serving legislation seems to be at the core of many issues facing Americans today. Over the years there have been many clever pictures and calls for politicians to be like NASCAR drivers and wear their sponsors so everyone knows who bought and paid for them. I genuinely think this would help. It might not solve the fractured relationships immediately but it would give clearer insight in to what is happening behind the scenes and make open dialogues more likely. Imagine a senator wearing a large Nestle logo on their chest trying to influence the Forest Service to allow Nestle to keep pumping millions of gallons out of the San Bernardino National Forest for free despite the fact that their permit to extract water from the park expired in 1988. Imagine a politician with a big General Motors logo on his hat trying to pass legislation to not allow Tesla to sell vehicles directly to consumers in Michigan. Not only might it change the dialogue, it might change the mindset of sponsors who currently act with a certain amount of or sometimes complete anonymity. Being able to have a dialogue is the key and today, when it comes to complex issues like gun violence, climate change, health care, equality, immigration and more; the number of politicians on either side of the aisle willing to have a real discussion and have a willingness to compromise is too small.

Analytics

One of the nice things about WordPress, is that I can look at the data for my blog and see what entries people are clicking on, what countries they are from, what days of the week they visit, what search terms they use, what links they click, and more.  I can compare readership year over year and also tell if a single visitor went to more than one blog entry and such.  It is all anonymous, but interesting data to look at regardless.  Some of it does not align with what I would have expected, for instance the majority of the views I get are on Wednesdays which I found surprising since many of my posts are done on Thursdays or Fridays.  Some things make me laugh like when someone uses their browser to search for “my 2008 hummer is beeping” and they are directed to my humorous beeping bleeping hummer entry.  I am uncertain how the one person from Iceland, six in Russia, or seven from Saudi Arabia found my blog; but it is interesting to view the details from the map picture above regardless.  The most clicked on entry was in late December of 2016 and it was a satirical article, channeling my comedic desire to write for the Onion.  I think the provocative picture is really what prompted the clicks.

I sometimes think about what my audience might like to hear, but more often lately I am paralyzed with what to say.  There is so much ‘bad news’ on environmental topics in the U.S. lately that carving out a sliver of hope or positivity is difficult.  At the same time, drudging on and whining about what corrupt idiots are leading this nation is unsatisfying.  As ideas pop in to my head about topics, I add them to a list.  Below is a snip of some of those thoughts, please let me know if any of these or any other ideas are of interest to you.  Thank you!

  • The false dilemma, the economy or the environment
  • Whataboutism
  • The truth about water
  • Fracklahoma
  • Waste
  • Main Stream Media
  • Regrets
  • An interview with a climate change skeptic
  • Glacierless National Park
  • We all live downstream – NIMBY
  • Educating habits

Smarter than ants

 

After the recent hurricanes we heard Scott Pruitt and others talk about how now is not the time to be talking about climate change, how we should be focused on helping the people who need help.  After the devastating loss of life in Las Vegas many of our elected officials expressed the same sentiment related to talking about gun control.  These types of deflections and deferrals are incredibly frustrating.  With climate change enhanced storms, fires, floods, and mass shootings becoming common events; that deferral approach will never provide the time for real discussions, but perhaps that is the point.  If you kick over the sand on a sidewalk ant hill, the ants will immediately begin working to rebuild and fix their home.  They will not stop and ask themselves if there are any actions they could take that would improve the sustainability of their home nor put critical thought in to how to prevent further disruption.  As humans, we do stop and ask questions and this has led to countless advances in society that have increased our safety and lifespan.  If we had always taken the ant approach, our life expectancy would be like that of a caveman.

 

The other thing we as humans often do when domestic terrorism happens is shrug our shoulders with a sort of ‘oh well, if someone wants to do bad things they will find a way’ attitude.  This is absolutely true, but I strongly disagree with the complacency, dismissiveness, and acceptance of the statement.  Throughout history we have implemented countless new precautions and policies to help thwart and minimize the loss of life.  After the Oklahoma City bombing, federal buildings were modified so they are set back from the street, have blast resistant glass, are engineered so the floors do not collapse, and have cement flower planters or similar that prevent vehicles from getting too close.  After 9/11 there were countless security measures implemented to increase the safety of air travel.  So when it comes to gun violence, let’s try and find common ground and agree that exploring the opportunities for preventing and minimizing the loss of life is a valuable investment of time.  Once we have agreed on that, then we can move on to a more interesting dialog about what those potential solutions could be.  So whether it is fighting climate change, domestic terrorism, gun violence or anything that is a deep threat to life itself; let’s be smarter than ants.

 

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.

195-3

Today was a historically sad day as POTUS announced he is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.  I watched his speech announcing this with frustration and anger but am now residing myself that maybe it is for the best.  My frustration and anger stem from the flawed logic and false narrative that are being used to justify the exit.  The primary focus was about the agreement being a bad deal for the U.S., how it is a ‘massive redistribution of wealth to other countries’ and how if the U.S. remained it would ‘become the laughing stock of the world’.  He went on to boast about our existing “natural” (fossil fuel) energy sources and the value of using those to drive our energy needs.  He went on to paint a picture of ‘brown outs, black outs, and businesses coming to a halt if the U.S. were to remain in the agreement’.  Sometimes I think POTUS chooses to undo things his predecessor did or do the opposite of them just to stick it to him and then creates a narrative to support that, as opposed to critically thinking about what is truly best for our country.

In my opinion, if we were not already, we most definitely are now the laughing stock of the world.  We join Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not to be signed on to the Paris Climate Accord.  Ironically, Nicaragua is not on board because they felt the goals were not aggressive enough and Syria has other priorities as you can imagine.  Scott Pruitt (EPA) got to follow on and mentioned how ‘America finally has a president who answers only to the American people and not to special interests’.  Which American people does he answer to when making such decisions?  It is not the hundreds of U.S. based companies who asked him to remain in the accord, it is not the leaders of organized religions, it is not the countless U.S. scientists, and it is not the majority of Americans who support remaining in the agreement.

Consider that in the U.S. the clean energy sector is growing at 10x the rest of the U.S. economy.  The idea of making America great again by reviving the coal industry, fracking, and drilling is short sighted and today marks the most irresponsible act of this president to date in my opinion.  The silver lining is that had the U.S. remained in the accord, we would have been a total PITA for the other nations under the current administration.  Now, they can forge ahead uninhibited as they have declared they will.  As other nations adopt a clean energy economy with a carbon fee and dividend policy, It is logical to assume that the U.S. will at some point in the future face tariffs, sanctions, and taxes on our exports to account for the cost of carbon used to create those.  If we follow the current MAGA mantra, the U.S. is certain to be left behind and let a huge opportunity to be world leader and innovator pass us by.  It is sad that we cannot count on our own government to protect the habitability of our beautiful planet, but perhaps we can get this done via cities, states, and businesses until such a time that we have a leader with common sense and courage.

Do great things

One of the things I admire about former president Obama is his ability to speak diplomatically and thoughtfully.  In his first post presidency speech a few weeks ago at the University of Chicago, he gave some advice to the young crowd and one statement in particular struck me.  He said “Worry less about what you want to be, and worry more about what you want to do”.  I think this is an interesting distinction to think about.  In society we often ask kids what they want to be when they grow up and we often hear firefighter, athlete, doctor, president, etc.  Imagine the child who says ‘I want to be a police officer’ having the self awareness and change in mindset to be able to say I want to make critical decisions, hold people accountable, and provides important services to others.  Or imagine the child who wants to be a professional athlete being able to say ‘I want to compete physically on a team that has a strong sense of comradery’. Thinking about what you want to do broadens the opportunities for success.

When I reflect on myself, it is easy to categorize myself as being an environmentalist but the reality is that what I want to do is to help ensure the sustainability of the planet for future generations and focusing on the “do” should help me maintain a more positive mental attitude (PMA as my dad refers to it).  The former president closed out the speech with “do great things” and that is a good reminder for us all. Regardless of the complications that might creep in to any situation, if you do great things with the opportunities you might not always be what you wanted to be, but you will be who you wanted to be.