End Gun Violence

March 21st, 2018

“…I call on President Trump and the Republican controlled House and Senate and Executive Branch to work together, get some bills passed and stop taking money from the NRA because children are dying and so is the future of America as a result.”

David Hogg, survivor of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida last month

“To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.”

Emma Gonzalez, another survivor, who has more Twitter followers than the NRA

I morned the 17 people who were killed in the mass school shooting in Florida. Then I realized that I have a granddaughter who is in high school, and that her life might be in danger; this made me feel afraid and angry. Why should a 14 year old have to worry about getting shot at her school?

Every year there are more than 37,000 gun deaths in the USA, including about 22,000 suicides. 2017 was the worst so far, with 15,591 homicides. Incredibly, there were 732 children and 3234 teens who were injured or killed by guns. These are data from the Gun Violence Archives. You probably know already that the USA has many times the gun violence of any other developed country.

Why? Although mental illness is blamed frequently, it should noted that 98% of people pulling the trigger are men. Women also have mental illness, but they are much less responsible for shootings. Male aggression (!) and the easy availability of guns are contributing factors to most shootings.

Unfortunately, our government has not taken responsibility for the ease with which guns can be purchased. Indeed, in 1996 an amendment to the omnibus spending bill stated: ”…none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control….” This has effectively halted research into gun deaths.

How did this happen? Certainly the deaths of thousands of Americans is a public health crisis! The National Rifle Association wields immense power in Washington; it was they that effectively put a stop to gun injury research. The NRA has bought our senators and representatives. All told, the NRA has given Colorado Senator Cory Gardner $3,879,064, according to the New York Times. Gardner’s comment after the Las Vegas shooting was: “My family and I are praying for the families of those injured and killed….” He has not taken any substantive action to stop the shootings. The Washington Post wrote that Representative Scott Tipton has received $19,950 from the NRA.

Shootings are a terrible way to reduce our population! In my series of bad ways to decrease human numbers, this is one of the worst, since shooting victims are often young people. What can we do to reduce the slaughter? I offer several ideas.

Do you remember Gabby Giffords, the Arizona representative who was shot in the head while campaigning? Sign her pledge at: https://action.giffords.org/page/s/gabby_giffords_pledge. It says, in part, “…I will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s.”

Another idea is to require gun owners to purchase insurance, just as car owners do. Then if you, or a gun you own, shoots someone, the insurance would help with bills. The effect would be strong because insurance companies would pressure gun stores to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people, and limit assault weapons.

Already PayPal, Square, Stripe and Apple Pay don’t allow their services to be used for the purchase of guns. Andrew Ross Sorkin suggests that all financial institutions—including banks and credit card companies—should stop doing business with retailers that sell assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. This would not be a cure, but it would be a step in the right direction for the sickness of shootings.

Nicholas Kristof has an excellent online essay “How to Reduce Shootings”. It is a clear statement of the problem, and includes 9 ways to approach a solution. One of them is to research “smart guns” which require a PIN or fingerprint before they can be fired.

I am pleased that teens such as David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, both quoted above, are stepping up to be gun safety activists. Please join me on March 24th at a local March for Our Lives. Starting at 1PM we will meet at the Durango High School parking lot and march to Rotary Park.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2018

We Have ALL Lost

March 2nd, 2018

 

Back in January, 2008 the Durango (Colorado) Herald published a unique challenge: “I offer a public wager of $5,000 that the Earth will be cooler in 10 years.” Dr. Roger Cohen, a physicist, proposed this wager.

I responded, and our bet started the next month. Cohen’s rules were reasonable, however, I am a Quaker. Members of the Religious Society of Friends are admonished to not bet, so I countered with a different structure. Each of us would donate $5000 to Durango Nature Studies, and the money would be held in escrow until the bet was over. We also agreed that the decision would be made by averaging the data for three years rather than by comparing 2007 with 2017.

After agreeing on the rules we each pulled out our checkbooks and wrote checks. We realized that neither of us would profit from the bet; we would just get “bragging rights”. The Herald ran an article that February: “I think part of Roger’s goal was to keep the issue of global warming in the public mind.…”

I was curious to know just what Dr. Cohen was thinking. I knew that he had been Manager of Strategic Planning at Exxon—which led me to believe that he must be quite intelligent. When we got together for an amiable lunch I asked him what he really felt about climate change. His answer surprised me: the true reason that he wrote the challenge was that he wanted people to really think about climate change and to question the media. I asked if he thought any of the climate change could be anthropogenic. His reply, as I remember, was that yes, maybe about a third was human caused. In private Cohen did not seem so sanguine about denying climate change.

The Herald printed an update in 2015. “We’ve all lost” ran the headline, accurately quoting me. It stated that Dr. Cohen had conceded that he had lost the bet because the climate was, indeed, warmer than in 2007. This implied that I had won the wager. My response: ‘Grossman, learning of the news, was not the least bit pleased or boastful. “I don’t think I’ve won,” he said. “I think I lost. I think we’ve all lost.”’ Indeed, climate change is probably the worst challenge that all life will face this century.

In correspondence with me after that 2015 article came out, Cohen clarified what he really said—that the climate’s temperature only appears to have increased because the deciding database had changed. We had agreed to use the British climate database, HadCRUT3, but it was replaced by HadCRUT4.

The HadCRUT data are available for public viewing on Internet, and they confirm what anyone who reads the news already knows. Climate is warming. The amount of warming is small in the ten years of our wager, but significant. The average of the 3 years at the end of the bet is +0.231° Celsius hotter than a decade earlier. This may not seem like much, but if this trend continues it means that the climate will be almost 2 degrees Celsius hotter in a person’s lifetime. That’s over 3° Fahrenheit!

Here we are at the beginning of 2018. A decade has passed since Cohen wrote his challenge, and sadly he is no longer with us. He died of a brain tumor in September, 2016. I would have loved to have asked him questions about the wager, but there are some things that we will never know.

Perhaps my biggest question is a seeming inconsistency between a document that Dr. Cohen wrote in 1981 and his wager that the climate was not heating up. Back then he was a scientist at Exxon and was asked to criticize a report another person had written. Cohen felt that the other person was too optimistic about climate change: “…it is distinctly possible that the CPD scenario will later produce effects which will indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the earth’s population).” CPD probably meant “Continued Product Development”.

Later in this same document he wrote that future data gathering and science “…may provide strong evidence for a delayed CO2 effect of a truly substantial magnitude….”

With the temperature rising, we can consider Earth as having a fever. We have overwhelmed the planet’s ability to deal with our carbon waste emissions. Unfortunately, the fever is a symptom of the illness of overpopulation and over consumption. We must do what we can to limit these for the sake of our grandchildren.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2018

A Debate about the Future of Human Population

February 25th, 2018

David Lam is a Professor of Economics at the University of Michigan and Director of the Institute of Social Research. He is highly respected and widely published in the field of demography. His elected positions include being past president of the Population Association of America and being elected to the Council of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP). Lam is truly a giant in the field of demography, and deserving of all his many honors.

Dr. Lam published an essay last year in N-IUSSP, the IUSSP’s online news magazine. Titled “The world’s next 4 billion people will differ from the previous 4 billion“, it got me riled up because I felt that Lam ignored our human life-support system–the natural world. My response, “The world in which the next 4 billion people will live“, was also published by N-IUSSP. This sparked a third, “Global population, development aspirations and fallacies” and then a fourth essay, “Thinking about the future: the four billion question”.

Here are very short abstracts of the four essays. Since I’m doing the abstracting, the abstracts may not be totally objective!

  1. Dr. Lam notes that it took just 50 years to add 4 billion people to give us the 7 1/2 billion we have now, but that it will take until about 2100 to add the next 4 billion–and then growth will probably stop. Much of this growth will be in Africa, and the people will be older. He also believes about this population growth “… the experience of the last 50 years gives room for optimism about the world’s ability to support it.”
  2. I am less optimistic, fearing that we have already used so much of the planetary resources that there will be significantly less left for those who come after us.
  3. Dr. George Martine feels that I am overly optimistic about the ability of family planning to slow population growth. Unfortunately, I agree with him! Martine had 4 concerns about the prior 2 articles: “a) the urgency of environmental threats; b) the recognition of diversity in ‘population’; c) the limitations of fertility reduction solutions; and, d) the urgency of redirecting ‘development’.”
  4. I like the way this essay starts: “The ‘population question’, central to the debate about humankind’s future since the 18th century, has slipped away from center stage and fallen into a coma in recent years.” The essay takes a critical look at some of the factors affecting population and our ability to inhabit Earth. Dr. Livi Bacci looks at climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions, and points out that it is not just population that has increased but also the financial ability of people to purchase and use carbon-based fuels–consumption.

I welcome folks to look at these four essays and draw your own conclusions. I first read Lam’s article because I am a member of the IUSSP and subscribe to N-IUSSP, but they are available online to anyone. Just search using their titles. You can even submit a response without being a member. It is good to have a debate on these subjects that are so important to our future!

Richard

 

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.