Guns and Climate Change: Taboo Topics During the Crises They Create

Have you noticed that as a once-in-500-years storm dumps a once-in-500-years flood on Texas, you haven’t heard one syllable about the scientists who have been telling us that this was coming? We all know why: as soon as someone says, hey, um, storms and floods like this thrive on this phenomenon called heat — well, that is just going to be out of bounds. How dare you, we’ll be admonished, talk about politics while people are drowning!

It’s the same tact used by NRA types every time a bunch of toddlers gets blown up in a mass shooting: now is not the time to talk about guns, for God’s sake.

So we’ll hear the same speech-chilling tripe from the right as soon as the topic of climate change arises. In this way, conservatives achieve a paradigm under which these issues are never discussed. We’re Americans, so we have the collective attention span of a goldfish. That means that unless something is actually happening right now, we don’t care. And that, in turn, means that once this crisis has passed (leaving only the sexless story of rebuilding, and who’s going to watch that on TV?), we’ll lose interest and move on — back to Trump’s tweets and crimes, in all likelihood.


Gun makers and oil tycoons know how this works: since we’ll ignore their treachery in quiet times, if they can make discussion about the freak demons they unbind into the fates unacceptable during the crises they create, there will be no discussion at all. During calm Americans won’t be interested in discussing what the NRA and Exxon Mobile are up to, and during crises Americans won’t be allowed to discuss what they’re up to. We seesaw endlessly between not interested not allowed.

It’s ingenious, really.

It would help, of course, if we’d stop abiding the stupid claim that either of these issues (guns or climate change) is in any way political. That’s one of right-wingers’ great feats: they’ve convinced us that facts are merely opinions, and that discussing what is real and observable is therefore a multi-sided debate.

What piffle. The destructive forces of nature implicate science, and the destructive forces that act upon our public health implicate empiricism. These things can be studied, named, quantified, and — at least to the extent humanly possible — avoided. If we’d call these things what they are — matters of science and empirical fact — then we could choke off the right-wing claim, every time we discuss guns or temperature, that we’re politicizing a disaster.

Mindless ideologues know little shame, but even a dolt would be embarrassed to say, “People are drowning in floods; this is no time for science,” or, “Seven more people were killed by guns last night; this is no time for empiricism.”

So I’ll say it and then get ready for the right-wing blowback: Hurricane Harvey, like so many recent monster storms and atmospheric anomalies that require heat to thrive, is likely the result, at least in part, of global warming and climate change. And global warming is accelerated by human activity and carbon emissions. Maybe we should try to do something about that. There, I said it.