What do gang violence and global warming have in common?

Yesterday, I argued that we shouldn’t count on politicians to offer real solutions to problems like gang violence and gun crime. One of the reasons why is because these issues demand long-term investments in root causes, and politicians have little incentive to make those commitments when “the payoff may not be clear for a generation, let alone before the next election.”

This is actually a lesson I learned from David Suzuki, who’s been frustrated by political inaction time and again throughout his acclaimed career as an environmental activist. He laid the lesson out in the foreword to Now or Never, a terrific book by conservationist Tim Flannery. I had planned to share it with you this morning, until I discovered that I already did in a post I wrote about a year and a half ago.

The short version is that in 1988, “300 scientists met in Toronto to discuss the atmosphere. They were convinced there was evidence that global warming was occurring and that people were causing it. In a press release, they declared that global warming represented a threat to human survival second only to nuclear war, and they called for a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1988 levels in fifteen years.”

Obviously, that reduction didn’t occur. Suzuki blames corporate misinformation campaigns, as well as a lack of urgency on the part of environmentalists like himself. But he also puts a great deal of the blame on politicians, who “didn’t have the stomach to take the criticism for spending big bucks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when they wouldn’t even be around to take credit for it fifteen years later.”

The long-term investments we need are a tall order for the average politician. The short-term version of the conversation is all about rules, tariffs and tax dollars, and the long-term benefits are a matter for tomorrow’s historians, not today’s voters.

But you know what? We still need to make the long-term investments. Whether we’re talking about gun crime or climate change, we need to talk about real solutions instead of easy answers.

We also need to encourage and support the politicians who are willing to make these commitments. If I sounded like I was calling on the public to give up on our politicians and solve these problems ourselves in yesterday’s post, then I apologize, because we do need to work together. At the very least, we need to get them working for us.

We need to call on our representatives to make the tough decisions and commit to the long-term investments. We need to let them know that we’ll support them as voters, and we need to make sure they follow through on their promises. And if they do, then we need to re-elect them.

What do you think? How do we set our elected representatives in motion? What other issues do you think deserve this sort of attention? Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

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2 Responses to “What do gang violence and global warming have in common?”

  1. Julie Chamberlain says:

    I agree that we need to call on our representatives to commit to long-term investments. I wonder why short-termism is such a strong feature of our political culture: there are inspiring examples in other parts of the world of more regular long-term thinking and policy-making, what do we need to do to shift our culture in that direction?
    I was bemused to hear Mayor Ford after the meeting with McGuinty and Blair saying ‘it is about long-term investment.’ Undoubtedly we need to call our representatives on their hypocrisy, and demand consistent long-term vision and planning. But is it a matter of saying it, asking for it, and doing it over and over until it is normal? Or is there another direction we need to come at this from?

  2. Matt says:

    These are good questions, Julie. I’ll be the first to acknowledge a distinct lack of “Here’s what we need to tell our MPs and City Councillors to do” in this post, and of course I’d love to hear everyone’s ideas.