Climate change and gun control

by Richard on January 8, 2013

The Conversation: Will climate change ever have its Sandy Hook moment?

There is an eerie parallel between the gun control and climate change debates. Both involve statistics, “evidence” and entrenched positions.

A single record-breaking summer heat wave or extreme hurricane can’t be unambiguously linked to climate change, but their frequency and intensity compared to the historical norm results in statistical arguments prone to interpretation by both sides of the climate change debate.

Proponents of gun control lecture about the inevitability of deaths when guns are easily available and climate change advocates point to the increased risk of extreme weather events in a heated world.

Unfortunately, the world’s climate is an extremely complex mixture of variables, one of which is the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide, or CO2. It results in temperature fluctuations from year to year and place to place.

Today, in Adelaide Australia, it is a beautiful 28 C (82 F), but two days before Christmas it was a very unpleasant 42 C (108 F) and unlike today, I couldn’t help but spend a lot of the day thinking about the world’s CO2 levels.

But it is bad science to take isolated events, like our sweltering late December day, and immediately equate cause (global CO2) and effect (our recent 42C day). In fact, in January 1908 Adelaide had a couple of terrible heat waves that were only eclipsed in 2008, and CO2 was much lower back then.

So on nice days I go about my daily business, driving around my car and planning my next overseas trips and during heat waves I look into solar panels, the cost of hybrid cars and asking myself if a Pro Vice Chancellor has to travel so much?

Like the chance of an individual gun killing someone on any given day, a city’s temperature is unlikely to break any records, so most of the time climate change is out of our minds.

If someone wants to keep their gun, or fly around the world using jet fuel, there are plenty of arguments they can trot out in their defence.

The Sandy Hook massacre was so dreadful that it is likely to permanently change the US’s attitude to gun control that will ultimately save thousands of lives.

Climate change is unlikely to be so lucky.

It’s a bit more than a week since this article was published, and I’m already wondering if even gun control had had it’s ‘Sandy Hook moment’.

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Mark Byron 01.08.13 at 9:55 pm

The pro-gun control folks are trying to have a Sandy Hook moment. Gabby Gifford, the then-congresswoman shot in Arizona, is looking like this generation’s James Brady with her latest foray into the issue, with a big op-ed in USA Today and a media push.

Climate change is unlikely to have a smoking-gun moment, since it makes some things more likely but can’t be easily pinned down as a cause for hurricanes or beastly hot weather or rising sea levels; you can’t easily blame Sandy or the Aussie heatwave on it, since such things happen as outliers in all eras.


Richard 01.09.13 at 8:20 am

Yes - but just as the greater availability of firearms increases the likelihood of gun-related violence, so increaseed global temperature will lead to an increase in extreme weather events. And they do seem to be increasing. Britain has just had its wettest year on record, the US its hottest. You can’t link any specific event to climate change, but the trend is pretty clear.

As for gun control, if Sandy Hook doesn’t turn out to be a ‘Sandy Hook moment’, its hard to imagine what would be.

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