Jan 31, 2013

Do the Right Thing

Before I proceed I must remind the reader that this is a blog first and foremost about environmental and natural resource management issues and I am not interested in discussing gun control politics. I'll leave that discussion to those more informed on the issue than I am. Regardless of the policy implications, this statement delivered by former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords (found in full here) gave me pause as a familiar phrase often heard in environmental contexts. 

 "We must do something."

It is a powerful statement because the only thing worse than tragedy is the agonizing feeling of helplessness when there's nothing we can do to make it better. Its only antidote is taking control of our fate and taking action. We do it because we hurt, we do it because we're angry and we do it because doing nothing is cowardly and that is not our nature. There is catharsis in action, but if an issue is important enough to address at all, why do we settle for doing some thing when we should be doing the right thing? Why act if not to solve the problem?

Let's face it, taking action is easy. The harder and better thing to do is to pause and do the research required to ensure that our effort is well spent earning a solution and not simply short term peace of mind.

One of my favorite examples of a hastily written policy with deadly consequences is the law that created dolphin-safe tuna. On the surface, it is such an easy thing to support but as I think you'll find, most policies spear headed by grade school letter writing campaigns have avoidable repercussions though hopefully none with such a colossal failure for conservation. I would argue that hastily crafted climate legislation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy would be just as foolish as passing Amber Alert immediately after a shocking murder or latching on to a plan to distribute rain barrels before seeing if they would have the intended effect.

I'm reminded of the weekend that my Dad taught me how to drive stick shift. He took me out in his Honda Civic hatchback and coached me along the back roads of the Finger Lakes, steering me around the glacial hills of Cayuga county where I could tear his transmission apart in relative privacy. At the end of one very productive afternoon, Dad had me return along Rte 20 where I could finally try out fifth gear and accelerate out of a lighted intersection. I pulled up to the stop line and nervously waited at the red light while a very large and very intimidating pick up truck sidled in behind us. I sized up the bumper in the rear view mirror and listened to the engine rumbling while I rested my hand on the shifter and tried to look calm. When the light turned green I hit the gas too aggressively and stalled. I could sense the frustration and the judgment of the driver behind me and I leapt to start the ignition again only to apply the gas even faster this time. The engine went silent instantly. By the fourth failure the driver behind me gunned the engine and shot past me to escape in the last seconds of the green light.

Having embarrassed myself in front of a stranger, I was now waiting through another red light so that I could try not to embarrass myself in front of my Dad. When the light turned green again, he stopped me. I desperately eyed the green light again and wondered how many seconds it would stay as it was but instead, I was told to take a deep breath. Relax. Leave the engine off for a moment. Don't rush, because rushing will only give you the result you don't want faster. Sometimes the quickest way to get a job done is to go slower and do it right the first time.

Again I want to emphasize that I have nothing but respect for the former Representative and I won't publicly support or criticize her proposed gun plan. I would simply like to express my caution for reactionary legislation. My thoughts are with the Representative, her family and those affected by the Sandyhook tragedy that has accelerated this important public debate. I hope we do the right thing.

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