Blow and Krugman

In “First Time at a Gun Show” Mr. Blow says what could be a civilized debate about personal protection is too often poisoned by the gun lobby.  Too often?  Try always.  Prof. Krugman, in “Hope From Paris,” says the Paris climate accord has a chance of making a real difference, partly because of changes in energy technology.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I was in San Antonio on Saturday for the college graduation of a nephew when one of my brothers, the one who’s a gun collector, invited me to a local gun show. As he put it, “If you’re gonna write about it, you need to see it.” I jumped at the chance.

As we drove to the Austin Highway Gun Show, we dove headfirst into our gun debate.

He seemed determined to convince me of the futility of many of the national gun control measures now being debated and how they would do little to block criminals from acquiring weapons or mass killers from using weapons.

I was determined to convince him that some new measures were needed to at least put a dent in this country’s abominable gun death numbers.

Indeed, as the Los Angeles Times has noted:

“Of 33,636 deaths from firearms counted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013, some 62 percent, or 21,175, were suicides,and about 11 percent of those were of people ages 5 to 24. Accidental shootings accounted for 505 deaths, including 69 victims ranging in age from less than 1 year to 14 years.”

My brother and I could both agree that those numbers were too high; we simply disagreed on how best to address it.

One area of agreement was to stop the opposition to smart guns — those that can only be fired by their owners or those that are authorized. I framed my argument this way: Don’t focus on criminals first; focus on responsible gun owners first.

Shouldn’t those owners, who may simply want a gun for an extra layer of protection, also have the option of buying a gun that they could be sure a small child couldn’t find and use to accidentally shoot a sibling, a friend or themselves? Shouldn’t those parents have the option of owning a gun that a depressed teen couldn’t use to commit suicide? Shouldn’t they also have the option of owning a gun that a burglar couldn’t steal and use on the rightful owner or take and use in another crime?

These guns, which rely on fingerprint-access technology or radio waves to allow the gun to be fired, could put a huge dent in the number of suicides and accidental deaths.

This seems to me one possible step among many. He also didn’t oppose universal background checks.

My brother’s agreement on this point was a reasonable concession by a reasonable man. Indeed, when we arrived at the gun show — held in a rather nondescript event center with harsh overhead lighting — the one thing my brother wanted to impress upon me was just how “normal” most people were, not the “gun nuts” people accuse them of being.

He had a point, but the somewhat festive environment felt a bit at odds with all the firearms. I was also surprised at how little security there seemed to be. It occurred to me that I had gone through more security at the airport than I had at the gun show.

Inside, there were elderly couples and whole families. I paid particular attention to the children I saw, like the adorable little girl who rode her father’s shoulder as he inspected the wares and the little boy, slumped in this mother’s arms, seemingly slipping off to sleep.

Overall, the word that kept popping into my head was how “pedestrian” it all seemed, especially as I watched my brother — a gregarious man who has never met a person to whom he wouldn’t speak and with whom he wouldn’t laugh — chat up and chuckle with other collectors he recognized from the gun show circuit.

I thought of how productive it would be if more people with discordant views on gun regulations could have as civil a discussion as I had with my brother — full of mutual respect, adults disagreeing but not attempting to demonize, honestly searching for solutions.

The gun lobby poisons these conversations. It pumps out and promotes a never-ending stream of worst-case scenarios until it builds a level of fear and paranoia that only profits gun makers and grinds all progress to a halt.

Indeed, the Austin Highway Gun Show itselfpublished on its Facebook page on Dec. 9 an image of a gun and a Bible with the caption: “History has shown that these are the first two things banned by totalitarian governments.”

But, I must also say that, to a lesser degree, some proponents of better regulations also do damage by painting with too broad a brush and labeling the millions of gun hunters, collectors and people simply seeking to provide an extra layer of protections for their families — people like my brother and his gun show buddies — as deranged and deficient. Most are not. Many are simply enthusiasts like my brother and the elderly man who climbed out of an S.U.V. as we were about to leave.

My brother bellowed, as is his wont, “How you doing today?” The man responded with a smile, “Any day I can go to a gun show is a good day.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Did the Paris climate accord save civilization? Maybe. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it’s actually the best climate news we’ve had in a very long time. This agreement could still follow the path of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which seemed like a big deal but ended up being completely ineffectual. But there have been important changes in the world since then, which may finally have created the preconditions for action on global warming before it’s too late.

Until very recently there were two huge roadblocks in the way of any kind of global deal on climate: China’s soaring consumption of coal, and the implacable opposition of America’s Republican Party. The first seemed to mean that global greenhouse emissions would rise inexorably no matter what wealthy countries did, while the second meant that the biggest of those wealthy countries was unable to make credible promises, and hence unable to lead.

But there have been important changes on both fronts.

On one side, there is a visible shift in Chinese attitudes — or at any rate, a shift that would be visible if the smog weren’t so thick. Seriously, China faces a huge air quality crisis, brought on largely by coal-burning, which makes it far more willing to wean itself from the worst form of fossil fuel consumption. And China’s economic growth — real income per capita has quadrupled since 1997 — also means that it has a rapidly growing middle class that demands a higher quality of life, including air that’s relatively safe to breathe.

So China is playing a very different role now than it did in the past. One indicator: some of the usual suspects on the right have suddenly changed their line. They used to argue that U.S. emission limits would be useless, because China would just keep polluting; now they’re starting to argue that U.S. action isn’t necessary, because China will cut coal consumption whatever we do.

Which brings us to the U.S. Republican attitudes haven’t changed, except for the worse: the G.O.P. is spiraling ever deeper into a black hole of denial and anti-science conspiracy theorizing. The game-changing news is that this may not matter as much as we thought.

It’s true that America can’t take broad-based action on climate without new legislation, and that won’t happen as long as Republicans retain a lock on the House. But President Obama has moved to limit emissions from power plants — a big part of the solution we need — through executive action. And this move has already had the effect of restoring U.S. climate credibilityabroad, letting Mr. Obama take a leading role in Paris.

Still, what reason is there to believe that the accord will really change the world’s trajectory? Nations have agreed both to emission targets and to regular review of their success or failure in meeting those targets; but there are no penalties other than censure for countries that fail to deliver.

And achieving those emission targets would definitely hurt some powerful special interests, since it would mean leaving most of the world’s remaining fossil fuels in the ground, never to be burned. So what will stop the fossil fuel industry from buying enough politicians to turn the accord into a dead letter?

The answer, I’d suggest, is that new technology has fundamentally changed the rules.

Many people still seem to believe that renewable energy is hippie-dippy stuff, not a serious part of our future. Either that, or they have bought into propaganda that portrays it as some kind of liberal boondoggle (Solyndra! Benghazi! Death panels!) The reality, however, is that costs of solar andwind power have fallen dramatically, to the point where they are close to competitive with fossil fuels even without special incentives — and progress on energy storage has made their prospects even better. Renewable energy has also become a big employer, much bigger these days than the coal industry.

This energy revolution has two big implications. The first is that the cost of sharp emission reductions will be much less than even optimists used to assume — dire warnings from the right used to be mostly nonsense, but now they’re complete nonsense. The second is that given a moderate boost — the kind that the Paris accord could provide — renewable energy could quickly give rise to new interest groups with a positive stake in saving the planet, offering an offset to the Kochs and suchlike.

Of course, it could easily go all wrong. President Cruz or President Rubio might scuttle the whole deal, and by the time we get another chance to do something about climate it could be too late.

But it doesn’t have to happen. I don’t think it’s naïve to suggest that what came out of Paris gives us real reason to hope in an area where hope has been all too scarce. Maybe we’re not doomed after all.


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