(Note: I am writing this the day before the 20th anniversary of the killings at Columbine High School, and two days after a credible threat of gun violence, likely prompted by that anniversary, forced all Denver-area schools to close and 400,000 students to stay home. The perpetrator killed herself with the very gun it was feared she might use against others. Approximately 2,000,000 instructional hours also died.
In that short span, the world’s glaciers lost some of their volume and the seas rose commensurately.
One tragedy is sporadic, predictably unpredictable, and swift. The other is persistent, predictably predictable, and slow. Neither is inevitable.)
The motto, If You See Something, Say Something, popularizes a principle — if you know of a criminal act, whether planned or perpetrated, failure to inform the authorities what you know is, itself, a criminal act.
Mere suspicion may not be as formally demanding, but the level of our responsibility to say something rises with the seriousness of the possible crime.
Genocide is the greatest crime that humans can commit. Failure to say what we know, or even suspect, about it must be nearly as serious.
Complicity in global warming is global genocide. In America, gun violence may not rise to that level of universal significance, but it is our own home-made mini-genocide.
The day is past when anyone, whatever their level of education or current-events awareness, can legitimately claim ignorance of our two genocides.
And the day is past when anyone can legitimately claim that there is not enough information to support the scientific assertions of global warming and its potentially lethal effects.
Genocide-by-guns is a bit different. We know accurately how many lives guns take each year. But we are less predictable than the Earth in our response to life-altering forces. Still, it is reasonable to assume that, if gun deaths increase, more of us will look to guns for protection, the supply will rise, and deaths will increase all the more.
Thinking about these two trends, we might take the experience of World War II as a sobering lesson. Perhaps the world outside Germany could not have been certain enough of the genocide of the Jews to justify early intervention.
But the price of that hesitation — whether or not it was defensible — was the death of millions.
In the face of global warming and gun violence, there is no doubt about the need to act, and there can be no justification for hesitating. If we fail to respond, will we be morally any different than Hitler and the Nazis?
Responsibility to take action is shared broadly, but it would be mealy-mouthed not to identify the guilty. The Republican Party, or at least those it harbors who blindly support the most globally harmful activities and bow before the might of the NRA, and pushed even further into denial and obstruction by the Trump Administration, bear the greatest burden of guilt.
This does not exonerate the Democratic Party, which must act forcefully against the two genocides. Politics requires compromise, but that must proceed from honest Seeing and Saying.
Inaction is criminal negligence, punishable — eventually but inevitably — by death.