You belong to the most powerful gun lobby in the US. Use your power.

The horror of yet another mass shooting in an American school is upon us, and no words of mine can express the tragedy of those moments more vividly than the sound of the screams captured by the young people who were its victims. I also lack the words to adequately capture the disappointment, shame, and revulsion I feel for our elected officials who have refused to take seriously the problem of gun violence in this country. Thus, this is not a post intended to convince readers that action is necessary. If you’re not convinced yet, then you never will be. This is a post to help those who get it actually do something.

Did you write to your senators and representatives, your governor, your mayor, your state legislators, etc., after Columbine? How about San Bernadino? Pulse? Newtown? No, me neither. Why not? Well for me it was just so patently obvious that we need a course correction on guns in this country that I didn’t think it necessary. First, if my elected representatives need to be told by me that a bunch of first-graders slaughtered amongst their crayons and juice boxes is indicative of a serious problem, then those people are not fit to serve in the offices to which they’ve been elected. Next, I assured myself that those officials would be buried in mountains of letters from other people expressing my same thoughts so my statement wasn’t really necessary.

How wrong I was.

First, yes. It is absolutely the case that the ranks of our elected halls are filled with people unfit to hold the offices in which they serve. Think back to how many days it has been since a state or federal elected official has been embroiled in controversy concerning something stupid and/or morally repugnant they had done. We cannot rely on these people to do the right thing or even know what the right thing is. These horses must be both led to water and made to drink.

Second, yes. Our elected officials are buried under letters, emails, and phone calls following each mass shooting in this country. The National Rifle Association and its army of Second Amendment zombie-“patriots” make sure of that. There is one thing our elected representatives understand on the issue of gun violence in America: Allow the barest whiff of any action more concrete than thoughts and prayers to be detected following a mass shooting and you will have raised the ire of the most powerful lobbying force in the country. The NRA will ensure that you will not be elected again should you start talking about “gun control”. (See the previous paragraph for an explanation of how the taint of a displeased electorate is sufficient to keep those in elected office from doing the right thing.)

But no matter how much money they have, we have more votes. The NRA claims 5 million members. The number of eligible voters in 2016 was estimated to be more than 224 million.

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Estimated number (in millions) of registered National Rifle Association members and U.S. eligible voters in 2016.

So why have the American people ceded power to a small number of bullies? The only difference between them and us is that they participate and we don’t. The NRA collects money to pay people to lobby Congress. There are people – lots of them – whose job it is to pressure our legislators to never budge an inch when it comes to “gun control” (whatever that means), and their membership self-selects for the kind of people who make a habit out of sharing their opinions with their elected officials. The rest of us aren’t wired that way. We’re not professional lobbyists. We also assume other people are as rational and humane as we are, but they’re not. That’s why the influence of just 5 million people is enough to hold our entire country hostage to their firearm fetishism.

But check this out. Quoctrung Bui and Margot Sanger-Katz from The New York Times have invested some work in both surveying public attitudes toward various measures to reduce gun violence and in surveying gun violence experts for their ranking of each initiative’s likelihood of success in reducing gun violence. (Here’s a link to the original survey from the polling firm Morning Consult.) On the figure below, everything plotted in the upper right quadrant is both popular with >50% of Americans and judged by experts to probably be effective.


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Here’s the important part, zoomed in:

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Here are 15 initiatives judged by experts to be >50% effective:


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Note how overwhelmingly popular many of them are. Take the top-rated example of requiring background checks on all gun purchases. We know that background checks are effective, but there are significant loopholes in the law that need to be closed. The experts say that universal background checks would help to reduce gun violence and, in this survey, 86% of those polled would be in favor of such a measure. That’s a ballpark estimate of 193 million American voters, and 193 million >> 5 million. Yes, WE could be the most powerful lobby in America.

The good news is that modest pressure from the rest of us can counteract intense pressure from the relatively few of them. If we want to change the culture we need to step up and apply that pressure. What if for every “from my cold, dead hands” letter a legislator received, there were ten “we demand mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns” letters? That’s not happening now, and that’s the excuse that legislators give for their inaction on gun control. They hear – loudly and clearly – from the gun nuts, and they get comparatively little from the rest of us.

So here, today, right now. Do something. Write that letter. Write those letters (plural). Tell your friends you sent them. Share this link. One thing I can do is make it really easy for you to do that, and that is my ultimate aim of this post. Here goes.

There are plenty of resources to help you find the right people to contact. I used this one, typed in my Zip code, and voila! I was instantly provided with links to contact information for these fine gentlemen who represent the great state of Oklahoma.

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I’ll start with Lucas. Here is a template for a letter to Representative Lucas:

my name
my address
today’s date

Frank Lucas
US House of Representatives
Oklahoma’s 3rd District
2405 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative Lucas:

I am writing today to urge you to initiate legislative action to reduce gun violence in this country. I assume that you do not need to be convinced that we have a problem, but that you might need to be convinced that there could be some viable solutions.

A recent survey and analysis by the polling firm Morning Consult was summarized by Bui and Sanger-Katz (2017) in the New York Times. Of 29 potential policy ideas to reduce gun violence, 15 were rated by experts to be more than 50% effective. (Efficacy was rated 0–10; fifteen of the ideas were ranked > 5.0.) Of those 15 potential policies, 7 were supported by at least 80% of the voting public surveyed. With an American electorate of approximately 224 million people, there are 7 policy initiatives judged by experts to be effective at reducing gun violence, and these are favored by 179 million eligible voters. The top-rated initiative (universal background checks) is favored by 193 million voters. (Link to article:

I am calling on you to pick any one of those 7 – or better all 7 of them – and introduce a bill in the House to help actually reduce gun violence in this country. The American people are fed up with the inaction from Congress on gun violence. I realize that your constituency includes many vocal supporters of 2nd Amendment rights, but the numbers are not on their side. The National Rifle Association claims just 5 million members, for example. Without proactive efforts from hunters, gun enthusiasts, etc. they will become increasingly marginalized in a society that has progressed beyond them, and the 2nd Amendment itself could be in jeopardy. We are long past tired of watching our children leave their schools in body bags. Your choice is to become part of a solution or remain complicit in the problem. Please do something.


my name

I will next print out my letter – it will fit on one side of an 8X11″ sheet of paper with 11-point font and 1″ margins – and mail it through the US Post to Representative Lucas. I will ALSO include the text of my letter in an email. Then I will send a nearly identical letter and email to Senators Lankford and Inhofe.

Now you do the same. Use my text. Cut and paste to communicate with your elected officials. My whole point is to help make this process so easy that you might be inclined to do it.  So do it. Today, resolve to join the most powerful lobby in our country. Please share this link when you share your letters, and let’s take this country back for the sake of safety and sanity regarding gun violence.



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We need next-gen nuclear power

A really important paper was just published in Science Advances by Elizabeth Anderson & colleagues. The team’s paper, Fragmentation of Andes-to-Amazon connectivity by hydropower dams, pretty much highlights what many pragmatic environmentalists have been stressing for years — so-called ‘renewable’ technology rolled out at massive scales (to the exclusion of other technologies like nuclear power) can […]

via Throwing the nuclear baby out with the fossil-fuel bathwater —

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HBW Alive #42 – December 2017

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The latest newsletter update from the Handbook of the Birds of the World is out, and it took me about 10 seconds to open the file and learn something new. In this case, the first thing I learned was that there’s a bird called the Snow Mountain Tiger-Parrot that lives up to the treeline in the New Guinea Highlands. It is, as you might imagine, cool. Wanna see one foraging?  Of course you do.

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Speaking of high-altitude birds from tropical climes, do you know what a duet from a pair of Grey-browed Wrens sounds like?

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Thanks to Nick Athanas’ recording of duetting Grey-browed Wrens in Peru, you do now!


Is there other cool stuff in the newsletter?  Of course there is: sign up and check it out!


Posted in animal behavior, bird evolution, birding, birds/nature, deforestation, Endangered Species Act, environment, evolution, HBW Alive, IUCN, life, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Birds Flying Into Minneapolis’ Glass-Walled US Bank Stadium Not a Good Look with Super Bowl LII Only Two Months Away


Excitement is building in the Upper Midwest as Super Bowl LII at Minneapolis’ US Bank Stadium is less than two months away and the hometown Vikings stand a legitimate shot of being the first hometown team to play in the game. The sustainability-related news surrounding the game is also positive — for the most part. 

Earlier this month, GreenSportsBlog featured the many good, green works of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. And US Bank Stadium is up for LEED certification. 

But there is one environmental aspect of Super Bowl LII and US Bank Stadium that draws concern: The problem of birds crashing into the largely glass exterior of the stadium that opened in 2016 and killing themselves; a problem that the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority made aware of during the stadium’s design phase. 

I have to admit, I never thought about the possibility of glass buildings being…

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Acknowledgments first! Stop stealing your own thunder.

via Why do people blow the punchline in scientific talks? The destructive effect of acknowledgements slides

I’ve been trying to get my students to do this for quite some time now. Josh Schimel explains better than I why this is important!


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Do Species Matter: responding to an op-ed by R.A. Pyron in the Washington Post as a piece of writing.

And I still think that Pryon’s op-ed was an alt-right dog whistle . . .

Writing Science

R. Alexander Pyron just published an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that we don’t need to protect species from extinction.

Many, unsurprisingly, are criticizing this piece on grounds that span from ethics to practicality. I want to evaluate it differently: as communication. Writing and rhetoric. The writing is lively and engaging; Dr. Pyron uses words well. But the core of a piece of writing is its structure and argument.

Dr. Pyron’s argument is predicated in the ethical/philosophical belief that “The only creatures we should go out of our way to protect are Homo sapiens.” One can disagree with this belief and one can be appalled by it, but one can not challenge it on scientific grounds—it’s a belief.

Instead, consider the logic of the argument that Dr. Pyron develops from that predicate. When I consider issues of writing, story structure, and even the ethics of scientific communication…

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Vicarious early winter in Vermont

Snow squalls sweep across the mountains in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. ./ © K.P. McFarland Fear not, during these short days and long nights of December, we’re still finding plenty of life in the fading light. Once we pass the winter solstice, which strikes at 11:27 am on December 21st, more light will…

via Field Guide to December 2017 — Vermont Center for Ecostudies

Posted in animal behavior, birding, birds/nature, environment, evolution, insect, life, Links, migrants, weather, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment