Up to us

As 2013 begins, three big questions loom.

.Why is our government so dysfunctional (and what would make elected officials finally get serious about their work)?

.How can we prevent further tragedies like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary?

.What's happening to our climate (and can we do anything about it)?

The answers to all three of those questions will matter a great deal during the upcoming year.

Right now, political popularity seems based not on making progress for the common good but on making sure the other side loses, and preferably loses big amidst great public humiliation. The problem there is that politics is not a spectator sport. In a country so polarized that the middle ground seems almost entirely unpopulated, when one side loses, hundreds of millions of people who share the some philosophy of governing lose as well, and that's the best-case scenario. What happens most of the time is that no one wins at all.

So here we are, stuck, with no consensus on how to move forward. Nothing has changed. The next fiscal emergency won't change anything either. Let's be diligent in requiring Congress to fulfill its responsibilities, and let's commit to learning to live within our collective means, by ways other than harming the least fortunate and pinching the most.

The other two issues - violence and climate - also are caught in the muck. We predict that we'll spend the next year and more arguing about them and, at best, making unsatisfactory baby steps.

Meanwhile, the safety of our schools and churches and movie theatres and shopping malls will continue to diminish. No universal solution exists, but a lot of reasonable steps do. Agreeing that the problem is unstable people - almost all of them young men - with easy access to high-capacity weapons would be a good start. Then address those components individually - all of them. Just pointing fingers at those that don't impinge upon your own lifestyle isn't going to work, and we must find something that does.

Then let's acknowledge, at least, that the weather seems to be growing worse in ways that affect millions of people adversely. Those who live at sea level face one set of problems, as do their (and our) insurance companies. Those who grow our food face another set - crippling drought and diminishing groundwater - and the conditions that affect our farmers affect us all. We used to think that wildfires struck only rural areas, until we saw photos of an incinerated subdivision in Colorado Springs. We used to believe that tornadoes happened in the spring and early summer, but one struck this year on Christmas Day.

None of that is likely to be alterable in any large-scale way, but Americans must deal with all of it. We must find ways to live under changing conditions. We must admit that some places - some flood zones and some coastal areas, at least - are no longer habitable without expensive subsidies that enable residents to rebuild over and over. We must understand that some uses of water are not as productive as others, and at some future date, maybe soon, some may not be affordable.

Politics is the way we collaborate to solve such issues - or it used to be. Now it seems to be the way we tear at the fabric of this nation. If we cannot talk to one another, if we cannot work together, who will provide the solutions we need?

Too many aspects of our lives have spun out of control while we wait for someone else to fix them. Let's resolve to do better, ourselves, because no one else will.

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